Boston straddles the line between history and modernity, keeping one foot planted in the American Revolution and the other in the consumer culture fundamental to our post-industrial society. I know this because yesterday I took the walking tour with Ian “Meat” Miller, 10-year Bostonian, as a guide.
Aimee and I met Ian (they’re cousins, by the way) in Boston Commons where we picked up The Freedom Trail, established in 1953, and followed the red line–sometimes paint, sometimes brick–around the city. It led us first to the Granary Burial Ground where headstones look like wafers–thin and stone gray–and we found the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the Franklin family plot less one important Benjamin. A little girl left a penny face out on the Benjamin marker and said to her daddy “I did it!” then jumped down from the stone step. I slid in to snap a picture.
We found Paul Revere’s site at the top of the slope overlooking the graveyard. John Hancock’s had a fittingly phallic shape, tall and rounded at the top. From a quick Google search I see now that Sam Adams is also buried there, along with a slew of important colonial and revolutionary figures. The cemetary felt warm and stoic, the spirits residing there proud and receptive, bearing witness to the daily deluge of visitors over generations whose only difference is the gradual but undeniable progression of clothing style.
Along the trail, the colonial buildings sprinkled among present-day Boston, busy and abuzz, appear like ghosts from time long past.
We toured another graveyard with a bottomless (literally) pit; wandered through the Park Street Church with its big ol’ organ and private box pews with cushioned benches on three sides, including back-to-pastor position, to facilitate Sunday napping; a circle on the sidewalk marking the site of the Boston Massacre where I asked, “How’d they fit all those people in that little ring?”; a whole boodle of Ben Franklin and Paul Revere statues; the Paul Revere House in the North End neighborhood which has the quintessential look of what I pictured Boston to be: narrow cobblestone streets leading to Irish pubs, tall cathedrals, and old brick buildings with ornate flowers spilling out of planters beneath the windows; and the USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides,” which saved America’s ass in the War of 1812.
All the while the spirits of Ben and Paul strolled just behind us.
The most striking collision of old and new, history and modernity, came at the Old City Hall and the Old State House. A Ruth Chris’s Steakhouse now inhabits the Old City Hall, and I imagined a present-day Ben Franklin, bespectacled and wearing a Red Sox cap, washing his steak fat down with a pint of Sam Adams, legs crossed with tall white socks and snapping open the Boston Globe at a table in the corner. You can now access the subway inside the Old State House, and walking past I thought I saw a sunglassed Paul Revere in his Celtics t-shirt putting his Charlie Card through to get on the Blue Line and muttering all the while about Ray Allen’s defecting to the Heat.
In Faneuil Hall, a center of commerce since 1742, international tourists swarmed around booths buying nicknacks imported from China. The glass tops of skyscrapers twinkled overhead.
It took us 45 minutes on the subway to get back
to B. House and Teresa’s where we were staying.
That night, a group of us went to a dance club in Cambridge to celebrate Ian’s girlfriend Jackie’s birthday. For the first hour we danced and snapped photos of each other, the girls dressed up in tight synthetic dresses and sparkling with glitter. In the second hour the lights went down, the crowd came in, and the music got louder. Two speakers hanging from the ceiling pumped dance beats and a metallic voice chanted “let the music take you over.” I thought my eardrums would burst and, by the third hour, I sat my lame self by the door, stressed and anxious to get away. I’m convinced the human cranium is not suited for that many hours of concussive, percussive pounding, and that my brain had swollen against my skull. After four hours we finally went for pizza and head decompression before turning in for bed.
The milieu of modernity condenced into an evening of dancing. Ben and Paul were nowhere in sight.
On the way back to B-House and Teresa’s, I asked Teresa’s brother Bubba if that was his real name.
“Nope,” he said. “Can you guess what it is?”
I thought for a moment. “William.”
“How’d you know” the car erupted.
Maybe the ghosts of Boston’s past had whispered in my ear.