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. Linden Lane
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Accidental tourist

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Camera on O'Neill Library roof. By Lee Pellegrini

A webcam diary

Webcams have become a commonplace on university campuses, offering the world quixotic, unplanned views of complex, purposive institutions. Boston College has four, overlooking O'Neill Plaza, the Gasson Quadrangle, and the construction sites of the Yawkey Center and the Ignatius Gate residence hall. Since May 2003, when the first camera went live, the author has made occasional visits to www.bc.edu/webcams from his office and home, keeping notes on the Boston College he discovered.


o'neill plaza. Bright morning. Sunlight on snow piles below. Students walk fast across plaza. Young man appears to be my son who graduated three years ago. I watch him until he enters Gasson Quad. Plaza suddenly empty, as though someone had issued an order through a bullhorn. A class hour has begun.

gasson quad. Evening. Raindrops on camera lens. BC has dropped away, leaving a pointillist painting of nothing.

yawkey center construction site. Morning. Webcams on construction sites are what one colleague calls the "watching-paint-dry Web strategy." A "Yawkey Center" illustrated banner is the size of a Museum of Natural History diorama. Below it a backhoe roots in a hole. Seems to find nothing. Doesn't seem to care. Keeps rooting like a pig after the memory of a truffle.

gasson quad. Midday. Shimmerings and sparklings in the south-facing camera. Landing here on a sunny day is like running into a friend who is always high. See you later.

o'neill plaza. Thanksgiving eve, 6 p.m. Five minutes pass. No life, no movement.

ignatius dorm site. Afternoon. Building wrapped in white plastic skin. Cliffs of Dover. Construction workers enter via a dark square cave.

Webcam view of Gasson Quad, flanked by buildings-in-progress Ignatius Gate dorm (left) and Yawkey Center

gasson quad. Rainstorm at night. Dial-in from home. White globes of lamplight hovering like benign spirits.

o'neill plaza. Same stormy night. Rain moves across plaza like a rug unrolling. Something that looks like a penguin is standing in a lighted window on third floor of Gasson.

ignatius dorm site. Same night. Wind trapped inside the white wrapping, fists of air flailing at the sheeting.

o'neill plaza. Later that night. Something like a penguin is still there.

o'neill plaza, but I'm walking through. Young woman talking on cell phone in middle of plaza is looking up at O'Neill roof edge. "Come say hi to my Mom," she calls to another woman, who hastens to get away.

gasson quad. December-bright morning. Strong colors everywhere. Blue steel sky. Connection is slow. Students step into wormholes in time, emerge 30 feet away.

ignatius dorm site. Night. Small light burns in municipal cemetery across the road. I recall a student who died weeks before her graduation. Parents asked that she be buried in the cemetery. Someone called the mayor. She lies there.

gasson quad. Blizzard. Night. The end of the world. Water seems to have reached the height of the camera.

o'neill plaza. Icy, windy afternoon after big storm. My son Gabriel forwards "Lunabean Newsletter," a videogamer's e-mail to which he subscribes. Proprietors "Allison" and "Jeremy," BC graduates, advise subscribers to turn their browsers to the webcam above O'Neill Plaza, which "becomes very slippery in winter weather [where] the webcam is ready to capture many a spill. Enjoy. Just try not to laugh too hard." What are videogamers in Calcutta thinking as they gaze out over the frozen plaza and wait for pratfalls?

ignatius dorm site. Early evening. Pearly sky. Airplane crossing over Boston. I have often looked down at the glowing coals of cities. Have I ever imagined a man in an office gazing at a computer screen and seeing me cross the sky like a new star?

Ben Birnbaum


Photos (from top):

 

Camera on O'Neill Library roof. By Lee Pellegrini

 

Webcam view of Gasson Quad, flanked by buildings-in-progress Ignatius Gate dorm (left) and Yawkey Center

 

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