“My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.” – Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
Boston, Massachusetts, with a population of 685,000 is (just barely) in the top 20 in the U.S. The only other big city I’ve lived in was Chicago, with about 3M people when I left in 1979. Walking the streets here, I can’t tell much difference aside from the weather. American poet Robert Lowell claimed that “In Boston serpents whistle at the cold.” As for me, it’s Boston, bad; Chicago, scary bad.
Boston was named after a town in England about 130 miles north of London. Our Boston’s history and character are nothing if not distinctive. To mention just a few examples:
– The first American lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor in 1716. Interesting, since the first electric light bulb awaited Edison in 1878. In 1716 they used candles and lamps.
– Happy hours with alcohol are against the law. This despite a bajillian (20 zeros) bars and pubs. Food happy hours are okay.
– Boston was home to the first U.S. chocolate factory. I wonder if the first chocolate patriot was molded here.
– A tsunami of molasses once flooded the North End, with over 2M gallons of molasses and 21 deaths. A very tragic, sticky wicket.
– 15% of Bostonians walk to work, the highest of any major American city. Ladies wear a dazzling variety of great looking boots. Men schlep along in manly, often grungy footwear.
The quantity and variety of restaurants, museums and churches is breathtaking. There are approximately 11,000 restaurants in the greater Boston area, for example. If a person ate every meal out, three a day, it would take ten years to hit each restaurant once. Ten years. Ooff, I’m stuffed just thinking about it.
Speaking of food, I try to keep my sociologist’s hat handy. OK, actually U.S. Navy watch and ball caps. I conducted two recon missions to the Chinese Market across the street. Holy bok choy, Batman! The place was jammed that Saturday like a bucket of roofing nails. I counted eight straight Toyotas in the parking lot followed by three Hondas. Was this a car dealership, too? Elbow to elbow, there were hundreds of shoppers; counting me a grand total of four Caucasians. Some of the little ladies chugged ahead like tiny freight trains, oblivious to anyone around them. No, I didn’t shove any of them out of the way, even in self-defense. Ever the gentleman columnist.
The food selection was from the Star Wars bar scene. Along the right of the store sits the produce section. Chinese broccoli, lemongrass, bamboo root, mustard greens, yellow chives, yu choy, Shanghai sum, crown daisy chrysanthemum (yep), potato leaves; you name it. Countless items had Chinese labels so I couldn’t always tell what was inside the packages. Loads of Chinese cookies, crackers, and what looked like candies. Mountains of inventory.
As a lifelong fisherman, I naturally checked out the seafood section on the opposite side carefully. In addition to conventional fishes like mackerel, yellow croaker, butterfish, mullet and seabass, they had huge unlabeled fish heads, razor clams, frozen assorted whole fish, skate, red eyed whozits (whatsits?), and two types of bait on chipped ice labeled “small fish.“ Hard to clean, maybe they’re used in soup. Then we had the live stuff. Lobsters of course, but also eels and “black grouper” which were actually blackfish (like we caught in Long Island Sound). Also in the tanks were small striped bass, king crabs, silver bass, and marbled sand goby. Below in crates scritch scratched what looked like Dungeness crabs.
They also had chicken feet at $1.99/lb next to chicken legs for $.99/lb. My Thai acupuncturist told me that you prepare chicken feet by first marinating them, followed by steaming, then serving them with dim sum. You eat the skin and cartilage, leave the bones. Mmm, I’ll take some potato skins and a ginger ale instead.
Walking the narrow interior aisles where you can simultaneously touch each side while keeping your elbows bent, I saw a Smithsonian-esque bank of soy sauces and red ginger slices among dozens of other condiments. My head spun.
This is still the America where we love competition. New York Market sits three blocks away, another Chinese hot spot. After storing your wares, you can worship at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church.
If you’re on foot, watch out for sidewalk trash: Firebird Cinnamon Whiskey and vodka bottles, Starbucks cups, paper bags, cigarette packs including U.S. and Chinese brands, beer and soda cans and bottles, God knows how many cigarette butts and dog droppings peppered about.
I guess we really like to stay current up here. How about 24 daily and weekly newspapers, excluding college and foreign language?
Like the arts? There are 63 museums. Six Three. The Museum of Fine Arts boasts some 450,000 pieces and is so vast that I wore myself out after an hour. I had a much easier time rolling in a wheelchair at the Institute of Contemporary Art. One artist in particular caught my eye: Vik Muniz, born in 1961 in São Paulo, Brazil. The plaque near his exhibits says he is fascinated with how photography represents objects, transforming “unexpected materials into nuanced and deceptive photographic images. He has used materials as diverse as chocolate syrup, peanut butter, diamonds, thread, garbage, and dust to re-create images gleaned from art history and pop culture.” I loved the titles: Dinosaur Dung, Brillo Pads, Rotten Raspberries, Rat Poison, California Rolls, and Tacking Peanuts for example. Not talking, tacking.
Care to hop a historic craft? This tour of the city is a splashy winner. “You’ve never toured Boston in anything that comes close to Boston Duck Tours,” the company boasts. “The fun begins as soon as you board your ‘DUCK’ [from the U.S. Navy’s DUKW], a W.W.II style amphibious landing vehicle. First, you’ll be greeted by one of our legendary tour ConDUCKtors® [yep, we get it], who’ll be narrating your sightseeing tour of Boston…You’ll cruise by all the places that make Boston the birthplace of freedom and a city of firsts, from the golden-domed State House to Beacon Hill and the TD [Boston] Garden, Boston Common and Copley Square to the Big Dig, Government Center to fashionable Newbury Street, Quincy Market to the Prudential Tower, and more.”
“And just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s more. It’s time for ‘Splashdown’ as your captain plunges your DUCK right into the Charles River for a breathtaking view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines.” Our cruise was co-skippered by 10-year old passenger Henry, who eagerly took the wheel and grew saltier as he steered us up the river and back. Henry stepped away from his mission with a giant grin to cheers from all of us.
I don’t mind knowing that Boston is too vast and multi-faceted for me to ever see everything it has to offer. The remaining 10,980 restaurants are a bridge too far and the lovely parks too vast for my aching feet. Thank heavens for my new electric chair. No, not that kind, the type you can adjust and heat/vibrate from within. What better place to watch the Red Sox and what’s that football team? Oh yeah, the Patriots. Can we order chowda, Sam Adams, and stay in for a while?
Tomorrow is another day.