Caribbean Stories

The Day Time Machines Went Kaput

2. From Lebanon, with Love

WE ENTERED the Rafik B. Hariri building from Commonwealth Avenue into the spacious, marble-floored lobby splendidly crowned by a soaring, glass-ceilinged atrium. Not exactly your typical entrance to a university building, some would say. The structure was designed to impress visitors with sheer elegance and it succeeds in doing so appropriately, eschewing meretricious gaudiness and glitz. It falls short of architectural extravagance though not by much, given that Boston University is a sober educational institution devoted to the edification of the mind. Jazzy glitz is more commonly associated with Las Vegas and flashy lifestyles, with the beautiful people and the conspicuously consumptive not-so-beautiful hoi polloi. One finds no such sumptuousness nor presumptuousness at the modest department where I hail from, Mathematics & Statistics, and rightly so. There is no need of, nor desire for, displays of this sort of ostentation over at Math. Other displays are deemed of greater import, intangibly abstruse though they may be. But then, this is the school of business. And in business, the aim of the game is the unrestrained acquisition of power and wealth. If that entails wallowing in gaudiness and glitz, then so be it.
    Two distinct populations mingle en passant in the lobby. One consists of the usual clientele shuttling between the building’s entrance and the principal staircase across the commodious chamber. These are business students, mostly, on their way to classrooms and offices on the upper floors. They are here to learn the tools used to replicate these captivating edifices that serve to celebrate monumental economic success. The other group consists of the students invited to the Physics orientation, seniors from all over the university casually milling about as they wait for the start of the event. There are tables draped in white scattered about with trays of enticing hors d’oeuvres or with layers of plastic wineglasses. Wine is nowhere to be seen, to be sure, but the mock glasses do lend a certain air when socializing over soft drinks and ruddy fruit punch. In the center of the lobby stands a pedestal bearing an imposing, modernistic metal orb surrounded by orbiting, stiletto-like curved plates fancifully portraying the trails of swarming satellites. Four mobile seating units placed by the corners of the room double as enormous garden pots, each enclosing within the perimeter formed by its benches a tallish, ornamental tree.
    My friend Chris is one of the few persons here that belongs to both student populations. He paid no attention to the charms of the vestibule, for he’s been here every school day for the past three years. Instead, he promptly turned left upon entering the hall and led me to the registration table by the wall. There we waited while the people in front of us finished registering. I met Chris when as freshmen we took Introduction to Cultural Anthropology as an elective to fulfill liberal arts distribution requirements. The course was so good that we actually contemplated changing majors. Then we went our separate academic ways and came across each other only occasionally. One such occasion turned out to be in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. On a Caribbean vacation cruise with my parents, we spent the day ashore in picturesque Charlotte Amalie, sightseeing and reveling in the enchanting colonial ambiance —people still drive on the left side of the road— and indulging in duty-free shopping. Strolling into Blackbeard’s Legendary Trove of Molasses, Spirits & Tobacco, guess who I ran into unexpectedly? Chris was overjoyed, as was I, and the eager store staffer and son of the owner of the tourist shop treated us to scrumptious piñas coladas. We had a marvelous time in St Thomas, and Chris and I have been very special friends ever since.
    “Hello”, chirped the perky young attendant sitting at the registration table. “Welcome to Quantum Travel. Would you like to register?”
    “Yes, please”, Chris replied, and gallantly allowed me to go first.
    “Name, please?” she asked.
    “María Asunción Cervantes.” She went over her list and checked off my entry, then quickly dispatched my participant’s orientation packet, handed me the «Hello I’m» name tag and a marker, and asked me to please sign the roster. I put my latte and bag on the table and went to work.
    “And you, sir?”
    “Harrison, Christian Hubert.” The attendant repeated the process as I passed the marker to Chris.
    Double doors near each end of the registration table open to the school’s auditorium. Chris drifted to the ones to our left, opened a door and I stepped into a teeming cauldron of rookie research assistants engaged, for the most part, in lively conversation. There were easily about a hundred students in the well-appointed auditorium and perhaps half as many outside in the lobby. This was evidently a very large research project. By the looks of Chris’s expression, he was as surprised as I was by the size of the crowd. We walked down the sloped aisle and took seats toward the center of the room. The seats, I sensed right away, are most agreeably comfortable. I opened my packet and glanced at the contents; Chris was looking around to see if he knew anyone. A call was made to the students in the lobby and soon everyone was inside and ready to begin. A man wearing a dashing, electric lime tee shirt hopped on stage and strode up to the podium, tapped thrice on the microphone and enthusiastically announced: “My fellow sapiens: Welcome to the Department of Physics’ Quantum Chronoportation Project. You guys are incredibly fortunate. You are in for nothing less than the treat of your lives.”

Posted:   30 Aug 2014
Revised:   1 May 2015

Image credits:

"Charlotte Amalie" by JuanPDP. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons. Photo date: 7 Oct 2005

"St Thomas Harbor" by Caly Ponte. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Photo date: 13 Nov 2007

Additional information:

Rafik B. Hariri, late ex-prime minister of Lebanon, article at Wikipedia.

Boston University website: BU.EDU.

Boston University School of Management website: BU SMG.

Boston University Physics Department website: BU PHY.

Boston University Mathematics & Statistics website: BU MATH.

Photos galore of BU School of Management at

Businessweek BU School of Management virtual tour: BW BU SMG.

US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism website: