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Hi, welcome to my blog. I'm a writer of poetry, prose and plays but my best known work is children's fiction. My most popular books are the Selby series and the Emily Eyefinger series. This blog is intended as an entertaining collection of thoughts and pictures from here in Australia and from my travels in other parts of the world. I hope you enjoy it. (For more information have a look at my website.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Boston Strong

A week ago I took a short walk through the streets of Boston, my home town. I started at The Boston Public Library in Copley Square, the site of the  Boston Marathon bombings last April. In case you missed it, three people were killed and 264 people were injured near the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon. The bombers were Chechen brothers, one of whom died in a shoot-out with the police and the other is on trial.

Bolstering moral or cashing in on a tragedy?
No sooner had the smoke cleared but two enterprising Emerson College students started producing T-shirts that said simply, "Boston Strong". The slogan went viral and now it's everywhere in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, leading to wrangles about who "owns" the slogan but also about the message itself. Where's the verb? 

The scene of the first bomb.

Surely they could have added a simple "is" on their T-shirts to make it "Boston is Strong" or "was" strong or "will be" strong. Linguists and grammar pedants remain perplexed. Is "Boston Strong" a noun followed by a modifying adjective or an adjective modified by an attributive noun? My choice would be for "is". This could save more bloodshed from punch-ups in university cafeterias.
Boston Public Library entrance is across the street from where the first bomb went off.

Why did the slogan catch on so quickly? Probably from previous advertising. There was Lance Armstrong's charity "Livestrong" and the US Army's recruiting slogan, "Army Strong". And then there were two recent hurricanes, Irene and Sandy that left the mottoes "Vermont Strong" and (New) "Jersey Strong" in their swathes of destruction. 

Arlington Street Church with tributes to the victims of the bombs
written on scraps of cloth.

The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest marathon, having been run every year since 1897 and won by such runners as Australia's own Robert de Castella in 1986. You may be thinking, hang-on a tick, how about Ancient Greece, the original Olympics and the Battle of Marathon? How about the story of Pheidippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and back, a distance of 240km (150 miles) said, "We won!" and then dropped dead. Well I'm sorry but, if the story is correct (and let's face it, it probably isn't) that would be an ultra-marathon. Today's marathon distance is now standardised at 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 km).

A Boston Strong message.
(There were some unprintable messages to terrorists.)

From Copley Square walking down Boylston Street I came to Arlington Street Church, This church has been the focal point for social issues for many years whether it was the 1967 Vietnam War draft card burnings or, more recently, the first state-sanctioned same sex marriage in the USA in 2004. Tied to the railings beside the church are hundreds of messages relating to the Boston Marathon bombings.

One of the Swan Boats with real swans nearby pretending not to notice.

Across the street is the Public Garden, the first public botanical garden in America, The highlight for kids has for many years been the Swan Boats that glide silently around the artificial pond under pedal power provided by a driver who sits in the swan. The swan boats were built in 1877 by Robert Paget who had been inspired by the image of the Knight in Wagner's opera, Lohengrin, riding a swan across a lake. 

The book that spawned the brood.

The Swan Boats make appearances in two children's books: E. B White's The Trumpet of the Swan and Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Duckings.

The ducklings rarely get a break.

The latter is now such a Boston icon that there are statues of the ducklings in the Garden. The ducklings are beautifully polished by the millions of kids who come to sit on them. I tried---and failed---to get a kid-free photo of the hen and her ducklings.

Even the ice cream van is cashing in. The image on the back is from the book.

Crossing the street I was in another big park, the Boston Common. This dates from 1634 and is the oldest park in America. The early Puritan settlers used it to graze animals but also as a place of public execution. In school we were taught that the Puritans fled from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to avoid religious persecution. What we didn't learn was how intolerant they turned out to be. They not only hanged witches in the park but even people such as Mary Dyer who made the mistake of preaching Quakerism.

The execution of Ann Hibbins, alleged witch.
etching by Frank Thayer Merril (Public Domain) Wikimedia Commons.

The Common has a long history and many monuments such as the wonderful memorial designed by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry, one of the first African American units to fight in the Civil War.

Make way for Duck Tours---the street are clogged with these amphibians
giving tours by land and sea. 

During my time the Boston Common has been a place of political rallies such as demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s and various Civil Rights demonstrations.

Boston Common bandstand the place of music and protest---sometimes
one and the same.

Martin Luther King addressing a Civil Rights rally on April 23, 1965.
He's in that circle. (Sadly, I had a very basic camera in those days.)

On the Park Street end of Boston Common is an exhibition of globes called "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet". The tone was fun but the object is serious: to heighten awareness about global warming.

Australia, and the rest of the world, covered in frogs.

Quite apart from a trip down memory lane, my real objective was a mural painted on an air intake structure in front of Boston's South Station. The mural was painted by the Brazilian identical twins, Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, who paint under the name  Os Gemeos ("the twins"). The brothers began as break-dancers and then graffiti artists of the hip hop culture and this image was undoubtedly designed to stir up controversy---which it has done.

Terrorist or hip hop graffiti artist?

In a city sensitive to Muslim terrorists (the Boston Marathon bombers were Muslim) painting a huge masked figure was bound to bring the anti-Muslim bigots out of the woodwork. Whether it is a terrorist or just a graffiti artist with a scarf to protect his or her lungs, I don't know. Either way the controversy surrounding it must have attracted a crowd to the brother's current exhibition at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art.

I like the utility door through the feet.

Sadly I didn't have time to see the Os Gemeos exhibition at the ICA but I did see it through the ether. If you can't be in Boston to see it in person before it comes down in November, have a look at this link and watch the video. It's a pity the mural will also be painted over in November and not made a permanent piece of public art.

Note to Australian muralists and graffiti artists: there's an air intake structure at Darling Harbour in Sydney just crying out for a mural.

Me finishing the Boston Marathon before the
bombings---40 years before.


Peter Macinnis said...

Why that weird distance? The race distance was 25 miles for the first few races, but in London in 1908, the then Princess of Wales wanted her children to get a good view of the start, which was to be near Windsor Castle, so the start was set a further mile back from the finishing point. Then Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII, wanted a good view of the finish, so that was moved further on another 385 yards to a point below the royal box, and the distance set by the mindless whims of selfish royalty has remained fixed ever since at 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.186 km. Oh, and the runner? Jury's out, but he might have been any of Thersius, Eucles, Philippides or Pheidippides!

Duncan Ball said...

Thanks for that, Peter. I knew the distance was something to do with the running in London but I never knew why it was that odd distance. I never had trouble with the 26 mile but the 285 yards was the kicker.

Richard Tulloch said...

I remember that photo of you crossing the finis, Duncan, and I've used it as inspiration - though a half marathon is the best I've ever managed.

Anonymous said...

Hello! This is Timothy again. The Boston bombings last year were terrible! Its an interesting thing there you have raised about the slogan 'Boston Strong.' I like the picture of yoou fiishing the marathon 40 years ago. Do you reckon you could run that far now, after 40 years?

Duncan Ball said...

Hi Timothy, I don't know if I can still run a marathon at my age and I'm not game to try. If I did manage it it would certainly be a LOT slower than my time 40 years ago. At my age I'm just happy to be able to walk a good distance. Thanks for your comment.