The Breakfast Table

Urban De-Renewal

I’m glad to hear you had a good time in Boston. I’m curious about your impressions. I think it’s a lovely city, but at the moment most of it seems to be under construction. It’s currently impossible to get from my neighborhood (the North End, the Italian section) to the subway without negotiating a maze of cones, cops, construction workers, concrete and plywood partitions, makeshift signs, and enormous yellow vehicles backing up and beeping in those long, high-pitched notes. This is the site of the so-called “Big Dig,” a belated effort to undo the damage done by really disastrous ‘60s and ‘70s efforts at “urban development”–and apparently the single biggest engineering project in the nation’s history. The idea then was to open the city up to automobiles by building an enormous elevated highway through its heart, leveling a charming and intimate old ethnic neighborhood in the process. The idea now is to “depress” this nasty highway, which is to say replace it with a tunnel, and make the no-man’s land that used to run beneath it into a swath of green space. The project won’t bring back the old neighborhood, but 10 years from now it will probably be quite nice. In the meantime, however, the highway is not the only thing getting depressed. Sitting at my customary open-air cafe near the Big Dig in the North End recently, I found my sandwich plate covered by a film of fine dust and soot. Hungry as ever, I ate the sandwich anyway, though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do. But I shouldn’t complain. There are bright sides to all the upheaval. The city will surely be the better for it in the long run, and driving south on Route 91, one passes a wonderful forest of multicolored cranes tilting up toward the sky.

I didn’t know that Primakov and his successor both started their careers as KGB men. This sounds ominous to me, and adds to my general vague sense of uncertainty (and no little dread) about the fate of your homeland. Who was it who said that the Russian people have a great talent for suffering? I fear that they are going to continue to need it. It is sad to see Yeltsin decline from the noble figure on the tank to public zombie.

On Kosovo I think we are doing the necessary and right thing, however ineffectual it currently seems. Although I’m a Democrat (a moderate one), I agreed with Mrs. Thatcher and Reagan about striking quickly and forcefully in Bosnia, and I feel the same way here. Milosevic is a very nasty piece of work, and if we hadn’t intervened, many more innocent Albanians would have died. I agree of course with all those who say that the option of ground troops should have been kept on the table, but I don’t think we should be in any great hurry to use them. I think there is a good chance that Milosevic will cave in the next month or so.

And yes, as a matter of fact, I do feel “in decline,” but I think that has more to do with having recently turned 35 than with being male. But I’d like to think on this one a bit more.

Hope all is well in Jersey, and sorry for the delay. I had to attend a very long and boring academic “degree” meeting.