I have worked in Harvard Square for almost a year now, and in that time I have traversed what feels like every inch of it, most of those inches more than once. I spend most of my lunch breaks and other scattered pockets of time tramping down streets whose historic names are now familiar: Brattle, Dunster, Holyoke, Plympton. Oxford, JFK, Mount Auburn, Bow (which runs into Arrow, a tiny detail of a joke that always makes me smile). I am constantly filling in my mental map of the area with new detail. I had visited Harvard Square often before I took a job here, but now this is my neighborhood.
Sometimes I walk purposefully, like the local I am now, a denizen of this bustling metropolis filled with students and university employees and tourists. I go to the bank and the post office, head to the farmers’ market in warm weather, shop at the Harvard Book Store or the Curious George Store for birthday gifts or books. Sometimes I have errands to run, and I head out into the bitter cold on a mission, often rewarding myself with half an hour in a cafe and a cup of tea.
But sometimes I pull my camera out and gawk like any tourist. I snap photo after photo of the hidden and public angles of Harvard Square, such as snow-topped roofs on red brick buildings, some of them older than the state I call home.
The white spire of Memorial Church, tipped with a flying gold banner, beautiful against a sky of blue or gray or sunset pink.
Fresh tulips outside a florist’s shop, a musician busking in Brattle Square.
The sunken garden on Appian Way, adjacent to my building, and the larger expanse of Harvard Yard, the beating green heart of Harvard College.
I am learning to name the spires of Harvard as I learned to name the spires of Oxford: instead of Christ Church, Magdalen, Corpus Christi and St Aldates, there are Eliot, Adams, Dunster, Memorial Church.
The tallest one is also my favorite: Lowell House, bright blue and gold reaching into the endless sky. I love it because of the story of the Russian bells that fill its tower, and because I have actually been up inside it: my professor friend Ryan took me on a tour long ago.
I walk around Cambridge the way I used to walk around Oxford: sometimes on an errand, but chiefly for the sheer pleasure of ambling, watching, enjoying, tasting, being. It’s not always a postcard scene or a calendar photo. But it is bustling and vibrant, endlessly changing, endlessly fascinating. It’s beautiful and maddening and wonderfully interesting. And it’s mine.