Friday, April 22, 2005

Boulder moments

The only problem with Boulder is that there is no problem with Boulder. I can’t seem to get used to how pleasant and easy things are here. I also can’t understand how people can be so idealistic and think that things can and should be even better. And not only do they think it, but then they somehow go and manage to actually make it happen. It is unreal, I tell you. A woman I met at the pool was talking about this great dinner she had at a new French restaurant on Pearl Street. She ordered the lobster with chocolate sauce. I mean, really! That is so Boulder, to combine two exquisite things and just enjoy it. For me, the whole idea takes getting used to, but she has lived here for a while and she has the Boulder attitude, saying, “It was great, I want more lobster with chocolate sauce!” Then, no doubt, she'll make it happen. I have started calling these effortless, easy, idealistic, and undeniably pleasant times we’ve had since moving here “Boulder Moments.”

One of the first things we do after arriving in Boulder is go to the public library for an event based on the Harry Potter books. In Oxford, there were no such events at the library. The public library in Oxford, that seat of learning, has no computerized catalog, no card catalog, and no bathrooms. It does, however, have an excellent and up-to-date video collection. The Oxford public library had public lectures and an occasional story hour for children, but never a "Harry Potter Day," even though parts of the film were filmed in Oxford and the actress who played Hermione is from Oxford. Such an event would seem too much of an obstacle to put on, too frivolous, too expensive, too crowded, too much of a good idea.

But in Boulder, it’s one of those ordinary yet extraordinary events. We enter the modern library building (round stone entry hall with glass ceiling, multiple computer terminals for the internet and library catalog, large trout aquarium, three-dimensional relief map of Boulder and surrounding areas, a fountain with live plants under wide spiral stairs---and I am sure that, even as I write of it’s beauty and extravagance, there are people planning or dreaming up improvements to this entry) and see many people dressed up as characters from the Harry Potter series. After going through the turnstile marked “Platform 9 3/4” we are greeted by “Prof McGonagall” in cloak and pointed hat as she directs us to the “Hogwarts classroom” where the “magic class” is about to begin.

After the magic show, we circulate in the spacious children's reading room and try our hand at secret codes and other activity booths. It is a well-attended event, but not crowded, with plenty of volunteers manning the tables. It strikes me how people have no impetus at all to hide their childlike enthusiasm, how creative and unique behavior is not just tolerated, but expected and encouraged. This event is no joke, but serious fun. “Draco, Draco,” one mother quite calmly calls out, searching for her child who is in character.

Later, we return to the classroom for a presentation of live owls. Five live owls, here in the library. We learn a lot about the different owls as they stare at us in turn with their large, wise, and wild eyes. The kids are in awe.

We’ve been here a few hours now and we start to get hungry, but hey, look at this, there is a café in the library. Uncrowded, cheap, and tasty (need I say this is a nearly impossible-to-find combination in England?) it is located on a bridge over Boulder creek. We eat while admiring the snowy scene beneath. Then, when finished with our snack, there are bathrooms, right here, in the library! It is all a bit much to take in, our first Boulder moment.

A few weeks later, Greg and I need to get our bikes tuned up. A bike shop on the west side of town has been recommended to us. So we plan an evening where we ride our bikes into town after work with the kids, drop off our bikes, go out to dinner, and take the bus home. The bike shop welcomes us with what can only be called open arms. There is a person manning the wide, spacious doors, opening them and encouraging us inside. (Now in England, there might have been a friendly person to help you in the door, but it wouldn’t have been a wide one, and more likely there would be someone who would enjoy watching you struggle to get the bike in the door by yourself and they might even add a little “tsk, tsk” as if this was your just penance for past sins.) Once inside, we are greeted by a crew of enthusiastic youth (as opposed to one or two less-than-enthusiastic, overburdened workers you’d likely find in Oxford, or the one know-it-all, hassled, pretentious, and enthusiastic youth). Five helpful people immediately surround our bicycles, mount them on stands, and give a quick triage of the situation. It is not only easy and effortless, it is pleasant! We feel like royalty. Moments (as opposed to eons) later, with bicycle claim checks in our pockets, we walk towards town to find a place to eat.

Two blocks down the street we find a family-friendly pasta restaurant—not a chain—with outdoor seating, efficient service, and a children’s menu. Happily sated with simple Italian fare, we continue towards the bus through the Pearl Street Mall, which is not a mall at all, but the walking and shopping street in downtown Boulder. I am struck by the way this outdoor, public place caters to children as well as adults (as opposed to the English tradition of segregating children’s activities off into nurseries, churches, and family centers, because, as everyone knows, children are noisy and unpredictable, a blight on polite society). Here in downtown Boulder, each block has some sort of activity designed specifically to amuse and entertain children (as opposed to tantalize and frustrate them). In one block, there are fountains, on another, rocks to climb, on the next, a walled area with large animal sculptures. When Rees asks, “Can I climb on that?” I have to think a minute before I realize I can say, “Yes!” It is almost as if children are somehow considered to be an amenity! As if happy, amused children could actually be pleasant to have around! What a revolutionary idea!

We think things are going too well until we pass a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and find that they are giving out free ice cream that day. While I get the ice cream—did I say it was free?—I don’t have to keep a short leash on the boys as they are happily amused, playing on some rocks. Waiting in line, I am asked if I am registered to vote. Hey, that was something else I’ve been meaning to do since the move. I’ll just check that off the list right now. It’s another Boulder moment.

Sometime after that, we are moving into our new house and it is nearing lunchtime. We don’t want anything heavy to eat so think we’ll try the grocery store down the road. Maybe they have a deli, or maybe even a café. We park outside and I walk in the doors. Sure enough, I can see café-style tables and chairs for dining. It’s Saturday morning but the store is not crowded. It’s attractive too with live plants, wooden shelves, and tile flooring. There are even two men playing acoustic guitar and singing. This is it, I think, we have found the place. I am taking it all in, the perfection of it, when I hear a voice behind me say, “Excuse me…would you like a massage?” It’s like she read my mind. We’re never moving away from this town, I decide, and I’M doing the shopping. Somehow, I’m just going to have to get used to it.


Mom said...

I think there's a computer catalog, of sorts, at the Oxford Public Library, and I think there are restrooms, on the third floor, if my memory serves me. Not well marked, not easy to find.

I find the computer catalog frustrating to use, but if I take my request to a librarian, they usually, cheerfully, get the book for me. I am disturbed by the large island of recently returned and as-yet-unshelved books.

Many local libraries in the US rely on volunteers to shelve books and do other routine tasks. That not only gets the job done, but also gives a wider public the feeling that the library is partly theirs. The whole concept of volunteers is a North American thing. Now that it's come up, I'll be blogging on the subject.

jeninco said...

I still contend there is no public computerized catalog. There is a microfiche catalog, but I don't know how up-to-date that is. There are also binders of printouts by subject, I think, but any computerized catalog is only available to the librarians. Also, I have many times had a toddler who needed to pee (immediately!) in the Oxford library and the staff always told me there was no bathroom and recommended that I go to the BHS department store across the street to use their facilities. With two young children, it always seemed to take about half-an-hour to get everybody over there, peed, changed, and back again. Then the librarians finally started allowing mothers and young children to use the staff bathroom, which they would open for you with a key, and then sometime after that, they put a combination on the door and would just tell you the combination. So, yes, you CAN find books and you CAN pee, but don't take it for granted!