Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Travelling Around Canada/USA Pt III: New England


Harvard, UMASS, MIT, The Irish, College Rock, Funny Accents, Celtics, Red Sox, Mystic River and Cheers.

Had to go through a toll to get there. We didn't have exact money but ended up in the pre-pay lane and got some serious road rage directed against us for our crime against humanity. I made sure I looked like a terrorist as the impatient yuppie roared by. Before all that we crossed the border from Canada into Vermont and had our boot checked, as the official was going through my passport he saw that I had been to Ghana and wondered why I'd been there. I wearily replied that it had nice beaches but he preferred California because at least there you wouldn't get speared in your butt by a pygmy. I should have said that I travelled there so I wouldn't end up an ignorant red neck, but we needed entry into his great country.

On the plus side Vermont was beautiful. So named because of the abundance of tree-covered hills (literally in French means green mountain). We got lost several times and ended up in traffic in New Hampshire which was also scenic and as the name implies, like Middle England except with more pick up trucks. When we finally got to Boston it was late and we were pretty hacked off with everything and each other which climaxed when we tried to find parking and accommodation. I wanted to get settled and go out but my brother thought having a beer right now was a better idea. It wasn't pretty. And I thought he was suppose to be the older, responsible one. After being turned away from many of the cheap occupied hostels we settled for a upmarket place slightly away from the action and hit the bars.

We found one nearby which was supposed to be based on the bar in Cheers or was it the other way around. There's probably millions of them. Then we discovered a pub with a cheesy funk rock band and a no smoking policy. Needless to say there were people outside puffing. Soon we were tired so we had bagels and watched John Lydon on some American chat show being funny and taking the piss.

Next day we went to Cambridge a kind of suburb of Boston with the status all of its own. As the name suggests it is home to the elite academia of the US in the shape of Harvard. What we found was a huge shopping mall but with more character with nice pedestrianised streets and chic plazas. Two record shops stood out Planet which does second hand and Newbury Comics which despite the name is probably the best record store i have EVER been to. I measured this using the standard 'how much time/money am i going to waste here' test. It was cheap, had nearly every album by bands I liked, also some nice 7s and the odd vinyl gem. The staff looked a little sour but then i can't really talk. I spent a small fortune then, in order to wash ourselves of unabashed consumerism checked out the old style Harvard brownstone buildings in the leafy area.

We found some nice bars nearer towards Boston that obviously had the student bohemian indie rock dollar in mind. Although the jukeboxes were a little unimaginative. One pub had some quite funny improvisational comedy going down in the style of Whose line is it Anyway? Another earthy Irish type pub resembled one in the Boston-set film Mystic River when the girls start dancing on the tables (no, it's nothing like Coyote Ugly); as i was wearing a NY Yankees cap I inquired as to whether I was gonna get a beating from some Red Sox fan. It turned out one of the guys at the bar had a Yankees tattoo. Shame, I was looking forward to a tumble with some local ruffian. I guess this kind of sporting rivalry only exists in dead end parts of British cities where there's no room.

The atmosphere of Boston was noticeably different to that of Chicago, Toronto, Detroit which all had that Midwestern hospitality, even Montreal had its own kind of French thing going on. Boston, though, is East Coast aloof and more European, obviously with the whole Harvard connection and the strong British colonial influence. You'd think to us it would have felt more at home but the opposite was the case. Its hard to make these generalisations in short stays and I could give you specific examples but I learnt a lot by just merely observing and listening to people. My brother felt the same. Even though I should go back to learn more I'm not in any great hurry to return. Goodbye Boston, it was swell.

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