Metro, Column

Public Places Made Private by Memories

I can get rather attached to places. In Boston, those places are usually the ones that people walk past and through every single day. They’re the ones that everyone knows about, not the holes-in-the-wall that I’ve discovered myself. In fact, I’m not quite sure how much discovering I’ve really done in my almost three years here. That doesn’t bother me. After all, since when do the places I love have to be secrets?

Whether it’s the study room with all the little green lamps in the Boston Public Library or Caffe Vittoria in the North End, I know that my places aren’t mine alone. Yes, I have memories in each of them that very few people, if any, will share. That just means that I’ve made a footprint on those places, not that they’re all mine. I’m sure that even my favorite spots in those places-the last table in that library room, the courtyard at the Gardner Museum-have been claimed by hundreds of other people as their own.

So why not seek out someplace completely new?

Granted, I’m not sure that it’s possible to find a spot that no one else has really considered important. Even if I could, though, I’m not sure that I would want to. There’s something to be said for not keeping those places a secret.

I know that sometimes it’s nice to be alone. Sometimes you really need time to think or just do some work without worrying about interruptions. Other times, however, you can get a lot more out of a place by bringing someone along.

For one thing, there’s a definite sense of connectedness. When I go somewhere by myself, I tend to focus just on what I’m doing. Taking someone along for the adventure, however small, automatically means that we’ll have a story to tell after. Caffe Vittoria, a little dessert cafe in the North End right next to Mike’s, is almost always packed. There’s nothing particularly special about it. To me, though, it’s the setting for one funny story after another.

On my first visit there, the waitress was convinced that my best friend and I were out on a date and kept complimenting us on how cute we looked. The next time, during sophomore year, I went with a larger group, and we ended up getting yelled at by a waitress before dashing out the back door before she could come back. I’m still going back-after all, this place needs a story for junior year.

Another great thing about sharing all of my not-so-secret places is that after I tell people about them, I can never look at that place the same way again. They’re suddenly colored by new perspectives, ideas, and connections. I took a friend who was visiting from Los Angeles to the Boston Public Gardens once during my freshman year. The Gardens, to me, had always been a fun place to walk through during breaks in my study sessions at the Boston Public Library down the street. I’d always paid more attention to the tourists and other people walking through, but my friend was far more fascinated by the dozens of different colored tulips that we found on the walk. Now, I keep an eye out for the most interesting flowers I can find whenever I walk through. My friend, in paying attention to something that I hadn’t, created a whole new layer of details to one of my favorite places in the city.
It’s the same with the Gardner Museum. I’ve been there a few times, but never by myself.

Honestly, I couldn’t imagine going without someone to talk about all of the paintings with-there are too many discoveries in that old mansion to keep to myself.
It’s not that I can’t keep a secret. It’s just that I can’t keep a story. Once I’ve learned something new, it’s not long before I’ve told someone else all about it. And in telling them everything I know, I end up learning quite a bit in the end as well.


October 16, 2013