Trigger warning: I decided to separate the mostly personal from the mostly professional in my blogging about Cambridge. The following post is about revisiting the places I lived while there, and may trigger recovered memories or waves of unanticipated nostalgia.
We started at the beginning: Hurlbut Hall, my freshman dorm by the Union, which was full of misfits, eccentrics and savants. It had a high percentage of single rooms, usually filled with those the authorities deemed too off-beat to share a suite in the Yard. I pointed out the various rooms where I and my friends and lived, and once again repeated my warning that you have to be careful to whom you speak the first day at college, as you may be stuck with them for the rest of your life.
I then dragged Greta to see the residential colleges, especially Leverett House, where I lived for three years. McKinlock Hall (the older part) had recently undergone a major remodel designed by Kieran Timberlake, which I wanted to see. Paul Hegarty, the building manager, took the time to take us on complete tour, so we got to see the excellent conversion of a former dead-pigeon space between the dining hall and the residential wing into a new entry/commons/lobby for meeting rooms,
and the library in the new (1960) section, a serene space by Shepley Bullfinch, whose quality I had forgotten. Greta got a gold star for spontaneously stating that the structure reminded her of the Johnson Wax headquarters.
Paul also introduced us to a lot of undergrads, and it was a pleasure to find that they were largely as I remembered from my day – funny and smart, and not all on the fast track to Wall St., as had been rumored.
Greta was especially pleased to meet a pre-med varsity football player, who averred that he didn’t know much about UO football, as he just wasn’t that into collegiate sports. On the other hand, I was pleased to see that Jeremy Lin was a Leverett alumnus.
Then we moved on to Somerville, where I lived for two years after college. The area in Cambridge near the Somerville line (Myrtle and Line Streets) was actually nicer than I remembered – well-maintained triple-deckers and houses on quiet tree-lined streets.
But then I crossed Beacon Street to Somerville. I had heard that Somerville had gentrified; perhaps the rents have risen (we paid $220 per month for a floor in a triple-decker), but the streetscape was as depressing as I remembered.
The neighborhood was still unattractive, still full of graduate students, but there was one major, emblematic change:Johnny’s Foodmaster, one of the worst supermarkets on the planet, had been transformed into a Whole Foods. Goodbye Slummerville.