From Paul Re­vere to Denny Crane, the US’s cra­dle of lib­erty has al­ways been a city of char­ac­ters, ob­serves Graeme Blun­dell

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

REAT cities are al­ways more than their built en­vi­ron­ment, trick­ier and more per­plex­ing than any set of class or eco­nomic re­la­tion­ships. A show­case for the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion, yet known fa­mil­iarly as Bean­town, Bos­ton is built around pock­ets of his­tory, places of cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance and scenes of crit­i­cal events in the city’s strug­gle for free­dom. Walk­ing this com­pact and windy city is an ir­re­sistible plea­sure.

I’ve taken time to get my bear­ings, pick­ing up the red Bean­town Trol­ley bus tour sev­eral streets from my ho­tel, the Lang­ham, on the har­bour near the aquar­ium. Our loud, la­conic driver says it’s called Bean­town be­cause beans, slow-baked in mo­lasses, have been a favourite Bos­ton dish since colo­nial days.

‘‘ The city was awash in mo­lasses, mainly due to its rum-pro­duc­ing role in what was called the tri­an­gu­lar trade,’’ he shouts, a

Gwal­rus of a man with­out slumped in his seat. Sugar cane har­vested by African slaves in the West Indies was shipped to Bos­ton, made into rum and sent back to West Africa to buy more slaves to send to the West Indies. Even af­ter slav­ery’s end, Bos­ton con­tin­ued to be a big rum-pro­duc­ing city.

The Great Mo­lasses Flood of 1919 killed 21 peo­ple and in­jured 150 when a tank hold­ing mo­lasses for rum pro­duc­tion ex­ploded.

‘‘ What a way to go, man,’’ guf­faws our driver when he shows us the dis­tillery site on Com­mer­cial Street where it oc­curred. ‘‘ Wit­nesses said the wave of mo­lasses was 15 feet high and trav­elled at 35mph.’’

It’s al­most the end of the day’s tour and the trol­ley is un­com­fort­able and cold. The breeze is so mean it seems the harsh breath of a Pu­ri­tan god is hiss­ing through the many cracks. Bos­ton is much windier than Chicago


mous­tache, and the weather changes quickly and un­pre­dictably. ‘‘ If you don’t like New Eng­land’s weather, wait a minute,’’ said Mark Twain, no stranger to Bos­ton.

Like Twain, our driver is agree­ably gar­ru­lous, though he yawns a lot, de­spite a large pile of plas­tic cof­fee cups by his gearshift. A clap of thun­der rocks the trol­ley and rain ham­mers down. His cul­tural notes are amus­ing and he is also a writer, like ev­ery sec­ond Bos­to­nian, it seems. (It’s just that he hasn’t writ­ten that darned first novel yet.) First up, he says, Bos­to­ni­ans don’t speak English. ‘‘ They speak ‘ what­eva’ they brought over from East Anglia,’’ he in­tones into his mi­cro­phone, be­fore emp­ty­ing an­other cof­fee cup.

The Baw­stin ac­cent is ba­si­cally the broad A and the dropped R that Bos­to­ni­ans add to words end­ing in A: pah­ster, soder, Cu­ber. Around me, rugged-up vis­i­tors silently mouth the words. ‘‘ For the broad A, just open your mouth and say ‘ ah’, like the doc­tor says,’’ he shouts, warm­ing to his task, rel­ish­ing the ver­bal games.

Well, it’s funny in a draughty, wet bus. The name Bos­ton, it seems, orig­i­nated from an English re­li­gious fig­ure called St Bo­tolph, who started a Bo­tolph’s Town, which was short­ened to Bo’s Town, then fur­ther elided to Bos­ton. That’s how the English city of Bos­ton got its name and the US Bos­ton was named af­ter Eng­land’s.

Our guy is full of sto­ries. Bos­ton is as short on park­ing space as Moscow is on toi­let pa­per. Park­ing spa­ces are as com­mon as a ski slope in the Sa­hara. And he talks in­ces­santly about the television show Cheers , which was fa­mously set in Bos­ton, and even­tu­ally our trol­ley passes the Bull and Finch Pub in Bea­con Street, where the ex­te­ri­ors were shot.

Though the bar fre­quented by Norm, Cliff, Frasier, bar­man Sam and the other cast of char­ac­ters was a Hol­ly­wood set, the in­spi­ra­tion for the se­ries was this drink­ing hole, even­tu­ally re­named Cheers.

True Cheers en­thu­si­asts queue to check out the replica bar and restau­rant, which looks more like the set, lo­cated in Fa­neuil Hall Mar­ket­place, which we also pass.

Candy-coloured am­phibi­ous World War II ve­hi­cles, fondly known as Ducks, with names such as Bean­town Betty and Fen­way Fan­nie (af­ter the home ground where the Red Sox base­ball team plays), also driven by tour guides (ConDUCK­tors called Ma­jor Tom Fool­ery and Count Kil­roy), splashily cruise around us as we tra­verse the city. Ev­ery time they pass, the pas­sen­gers yell ‘‘ Quack! Quack!’’ out of the win­dows.

As we head more se­dately through the toney area of Bea­con Hill, our driver points out the Charles Bulfinch-de­signed Mas­sachusetts State House with its dis­tinc­tive gold dome. And the huge eques­trian statue of Union gen­eral Joseph Hooker, whose fe­male camp fol­low­ers, lovely ladies of ne­go­tiable af­fec­tions, were known as Hooker’s women, or hook­ers. Nearby is Is­abel McIl­vain’s stand­ing statue of John F. Kennedy, a pres­i­dent also al­leged to be par­tial to ladies of the night and stat­uesque blonde star­lets.

It’s still rain­ing when I leave the trol­ley near Colum­bus Park and the driver par­rots Mae West’s re­mark, ‘‘ I must get out of th­ese wet clothes and into a dry mar­tini!’’ as I be­gin to head back to the Lang­ham’s Julien Bar.

It’s easy to imag­ine any of the city’s great crime nov­el­ists, such as Robert B. Parker or Den­nis Le­hane, meet­ing their Hol­ly­wood agents in this plush bar, tot­ing con­tracts in soft leather at­tache cases. As Le­hane’s Bos­ton tough-guy Pa­trick Ken­zie might say, you could sit in this re­siliently op­u­lent bar and think

New en­ter­prise: William Shat­ner’s capri­cious char­ac­ter from Bos­ton Le­gal has tourists trekking to Bean­town

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