Blog

search for me

On Serendipitous Travel Moments, or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

For one of the classes I’m auditing this semester, I’ve been reading Henry Brooks Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and though he worked as private secretary to his ambassador father, wrote, and taught at Harvard, in reading his autobiography, you get the sense that he never really did anything.  He did marry, and his wife, Marian (“Clover”) committed suicide by drinking photo developing chemicals. You don’t learn about this in his book, because he doesn’t mention Clover or her death at all. 

Although Adams didn’t talk about his wife’s death, he commissioned a statue in her memory (Atlas Obscura has a great post about the memorial). Today, you can visit the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C. We spent a few days in Washington over our spring break. I thought about looking for the statue, but spent the time visiting museums and friends instead.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

A few years ago, I arrived in San Francisco for a work trip on the last day of the Garry Winogrand exhibition at SFMoMA. I dropped my bags at a friend’s and ran over there for the last few hours of the show. What I didn’t realize (because again, no planning) was that it was also the last day the art museum would be open for the next three years, so admission was free and there were activities (like hat making) happening around the building. I saw the Winogrand, and as the museum closed, watched a dance performance in the lobby.

I love incidents like this. I could have planned for either of them (we know I need to work on my planning). But if I figure out where the thing is, how to get to the thing, and if the thing will be open, that seems like enough planning ahead. I like going out to see what I can find — or what will find me. 

The Boston To Do List

I work better with deadlines and best when the deadline is near. We are now into the second part of the Nieman year, and while it’s too soon to say the end is near, it’s getting nearer. To make sure I see more of Boston while we live here, I’ve put together my Boston To Do List. Most of the destinations came from paging through Maria T. Olia’s “Little Black Book of Boston."

Museums (there are many)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - When we moved, this was a top recommendation. I’ve saved museums for winter... so now.

Chihuly at the MFA

Chihuly at the MFA

Peabody Museum - I walked by this museum nearly every day last semester, but I have yet to visit it.

Harvard Semitic Museum - ditto

Museum of African American History 

Institute of Contemporary Art 

Gordon Parks exhibition at the MFA - I’ve been to the MFA twice. At $25, it’s pricy, but your ticket is good for a second visit in the next 10 days. It’s free after 4 pm on Wednesdays and stays open until 9:45.

JFK Presidential Library and Museum - After visiting the LBJ library last year, we would now like to visit every presidential library. Their main exhibition halls are under renovation until mid-March, so I’ll wait until spring.

Robert Klein Gallery 

Paul Revere House 

Ship-related Activities (and actual ships)

Boston Tea Party ship and museum 

USS Constitution

Whale watching - after the seasickness on the boat to Provincetown, I’m concerned about how this will go. I figure I’ll take some Dramamine and ask someone to wake me up if there are whales. 

Libraries and churches

Boston Public Library -  It’s supposedly beautiful and I see there’s an exhibition on maps from imaginary literary landscapes opening today. 

Trinity Church and Old South Church - these are both at Copley Square by the library and were recommended in the guide book, so I figure I’ll just pop in and take a look. 

Christian Science Plaza, Mother Church, and the Mary Baker Eddy Library - the plaza looks lovely (maybe better in spring and summer), the church has one of the largest pipe organs in the world (13290 pipes), and there's a three-story stained glass globe (there’s a Groupon for it right now)

Boston athenaeum and skin book - Thanks to recent visitors, I’ve learned that the Boston athenaeum has a book about the highwayman James Allen, which is bound in his own skin (officially titled "Narrative of the life of James Allen : alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison”). This is weird and horrifying and I want to see it.

Things Outside

Mount Auburn Cemetery - I’ve been twice already, but it’s a huge, lovely garden cemetery. I want to see it in all seasons. 

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - the now-defunct Louisville theater group Le Petomane taught me about the Great Molasses Flood, but I didn’t realize it took place in Boston until the guide book told me about the plaque. If you’ve never heard of the Great Molasses Flood, check out this recent Boston Globe story 

The Bunker Hill Monument - We’ve walked around the grounds at night, but I’d love to see the view from the top. You can climb the monument’s 294 steps for free. 

Fairsted (Frederick Law Olmsted’s home & office) - Because he is responsible for Cherokee Park in Louisville, I love Olmsted, without knowing much about the man or his life. Now I can visit his home and learn more. 

Back Bay Fens - Another Olmsted project. It’s looking a little rough at the moment, so I’ll wait until spring for this one, as well. 

And finally, I would like to visit the Massachusetts State House, but I didn’t have a category for it. There is a wooden cod suspended from the ceiling in the House of Representatives, symbolizing the importance of the fishing industry. It is called the Sacred Cod. I must see this sacred fish. 

Have I overlooked one of your favorite Boston-area destinations? Tell me about it! 

Louisville To Do List: Muhammad Ali Center

Last Friday, I fiiiinally crossed off this destination on my Louisville list. I knew very little about Muhammad Ali and prefer many sports to boxing (golf is not one of them). Still, the man is called “The Greatest” for a reason, and I heard positive things about the museum. Here are some highlights:

  • If you are a AAA member, you get a $1 off admission (it’s usually $9 for adults).
  • The visit begins on the fifth floor with an orientation video. It’s very inspiring and may have made me tear up a little.
  • Although the exhibits on Ali’s life and career are text-heavy, there are plenty of videos to break up all the reading
  • Ali did NOT throw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River because he was refused service at a restaurant. It was just misplaced.

My favorite part of the museum was the Howard L. Bingham gallery. Bingham is a photographer and Ali’s best friend. Through the years of their friendship, he has made over a million images of Ali. The gallery highlights his other work — shots from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral, protesters at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, a Watts’ resident’s stash of weapons. And then there is a video about Bingham that includes him talking about his friendship with Ali, and this is where I cried again at the Muhammad Ali Center.

I liked that the museum puts Ali’s life into the context of historical events. Rather than just noting that Ali dealt with discrimination in his hometown, there are sections on segregation in Louisville and the Civil Rights movement. Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the army is presented with an overview of the Vietnam War. I can always use a review of anything I learned in history classes.

Even though photography is verboten (I think. I lied when asked if I had any cameras), I took a picture of this on a walkway of drawings on the theme of “What is Your Wish for the World?”

Transient

That’s a good wish.

While I wouldn’t call the Muhammad Ali Center a Louisville Must, I recommend it to anyone with some time and even the slightest  interest. The building is beautiful, and even if you can’t get to the sixth floor, you get lovely views of the river on the other floors. I left with a new respect for Ali — I learned a lot about the man, a little about Louisville, and a little more about history.