29 November 2012

The City on a Hill

Before moving to New York, I lived in Boston for many years and still think of it as a second home. So for Thanksgiving this year I decided to spend the holiday in the land of the pilgrims.

Normally when I'm in Boston I stay with friends but this time round I decided to treat myself and get a hotel room. I stayed at the Nine Zero Hotel where I was upgraded to a top floor room with a view from which I could see the State House’s golden globe and the Boston Common as well as the Charles River and Cambridge in the distance (see view above). My room also had an amazingly comfortable bed, loads of space, and even a Martini bar. I would definitely stay there again (hotel info here). 

Across from the hotel was the Granary Burial Ground, which includes the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. The gravestones feature a variety of artwork including skull and crossbones and weeping willows that bring to mind Edward Gorey.

Nearby was the State House and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' magnificent Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial.

There were still lovely fall colours to be found in Boston Common along with an early morning Zamboni driver preparing the ice on the Frog Pond for that day's skaters.

One morning before meeting a friend for pancakes at Panificio and shopping on Charles Street, I strolled around the prettiest neighbourhood in the city, Beacon Hill. It's the place that made me fall in love with brick houses (more on Beacon Hill in a later post). 

I met another friend for a day of art in the Fenway. I lived and went to school in that neighbourhood when I first moved to Boston and have fond memories of it, including the numerous ducks and geese that inhabit the waterways. You do have to be careful as they'll come right up to you.

The Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo: Gardner Museum.

"El Jaleo" John Singer Sargent (1882)

First up was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to see the chrysanthemums in the courtyard and the new modern wing. As a grad student, I spent many hours reading in the museum's back garden and as a result always associate Virginia Woolf with the Gardner. This Venetian-style palace is filled with amazing pieces of art, furniture, and manuscripts collected by the unique Isabella Stewart Gardner (When she first opened the museum in 1903, she served her guests donuts and champagne. How great is that?). My favourite things in the museum are John Singer Sergent's magnificent "El Jaleo" and the central courtyard that is simply stunning. 

The Gardner's new modern wing. Photo: Nic Lehoux/Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Gardner's will stipulated that few alterations could be made to the museum, including placement of paintings, so the new modern wing, a striking contrast in glass and chrome, is a helpful addition that includes a performance space and room for special exhibits. (Info on the Gardner here).

"Stella Tennant, New York 2006" Mario Testino.

Across the way from the Gardner is the Museum of Fine Arts, our second stop of the day. We checked out some of the special exhibits: "Ori Gersht: History Repeating" with some videos that give a twist to classical paintings (watch "Pomegranate" here), "The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection" that included 400 postcards of all types of images from the turn of the last century, and the major exhibit "Mario Testino: In Your Face" with its smaller companion "Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits." There were some pretty images in the exhibit and it was fun seeing some of them blown up but I think the verdict is still out if it constitutes an exhibit for a fine arts museum.

"The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" John Singer Sargent (1882)

The visit finished with a tour of the new American Wing, which I hadn't seen before. It's wonderful, especially the rooms designed to look like a 19th-century salon. We sat for a bit in front of Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," one of my favourite paintings in the MFA's permanent collection (can you tell I like Sargent?), before heading out for dinner. (Info on the MFA here).

On my last day in town I took a quick walk around the Public Garden. The swan boats had already been put away until next year and the air was crisp but the place was still as lovely as ever.

The Garden has some very striking looking trees. I've always been fond of this particular one with the branches bending down to the ground, just calling for you to take the path beneath.

As is my want, I ended up taking a load of photos of squirrels. (Don't ask me why I always do this. I really don't know.) I must say these two were particularly amusing.

And I didn't forget to say hello to the Make Way for Ducklings ducks before heading to the station for the train back to New York. A few days of seeing old friends, eating good food, looking at art, and taking in some sights; a perfect way to spend Thanksgiving. I can't wait for my next visit.

Photos, except where noted, by Michele.

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