Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Harvard Visit

I had a dream last night. It was interrupted by my alarm clock, but I remember some of it. I was in Yale, in the middle of a lecture. I was near the middle of this amphitheater style classroom and the professor was talking about one of the books we read, I just can’t remember which one now. The classroom is too hot to take notes but I’m engaged in what the professor is saying. I then get up in the middle of class and run out because I am just too warm. Then, the alarm goes off. I wanted to finish that dream, but I needed to get up. 

The alarm went off at 5:00 AM and I got five hours of sleep last night. One more than the night before, so at least I’m doing better than yesterday. A quick shower, I comb my hair, brush my teeth and at 5:45 I wake Josh and just chill on my laptop. I look at a couple of the restaurants in the Cambridge area, check the weather, and then just look over some of our required reading. I then remember that I told you all in my blog last night that I will be visiting Brown University. That was a faux pas on my part because we are in fact going to visit Harvard University. I apologize and will make sure this won’t happen again. 

After that Josh gets out of the shower, changes, and we are set to go. He and I decide to bring our back packs just in case we need anything. I decide to take the “Eric Wilson Experience” by walking down the stairs while Josh took the elevator. I call it the “Eric Wilson Experience” because last night Eric ran right up the stairs to get to this room, and I figure I would like to experience that. The view of the city outside of the stairwell windows was very nice and I wish that the view from our hotel room was that nice. Anyway, my friends and I met up in the lobby, and at 6:35 we are gone.

We pick up some breakfast, and head over to the Amtrak station in a bit of a confused state. We go the wrong direction a few times before this nice woman shows us the way to go to get to the station. When we arrive, we have missed our train. It’s okay though because that gives my friends and me some time to catch up on our reading. One thing we could not get over though was that the train station in Providence was more or less deserted. We saw no more than thirty five people at that train station, and after Tracey talked with the ticket salesman, he said that this was the rush hour. Providence really is a bit of a ghost town. We then boarded our train and got to see more of the beautiful New England countryside. In less than ten minutes we had left Rhode Island. What a small state.

Then at our second or third stop on our way to Cambridge, this woman in a seat not too far from ours gets a phone call. She then proceeds to leave her large Coach brand purse on her seat to get someone from the platform. Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t just leave a very expensive bag on a train just to save my seat. She is gone for about eight minutes and just moves her bag like it’s no big deal that she left it. Let me tell you, if someone left their bag unattended while on BART, which is the subway station of the San Francisco Bay Area, it would have been taken without a second thought. I wonder why people feel so secure on these trains.

My comrades and I talked for most of the way there, and on the train Tracey was talking to a man who wanted to know where we were from after we had said “like” a few times in our conversation. After hearing that we were from around San Francisco, he said that that explained our uncommon slang. We then got off the train and took a subway ride to Harvard. We were about an hour early for our tour of the campus, so we just hung around and went walking, saw some nice architecture, and then hung out at a Starbucks for a while. Then the tour began.

Some pictures of Harvard Square.

We were led by the highly intelligent and beautiful Taylor. Taylor is a rising sophomore at Harvard and was full of energy during the tour. She knew quite a bit about Harvard’s history, alumni, and the architecture. She told us all about Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook's co-founder, Conan O’Brian, Matt Damon, and President George Washington. She told us how Washington stationed his troops at Harvard during the Revolutionary War. She talked about how the original library was made in honor of Mr. Harvard, who donated his entire library to the university but was burned down late one evening in the late 18th century. Only one book remains from that collection, and the way it survived was that a student had been reading this book from the library and was so enthralled with it that he brought it to his dorm, even though it was against school rules. When the student presented it to the President of the university as the only book that survived, the book was taken and the student suspended from classes for taking the book out of the library. This President sounds like a jerk and I would never want him as a President of our school.
The reconstructed Harvard library.
We even got to see a statue of Mr. Harvard which is known as the statue of three lies. The first of the three lies is that on the plaque it says that Mr. Harvard was the founder. He wasn’t  He simply donated his money and library to the university after his death. The second lie is that the college was founded in 1638. It wasn’t. It was in fact founded in 1636 and the reason it says 1638 was because that was when Mr. Harvard died and left his estate to them. The final lie is that the statue is in the likeness of Mr. Harvard. It isn’t.  It is believed to be in the likeness of one of the Presidents or of a distant relative. Any portraits of Mr. Harvard were burned down in the fire, so no one knows what he looks like.
We then looked at some of the beautiful architecture, including a freshman eating area where the colors look similar to those of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

We wrapped up our tour by doing what the Harvardians call the Primal Scream, where you start growling and then build up to an all-out scream. It was quite fun, but then Taylor told us that if we get accepted to Harvard that we would have to do this Primal Scream in the nude in the middle of the night in winter. I guess it could be fun if you keep your eyes closed.

I then spoke with Taylor a little bit about the application process, what kind of people Harvard is looking for, and some of the majors, including foreign languages and government. She was quite informative and I thank her for her time. 

My cohort and I then headed out to find some grub. We found this Korean restaurant which served some excellent barbecue and a mixed vegetable with rice. Now that I know what Korean food tastes like, I will definitely want some more in the future.  We then headed over to the Longfellow-Washington house, which George Washington used as his headquarters during the Revolutionary War and specifically was critical during the Siege of Boston. Also, Henry-Wadsworth Longfellow lived here for most of his adult life.
The Longfellow house.
We got there at about one thirty, but the next tour didn’t start until two o’clock. Our tour guide, Rob, is a smart, quirky guy who has a knack for storytelling. The entire tour of the interior of the Longfellow-Washington house was only fifty minutes, but it felt much longer because of all the information he packed in. I don’t mean to say that it dragged on and on in one long, hypnotic, and monotone sentence; just the opposite. His energy was through the roof, and that’s what really kept me interested. As we went from room to room and he told us the stories of mostly Longfellow and how he lived, what he did, when he wrote, and so much background on a world famous poet I knew nothing about. 

Before I tell you about Longfellow though, I would like to touch briefly on Washington’s effect on the history of the house. As I said before, the house was Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston, which isn’t that far from Cambridge where the house is located. The Siege was when, early in the war, the Americans decided to set up a land blockade around Boston, which was under English control. Washington would spend nine months planning on how to win Boston from the English. In a bold move, he sent Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow’s great grandfather, who was under Washington’s command, to steal sixty tons of cannons from the English and position them within striking distance of Boston and the English fleet in Boston Harbor. Washington then sent a message that told the English to evacuate the city or have their fleet destroyed in the harbor. The English retreated and the Americans liberated Boston. But, what the English didn’t know at the time was that when Washington positioned the cannons to fire, he knew that he didn’t have enough ammunition to fire to sink the ships in the harbor and would probably lose. It was a bluff that paid off so much.
A bust of George Washington.
Then, Rob went into depth about Longfellow’s life. The life this man led was amazing. From the time he was a young man he knew that he would make a great literary impression on the world. One example of his greatness was that when he was young, he taught four different languages at Harvard University. He was also trying to write as well and create a truly American style of literature that would be read all over the world. Yet when he talked to an Englishman that American literature will flourish, the Englishman mocked him. He asked, “Where in the four corners of the world do they read American literature?”  Longfellow would rise to this challenge and become the most well-known American poet in the world. You may wonder how this is possible. There have been many poets after him that were just as, if not more, famous. Well, he became so well known that a bust was created of him in Westminster Abbey, England. The place where the literary greats are extolled for their great feats had up to that point only had famous English authors, poets, and playwrights. Longfellow broke that tradition.
Picture of his family room.
Rob then told us more stories of how he quit his job in 1854 and at first sold his poetry for five, ten, and very rarely fifteen dollars, in today’s money, just barely putting bread on the table. But as he got older and more well known, his craft more refined and perfected, his poems began to be sold for much, much more. He became so famous that he one day sold a poem for the equivalent of fifty eight thousand dollars. By the time he died he had the net worth of over five million dollars in funds and house property.

Longfellow was also so famous that in his later years that he was inundated with the fan mail he received. But he replied to every single letter. This man, whose father told him to get a real job when Longfellow told him he wanted to be a writer, was now the equivalent of a rock star with all the mail he received. In his later years, though, his health betrayed him and he was no longer able to send letters. Instead, he sent a form letter apologizing that he could not personally reply because he was in ill health and let them have a copy of his signature. He was a one of a kind poet.

Lord knows that I could go on and on with the information that Rob gave us on Longfellow. But I know that there may not be a lot of history buffs reading this, so I’ll stop here. If you would like to know more about this incredible house, please click here. I would highly recommend it just to hear Rob speak volumes on the life of Longfellow so eloquently. It was the highlight of the day.

After that unforgettable tour, we had an early dinner at this place called Legal Sea Foods. Each of us got lobster in some form or another, except for Tracey, and the lobster was so good. I got one claw, which was a bit of a let-down, but I shouldn’t have expected much in my cioppino. They gave me so many scallops and mussels, so that made up for it. Oh, and the shrimp were cooked to perfection. Every bite was flavor packed with this salty, tomato, and shrimp combination that was to die for. The clams, however, were a bit too salty for my palate.

Then we headed on over to the train station to catch our ride from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island. We were about an hour early, so we all talked and read a little, started this blog, and then boarded the train. This train wasn’t as nice as the one we got on going to Cambridge, but it was all right. A bit more reading, and then we came back to the hotel.

Man, what a day. A tour at one of the most prestigious universities in the world and finding out what kind of people they want for Yale has really opened up my eyes. Who knows, maybe I will apply. The best part of the day was the Longfellow-Washington house. The story was great, the architecture was outstanding, and the art was breath taking. Bust after beautiful bust of people like Aristotle, Sophocles, and Washington and painting of such people like Congressman Sumner and Nathanial Hawthorne. This has been a great day to be on the East Coast and I have high expectations for tomorrow. Let’s hope they meet them.

1 comment:

  1. Having typed up your itinerary just a few days ago I quickly noticed your error about which school you were going to tour today. I figured you’d catch on soon enough.

    I’m disappointed, Liam, that you wrote on and on about this great tour guide at Harvard and not a single photo of her. You break my heart.

    Like you, I knew about Longfellow but really didn’t know much about him. Just reading about him in your blogs tells me I’ll be spending a lot of time reading about him in the next few days. The way you all went on and on about him speaks volumes not only for the man but for the great docent you all wrote so highly of.

    And so you know, nowhere on that itinerary will you find any mention of visiting Longfellow House. I don;t know who’s idea this was but it sounds like a winner.