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On the Water

Metropolitan water ways

Boston’s neighborhood fountains offer respite from the urban bustle, along with serendipitous opportunities

Johanna Escobar tested the waters at the fountain in Copley Square. Johanna Escobar tested the waters at the fountain in Copley Square. (Jessey Dearing for The Boston Globe)
By James Sullivan
Globe Correspondent / September 3, 2011

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She removed her shoes and rolled up her jeans to her calves. She dipped one foot - toenails painted silver - then the other into the shallow pool in Copley Square. She waded over near the plumes of water arching out of the stonework and turned, posing for a photo.

Andrew Arenas, a young handyman who moved to Boston from Colombia, snapped the picture. He comes to the fountain in the square regularly. Other than the trash that sometimes ends up in the water, he said, it’s a nice, peaceful place to take a break.

On this day, he brought his friend, Johanna Escobar, a new arrival from Colombia. She’s working on her English. Asked how the water was, she had one word as she stepped out.

“Cold!’’

With a strong, humid breeze kicking up on a recent weekday afternoon, passersby on the other side of the fountain were getting sprayed with a refreshing mist blowing off the cascading water.

In the city, of course, the coolest place in summer is near the water. Besides relief from the heat, Boston’s two dozen neighborhood fountains provide a bit of tranquility from the busy streets and, sometimes, an opportunity for the sort of unexpected encounters that can make city life so appealing.

In front of Trinity Church, a couple stopped when their 2-year-old daughter spotted the bronze sculpture of a tortoise near the fountain. The couple, David and Heather Neisen, and their two children were wrapping up a week’s vacation in Boston from their home near Phoenix. After letting their daughter climb on the tortoise, they sat on the edge of the fountain to rest.

“This is a nice place to be,’’ said David Neisen, who was wearing a Red Sox cap. His wife, who went to Boston University, was wearing one, too.

“You learn pretty quick in Arizona,’’ said Neisen, a Utah native, is “that it’s cooler near the water by 5 or 10 degrees.’’

A few blocks east of Copley Square, a couple of solitary gentlemen sat on benches in Statler Park, the small, triangular parcel at the intersection of Stuart Street and Columbus Avenue. Both men trained their gaze up at the classical figure - a robed woman holding a bowl - that tops the park’s main feature, its refurbished Art Deco fountain.

A mile or so across town, a much larger group of locals and visitors congregated along the inlaid fountain and nearby reflecting pool in the Christian Science Plaza. Crisscrossing jets of water spouted from the fountain grates, creating a steady downpour in the shallow brick basin.

Not all of Boston’s fountains are still in operation. Several that no longer circulate were taken offline years ago to conserve water. And a few of the circulating fountains are often slowed to a trickle, sometimes by the city’s homeless, who plug up the system to create a makeshift washing facility.

At the large fountain in Blackstone Square, along Washington Street in the South End, neighborhood resident Joanne Modica sat on the edge of the park’s centerpiece with Maggie, her bichon-Westie mix. Several feet away, the statue at the center of the fountain gurgled, creating a small puddle.

“I saw a girl meditating here the other day,’’ said Modica, a recruiter who works from home and is active in the upkeep of her neighborhood park. “It must be the soothing noise of the water.’’

In a nod to the ubiquitous public water sculptures of Rome, Boston continues to invest in its fountains. Newer ones include the elegantly simple structure at Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square and the modern, child-friendly fixtures on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

On Boston Common, the ornate Brewer Fountain - the city’s oldest fountain - has undergone a restoration.

Back at Copley, Kim Dorsey of Dorchester sat with an open notebook in her lap, staring into the fountain streams. On her lunch break from her office job, she was writing an entry for her fashion blog.

She spends a lot of time here on summer days, she said, “when the kids are here. It’s fun to watch.’’ When the water is shut off for the season and the skateboarders arrive, she heads indoors.

A few yards away, Bob Piatt of Washington, N.H., sat on the edge of the fountain pool with Lincoln, his son’s Johnson American bulldog, who lapped eagerly at the water. Lincoln, not quite 2, realized only recently how much the pet likes to get wet.

“Once they get the idea of how good water is,’’ Piatt said, “forget it.’’

James Sullivan can be reached at sullivanjames@verizon.net. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames. To read other stories in this series, go to www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/specials/on_the_water/

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