Graduation and Glass Flowers

Mom sent me off to Harvard with two requests. One: take a course with Everett I. Mendelsohn, her favorite professor from graduate school days. Two: go see the Glass Flowers at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

I knocked off Request Number One along with a Core requirement by signing up for "Historical Studies A: Modern Science and Modern Societies" in the spring of my freshman year.

Since then, a horrific vision has sprouted in my brain:

Commencement morn. I roll out of bed, one or two hours of sleep, fumble around for my cap and gown. I search for housemates, hug roommates, line up for the thrilling yet teary-eyed procession into the Yard, and--

Ohhhhhhh, noooooooo--THE GLASS FLOWERS! I never saw the Glass Flowers! Where are the Glass Flowers? My mom put me through four years of college and I never had the decency to go see the Glass Flowers!

I break away from my baffled friends, sprint madly up Mass. Ave. with a distracted look in my eyes, and disappear into the mist. It's not clear whether or not I graduate or whether I am disowned.

I say the vision has sprouted in my brain. But I guess I should change tenses now. I finally did it, you see. I really wouldn't have on my own. But a friend from home came up this week and did the tourist bit.

I tagged along.

For two-and-a-half days I reinterpreted my environment in terms of what would look best for the many photographs she took.

I did my best impersonation of a Crimson Key guide as we roamed campus. I tossed off witty anecdotes about classes in Sever, parties in Leverett, and myths about the John Harvard statue. I even remembered to tell her that the Science Center is supposed to look like a camera.

And sometime after lunch Wednesday, the activity died down. We entered the MCZ. I can't really describe the Glass Flowers, but not I know why my mom has stood in awe for the past 22 years. I especially liked the glass moldy peaches.

We looked at the guest register for that day, and found a bunch of Israels and Utahs and Hong Kongs, as well as scattered representatives of London, Yugoslavia, Alberta, Tegucigalpa, Paris, Hungary and Oslo.

I bought a postcard in the giftshop and sent it to my mom, and walked home with a clear conscience.

All of which reminds me of the month, three summers ago, when my parents, grandmother, brother and I vacationed in Austria and Switzerland. We spent the last week on a mountain called the Rigi Seebodenalp, near Lucerne.

One morning, the five of us set off for the town of Weggis, a good two-hour walk away. My brother and I walked ahead of the others, soon losing them. But we had agreed to meet at a church in the center of Weggis.

We walked along the ridge of the Rigi, winding through a ski course and down to the lakefront. There was no church. We proclaimed ourselves lost.

After conferring for a few minutes, we worked up the courage to approach a woman sitting with a baby stroller by the lake. "Wo ist Weggis?" we asked.

She stared at us, obviously not as impressed with our knowledge of German as we were. Eventually, when we didn't go away, she shrugged her shoulders and pointed to the left.

We walked about three minutes and realized that we hadn't been nearly as far off as we'd thought. In fact, we hadn't been lost at all--we'd been in Weggis the whole time.

Looking back, I think I know why the Swiss woman was so rude. After all, it's as if two kids popped out of the Coop and said, brightly, "Wo ist Cambridge?"

Once I would have mocked them cruelly. Now I'm not so sure, but I still might.

Sometimes you realize that right where you are, wherever you are, you are on a tourist spot. Take another look at the familiar. Tourism can be fun.