Boston is awash in museums, from the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company Museum to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and in fact, many of the streets are pretty much museums themselves. But there’s only so much time, and so many steps the aching legs can take, so paring down the list from 40-plus to just a couple is key.
And in this case, “just a couple” means “two”: the Museum of Fine Arts and Fenway Park.
OK, technically, Fenway isn’t a museum, but it was built in 1912 and is the oldest active baseball park in America. Sure, it’s been remodeled and reconfigured, but still, if you squint a little – and ignore the painful “Sweet Caroline” sing-along – the past can become present again.
The modern sports stadium, after all, is designed to remove as much disposable income as possible from whoever walks inside, and team stores, concession stands and interior spaces are as expansive as possible. Owners don’t want fans waiting in line to spend their money, so there are always plenty of options and plenty of room.
Fenway, though, despite the best efforts of 21st century renovators, is resistant to such modifications. The corridors are cramped and dark, the concession lines snake into the passageways and it’s not that easy to get to the front of the line to present your credit card. On the other hand, however, it’s refreshing to walk into a space designed for baseball, not extracting cash.
And once in the stands, Fenway is at the same time old and new. The Green Monster, I confess, was a bit of a disappointment, looking much like the right-field wall in San Francisco’s new Oracle Park, and hardly loomed as much as lore would suggest. Of course there were video boards, and screens charting the horizontal and vertical movement of each pitch, but the scoreboard is still manual and by carefully turning your head, you can see pretty much exactly what a fan saw 50 or 100 years ago.
Of course, you have to turn your head to see much of anything, as the seats don’t point toward home plate as they do in modern parks, but rather straight at the field. Oh, the game? The Red Sox, a devotedly .500 team, were tussling with the sad-sack Colorado Rockies, and in a close, sloppily played encounter, the home team managed to lose in extra innings. But when you’re at a museum, after all, who worries about winning?
Luckily, Neil Diamond was absent from the Museum of Fine Arts, which absorbed pretty much an entire day of our trip. I was surprised – very pleasantly surprised – at the high quality of the collection, which included a full room of Monets, Paul Gaugin’s classic “Where Do We Come From?,” Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Sower” and some familiar works by Vincent Van Gogh.
Of course, there were more than just Impressionists, with a roomful of portraits of early American historical figures, lots of high-quality European art and, much to our good luck, a traveling exhibition of Japanese works featuring Hokusai (“The Great Wave”).
And you have to love a museum with good wine, which makes for a pleasant break in a long day of contemplation, but even an alcohol-free visit to the Museum of Fine Arts is both pleasurable and profound.
I’m sure the museums we didn’t see have lots to offer as well, but I have to say I’m pretty happy with the two choices we settled on. Both, in their way, bring the past back to life, and both, in their way, reward the traveler in ways that won’t be found anywhere else.
A Visit to Boston