Visiting Boston

February 21st, 2009 § 0 comments

I have come to revel in bus trips, and since I still have that west coast love of driving, I enjoy the fact that I can enjoy the road without having to drive myself. The last time I took a bus out of the city it was toward Jersey, this time we drove uptown, past our apartment, past Yankee Stadium, through Connecticut and onwards. The landscape looked colder outside ny state, frozen lakes and rivers drifted by, and houses were covered in snow that has not garnished Gotham in weeks. It feels more American somehow, or less European, to take a bus, and I enjoy the stigma. I have yet to discover exactly why this form of travel is looked down on, but it should not be surprising to find that buses are as surrounded by cultural myth as the road.

boston train station

It was a sunny weekend in an architecturally lovely city; the guesthouse was the most quaint, inviting place I have encountered since I left The Fan. Boston reminded me a little of Philly, and little of Richmond, but was nothing like Gotham. Its population is white, wealthy, (at this point the southern resemblance ends) and the city is as well maintained as its residents. The first day in the city was the warmest, and the most enjoyable. Wandering down through the common I followed the Freedom Trail, which is a small and elusive red line painted on the sidewalk, a “trail” that turned out to be an amazing walk, and the perfect American wander; it was not really a wander at all. As the trail wound on and on, jumping over streets, sidling around corners, trying at all costs to distracted you with interesting neighborhoods, you pass by subtle and quiet pieces of American history; meeting places, Paul Revere’s house, the most hauntingly lovely graveyard I have ever seen. Each place seemed understated, pensive like the old, brick buildings lining the streets. The walk reminded you of an older time without suggesting too much about it.

map
boston

A nice thing about Boston is that it feels like a city with a history, rather than a city trying to have a history. Even the JFK Library felt completely tasteful, considering it was about a figure so romanticized it can be stomach turning. But perhaps this is also the problem with the city, that it felt so controlled, so tame, so vanilla. One can feel out of place for any number of reasons—by your speech in Richmond, by walking slowly and politely in new york city, by wearing a winter hat and scarf in southern California—but in Boston I felt out of place because of my character. Something about me was amiss, and they knew it. By the end of the weekend, though all the people I spoke to were polite and helpful, I had collected a decent number of looks that betrayed this feeling. The looks felt something like how we stare at the European love for mixing patterns with prints, it’s an expression of puzzlement and superiority—poor things must not know any better.

statue

Being away from new york city makes it that much better to come back to. What does Hunter say, something about disappearing into frantic oblivion? I thought of that as I saw the city from a distance, the tall buildings and the night lights, and it was almost as good as seeing L.A. stretching out beneath me from an airplane. The mountains, the sprawl, and the valleys all scream of the place I am from, but new york is the place I live in, more fully than ever before. I wondered why as I drove in, why here, why now, why do I feel attached to a place so tumultuous? It is not a nostalgic feeling, nor a blurry background blending with other places I have known, it extracts (or demands) a certain kind of focus on the present to survive. I remember writing about how I was going to fit in when I first arrived, and I still wonder.

billboard

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