Holiday snaps

May 13, 2012 • 8:32 am

Here are a few pictures from my travel to Boston and Cambridge.  Upon arriving and procuring the requisite noms, two old friends and I visited the Boston Public Library to have a look at its renovation, begun in 2005.  The BPL is a historic place in America; as Wikipedia notes,

The Boston Public Library (est.1848) is a municipal public library system in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, the first large library open to the public in the United States, and the first public library to allow people to borrow books and other materials and take them home to read and use.

The visit began well, with two posts beside the entrance, one representing the achievements of science, the other of the humanities. This is my friend Betsy and I pointing to a notable scientist (click to enlarge all photos):

The entrance hall on the first floor:

A regal lion guards the staircase:

A closeup of some of the gorgeous marble that festoons the interior.  This reminds me of a chunkier version of Jackson Pollock:

The reading room:

A door knocker:

On display were some letters from literary notables. This one is from Edgar Allen Poe, who had excellent handwriting:

And one from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ordering many copies of one of his books:

At Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, here’s my Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin, who turned 83 in March.  He doesn’t look near that old, and I’m jealous that his hair hasn’t even turned completely gray:

Lewontin’s office is a repository of memorabilia that used to reside in his big lab before he retired.  The moose head shown here is famous, for a group of graduate students (including me) found it in the MCZ attic in about 1977 and, with great effort, moved it to our third-floor lab, where one of us with skills bolted it to the wall. When Dick retired and moved downstairs to his office, he insisted that the moose head go with him:

Of course I sought out classy noms in Cambridge.  Perhaps the best ice cream I’ve ever had is to be found at Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream in Inman Square, Cambridge.  It is not only superb stuff, but the flavors are unusual and wonderful. Here’s the flavor board on the night we went:

Enlarge the photo and peruse the flavors. Which would you choose, knowing that you’re there for only one evening and can’t have them all?

It was a tough choice for me.  I wanted “khulfi,” an Indian-derived flavor with rosewater and pistachios, but I also contemplated getting a scoop of green tea and a scoop of azuki bean, which would have made a delightful Japanese treat (I love any dessert made with green tea).  But in the end I settled for Christina’s signature flavor, burnt sugar (this is perhaps the best flavor of ice cream I’ve ever had), topped with a scoop of ginger-molasses:

Finally, I have to show a felid.  My friends Tim and Betsy have three cats, two of which (Bella and Garcia) are rather shy and diffident.  But Jack, a new acquisition, is a sweetheart:

Jack and I spent a lot of quality time together during my visit:

30 thoughts on “Holiday snaps

    1. If I remember correctly, cats (perhaps all felids?) have an organic multilayer mirror for visible light some distance behind the photoreceptors that nearly doubles the chance to absorb photons.

      Such mirrors work by constructive interference, and the reflected light suffers all sorts of effects with angle of incidence. Changes in reflected wavelength bands and their polarization among them.

    2. Ah, it is the tapetum lucidum:

      “The tapetum lucidum contributes to the superior night vision of some animals. Many of these animals are nocturnal, especially carnivores that hunt their prey at night, while others are deep sea animals.”

      “The tapetum lucidum reflects with constructive interference,[5] this increasing the quantity of light passing through the retina. In the cat, the tapetum lucidum lowers the minimum threshold of vision 6-fold, allowing the cat to see light that is invisible to human eyes.[11]”

      The discrepancy between my naive factor of 2 and 6 should be other effects. And eye is not flats, so having a mirror surface would give chances for multiple reflections before absorption, and so on.

  1. Note that the text under the lion statue details the course of Sherman’s March to the Sea campaign. A nice touch, Boston.

  2. Chocolate Banana – Drool
    also Rum Raisin – whenever and wherever available. Jack’s eyes are mesmerising.

  3. I would have chosen Chocolate Moose… but as you can see, I still have cognitive dissonance from the photo of Professor Lewontin’s moose head.

    So instead I choose a triple:

    1) Mexican Chocolate
    2) Kahlua
    3) Bailey’s Irish Cream

    (Forgive me Lord, for that defines sinful.)

    1. You’re more decisive than I am. I looked over the list and managed to eliminate “low fat frozen yogurt” but now I’m stuck. I’d better stay out of Boston.

  4. Well, the Union’s Civil War victory was a great win for literacy, given that the education of slaves was illegal. So a library should celebrate it.

  5. A publicly funded library, open to just anyone; the godless Darwin glorified; the attacks of the northern aggressors on harmless slave owners memorialized — it’s soshialism!

  6. Thanks so much for the pictures of the library.

    Last year when I went to the Library of Congress for the first time, I was in a desperate hurry to clear the security line. I needed to find a quiet corner so I could tear up properly. Like the Boston Public Library (and New York City Public Library), magnificent palaces of learning. Doesn’t every civilized person tear up upon entry?

  7. In addition to your fantastic writing, I enjoy the photos you post. Keep ’em comin’. They are
    just one more thing that makes your website
    stand out.

  8. I recently visited the Boston Public Library for the first time. It is a magnificent tribute to how our forebears regarded public goods. I felt dishonored for tolerating our current “ownership society”, and rightly so.

  9. The best dessert I have ever enjoyed in a restaurant was from The Single Pebble, a Chinese restaurant (written up as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country) in my hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

    A crunchy baked “cup” of pressed roasted sesame seeds and honey, filled with scoops of homemade ginger and coconut ice cream, dribbled all over with melted Belgian chocolate.

    Ginger and coconut ice cream go together like soup and sandwich, and each cleanses the palate, so unlike most desserts, this one keeps delivering myriads of taste sensations until the final bite. They don’t offer this anymore, unfortunately. Sigh.

    So, ginger and coconut ice cream, in a sesame seed cone, with chocolate sauce, please.

  10. I used to live in East Cambridge, and hung out at the 1369 coffee house, the S&S, and went to Christina’s often. In fact, I was down there last weekend and spent some time and money having pints at The Thirsty Scholar.

  11. I haven’t been to Christina’s, but luckily I live in the area so I’ll be sure to try as many of these as possible. If I could only try one, I think I’d have to go for coffee toffee.

  12. Boston is a lovely city. My girlfriend and I went out there for the first time this past Halloween (we spent Halloween in Salem) and had a great time bumming around the city.

    I hope you will be sharing more pictures.

  13. The pictures of you and Dr. Lewontin tell a good story: “We’re still here, still at work, and still friends!” You are both very fortunate.
    And I’ll have a double dip cone with Mexican chocolate and adzuki bean ice cream.

  14. What an adventure. A moose grazes on your hair. Then you are attacked by an Ice Cream. Yummy. BTW,I enjoyed your Harvard video.

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