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o n e Dinner at the Café Marliave John Boyle O’Reilly and the Dual Tradition Emerging from the busy underground of the Park Street T stop at the corner of Tremont and Winter, where the green fan of the Boston Common flares out between Downtown Crossing and Beacon Hill toward Boylston Street, Chinatown, and the Back Bay, you can join those stepping from a motorized trolley or one of the neon pink amphibious Duck Tours and, like Dorothy toeing the origin of the yellow brick road, take your first steps on the Freedom Trail. The alternating redbrick and scarlet-painted line angles continuously through downtown Boston’s warren of streets—paved, prerevolutionary cow paths that laid out the pattern for what is arguably America’s first and most historyobsessed city. You might choose to head straight up the esplanade toward the capitol’s golden dome and spend time at St. Gauden’s famous bronze bas relief of Robert Gould Shaw on horseback leading his “bellchecked Negro Infantry” into Civil War battle and civic immortality, into Robert Lowell’s great poem “For the Union Dead” and the “glory” of several academy awards. Or you might head north toward the Park Street Church and the Old Granary Burial Ground on your way to the Old Statehouse and the Old North Church with a stop along the way at one of the chowder bars at Fanuiel Hall and Quincy Market. If you go that way, as you come to the Burial Ground filled with tombstones from before the Revolution—like rows of chipped brown teeth—leave the trail and cross the street toward the glittering show-sign of the Beantown Pub, and keep walking down the narrow street that looks almost 1 2  doubl e l i v e s like an alley—Bosworth Street—behind the Parker House Hotel, famous for its rolls, where Malcolm X once worked as a bellhop. Keep walking still under the half-lowered fire escapes of old print shops toward the tall metal grill at the dead end, and stop there, just before the stone stairs at the stone building on the right, where hangs a black sign with gold, cursive, nineteenth-century lettering that reads “Café Marliave .” Navigating though Boston by foot and certainly by car can be like making your way through a Maurice Escher print—first you’re in the basement, then you’re on the roof, and there’s no telling how you got there—but arriving at the Marliave, and going inside, is fortuitous. If the café doesn’t throw you wholly back to the nineteenth century, it at least conjures the kind of bygone restaurant one might remember from the mid-twentieth, itself a holdover from ragtime days—tin ceiling, high straight-backed wooden booths packed back-to-back and closely together . If you ask for the “Brief History” with the menu as you’re led to your booth by one of the wait staff, you can read about how Henry Marliave, who, after emigrating from Paris, founded his first small restaurant in 1868, which burned in the great Boston fire of 1872; how he moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for his health but returned in 1882 to open the present establishment; and how after his death in 1895 the café continued under his wife’s management until 1904, then under his nephew ’s, and finally under the management of just two succeeding owners who have dedicated themselves to the “traditions of the Marliave.” One of those traditions that does not appear even in the brief, photocopied history and will not be proffered this evening by our waiter entails the booth in back—easily the most cramped of all the booths in the dining room—presided over by the portrait of a large, dignified-looking man with intense eyes, a broad, drooping moustache, and a neat cravat, who might be a politician or a civic leader, certainly a famous man in his day. And he was: “John Boyle O’Reilly” the frame reads, but the portrait does not hang there to commemorate the civic contributions of this mostly forgotten figure, for we have arrived, as the gold-plated plaque tacked to the wall just below the portrait tells us, at The Poet’s Corner. In his day, John Boyle O’Reilly was a man of considerable national and international renown, one in a long line of Irish rebels and exiles banished from his home by the British colonial authorities whose...


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