Exchange Student

The Esplanade, Boston

The college I attended in California had an exchange program with several colleges on the East Coast so I decided to take advantage of it and spent my Junior year in Boston.

I arrived in Boston by myself on a hot September day.  I was excited.  I had no idea where I was going or what I was getting into but I loved Boston right away.

I met this great guy, Mike, at a dance the first week I was there.  He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before.  I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that.  My ass was sore a lot of the time because of the vibrations on the motorcycle.  He literally would go 90 whenever possible.  He taught me a lot about America and its history.  Or at least his view of it.  He also showed me everything there was to see in the Boston area and more.  We were always going someplace, doing something.

Simmons College is just down the street from Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox play baseball, right in the middle of Boston.  I could hop on the subway and be anywhere in minutes. We were just down the street from the Harvard Medical School so ambulances with sirens screaming went past our windows day and night.  I lived up four flights of stairs – no elevators.

I had some interesting classes and I was amazed to find out that they took attendance and counted it in your grade, so for the first time in my college career I started to attend classes.  I couldn’t believe how easy school could be if you actually went to class.  It saved all kinds of time making up for missed lectures.  I found that I didn’t have to spend my time doing all that reading because they reviewed everything in the classroom and if I took notes I rarely had to study at all.  I did a lot better in school that year and when I returned to Mills and attended classes my grades went up considerably.  Quite a revelation.  I only wish I had discovered it sooner.

Mike was on a work-study program at Northeastern University where he would work for three months and then go to school for three months.  He was studying engineering – he started out in electrical, then went to mechanical and ended up in civil.  For the three months when he was working we were rich and we had a lot of fun going out all the time.  When he was in school we were poor and watched a lot of TV.

Mike’s father and uncle had been sent to America from Germany at the beginning of World War II, with their entire inheritance, to go to the university.  Mike’s father had spent all his money getting a PhD.

Mike’s maternal grandparents had fled Belarus and gone to Paris.  His mother had grown up in Paris and when she was 19 they had emigrated to the USA.  She spoke English with a French accent.  Her father had died by the time I met her but I did see her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian.  Mike grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English.  He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life.

Of course, being a Third Culture Kid with very itchy feet and an international background, I had trouble relating to that and ultimately it led to the end of our relationship but in the meantime, Boston was great.

On the Fourth of July there was a Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade. This particular summer, 1976, it was the Bi-Centennial of the USA and so I was excited to go and see it live in person.  We arrived early in the day and marked out our territory where we could see everything.  By the time the concert started, the place was jammed and the police were getting irritable.   There were 400,000 of us cheering on Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.  Luckily there were no major incidents and it was a concert to remember.  The concert ended with the 1812 Overture, cannon shooting over the Charles River and an amazing fireworks show.  This was also the first time the Fourth of July Pops concert was televised.

The funny thing is, almost 20 years later I saw the 1812 Overture performed at another outdoor concert.  This time I was in Red Square, Moscow, Russia.  It was winter and the square was jammed with people.  We were so smushed together we were all keeping each other warm.  A Russian cellist and conductor had been living in exile and this was his first concert after being welcomed back.

“Washington Chorus Society and USA National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, perform the finale of Prokofiev’s Cantata ‘Alexander Nensky’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture with Kremlin Cathedral Bells and Cannon Volleys.”

They were both significant events.  However, standing in Red Square on that cold winter day it dawned on me, the 1812 Overture is kind of a strange way to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Tchikovsky wrote it to celebrate Russia’s defense of Moscow against Napoleon.  I had been to the fields of Borodino where the final battle took place.

I guess when it is such a great piece of music, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

photo: http://www.celebrateboston.com/hatch-shell.htm

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