Monday, October 18, 2010

Days Four, Five and Six: New England Dreaming

I'm currently living in a movie set.

When I think of America, I tend to think of some of my favourite films, most of which are set in New England. Mystic River, The Witches of Eastwick, Good Will Hunting to name a few, are all set in Boston. So here I am, in Boston, wandering familiar streets and scenes and feeling strangely at home.

Most of this is down to the wonderful hospitality of Reindert and Corazon. For regular readers of this blog, you will be aware that Reindert is an old friend from work who somehow got me into running. He's a bit mad, he's Dutch and he's possibly one of the most generous and kind people I know. His wife, Corazon, is of Mexican descent and is currently doing her PhD here at Harvard. Being around these two is like being around good family - the kind you love spending time with - and I don't know how I will be able to thank them for having me - because I don't know if I could show them such a good time in Melbourne.

Reindert and Corazon live just outside of the Harvard university campus in the City of Cambridge, which is really an inner suburb of Boston. The streets are lined with trees that give a dappled light to the wooden houses, most of which are two or three storeys high and made of wood. There is a bit of an austere air to the suburb which backs on to the university where Corazon has her lab. It's all very surreal to me - Harvard, a place I've been hearing about in books and films since I was a child is now here at my doorstep. It's all very exciting.

Boston has been a bit of a revelation. My Australian sensibilities are often baraged by what is perceived to be American, but this place is incredibly normal. The people here are lovely - okay, the natives are very friendly is what I'm trying to say. People are earnest, open, greet you with a smile and appear genuine when they bid you, "Have a nice day." American service is still something I'm getting used to - if we were to receive it at home we'd be asking what drugs the server was on. It's all a part of the culture - this is what America is about.

So far, Boston has shown me a far more genteel part of the country. The scenery is STUNNING. No other word for it. Being autumn, the leaves are falling, coming in every colour from bright yellow, through to burnt umber to a Botticelli russet and everything in between. I took the following shot on a trail run (well, fast walk) through the Middle Essex Fells National Park this morning. Reindert went for his normal psycho run round the park, I went out for an hour and nearly expired at the beauty.

Being leaf falling season, it also means that it's Halloween. Another strange concept for an Australian. Like why would you want to place a whopping great pumpkin on your doorstep for a few weeks. And why does it have to be an orange pumpkin? Why can't it be a Tasmanian Blue or a butternut? And surely it's a waste of food.... It's strange.

Reindert and I took a trip out to Salem, the location of the famous Witch Trials in 1692. That was a bit of an odd one.

If it's one thing the Americans have perfected, it's consumerism. $20 to park the car to wander this picturesque town. Being Halloween, the place was stupidly packed. There were ghosts and witches and skeletons and pumpkins as far as the eye could see. There were also lots of kooks, freaks and weirdos about the place. We went to a psychic fair - just my cup of tea you might think, but really, it all felt a bit jaded. We tried to get into the Salem Witch Museum but the queue went around the block and the three hour wait wasn't on either of our agendas. We ended up watching a recreation of the pre trial of Bridget Bishop, which was okay, followed by a leisurely stroll around the Peabody Essex Museum which suited both of us just fine. Also found a brillant set of tarot cards that are very Tim Burtonesque - quite taken with them.

After Salem, Reindert and I, on the way home stopped at this place called the Stop and Shop where we picked up three small, live lobsters for dinner. These were summarily cooked in boiling water and served with horseradish mashed potatoes and fried garlic green beans when we got home. Brillant they were, though I have been berated for not being able to throw my own lobster in the pot. Seems I have to let somebody else do my bidding and kill my food for me - though I am quite happy to eat it. And I was also berated for not naming my lobster. Hmm. Naming your food - haven't done that since my childhood when we had pet lambs called Breakfast and Chops.

It's a strange place this America. There is so much here, so many things to see and do - and Salem gave the best and the worst of tourism. Plenty of tat and tactlessness, but also a reverence to the history.

Revering the dead and their history is something the Yanks do very, very well. There are monuments to all sorts of people, everywhere. It doesn't end.

A few other discoveries:

The money is boring. Seriously. You have to look at what you're presenting to the check out person - it all looks the same. And the coins are strange. The ten cent piece (dime) is smaller than the five cent piece(nickel) and then there is the 25 cent piece or quarter. All a bit foreign to me - especially when they still have a one cent piece or penny. We got rid of the one cent piece years ago.

They use middle names a lot here, but only on official things.

The service is exceptional most of the time.

You can't escape the history lessons around here - it's like it's indoctrinated from the time you're born.

Everybody has a photo face. Watch people having their photo taken and they will put on a face. Reindert says that this is my over-reaction to my camera allergy, but it's quite funny.

Things are bloody cheap around there. The runners I normally wear are $270 at home. $130 here - I nearly fell over. Food is plentiful and good - when you get away from the street food, which appears to be pretty crap. Full stop. People who live on street food here probably have the inability to poo.

It cost to go to art galleries and museums. This really got to me - in Australia, the major art galleries and museums are often free to enter. Here, a twenty dollar entry fee is pretty normal, which I find rather sad as there is so much for everybody in these places and they should be there for everybody, whether they can afford it or not.

Oh, and most surprisingly of all - it appears that here, in this land of the loud and the brash - I come across as quietly spoken. People can't hear me. I seem to be about thirty decibels quieter than most of the folks around here. This is truly a revelation. Me - soft spoken. Geez.

Right, off to dinner. I have another day and a half in this lovely city with lovely friends before taking off to sunny Philadelphia.

Til soon,



Kath Lockett said...

So much information here - and all so well expressed and interesting. And, let's face it, sometimes travelogues aren't interesting to anyone but the traveller but YOURS are.

V's Fork to Fork said...

Loving the read, agreed sooo much information but worthwhile! America never seemed soo appealing to me! Lots of hugs x

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pandora,

I've been away myself so have only just managed to read your travelogue posts - and very intersting they are too (shame about your illness though :-( )

I loved Boston - we had a great few days there last year. We were a tad early for "Fall" which was a shame - the leaves were about to turn but we left before they did, sadly.