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Elisia’s exit reminded me of the old days when my group of friends rode the Fitchburg train together.

Boston is so close to my old life, when I lived in Fitchburg and rode the commuter train to school in Waltham. After exploring Boston for a day, the next day Will and I spent the whole day traveling old routes, walking old paths, gaining new perspectives on old vistas.

First we took Route 2 out to Fitchburg. I pointed out the spot where I was pulled over for speeding, and Massachusetts forgot to ask me to pay the ticket for FIVE YEARS. I became disproportionately excited to see the Exit 32 sign to Leominster. When I lived out here I rode the train to school every school day for three years. I got on the same train at the same time every morning, and rode into the city with all the same people. We got to know each other. I even did my Masters Thesis on how fear and feelings of safety are managed on the commuter rail train when packed in there with strangers. My very best friend at that time was Elisia, who lived in Leominster. She has a lovely English accent and we were all delighted the day she told us the highway exit to her home was number 32. We made her say it a dozen times. We giggled with glee and found opportunities to ask about Exit 32 (prounced in Lissy’s English accent) whenever we could, from then on.

A 2005 photo of the house when I lived there.

What it looks like now. Not much change. A new fence, solar panels, a bigger tree, and neglected garden and lawn.

Our first stop was my old house. The old neighborhood looked almost exactly the same except that the trees along the street were larger. The landscaping around my old house looked ratty and unkempt, and there was a For Sale sign out front. I was sad that none of the trees or lilac bushes I had planted had survived. There was a new fence in the back yard and solar panels. I recalled shoveling snow from that driveway so many times.

We drove around the town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. It has tiny pockets of commerce scattered around the outskirts leaving the center almost desolate. No people walking, and many empty buildings. When pawn shops and consignment shops for children’s clothes are on main street, it’s a sign that people are shopping somewhere else. My two favourite sightings from my past were the library, and of course the train station. It’s a sad town and I felt validated for never liking it while I lived there.

Walden Pond, from the end where the train passes close by.

We returned to Route 2 toward Boston and stopped at Walden Pond, made famous in Henry David Thoreau’s book. While traveling to school I had looked out the train windows at the pond, twice a day, day in and day out for more than a year before I realized which pond it was. Then I read Walden again, despite not liking it the first time I read it, and realized that Thoreau even mentions the train.

Will in the pond. It was a hot day and the cool water felt good on our feet.

I splashed around, getting water on my head and back, and cooling off. {photo by Will Murray}

The pond today is a park, visited by nearly 500,000 people a year. It is open to swimming, fishing, and boating, and is surrounded by trails. Though Thoreau kept fit by jogging around the lake every day, visitors who want to emulate his experience are asked not to run on the trail that follows the shore, but to keep their running activity to the trails farther away.

Will and I explored the brand new beautiful visitor’s center, and then made our way to the pond. The pond is always more serenely beautiful than I expect, for so famous a tourist destination. Today it is protected land, and I get the sense that it is more forested and more lush than when Thoreau lived there. There are many easy trails to follow and we followed them. On the far side of the pond, Thoreau’s cabin no longer exists, but there are granite stones set to show where it used to be. Nearby is a large mound of rocks left by people in remembrance. He wasn’t living there at his death, but close friends the Alcotts (including the famous author Louisa May) laid the first stones at the site after his death. It began a tradition.

The site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. You can see the pile of rocks to the left.

A large pile of stones carried by admirers from around the world. Many contain messages from those who left them.

As we prepared to leave, I gave the all-day parking pass that we had purchased to the next car that pulled in to the lot. It was a small car packed with kids that looked around the age of 20, and they were so grateful for the pass. I try to do this whenever I can, handing over a parking pass when there is still time left on it. I think having to pay to park a car is annoying, so I cheat the system. I’m such a law-breaker rebel!!

Next we went to the campus of Brandeis University, where I received my BA and MA in 2007. It was 6pm and nearly empty of people. I was surprised to find every door unlocked. We wandered across the entire campus and you can bet I marched us right inside every building I wanted to explore.

First of all we went into the art building. My first two years at school I knew the Art building because of my job. I modeled for the painting classes. It was good money ($10 an hour – the highest pay available to a student on campus) for very little work. I am not shy about my body and found it interesting and challenging to find new creative poses and then to hold perfectly still. The students were amazingly kind and grateful, and always let me watch them work during breaks. Finally I had completed enough required courses that I had room for an elective, and I took a beginning oil class. The classroom was just as I remembered it, except for a new ugly ducting tube on the ceiling.

Art room Spring 2019.

Painting of art room. Fall 2006.

We walked through the Student Union building where I had talked with Anita Hill the year before she became a professor there, and where I had heard Thomas Friedman tell us why the World Is Flat. (At the University I also heard lectures by Howard Zinn, Azra Nomani, and President Jimmy Carter – it was a good place to hear people.) Up the hill we passed the library with floors that sink down instead of rise above ground level. We climbed the stairs at the Brown Social Science Center, up to the Anthropology Department. It’s still an old, outdated building, but filled with many happy memories. The halls smelled the same. Many of the professors I knew are still there, I could see, from bios posted on a bulletin board. I wrote a note on a paper towel from the bathroom and left it for Laurel, the woman in the office who keeps everything running. I said “Hi, I miss you all.”

We walked up all the steps of the Rabb Graduate Center and on up the hill to the Mandel Quad, where I took an Introduction to Judaism class once I realized I was attending a Jewish-centric school. Ha! Can you believe I had no idea until I arrived on campus? I’m so silly. Finally we went over to my other favourite building on campus: the Mandel Center where I took most of my classes for conflict resolution, mediation and peace building. It’s my favourite because that is where I met two of my best friends in all the world, Mads and Romain, who were also in the conflict resolution program.

This statue of Louis Brandeis is hard to resist. I wanted to show him more stuff, but he was focused on making the world a better place.

It began to rain as we walked back down the long hill. I told Will things like, “if you had a class at the Art building, then your next class was up here at Rabb, or the Mandel Center, you would just be late. That’s all there is to it.” I remembered having a law class at the top of the hill, then auditing a society & economy class with Robert Reich (well-known American economist and political commentator) down at the Slosberg Music Hall at the bottom of the hill. I was always late, and the packed theatre room never had seating available, so I sat on the floor with the other students who couldn’t arrive early.

Will and I were soaked through when we found our car at the bottom of the hill. I had spent a week with Will 24/7 and I am an introvert and used to living alone. Prior to the trip we had scheduled in two days away from each other. I drove him to the train station and he caught a train home to Providence. I drove to a random hotel that I had chosen because it was the cheapest in the whole Boston area, ha ha. I planned to visit with friends for two days and then go meet Will in Rhode Island for the final week.

The view out the apartment window of Cerro San Cristobal.

The view out the apartment window of Cerro San Cristobal.

I woke at 6:18 am refreshed after a great sleep. Soon Margaret was up too and we were out the door around 8:30 and headed for Cerro San Cristóbal, or hill of St. Christopher. It would be quite a hike and we wanted to hike in the early morning coolness. And…can I say…after the heat of the day yesterday, it cooled down overnight and was deliciously pleasant sleeping weather. The morning was cool and breezy and perfect.

Street art on the way to the hill of St. Christopher.

Street art on the way to the hill of St. Christopher.

Empty streets in the morning.

Empty streets in the morning.

More art. I can't help myself.

More art. I can’t help myself.

We walked a few blocks north, a few blocks west, and there we were at the bottom of the hill. Rather than go up, we backtracked a little through the tree-lined empty streets in search of coffee and sustenance. I am impressed by so much street art here, and stopped so often to remark and take photos that Margaret began to point murals out to me!

We found the perfect cafe, some sandwiches to go, and off we went on our trek uphill. It was a slog, but with plenty of shade, continuing morning breezes, and fabulous views of a hazy city, it was really no chore. At the top we found the beautiful white statue of the Virgin Mary. Surrounding it at the top of the hill were a lovely garden area with many benches in the shade, and a small and lovely stone church called the Motherhood of Mary Chapel. To save our feet, we rode the funicular (a….train?) back down.

The Virgin Mary, surrounded by admirers.

The Virgin Mary, surrounded by admirers.

Holy water in Mary's Church.

Holy water in Mary’s Church.

I am standing just below Mary, getting a sunbun as we speak.

I am standing just below Mary, getting a sunbun as we speak.

Our car is passing another as we ride the funicular down the hillside.

Our car is passing another as we ride the funicular down the hillside.

View of Santiago from the funicular.

View of Santiago from the funicular.

Bridge at the bottom of the hill covered in locks of love.

Bridge at the bottom of the hill covered in locks of love.

Lovers names inked onto them.

Lovers names inked onto them.

Our host Angelo had raved about Valparaiso and Viña del Mar (vineyard of the sea) the previous day, enough that we were convinced, and made on-the-spot plans to catch a bus there after our hike up the cerro. And that’s exactly what we did: back to the room, freshened up a bit, and headed for the metro. We took the metro to the bus station, and then we asked enough people in broken Spanish to express our need. (bless the patient Chileans) Tickets in hand, we jumped on a bus for the nearly 2 hour ride to Viña del Mar.

Views of the Andes from the bus.

Views of the Andes from the bus.

We saw multiple wineries from the tour bus.

We saw multiple wineries from the bus.

Our plan had been to explore both cities, but we stumbled serendipitously upon a Chilean-born Canadian, who was working for the Viña del Mar tourist office. She easily explained why we couldn’t do both cities – not enough time. And since we were walking, she quickly mapped out the best walking route through her fair city, so that we would return before the last bus of the evening.

We were so impressed we followed her suggestion exactly. First through the Parque Quinta Vergara, a lovely park but not especially remarkable. Margaret pointed out that the tourist lady was very proud of the place and eager to send us there, and for that reason, we were happy to go see it for her. There was renovation underway at the park, of the old Governor’s mansion. Restoration is something we have seen regularly here, and I think that’s a good sign of how well a city is doing.

A tree at the park. The fruit is bright orange/red as you can see, and are dropping to the ground.

A tree at the park. The fruit is bright orange/red as you can see, and dropping to the ground as it ripens.

Fabulous houses in Viña del Mar

There are fabulous houses in Viña del Mar.

I get happy in water.

I get happy in water.

We continued walking toward the beach, and enjoyed the small landscaped flower garden pointed out to us by the tourist guide. Almost as soon as we reached the sand, one of the many women selling things offered us something we actually wanted: a flaky sugary pastry and we scarfed it down, only after a very long discussion about how much it should cost. We began the conversation at something that sounded a lot like $5,000 pesos for a single pastry (close to $8). When it was clear that we were shocked and walking away, the women quickly explained that we didn’t understand. After much talking and confusion, many prices being discussed, always with the woman saying we weren’t understanding her. Finally we paid $1,000 pesos for two pastries, which is more like 75 cents each. Now THAT I can understand just fine. 😉

We ate our pastries on the beach and I was not able to resist the water. I stripped off my shoes and socks and splashed in the sea. Imagine! Swimming in the ocean in December.

Lovely views of the seashore are found in Vina del Mar.

Lovely views of the seashore are found in Viña del Mar. Wulff Castle is in the center, on a rock outcrop in the sea.

Pelicans groomed themselves into awkwar poses, though I begged them to raise their heads for a more flattering photo.

Pelicans groomed themselves into awkward poses, though I begged them to raise their heads for a more flattering photo.

We find the cities in Chile to be tastefully lovely and very clean.

We find the cities in Chile to be tastefully lovely and very clean.

This tree has seen better days.

This tree has seen better days.

Castle Wulff

Castle Wulff

Pisco Sours

Pisco Sours

We were able to walk inside Castillo Wulff (you can barely make it out in the shore photo above). It was purchased in 1906 and transformed into a castle in 1916 by Gustavo Adolfo Wulff. Inside was empty but for an art show of local bird photography. We crossed the mouth of a river and continued on along the playa, past a splendid casino in a huge building with classic architecture. There were horses with carriages out front, but that was too touristy for our mood just then.

Finally, tummies rumbling, we went in search of a place to eat. Margaret has been pining for local seafood, possibly a Chilean seafood soup, so we walked past the Peruvian Thai restaurant (Er?), the many pizza places, the Italian restaurant. We skipped a few that looked promising because they were closed. Finally we stepped a place advertised as a pasta restaurant, because we spotted fish on the menu. The beach here is touristy, and thus the waiters brought us menus in English. Sure enough, seafood was on the menu, so I ordered Chilean Pot (mussels, squid, and shrimp sauteed in garlic butter) and Margaret ordered white fish ceviche. We sipped Chilean Pisco Sours, an alcoholic drink made of egg white, Pisco (a brandy made of grape wine), syrup, lemon juice and bitters, and found that our luck remained with us because the generously-sized dishes came out made to order and scrumptious.

We have been admiring so much of Chile’s architecture. The lovely folks at Castle Wulff had provided us a walking map of some of the more remarkable homes in the city, so after we ate we headed for the bus station via these homes. We spotted a couple, but even more fun was that in front of one such gorgeous mansions was an event of some kind. At Palacio Carrasco we stood with the crowd and watched schoolkids take the stage and sing songs – one song for each school – and watched the parents and grandparents cheering and smiling and holding up their phones to get videos.

Schoolkids singing

Schoolkids singing

At the bus station.

At the bus station.

Subway entertainment.

Subway entertainment.

We left for the bus station and settled in for our 2-hour ride back. After that long long day, and after two days together, Margaret and I had finally exhausted our supply of things that needed to be talked about in order to catch each other up on our lives, and our trip home was somewhat more subdued than the one earlier. We caught the metro back to downtown Santiago and were surprised (shocked actually because of the deafening volume) when a man came up and played his boom box, then accompanied the song with his saxophone and pipe. He had a woman in tow, who was asking for money. Eventually they moved off. Soon they were replaced with two teenage boys who looked like they were having a blast earning their coins. They also played boom boxes, but brought mics and began rapping about the passengers on the subway. Smiles all around showed that their show was much more appreciated than the first one. But it was our stop and we hopped off and easily made our way in the dark to our apartment. It was about 11 pm as we sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to get ready for bed (me to begin my blog post), and M figured we had spent $40 each today for all those adventures. Wonderful!

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