Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hahvahd Yahd

There's nothing quite like following a four hour sleep night with a five hour one (Here's hoping I can go for six tonight - I need as much as I can get before Yale). Thankfully, we started off our morning (6:30 AM, mind you) with a Starbucks run. I started off my slightly disgruntled, happy morning with a vanilla mocha and some very berry Starbucks coffee cake.

After getting lost thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we eventually found our way to Amtrak (also thanks to the eventual wonders of Silicon Valley).  As we walked through the streets of Providence, we noticed a surprising lack of the homeless compared to home, let alone people. Morning me is a lot more grumpy and snarky than afternoon me, so I continued to pound my Rhode Island population of five joke. We climbed aboard Amtrak and found about fifteen people on our train - the conductor told us that we made rush hour. And the Rhode Island population jokes just keep on writing themselves.

Fortunately for the East Coast, we soon arrived in Cambridge, MA; a city with too many people to tease its size. The vast amount of people on the subway was ridiculous (Toto, we ahtn't in Rhode Island anymah)! We signed up for the Hahvahd tour and we were on our way.
[Charming] bombs away!

Our tour guide, Taylor, was a rising sophomore at Harvard who had grown up in Cambridge. Needless to say, she was pretty familiar with the place. We started off in Harvard Yard (or as the Bostonians and I like to say, Hahvahd Yahd) and went throughout most of the main campus, learning about Harvard's rich history. It's the oldest Ivy League university, founded in 1636 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and has many different historic buildings. 

Taylor mentioned that all of the buildings were modeled after the current popular style, so the architecture itself stands as a visual history of the university. 

The tour was filled with stories, such as the burning of Harvard Hall, the Memorial House exclusion, the lies about John Harvard, and the reason why no films are shot at Harvard (which is technically not true, The Social Network filmed one of the opening scenes illegally onsite). Taylor made a number of beautifully cringe-worthy puns throughout the tour as she told these stories; they added elements of awkward humor throughout the tour with wonderfully maladroit silences. From a slightly better but still terrible fellow pun connoisseur, I asked the rest of the tour participants in my head this question: Why so serious? We ended close to The Lampoon office, the second-oldest student-run newspaper in the country, a publication that has had many authors that would later become established writers on many popular TV shows. The most famous is Conan O'Brien, who's a legend at Harvard for pulling off the theft of The Crimson's (another student-run Harvard paper) president's chair and getting the Cambridge police officers to arrest the Harvard police officers who were trying to arrest him! With similar, but not nearly as much, craziness, we engaged in a famous Hahvahd tradition - the primal scream. Every winter, students run around stark naked in the snow and scream. Luckily for the ILC's dignity, all of us on the tour did our primal scream with clothes on.

We commented over lunch that none of us had gotten the experience we had hoped. All of us had assumed that we were to get an academics/admissions tour, but the tour we had gotten was definitely a lot more touristy. While I enjoyed the history, I would've enjoyed a different focus on the tour. Harvard really didn't appeal to me, and it never did. I couldn't see myself on that campus for four years.  My negative stereotypes of the "Harvard snob" were also further reinforced when it was mentioned that Harvard has "special terms" that they use to describe certain things. Majors are "concentrations" and graduations are "commencement exercises." While I'm not interested in the university, I understand its prestige and its rich history, shown everywhere through its people and its buildings (lots and lots of brick).

We also had somewhat of a debate as we enjoyed our bi bim bap. Liam had mentioned meeting a rising sophomore at Harvard in the store who planned to go into the Marines after graduating. The discussion soon turned into a debate, as we discussed value, belief, service, and career. The thought-provoking disputation certainly added more flavor to the cooking Korean ribeye and galbi.

After our Korean BBQ, we headed over to the Longfellow House/Washington's Headquarters, which was a short ten minute walk from Harvard Square (Hahvahd Squair). The house was full of history and we had a fabulous tour guide, a literature enthusiast of the transcendentalist age. Gen. George Washington (yeah, that Washington) lived in the house for nine months and ran the Continental Army there, encompassing in the end of the Siege of Boston. A General Peleg Wadsworth would serve him in the house. His grandson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, would later happen to move into the house in 1837, when the current owner, Elizabeth Craigie, was in debt and needed a new source of income. After Craigie passed on, Longfellow's newlywed's father, Nathan Appleton, purchased the house for Fanny and him as a wedding gift. Sadly, a man named Charles Sumner (the man severely beaten by Preston Brooks in the Bleeding Kansas incident) was his best friend. As a staunch pro-abolitionist, Sumner did not get along with his neighbor, a textile magnate who depended on slavery for his business, whose name was...Nathan Appleton. As a result, when Appleton died, five million dollars went to every one of his children, except for Fanny.
The Longfellow living room.
Longfellow told his father at age seventeen that he planned to work in literature. This sounded insane at the time, since America had no formal literary style, and most Americans read books written by European authors. However, as the American literary renaissance kicked off, with works being written such as The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne), Moby Dick (Herman Melville, the namesake of me and Liam's suite), Uncle Tom's Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe), and Walden (Henry David Thoreau), Longfellow "retired" from teaching at Harvard and started writing poetry full time. In the process, he became the most famous American poet of all time. Not bad for the first professional poet - he went from making $1500 (approx. $18,000 when adjusted for inflation) at Harvard teaching four languages to the equivalent of $89,000 writing poetry. Not bad at all. Our tour guide told us that when he died at the age of 75, he was worth nine million dollars. His bust at Westminster Abbey remains the only American to have the honor to be "bust-ed" at the British poets' corner. 

Longfellow mentioned George Washington only once in his poetry in a poem entitled To A Child, written in 1845. 

Once, ah, once, within these walls,
One whom memory oft recalls,
The Father of his Country, dwelt.
And yonder meadows broad and damp
The fires of the besieging camp
Encircled with a burning belt.

Longfellow's study, where he wrote nearly all his poetry
Longfellow was extremely proud of the fact that he lived in a house that had seen people such as John Adams and John Hancock walk through the door. He was a gentle, kind man who loved reading in all different genres and languages. Our guide mentioned that he isn't studied as much as often as other poets are because of his lack of problems. As a leader, Longfellow is an inspiration in terms of working hard and being successful without losing sight of the things that truly matter. The contrast between both tours - from one focusing on architecture and the other focusing on people - illustrated the divide leaders often have. Some focus on material things in their attempts to make things better, while others take the time to focus on people. I find that incredibly refreshing, even though Longfellow lived two centuries ago.

Thankfully, several locals took the time to focus on us. My aunt's friends, Nancy and Steph, gave us dinner suggestions, while other locals asked about the Ivy League Connection and helped us find our way. I talked with Eric and Liam about why we thought people on the East Coast were so much more friendly and trusting than on our side of the country, helping us out and leaving Coach bags alone on the train for a moment. Was it a particular mindset? Were they just genuinely good people? Were differences because of race or class? These were real, true human conversations. 

We ended our day in Cambridge with dinner at the famous Legal Seafoods. I indulged myself on filet, lobster, baked potato, and rice pilaf; before heading back on the Amtrak to the quiet, slightly busier streets of Providence. The buildings may stand as physical representations of the state, but it's the people (the very small number of people) who have direct representation. That's the beauty of democracy - from an idealistic and optimistic standpoint, democracy allows leaders to use their humanity for the good of humanity. At least it's supposed to - but that's another question-filled conversation for another day.

Follow us on our college tour throughout this week! Send me feedback by commenting below and emailing And for a more intimate look at my Yale experience, follow me on Instagram @joshthebosh to see a more visual Ivy League Connection.

1 comment:

  1. It’s interesting to read from you all about how few people you’re seeing on the streets of Providence and how trusting they all are. The next thing you’ll be telling me is that these people never lock their doors. I know there are some communities where people still trust each other but, for the most part, I thought that was just another TV fantasy like families where they all get along with each other. Where I live, a locked and deadbolted door means nothing and you arrive home to find it kicked in. I can imagine how difficult it might be for someone coming from the 9th most dangerous city in the country to be so trusting of his neighbors as what you’re writing about.

    And thanks so much for the photo of Taylor. I read the other four blogs first and was getting more and more frustrated at not seeing this great Harvard tour guide.