Introduction to book discussion and signing at the Harvard Coop, 9/12/09
Text by Richard Kaplan.
One day this year's incoming freshman class &mdash most of them at least &mdash will look back on their years here in the Square with fond nostlagia. But today's nostalgia, in which you are all invited and encouraged to wallow, is for the rest of us &mdash we who, having known it way back when, view harvard square less in terms of what it has than in terms of what it has lost.
"Ou sont les nieges d'andans," asked the poet François Villon. Where are the snows of yesteryear. Well, I can't speak for the snows of Villon's medieval Paris, but as for the snows of yesteryear's Cambridge, some of them are here, as fresh as ever, on pages 39, from 1958; 63, from 1966; and 93, from 1975. The snows, the shops, the clothes, the cars, the characters and the faces of yesteryear, or more of them than I could ever have hoped for, have been gathered here for a Harvard Square, if not a Harvard University, class reunion in Mo Lotman's glorious celebration of this neighborhood's last fifty years.
If, like me, you haunted the square growing up, who knows? You might find yourself haunting it again, captured forever in passing in these pages &mdash still having coffee at the Blue Parrot, catching a show at the Nickelodeon, spreading duck sauce on your egg roll in Young and Yee, or going through the stacks at Briggs and Briggs.
Now that Mo has reminded me of Waldorf Cafeteria, I find myself almost tasting, for a fugitive fraction of a second, the chicken croquettes I regularly ate there on my Saturday afternoon excursions from West Roxbury. Which leads to the question of when the once-ubiquitous chicken croquettes disappeared from all the menus of America the way that grey fedoras disappeared from the heads of all the country's adult males. And who, I ask, waxing Villonesque, might still have a place in his or her heart for Schrafft's, a restaurant, the text reminds us, "for ladies who lunch."
It is easier than ever to find lunch around the Square of course &mdash it's just that the ladies have all gone. Let's hope that in the afterlife The Pewter Pot will still be serving muffins, and Bailey's sundae and ice cream sodas, and the Paperback Booksmith will still be open &mdash and busy &mdash at 3 AM.
Now, many an illustrated history is generous with the illustrations while short changing you on the history itself. Mo and his contributors have struck the perfect balance in a book not big enough to fall into the oversize coffee table category but just big enough to balance comfortably on your lap. A book to look at, yes, and a book to read, certainly &mdash there's not a line of filler in it &mdash but most of all a Bailey's sundae of a book for us to lap up.
When it comes to occupations, Mo Lotman prefers that smorgasbord to the prix fixe menu. We are told that since coming here in 1991 he has been a graphic designer, writer, voice talent, improvisational actor, musician, amateur photographer, and tour guide &mdash and like so many other people who have a hard time sticking to any single job where there are so many interesting ones to be fired from, he lives in Somerville.
I just hope that he finds the time this afternoon to tell us what on Earth a voice talent is, or does, and maybe give a demonstration. Harvard Square is his first book, and I am prepared shamelessly to beg him for a sequel.