A photographic ode to Cambridge and Boston

A photographic ode to Cambridge and Boston

A photographic ode to Cambridge and Boston

A picture perspective on making a city home

July 3, 2024 | Simar K. M.

Chemical Engineering

A glorious, vibrant sunset reflected on the Charles River. Silhouettes of docked boats and leafy trees rim the horizon.

Sunsets over the Charles River have my heart ❤️

What is home for you? 

Everyone has a different concept of home. For some people, a space enclosed by four walls in which they live is home, and for some it is a certain city or town. People like me who have traveled across the globe to be where they are now still fondly think of the entire country they left behind as a place to call home. I know many people would argue that home is not a place, it is the people. I believe any place where you are comfortable and every person whom you are comfortable with can be home. Cambridge and Boston are now home for me.

I joined MIT in Fall 2020, but first came to Boston in February 2021, having attended the fall semester remotely. And so, even though I was a part of a cohort of 50+ graduate students, I knew no one in Boston. I arrived on a cold, freezing day. The Charles River was frozen over and yet I felt it emanate a certain warmth. In hindsight, I think that was the day I fell in love with Cambridge, with Boston, and the river separating the two (1). This piece is my way of expressing my love to the city, through a few pictures and even fewer words.

The Charles River

A view of the Charles River from under bare outstretched tree limbs on Killian Court.

The whirlpools of water,
the whistle of the wind,
In stillness, I can witness them outside,
and experience them within

The river is where I draw my sense of calm from. There are days when things don’t work in the lab, there are days you feel like an imposter, there are days you question everything. On all those days, I have found myself by the river. The hustle on the Harvard Bridge, the chatter on the Esplanade, and the river flowing, never still, is something I have become closely familiar with.  

The streets

Beyond the river, both cities have been very kind to me. The way I familiarized myself with Boston and Cambridge was to allow myself to get lost. The first two months in the area, I roamed around without any destination in mind. After an hour or so, I would open Google Maps and try to find a way back home. This way, I have found many little nuggets of joy hidden on the streets. 

Simar's boots as she stands on rain-slicked stone steps covered in fallen leaves.

Near Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive, I once found a piece of pavement that had the following poem inscribed.

I’m a poem,
Speak my words
while you’re walking
Now you are the sidewalk talking
Step on me
there you go
now you’ve got poetry
in your sole.

-Fred Woods (2017)

I have been carrying that poetry in my soul (pun intended) ever since.

The Squares

I learned Cambridge is just an amalgamation of different squares. Mind you, neither the city of Cambridge or Boston is laid out in a grid. They are old cities, where roads were decided on the basis of where a horse decided to walk rather than a car decided to drive, and apparently horses like triangles better. What you will find in Cambridge are the Squares–Harvard, Central, Kendall, and many more, each with their own  vibe. I find myself wandering around these squares often, guided by fairy lights that proclaim Christmas all year long. 

Looking upwards at night time into twinkle lights strung in a leafless tree and a street lamp.

Building light, street light, and fairy light:
in other words,
A necessity, a saving grace, and a dream.

The grass

My litmus test of whether I consider any place home is whether I have found a spot to read. I call my apartment in Cambridge home, because I love to read on my couch. I also call Cambridge and Boston home, because I have found many other reading spots. There are so many parks around the city, an entire trail called the Emerald Necklace, and so many enchanting views, that I often find myself sitting on a cushion of grass, reading in solitude (2).

Shot from low to the ground, a blurred book sits in the foreground while the camera focuses on Boston's iconic Zakim Bridge on a sunny day.

When a book ponders you to think,
You look up to see,
A view, magnifique,
Allowing your mind to leap!

The seasons

I have been in Cambridge through many seasons now. I have seen people out in summer dresses and winter coats. I have seen people try to use an umbrella to stay dry in the rain, even though they never work with the wind. I have seen trees with and without leaves. I think I have seen a lot that this place has to offer, but I have yet to not be in awe, to not take out my camera and click!

To anyone who is reading this, if you are making a fresh start in a new city, I hope you find a place to call home. Give the city and its people a chance. To anyone who wants to explore Cambridge and Boston, I hope that you experience the river, the streets, the Squares, the grass and the seasons; I hope you can experience the places in these pictures yourself. 

M.I.T.'s Kresge building reflects the sidewalk lights after dusk.
A peaceful blanket of snow stretches in front of Kresge after dark.

Summer or winter,
You are beautiful!

To use any of these pictures in your work, please contact the author at mattewal@mit.edu.

(1) It is surprising how many people consider Cambridge to be a part of Boston, when in reality they are two different cities. Tell them that MIT and Harvard are not in Boston and they will tell you that you are lying. I think it is time we gave Cambridge the credit it is due.

(2) Maybe someday I will write a blog about my favorite reading spots in Cambridge and Boston!

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