Downtown View:Giving Thanks

November 26, 2015
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You will probably be sitting around a table soon telling friends and family what you are thankful for.

We think about the big things—those friends and family members, the good food, good health, a satisfying job. We can easily forget other enjoyments, amenities and endeavors that enrich our lives.

I’m here to remind you of such enrichments.

For example, give thanks for the new 311. Punch that into your phone, and City Hall answers. You can report a missed trash bag, a street light that is out or a dangerous pothole. 311 is not 911, which is for emergencies. 311, though, keeps all those little city pieces functioning.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, let’s thank the trash pickup. It works. The trucks are clean considering what they handle. They come when they say they will. The guys are pretty neat in the pickup. What they leave behind is mostly the fault of lazy residents who deposit their trash the night before, leaving 12 dark hours for the rats to chew through the bags and strew the contents all over the sidewalk.

This is the time of year to be thankful for winterberry, that native New England holly flashing its bunched, small, neon-red fruits in the region’s marshes right now. Birds gobble up the drupes by mid-December when these shrubs become indistinguishable from the other bare branches you can see. Wade into the wetlands and harvest the berries, or buy them at florist shops. But be wary of poking them into your window box. The birds will swoop in for a feast, and you will be left with bare sticks.

I’m thankful for New England churches, not necessarily for their religion but for their architecture. Every small town has one marking its center, many built before the separation of church and state. Along with Cape Cod, Federal and Greek Revival-style houses, they create a sense of place that few other American regions can match. They embody Louis Sullivan’s directive that “form follows function.”

It is too bad Walter Gropius hadn’t seen them when he began his career in Germany, since their simple shapes, balanced features, clear volumes and modest ornamentation anticipated his theories by more than a century. Some Bauhaus or International Style buildings are fine, but those old Congregational churches comprise some of the world’s best simple architecture.

We also should thank the Registry of Motor Vehicles this year for not sweating the small stuff. It finally allowed Lindsay Miller to wear a spaghetti strainer on her head for her driver’s license photo. According to a report in the Boston Globe, Miller calls herself a “Pastafarian”—a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who, its followers say, might have created the world. While we’re at it, let’s be thankful for yet another religion based on magic and improbabilities. Whatever spins your dial, as one might say.

We should also be thankful for Police Commissioner William Evans. He won’t remember me, but I met him at Back Bay neighborhood meetings when he was District 4’s captain. He was straightforward, unruffled, sensible and articulate about policing matters. When he talks, as he did recently telling Bostonians the police were beefing up security at certain venues in response to the Paris mayhem, he commands respect and admiration. Lucky Bostonians.

We should be thankful for our parks, especially the newest one. The Greenway has come into its own, with trees, shrubs and perennials maturing nicely, a staff that calms neighbors rather than inflaming them, and lovable activities, attractions and art we.

I was skeptical about the airborne Echelman sculpture, since her similar works had appeared many times elsewhere. I was afraid it would be like those dreadful cows that surfaced in every city.

I was wrong. The aerial sculpture was fabulous. We should thank the owners of the buildings at 125 High Street, International Place and the Intercontinental Hotel, from which it hung, for being good sports.

Finally, we should give thanks for musicians. The night after President Kennedy was murdered, Leonard Bernstein assembled the New York Philharmonic for a television performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. The music didn’t change the tragedy, but it reminded listeners that civilization’s beauty is bigger than some creepy guy with a gun.

After the massacres on November 13, a pianist set up his grand piano on a Paris street and played Imagine, confirming that the Beatles have made it into the classical musical canon.

            It didn’t change things either, but the performance reminded listeners that there is a better world out there than eight pathetic murderers.

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