The Fenway

I gotta get out more. Get outa Lowell more. Yesterday, I had a reason to be in Boston early with a couple of free hours. Traffic sailed on Route 93 and Storrow Drive this bright cool morning. I parked in the garage across from the Museum of Fine Arts, and set off to look around. The Fenway was quiet at 9 a.m., just a gaggle or two of Canada geese and the occasional dog-walker. Dense swaths of phragmites line the narrow Muddy River in an area touched by the designing hand of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Monuments and sculpture of all types accent the green stretch. I’d never seen the massive granite John Endecott Monument, a tribute to the first governor of Mass. Bay Colony. He was a heavy-duty Puritan who lived from 1588 (or 1601, depending on source) to 1665 and sat in the governor’s chair for the last 16 years of his life. Made me think of Putin in Russia, who seems to want to be boss with no term limit.

I haven’t been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum since the grand re-opening. Unfortunately, the Saturday hours start at 11 a.m., so all I could do was snoop around the edges. The expansion is substantial. The new contemporary-styled entrance is a startling update for what I’ve always known as a kind of period piece art-house. Designed by the renowned Renzo Piano, the new structure includes a long greenhouse facing the compact Evans Way Park. Bold plants and flowers are always a major draw at the Gardner. The whole complex looks fresh. I want to see it from the inside.

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Wentworth Institute of Technology. Simmons College. Massachusetts College of Art and Design. These outstanding schools are shoulder-to-shoulder in the neighborhood. On the downtown side of the MFA, you see banners for Northeastern University. Bikes and bike racks abound.

At 10 a.m., I merged with a crowd that had formed at the Huntington Street entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has been lifted into the orbit of destination museums around the world courtesy of the $500 million expansion that the staff and patrons accomplished smoothly and swiftly. As good as the MFA has been for all the years I’ve gone there, the new-and-improved version makes you proud to be a museum member and a resident of the state. This is not sedate excellence that you take for granted any more. The place has pop and sizzle and wow now even as you can find yourself alone in a gallery with profound objects and images. That happened to me yesterday when I wandered into a gallery in the contemporary art area that featured a sublime display of wood sculptures by Ellsworth Kelly, a 1948 graduate of the Museum School. These were rough and smooth boards and slightly curved planks presented like the crown jewels of lumber—reflections on topography and geometry.

Earlier, when I had circled the museum while waiting for the doors to open, I was thinking, This is a big stone box full of beautiful things. That’s what you find here and there in civilized places. We put certain beautiful things within walls and under a roof to protect them, so we can visit them occasionally to be inspired, to move our emotions, or to study and learn from. When the doors were unlocked, dozens of people were already lined up to go in, all kinds of people, on their own, as couples, with kids, in groups from schools or clubs, all of them wanting to see what is inside.

Dale Chihuly, “Lime Green Icicle Tower”, MFA Boston (web photo courtesy of hubreview.blogspot)