For once, it's just like those college brochures said. You can learn just as much outside the classroom as you can inside the classroom. Wandering around Cambridge is as much a part of the Harvard experience as anything taught in the lecture hall.
So forget classes for a few minutes: lace up your sneakers and bust out of the Yard. It's summer, and you're supposed to be having fun.
At Your Front Door
After checking out the action in front of Au Bon Pain, where the Chessmaster is hustling a few pretenders out of their hard-earned salaries, meander in and out of some of the local stores.
If you think the skatepunks hanging around in the T Pit are neat, head over to Newbury Comics, in the Garage. Newbury sells some wicked cool music, concert tickets, t-shirts, posters and--oh yeah--comic books.
For more conventional entertainment, movies fit the bill. The Janus, on JFK St., shows some of the best first-run, but slightly artsy, flicks. Unfortunately, it has the worst popcorn of any theater in the Square.
You won't get through the summer without seeing at least one movie at the Loew's Nickeldeon, on Church St., as its six screens are home for Hollywood's latest releases. It also is home for the cult favorite, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which graces the screen every Friday and Saturday at midnight. Rocky Horror comes complete with live action in the aisles, so don't forget your waterguns.
For older classics, the Brattle Theater would be tops on any list, were it not closed for renovations this summer. So you'll have to survive with just the Harvard Film Archive, where they show landmarks of cinematic art each night and charge little admission.
The Harvard Film Archive is in the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, on Quincy Street. The Carpenter Center is a semi-spiral lump of concrete, and is one of the few North American examples of work by the renowned architect Le Corbusier. It's ugly, but people will still think you're uncultured if you criticize it, simply because it's famous.
If live action is more your style, Brattle Street's Loeb Drama Center, home of the American Repertory Theatre during the academic year, promises expert performances from the student Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theater. The company plans and August production of Czech President Vaclav Havel's "The Increased Difficulty of Concentration."
The smoky Catch a Rising Star comedy club is loads of fun, but is almost always crowded on weekends. The weeknight shows are still good, and during the week the club is (slightly) less crowded and less expensive.
Some rainy day take the time to explore Harvard's museums. While the Fogg Art Museum does not quite rival Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in terms of size or scope, it still has its own special charm. The Fogg's travertine courtyard is modeled after an Italian Renaissance palace.
If Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir and other greats of the Western artistic tradition leave your soul unfulfilled, walk down Quincy Street to the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard's newest museum, which houses Islamic, Asian and ancient art.
Sackler also holds temporary exhibits on the ground floor. The current show--the Fredric Wertham collection of abstract art produced during the 1920s and 1930s--offers a striking counter-point to Sackler's permanent collection. Included in the exhibit are a series of paintings by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (F. Scott's wife) that Wertham, a psychiatrist, obtained while he was treating her for schizophrenia.
The two concrete posts in front of Sackler are not products of Le Corbusier's fascination with basic geometric forms (that's the Carpenter Center, remember). They are portions of a never-built overpass that would have connected Sackler to the Fogg. Since the Cambridge City Council nixed the plan, you will have to risk your life crossing Broadway, one of several streets in Cambridge where drivers have no concept of the the speed limit.
Oxford Street, behind the Science Center, is slightly less menacing to pedestrians, which is good since you will have to cross it if you wander over to the Harvard University Museums of Natural History. The glass flowers at the Botanical Museum look remarkably lifelike. Be forwarned, however, that a good portion of the specimens were designed to show the effects of various fungal diseases on fruits and vegetables. But, hey, Harvard never promised you a rose garden.
The Museum of Comparative Zoology is chock-full of snakeskins, phosphorescent butterflies and stuffed, gap-toothed hippos. It also features the fossilized skeleton of a giant sloth, a prehistoric creature that--like some college students today--slept 22 hours a day and woke only to eat. And for a positively thrilling afternoon you can't miss "Songs of the Spring Warblers," recorded bird-songs accessible by the touch of a button.
If you're into funky rocks, stop by the Mineralogical and Geological Museums, which display ugly diamonds and beautiful fakes. Harvard also has a huge collection of meteorites.
Going to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is a little like going to a zoo for foreign cultures. Peabody's new Hall of the North American Indian, consecrated by the appropriate Native American authorities, has some cool tomahawks and Katchina dolls.