A Sense of Place

February 25, 2008 at 10:10 am | Posted in Massholes, running | 1 Comment

My night of Oscar-viewing was kind of a bust.  We took the Little Bug out for an early dinner (5:30!) at Charley’s, and then after putting her to bed flipped on Barbara Walters.  We didn’t even make it through her whole show, and by 7:45 were both in bed with the remnants of the Sunday Times.  And by 9 p.m., were sound asleep.  I had not seen any of the nominated movies this year — violence, blood, and suspense are not my thing.  Movies like Juno are my thing, and I did manage to see that over Christmas.  And on Saturday night we watched Gone Baby, Gone.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it at all (see above re: violence and suspense), but Tim convinced me that I needed to if only because it was filmed in Southie.  And, indeed, he got very excited at the scene that took place in the bar Murphy’s Law, which was just down the street from his old house. 

The movie raised some sharp ethical and moral questions, and the ending was perfect: I was wholly conflicted about what I would have done in Patrick’s situation — my gut instinct was tempered by the final scene.  To the big “you” out there:  Netflix it asap!  Anyway, there was one scene in the movie where Patrick asks an older detective where he’s from.  “Louisiana,” the detective replies.  Patrick says (in his thick, thick, but spot-on Boston accent), “Oh, I thought you were from here.”  And the cop says something to the effect of: “I’ve lived here longer than you’ve been alive, so how do you define ‘from here’?”  That’s a question that has long interested me, and especially as it is portrayed in literature (and, I suppose, film).  Inspired and awed by the mountains during my first summer in Sun Valley, I wrote my senior thesis on Wallace Stegner (a thesis whose title, which Lindsey actually came up with, shamefully escapes me! “From Myth to Mountain”? “From Mountain to Myth”? Something like that — sorry, Linds!) and how one’s attachment to landscape and geography has been manifested in the genre of “Western-American” literature.  Gone Baby, Gone was as much a movie about one’s attachment to one’s geographic roots as its underlying mystery.  The characters’ ties to the city inform many of their actions.  While I haven’t seen or read any of Dennis Lehane’s other works, I understand that Boston is as much a character in them as any person.  Perhaps this is also why I love the Spenser mysteries of Robert B. Parker — the minuscule details of life in Boston are perfectly captured.  But I loved these books even before living here; indeed, when I finally moved here, in some ways the city already felt familiar. 

A milestone on Saturday:  after a big snowfall, by afternoon the streets were relatively clear, or at least the snow was well-packed.  The sky was brilliant, but the light was fading to glowing by the time I went out for my run.  I ran down the Comm. Ave. Mall and through the Public Garden, around the Common to Tremont street, all the way down Tremont to the Aquarium and the waterfront; past Long Wharf and down through the North End.  At some point, not really knowing where I was but guided by a vague sense of direction, I turned left, and ran out of the North End, popping up by the Boston Garden.  I ended up on Cambridge Street, running along the West Side of Beacon Hill (past the new Whole Foods), and then headed out over the Longfellow Bridge and the left along the Cambridge side of the Charles, past the Mass. Ave bridge, all the way down to the B.U. bridge, where I finally turned around and ran back, now along hard-packed snow, to the Mass. Ave. and back over it — as the sun set on the financial district and Beacon Hill to my left — to Back Bay.  Eight miles!  I didn’t set out to do that much, but I neither did I set out with a clearly defined route.  Amazing that Boston is small enough that eight miles could take me over so much ground, criss-crossing the river.  I think what kept me going was my own unfolding sense of place:  I live here now.  I am a Murphy, my daughter was born here, and, after far too many moves between both coasts and in between, I’ve (finally) planted roots.  I still may neglect the Boston Globe for the Times, but slowly, New York City is fading as my geographic touchstone.  As the character in the movie suggested, nativity is not the only thing that makes you “of” a place.  The thrill of the first dusting of snow on the Sawtooths, the green Malibu hills falling into the Pacific, or, seen from across the wide Charles, the Hancock building glowing a firey orange in the sunset, roots me to my geography.  And this sense of place triggers an elusive, almost heartbreaking, ping of inspiration that I find nowhere else.

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  1. Between a myth and a mountain!!!

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