THE LONG GOODBYE
January 4, 2005.
A year after college I moved to Boston simply because I loved the city. I had only visited once before, on a rainy day, when I saw Trinity Church in Copley Square, a coffee shop in Brookline, and the cobblestone streets that led me to each destination. It was a romantic and historic place. An aspiring director, I should have gone to Los Angeles or New York or Chicago but Boston was more my style, and after living in small towns all my life, it was a size I could handle. I told myself it had a good independent film scene. Five years later I am writing this from Los Angeles, the town I was trying to get to all along, where I arrived about two weeks ago.
Boston was the first place that ever felt like home. I got lost constantly at first, in winding streets modeled not after a grid, but on ancient cow paths. To some this is infuriating. To me, it will always be part of Boston’s charm, although I am appreciating the grid method as I explore L.A. I once heard a guy say that he had lived in Boston his whole life and was still getting lost. I think that to really know the city you have to get out on foot. After using the public transportation for a year, I couldn’t have gotten lost if I tried.
The best part about exploring any city on foot is that you stumble across things you would never find otherwise. I liked to walk around the North End for the incredible Italian food, the cannoli at Mike’s and the Old World Catholic church filled with candles and silence. The best time to go is early on Sunday morning, when the neighborhood residents sit talking after Mass or selling homemade lemonade. One day I turned into an alley and discovered a gate and two brick walls covered with pictures of the saints. It looked like someone’s own private cathedral right there in the middle of trash and puddles. I made a point, every time I was there, to look for the gate.
Harvard Square is meaningful to me because it was the site of my first date with my husband. We walked for hours that night, drinking tea outside Au Bon Pain, sitting on the steps of the university and talking on a bench by the Charles River. We lived down the street from the university after we were married. Every morning, on my way to a job I hated, I passed through the quiet campus and imagined myself living, for a few moments, a different kind of life.
Central Square boasted Rodney’s Bookstore, my favorite place to lose myself in stacks of used books. When I first moved to Boston, sometimes I called out of work so I could go to the Museum of Fine Art in the middle of the day. The best room was dome shaped, and hung, floor to ceiling, with Italian paintings. Then I’d go see some great foreign or independent film playing at the Kendall Square Cinema, a place for true movie lovers, where no one ever held conversations during the film. I heard Frank McCourt read Angela’s Ashes with the Boston Pops, his words underscored by Yo-Yo Ma. I saw Sigur Ros play an unforgettable night at Avalon. I walked the shore of Walden and visited Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetary. Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are all buried there.
Whenever I went away, I couldn’t wait for the moment I’d return and my plane circled over Fenway Park and out over the water before coming in. I was excited to come home. For someone who loves history and literature, Boston was a wonderful place to live. I found myself there, walking the cobblestone streets alone. The most important thing about the city was that it was the place I met and married my husband. I think that may have been the real reason I was there- the first stop on a much longer journey.
Now I’ve traded Cambridge for Santa Monica, cobblestones for palm trees, and, let’s face it, harsh winters for glorious sunshine. To choose filmmaking, I must also choose the city where it all began. And I’m disovering small pleasures here as well. Charlie Chaplin lived in my building. I ran into Dustin Hoffman at the supermarket. And the beach is only three blocks away.