The main attraction in going to Boston was to spend time with our twin granddaughters, who are doing a summer intensive program at the Boston Ballet. Of course, they were only free to hang out on Saturday and Sunday, so we planned our itineraries with them in mind on those days.
On Friday, Monday and Tuesday, we did other stuff. On almost every day of the trip we had a great time, although I had to do the last day alone because my wife developed some serious back problems and had to stay at the B&B. How serious? Serious enough to make her give up seeing things she had really looked forward to. But the rest of the time was great. (We think it was the walking — miles and miles more than we were used to, on a daily basis. My legs got stiff and sore, but I was able to walk it out the next morning. So I was the lucky one.)
Quincy. This filled the schedule for Friday (the Red Line will take you all the way down there, but it’s still a trek) — the home town of John Adams (and Abigail, and their boy John Quincy), my favorite Founding Father. We saw and toured… John’s birthplace, John Quincy’s birthplace, the more palatial home where John and Abigail lived in later years (and where they both died), the Church of the Presidents where John Quincy had four pews at his disposal, and where all three of them and John Quincy’s wife, Louisa, are buried (in the crypt downstairs). And it was an interesting town to walk around and see how it has changed over time. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant, but we could have gone with Chinese, Italian, Korean, Indian or Vietnamese. We could have had a Thai massage, too, but I was sure it would cost a lot more than the one I had in Kanchanaburi. Back in John Adams’ day “diversity” in Quincy meant being Congregationalist or Unitarian instead of Church of England.
Newton. We didn’t stay, technically, in Boston, but way out west in Newton — originally because that’s where the twins’ classes are, but that ended up not mattering since we could only get them over the weekend. But it was a delightful town, full of very old houses in fantastic restored condition — including the B&B we stayed in. Within a block or two were several nice places to eat, but my fave was O’Hara’s Food and Spirits. I recommend the Broiled Steak Tips. We were staying less than 100 yards from a Congregationalist church with a bell that rang the hour every hour — but if we kept the AC on in our bedroom, we couldn’t hear it. Best part: We were only about a block from the Newton Highlands station on the Green Line. Which leads us to…
Public Transportation. We flew there, and of course we didn’t rent a car, because this is a Civilized City, and provides ample, efficient, affordable public transportation. Which as you know, I love. I don’t go to places like London, New York and Boston for the subways alone, but they add greatly to the attraction. It’s so wonderful to go wherever you want without having to freaking drive. If I’d had a car with me, I’d have parked it on the outskirts of town.
Masks. As I said, this is a Civilized City — a place that doesn’t ignore things — so people wore masks. Not everybody. I’d say at least half the people on the trains did, and more than that in museums and restaurants. And all the kids there for Boston Ballet wore them all the time — they get tested every day, and if you’re positive, you’re on your way home, and none of them want that. There was one big exception: Fenway Park was full for that game with the Yankees on July 10, and my wife reckons she and I were the only two masked people. She enjoyed the game, but she figures that’s where she got the COVID that showed up in a positive test three days after we got home. Fortunately, despite the back problem, she didn’t feel sick until we’d been back a day or two. (She’s usually the healthy one, but she’s had a rough few days.)
Unfamiliar features of the Earth. We knew the weather would be different — which is to say it was not insane the way it is here. Since it was July, it was very warm in the middle of the day, but blissful in the evening. And I knew intellectually that the days would be longer this far north. I was a bit surprised, though, when the sun rose and woke me up at 5:16 the first morning. It wasn’t to rise in Columbia for more than an hour after that. So we got up and got started.
Isabella Stewart Gardner. She was an amazing woman, and she left behind an amazing museum. It’s surprising there were any cultural artifacts left in Europe — or the Far East — after her Gilded Age shopping spree. We were numb after a couple of hours of turning yet another corner and being confronted by yet another work of art we’d seen pictures of all our lives — including some personal favorites, such as John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo (which is way, way bigger than I would have expected). Name it, she had it — Rubens, Raphael, Matisse, and yes, Rembrandt. (Where did she keep the Raphaels? In the Raphael Room. Duh.) I kept thinking, would it be possible for one individual today — Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, take your pick — to amass such a collection? I think not. Not at current art prices.
The Navy Yard. (Or, as the driver/guide on the trolley my second time over there explained, the Navy Yahd. He also told us that 8,500 women wuhked theh while the men were off fighting the wah.) This was the first thing I added to the itinerary as my wife was planning it. (Or maybe it was tied with Fenway Park). That’s because the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Ironsides, the world’s oldest ship afloat, is tied up there, and I was determined to inspect her. She did not disappoint. One of the nation’s original Six Frigates, laid down in 1794, you can easily see how she would have intimidated the Brits a few years later. I wasn’t piped aboard, and had no sideboys, but the ship — which is still commissioned as part of the U.S. Navy — was thinly manned (and in some cases, womanned), no doubt because the Americans didn’t press sailors. But they did serve grog in those days, and you can’t say fairer than that. I loved it, and my wife and granddaughters seemed to take interest as well. (For my part, I went back again on that last day, when I was alone.) I hadn’t planned it, but one of the twins and I also toured the USS Cassin Young, which was meaningful in a different way: My Dad served on destroyers just like that one, and I was able to explain a lot of it to my granddaughter.
You can’t charge your phones. This is my one complaint about Boston — it’s hard to find public places where you can recharge, which is a huge problem when you’re taking enough pictures to fill a museum. I should have taken one of those portable pocket batteries, but I did not. This was particularly rough on Sunday, the 10th. We scrambled about the area around the Kenmore station for more than an hour, trying to find a fast-food place or somewhere we could have a bite and recharge at our table. No dice. For that reason, I only took about four pictures during the ball game at Fenway, and before the game was over, both our phones were dead. Which is a little spooky when you’re not 100 percent sure your train will be running after 11 p.m. on a Sunday (it was). I had another bad experience the last day, when my wife had stayed at the B&B nursing her bad back, and I was trying to stay in touch. I ended up walking from Bunker Hill down to the river, across it, and up several blocks past Faneuil Hall, trying at multiple places to recharge — McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks. I finally ended up squatting in a corner of Chipotle, next to the garbage bin, at the only outlet they would allow me. After about 20 minutes, my phone’s charge had only increased about 10 percent, and I’d had enough. I headed for the train to Newton. At Logan airport when we were leaving, I found sockets between a lot of the seats at the gate. It would have been nice to have a few of those when we were in town.
Red Sox crush the Yankees. If you like the Red Sox, as I do, I can recommend few more enjoyable experiences than watching them trounce the New York Yankees in Fenway Park. Of course, it’s a bit tricky determining in advance when that will happen, but we chose a good night. The Sox not only won, thereby splitting a four-game home stand with the most hated of rivals, but they did it in a most satisfying way. The pinstriped guys scored two runs in each of the first three innings, which was enough to give a Boston fan the sinking feeling this pattern would continue until the end. It did not. After scoring three in the first three, the Sox scored three in the fifth, one in the sixth, and four in the seventh — just to put a nice, shiny finish on the job — while the Yanks put up nothing but goose eggs the rest of the game. Our honored Gamecock Jackie Bradley Jr. — who was right in front of us there in right field — went one for two before he and several others were taken out for pinch hitters during that hitfest in mid-game. We were also in good position to keep a watchful eye on that Aaron Judge fellow. It was a beautiful night. The game was perfect, the weather was perfect. I ate both peanuts and Cracker Jack, and while I did not care whether I ever got back, when it came time to do so, we were jammed like sardines into the train with a very, very happy crowd, all the way out to Newton.
Salem. Ken had warned me it was just a tourist trap, and he was right enough. But we went anyway, partly to see the statue of Roger Conant, the twins’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (but no ancestor of mine — the twins are my daughter’s children, but Conant is on their father’s side). Of course, maybe even Ken would have been impressed by the first statue we saw there — of Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched.” Really. Can you imagine anything tackier than that — a ’60s sitcom witch memorialized in the place where 19 innocents were killed in an early incident of mass insanity (by “early,” I mean “before 2016”)? And it was a terrible statue. Elizabeth Montgomery was a lovely woman, and it didn’t do her justice. And there were some really sad-looking tourists about, dressed in black like Theater majors and seeming to be living out a supernatural fantasy — a group of them had a great time taking each other’s pictures in front of Samantha. But we enjoyed walking about looking at the old houses in the McIntire Historic District.
The North End. The night before our last day, my wife bought tickets for the hop-on, hop-off trolley that rides around the Freedom Trail — on account of her back. Her plan was that we’d hop on at the start of the route, but I wanted to go first to the North End — Boston’s Little Italy — for an espresso or two to start the day. As things turned out, by the time we got to the station that last morning, she urged me to go on alone, while she headed back to the B&B. I went to catch the trolley, but first went to Hanover Street for an espresso. But I wasn’t totally selfish. I also bought her a chocolate cannoli, which I then carried all day in the drawstring bag on my back. I did this in response to hearing Clemenza in my head, saying, “Drink the espresso; take the cannoli.” I then went to join the trolley over near the Aquarium station. I only rode it as far as Paul Revere’s house. Then, after taking advantage of the restroom at Old North Church and having another espresso across the street, I got back on the trolley to head over to the Navy Yard, and walked from there up Bunker Hill. Or Breed’s Hill. Whatever. Yeah, I told you this story just so I could paraphrase Clemenza.
The Freedom Trail. This is sort of the obligatory thing to do in Boston, especially if you spent as much time in college studying the early days of our republic as I did. We had intended to try to do it when the twins were with us over the weekend, but we couldn’t work it in. So it became a last-day thing. And I’ll confess I didn’t do it as thoroughly as I should have. But I did tour Paul Revere’s house, and admire his statue, and check out the gift shop of Old North Church. (There wasn’t as much in the church itself I needed to see. One if by land, two if by sea. Got it.) I did ride over to Charlestown and walk up to the Bunker Hill monument, just to check and make sure it was a hill, which I couldn’t tell from a distance. It was. For the first time, I felt the summer heat. After that, I was struggling with a phone running out of charge, and eventually got back on the train.
Aside from the planned sightseeing, we ran across all sorts of wonderful things we hadn’t expected, such as the installation of bells by Henri Matisse’s grandson, which my granddaughters played as we crossed the Charles River at the locks. And did you know that they have a hotel named for that storied lawncare business in Philadelphia? Oh — and the Edgar Allen Poe statue! (Which confused me, because I thought he was from Baltimore.)
Oh, dang! As I wrote this, it suddenly occurred to me that I forgot to do something. I didn’t eat a single Boston bean! I guess we’ll have to go back…