A Flower Walk in Back Bay

This morning I met a friend for a walk in Back Bay. I know friend is a wonderfully uninformative word, especially in this time of Facebook when we have vast numbers of friends we interact with regularly, while real-life meetings with friends may be rare. The people we think of as our best friends we barely see at all in our busy lives and confused geographies. At least that is what it’s like for me.

The friend I walked with this morning – I will call her Daphne – is someone I have known since I was a college student and she was a young mother, the wife of one of my professors. We only became friends on Facebook this spring, and this is the first time we ever went for a walk together. And yet afterwards I felt the way you feel after seeing an old friend: as though parts of yourself you had forgotten about have been returned to you. At the same time I felt the way you feel when you make a new friend: as though new vistas, connections and opportunities are opening up before you.

Daphne suggested that we meet at the statue of George Washington, a formal equestrian statue on a tall granite pedestal near the Arlington Street entrance to the Boston public gardens. I love meetings by monuments. Choosing a monument as a meeting place acknowledges the monument by writing into it into the script of your daily life. At the same time the monument, your stage set, elevates the event. No matter how inconsequential your meeting may be, having it take place near an imposing monument lends it a measure of importance.

Daphne had a very specific itinerary in mind for our walk. I was glad to be taken in hand and glad that the itinerary involved circling around in one neighborhood, not striking out for miles in some direction and then needing to walk for miles to return. I am never sure how long my shot runner’s knees will hold out.

The itinerary was devised for a systematic viewing of all the flowering gardens and trees in Back Bay. I discovered that this flower walk was a spring ritual of Daphne’s, one she did with her husband (my former professor) every year. The timing of the walk was crucial. An earlier version of the walk involved seeing all the magnolias in bloom and making special note of the yellow ones. The timing of our walk coincided with the tulips blooming along with all manner of flowering trees and shrubs. I let Daphne lead the way.

From Arlington street we walked up the north sidewalk of Beacon Street all the way to Mass Ave, where we reversed direction and walked back down the south sidewalk of Beacon back to Arlington again. From there we walked up the north side of Marlborough Street until Mass Ave and again back to Arlington on the south sidewalk. We repeated this process for Commonwealth Avenue: up the north sidewalk to Mass Ave and down the south sidewalk to Arlington. The walk ended at an outdoor cafe on Newbury Street where we drank cold drinks in the warm sun.

All the time we were walking we were talking. Daphne told me about her daughter, a young writer with whom I seem to share a series of uncanny resemblances, including the same birthday. Daphne told me about her daughter’s journey, at turns glamorous, at turns tragic – always completely original – to young motherhood and the life of a writer. And then Daphne listened to mine. How had I met my husband? What had I done since leaving college thirty years ago? What had happened between me and that Greek student (her husband’s advisee) who had confided in her his lovesick state?

The story went from Paris to the Lower East Side of New York, from Athens to an agricultural village in the Peloponnese. From there it went back to Boston for graduate school and then to the country (or was it the suburbs?) for my childbearing years, interspersed with many brief returns to Greece. And now? Back in Boston. The children are almost grown up, and I am beginning my career as a writer. As I shared my own life story with Daphne, I realized I was giving her a catalog of the books I want to write and have begun writing: the love story in New York, the story of my Greek village house, the novel I translated for my PhD, the woman whose life I went to Greece to research.

As Daphne and I traced a map along the flowering gardens of Back Bay, I mapped out the story of my past and the plan for my future writing. Now is the crucial time: the magnolias have lost their petals, and all the trees are coming into full leaf.


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