Cold and Endearing

Posted on 13 June 2009

It’s so nice to come back to Boston for the weekend!  Even if it’s cold and rainy here, it was hot and rainy in DC, and I was more than glad to escape.  Yes, the city of beans and lobsters is cold and grey today, and I had to put on a sweater and grab some tea to feel comfortable before sitting down at my computer.  What kind of welcome home is that, you might ask?

A nice one!  Yes, yes, yes…for Boston, that is.

There’s a special place in my heart for this city; a place I didn’t even know about until I left it after college and realized what I’d lost.  In many ways I couldn’t have picked a better city for comparison: Honolulu.  I mean, what kind of idiot favors Boston over Honolulu?  Well, with the addition of one little qualifier–-as a place to live—I do!!

True, the tight, often dreary city streets of Boston appear pathetically drab in comparison to the sparkling beaches, wide sidewalks and warm glow of Hawaii’s capital.  But still, I challenge the islands to beat the pure charm of Beantown.  There’s something endearing about the unassuming majesty of its historic architecture and cobbled streets, the casual, no-nonsense attitude of its residents, and–perhaps best of all–that special touch of New England salt in the air.  I have never been able to understand why, of all places, you can’t smell the ocean in Hawaii!  But you can’t—at least, not like in New England you can’t.  Even in islands still more remote, like Tahiti and the Marquesas, the Pacific does not seem to give off the same delicious, almost sour odor that the Atlantic has.  Sometimes—and particularly in places like Maine—this smell becomes more about fish and clam flats than anything else.  But in Boston, it is an intangible note of the sea that hovers in the air, omnipresent, that becomes more prominent when rain is in the forecast.  For me at least, the suggestive lilt of the old and timeless ocean in this city ranks far above and beyond the tropical vibrance and sun-screened glory of Hawaii.  (But I still plan on going there for vacation…when I have enough money to go the distance.  I do miss those beaches–not to mention the surfing!  Sigh.)

Coming to Boston from DC is a bit of a different experience, though my ultimate conclusion remains the same.  DC, with its bustling ambition and overbearing politics, is perhaps more similar to Boston than Honolulu, and not so obviously in a different league, as some would see it.  But like any city, DC has its redeeming characteristics (more, in fact, than a biased yankee like me had expected) that together make it an undeniably nice place to live—free museums, diverse neighborhoods, and a great love of happy hours, to name a few.  In this case, then, a trip north to Boston cultivates an appreciation for more subtle and subjective things.  It’s nice, for example, to be greeted with a variety of styles and designs as you ride from station to station on the T; a refreshing change after the uniformly drab, oppressive grey interiors of DC’s Metro stations.  There’s something equally comforting about being in a city where most of the license plates read “Massachusetts”—rather than a smorgasbord of the surrounding states, making you wonder, “Where am I, again?”  In Boston, you may have to watch your feet due to uneven sidewalks—cobbles, old bricks and overgrown trees can pose a cunning hazard, especially at night—but at least you don’t have to worry about having the concrete tiles underfoot tip sickeningly as you pass, as you do in DC.  This unpleasant occurrence is occasionally made worse by the fact that if you are walking after a rain, the sidewalk can actually splash you—throwing up a spray of old, dirty street water as the tile tips downward (these are the moments when I feel rather hostile towards DC, despite our more generally amicable relationship).  Last but not least, when I stepped out of the airport yesterday I knew I was home because of the smell.  No, not the nasty bus exhaust and diesel fumes of the airport pick-up area—but something deeper and more subtle than that: sea salt.  Having the ocean just next door, even if it is grey, choppy, and reaking of seaweed, is like chicken soup for the soul.

Thus, even on a cold and rainy day the elegant, upright lines of the Prudential Center and the Hancock Tower, watching over the Charles River as it winds circuitously toward the bay, are a welcome a sight.  I happily don a pair of pants and long-sleeved shirt (of which I naturally did not bring enough pairs–DC was so warm!!) to venture forth into a long, gloomy day in my favorite city.

View looking up the calm, cloudy Charles River.

View looking up the calm, cloudy Charles River.

1 Response to Cold and Endearing

  • Damien says:

    I couldn’t agree more! My teammates in college used to give me a hard time because I would always run my best races when I came home to Boston. I still maintain that it was the salt in the air that helped me relax so I could perform at my best!

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