(HOST) The visit of a high school classmate has inspired commentator Bill Mares to reflect on how we can often see our own streets and lives more clearly through the eyes of others.
(MARES) Recently, my wife and I hosted a Texas high school friend and his wife, who were visiting from Washington, D.C. Roger Lewis is a retired professor of architecture who still writes a bi-weekly column on architecture and urban planning for the Washington Post. Ellen is a retired lawyer with the Commerce Department, who now teaches school. With them, it’s always like playing three-dimensional chess – as conversation with these self-proclaimed news junkies roams around the world and through time and space. There’s never a dull moment.
We worked our way through our far-flung children, puzzled over the Middle East maze, reformed health care, and smugly agreed that our Priuses were slowing global climate change. Then we turned to our high school year books to marvel at distant and dispersed classmates, and to re-tell some of our various hi-jinks, like building a rocket in that Sputnik era.
Like doting parents, my wife and I had fun showing them our city. They had only been here once, in winter’s white nakedness. We began with a description by the novelist Henry James one hundred and thirty years ago. He wrote, "The vast reach of the Lake and this double mountain view go far to make Burlington a supremely beautiful town."
We took them to a Lake Monsters game in the storied – and possibly doomed – Centennial Field. We told them that the previous owners of this farm club were the Montreal Expos, which had become their home team, the Washington Nationals, where, Roger observed, "…the hot dogs cost exactly twice what they do here!"
We sent them up a vibrant Church Street and down to the lakefront with its beehive of activities. I was doubly proud to tell them that the barge on which the Boathouse was built had been bought in my own home town in Texas and towed up through the Hudson River and Champlain Canal to its final moorings.
We sent them to the Islands. We took them on the Charlotte Ferry, where, as we came home from New York under a full moon, the light turned the calm waters into shiny blackberry jam.
Finally, we took them to the Intervale, with its river walks, running paths, market gardens, compost project, power plant, and Gardeners Supply. They were impressed enough that I asked Roger, as an urban critic, to write his impressions. Two days later came his email. He wrote: "Burlington is uniquely blessed to have this green, ‘low-lying tract’ dedicated entirely to public, agrarian use. I know of no other city encompassing a fertile ‘vale’ so large – hundreds of acres – and so near downtown, a place where enterprising citizens and organizations can plant gardens, cultivate crops or keep honeybees, whether for personal or commercial purposes."
He continued: "The morning after I visited Intervale, I strolled through the Saturday farmers’ market in Burlington’s City Hall Park. I couldn’t help wondering which of the fresh products on display – fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, cheeses, honey – had come from the Intervale. I left the park thinking about lunch."