I have been reprimanded by my beloved Grandma for my bad language in these pages. “I bugger and bloody, but no worse than that,” she said. “You’re educated; you should be able to express yourself without foul language!” Me, I think it adds colour to a modern monologue. I remind my dear readers that Shakespeare himself made reference to slits and all sorts of other profanities, and DH Lawrence dropped the c-bomb. Helen Mirren doesn’t see it as a big deal and she effed and blinded through a recent acceptance speech. But very well. I’ll try to clean up my act.
Boston, famous for tea parties and Harvard. Actually, maybe not so famous for Harvard since I didn’t even know it was here before I arrived. Spent my first night in a hostel on the outskirts of town. Let me tell you now that America does not know how to hostel. Perched right on the edge of a dodgy-by-night bit of town, this version was $33 a night, smelt of old bananas and reminded me a lot of a reformed granny farm, not least because of the rubber mattresses. Displeased so resolved to stay for but one night and find superior digs in the morning.
Awaking it didn’t seem quite so bad, as always, and the crowd seemed normal backpackers, not the safe house residents and witness protection junkies that I had feared. Kicked off with pancakes and maple syrup at a nearby eatery and then chatted to a few fellows and the interminably cheerful receptionist, discovering in the process that all hostels in the USA are like this. <Sigh>. Not unlike the realisation in Iran that all cheap hotels are not cheap and incredibly crummy. Not to be dissuaded, I packed up my troubles in my old kit bag and headed in for town, determined to find superior, or at least more central digs.
Stashed the bag at the bus station, figuring that a problem ignored is…not a problem for now and headed out to enjoy the sights of Boston. Started off with the Freedom Trail, a conveniently-marked tourist trail around the highlights of the city. Every tourist in town is on it. Not hard to follow. Still, it takes in the Common (oldest public park in America and full of fat, tame squirrels), Kings Chapel (poshest pews ever; founded in 1686 under the reign of England’s King James II), the Democrat donkey, Quincy market, Little Italy, the Charles river and some more pretty important monuments in between. Also ambled around Beacon Hill to see where some of the slave shizzle went down.
Boston was the heartland of the slavery abolition movement. Blacks and whites stood together to oppose the injustice and New England was one of the first places in the States to outlaw slavery. Power. You might remember that Britain’s own Josiah Wedgwood was against it too and produced the famous Slave Medallion to advocate the cause which showed a negro (what else to call them? This is historic) and the motto ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’
Big arses are everywhere, and this corner isn’t even the worst of it. Blame the American super-size portions. Remember that scene in Wall-E where they’re all floating round on hover boards with feeble bone structures? That’s where it’s headed. And the UK too, if my last visit was anything to go by. Pull yourselves together, people. Stop eating sh*t; move more.
Began to discover just how naturally friendly and helpful the Yanks are. Seriously. It’s one of the very best things about the United States and commendable. You wouldn’t find people chatting to you on the street and in the subway in London. Ask a stranger how their day is going or what they’re reading and they’ll look at you like you’ve got two heads. Britain – let’s bring it back! It’s marvellous.
Went in to seek a loo stop in a Maccers and some bloke on crutches asked me who I was and what I was up to. Told him I was English and on the lookout for a sim card, giving him a convenient cue to tell me the nearest shop. Thanked him and disappeared back outside in the opposite direction to nip in for a map. “Hey England!” rose a cry over the crowd; “It’s that way,” pointing in the other direction. Gestured to the tourist office, chuckling and thanking him again. Brilliant.
Later in the day, I met up with Evita, a friend of a friend of a friend over a hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s. If you’ve never been, go and experience the hug mug, designed to warm your cockles. Wondrous. Bravo Max. Anyway, got chatting to her and explained my hostel dilemma to her, calling a couple of numbers on my list as I did so. All full, whereupon Evita offered up her sofa. Super smashing lady that she is. Wound up crashing her life for a couple of days, taking in the Steve Jobs tributes outside the apple store, the JFK library (from the outside cos they were about to close) and the beach (where I put my feet in the other side of the Atlantic). Went for tapas with some of her pals. One turned out to have totally randomly met another friend of mine from Dubai in Argentina a couple of years ago. Small world, ain’t it.
Then Fat Tim turned up, a pal from the Middle East who has been
skiving working in the States for a few weeks. He’d been living it up in Texas for a month on expenses and had decided to break the journey home with a week or so in New England. So we merrily explored MIT, Harvard and the Charles esplanade together in a long day of walking, topped off by a marvellous Occupy Wall Street protest march, replete with marching band.
Met the local crazies – one dude who sits outside the library making incredibly loud clicking noises with his mouth, and another who races up and down Newbury Street on his bike, on the pavement, making siren noises. I forgot to mention that I met the Porto crazy too who wanders around the centre of town bellowing ‘soup’ in people’s faces.
Jumped on a ferry to Cape Cod, turning down the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard excursions on account of them being a bit too difficult to get to now the season had [just] ended. We were waiting in the Irish pub next to the ferry terminal when a lady asked Tim, ‘Of course, you’ve heard the rumours about Provincetown?’ Er no. It’s a bit fruity. One of the most gay-friendly towns in America, as it turned out, and appealing mostly to bulldykes. The sort of place where eating a banana makes you feel a bit self-conscious.
Nevertheless, it is also home to a burgeoning arts scene of painters, poets and writers and has some beautiful scenery. This was where the first settlers landed way back in the day. If you’re lucky, you can see whales from the far beach. We weren’t lucky, but we did go wandering across the dunes for many miles and found people picking wild cranberries for their Thanksgiving dinners on the way. Did you know that cranberries grow on low-lying bog bushes? I didn’t. Slight safety overkill with the underpasses and I very much felt the experience would have been more authentic were the paths not enormously wide and tarmaced, but still. We very much enjoyed roaming the wilds by day, feasting on chowder and exploring the bars and dildo museum by night.
Went down a side street one evening to find terrifying looking gay bars with soft porn on display outside and fled in fear. A few $2 beers later and we actively sought out the A-hole, as it was called, and had a smashing night with the queers.