I was envious.
Those who know me well will remember that I have a touch of claustrophobia, so it may come as a surprise that I’ve long had a fascination for the labyrinthine tunnels that wind beneath us in the city. I suppose this is due in part to the idea of being able to go someplace I should not be. When I was still in school, my whacked friend J... and I had developed an elaborate plan to go down into the T tunnels after hours in an attempt to search out the miles of tunnels that had once been in service but have since been bypassed. Although we did get in touch with MIT’s Building Hacker’s Association to see what sort of assistance they could give, we never did go through with it. Mores the pity.
Even this, though, hints at another idea that is the true fire for my imagination. It wasn’t enough to explore the tunnels on foot, we wanted to delve into the forgotten passages. There had been life here. Trolleys crammed to overfilling, moving people who rode for the sheer novelty of the thing. A streetcar that travels underground, how droll! In these artificial caves are the strata of humankind’s history, everything needed to piece together what we once were and how things have changed. Below the streets, there is a pathway into a forgotten time.
My building has a vast sub-basement that extends well past the footprint of 10 West, and throughout, there are relics that speak to the original purpose of the structure. Most interesting to me, though, are the flights of steps that move upward, ending at locked or sealed doors. One of these is a particularly creaky set of stairs that wind upward a very long way before coming to an end at a surprisingly clean white door with an ebony knob. A secret passage that has yet to be unlocked
At times, I have imagined that if I could find some way through that door, I would actually be transported back in time. I climb the rickety stairs and burst through the door to find myself backstage at the Opera House, stagehands rushing back and forth making final touches, performers preening while their dressers fuss over tiny details of costume and makeup. I peek out from behind the rich, red-velvet curtains to see an audience straight from the belle époque. Boston Brahmins in their finery waiting to see the opening of Pucini’s, La Bohème. There is at least one young man in the audience alone (and probably several), expecting to be transported by the voice of the lovely Italian Soprano, and waiting for the opportunity to meet her and perhaps to woo her after the performance. In the pit, the orchestra warms up, notes hinting of the patient energy of the musicians. They paw like a spirited mare, and once the house lights dim, they will run, allowing the performers on stage to ride them to the performance’s inevitable, tragic end.
Eventually, I break out of my reverie and return to far more mundane work. The reconstructed moment remains with me, though, an unseen relic excavated from the depths of my mind's catacombs.
*I don’t think I travel far enough to the south to reach the Opera House. In reality, this door probably opens up into a storeroom at the back of the self-consciously trendy Felt.