Taking It In

Life is full of paradoxes. The more afraid you are of death, the less you’ll be able to enjoy life. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. The more time you have, the less you’re able to blog.

Ok, that last one might not be true, but that’s how the past week has felt. After meeting the other fellows, our schedule has been jam-packed with activities both fun and bureaucratic.

The fun started with a tour of MIT. Like many large urban research institutions, MIT’s campus sprawls through town. Its buildings represent an eclectic assortment of brutalist, avant-garde, modern, and classic architecture styles. 

Guiding us was Joost Bonsen, an MIT alum and lecturer. With an impish grin and a mischievous laugh, he’d encourage us to “come this way” to see a hidden gem or learn a surprising detail. In the president’s “secret” garden, he grinned as he pointed out an apple tree said to be from a cutting of the English tree under which Sir Isaac Newton “discovered” gravity. A good story has nothing on facts.

Iconic buildings include the domed building 10 (the buildings are all numbered rather than named) at the center of campus, as well as other structures designed by Alvar Aalto, Eduardo Catalano, I.M.Pei, Stephen Holl, Frank Gehry, and Eero Saarinen. We like variety in our buildings, Joost said with a grin, unlike “that other college in Cambridge.”
Standing under Gehry’s angular art, with its steep, pitched awnings, Joost quipped “only a Californian would design a building like that,” since New Englanders would recognize the snow and ice challenges such a design would cause.

Frank Gehry’s pitched awnings and angular building isn’t exactly snow friendly.

Ultimately the tour took us past MIT’s nuclear reactor (“note that it’s next to the graduate student housing — heh!” Joost grinned), a wind tunnel named after the Wright Brothers (“that’s where they did their testing before Kitty Hawk — heh!”), and to the back side the dome where students sometimes stage hilariously geeky hacks, for which there is a well-established set of guidelines.

Hacking ethics are pretty good rules for life, too.

After the tour, we gathered at MIT’s on-campus bar — the Muddy. Perhaps the least-expensive bar on campus, it features the most-restrictive ID policy I’ve ever encountered. Every member of our group, including those of us with kids who are of legal age, were carded. Can’t be too careful, I guess.

The Muddy’s atmosphere could best be described as “run-down British officer’s club in Delhi.” The ceilings hover 20 feet or more over the head of students at small wooden tables. Ceiling fans slowly spin, pushing the air out enormous open windows. Students sit in front of plastic cups, pitchers of beer, laptops, and board games. Nobody is in a rush.

Getting drinks at the Muddy offers a cheap way to kibitz with colleagues.

The bureaucratic tasks are far less interesting (sign here to get health care; stand in this line to register your car; go this office to get your ID; sorry, you don’t have the right paperwork to register your car; and so on).

Far more interesting were our outings to the MIT Museum, the Boston Science Museum and Salem, Mass. That’s next time.

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