CHEERS TO BOS­TON

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

there was still a blitz go­ing on in Lon­don. The drinks menu fea­tures 101 mar­ti­nis. In hon­our of crime nov­el­ists ev­ery­where, I pass on the Boot Leg­ger Mar­tini (Bom­bay gin and South­ern Com­fort) for the Long Kiss Good­night (Stolich­niya vanilla and or­di­nary vodka and white creme de ca­cao) be­cause it’s the best thriller ti­tle on the list.

I eat in the Lang­ham at the ad­ja­cent Cafe Fleuri which, like my room here, is el­e­gant, airy and dis­tinctly Euro­pean. Be­cause Bos­ton is al­ways on lob­ster­palooza alert, as the lo­cals say, I have boiled Maine lob­ster with sweet corn flan, as­para­gus and drawn but­ter. While I ap­pre­ci­ate any cor­rect in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the best of con­tem­po­rary New Eng­land seafood should be­gin with the sandy nitty-gritty — the oys­ter house, lob­ster shack and fried clam em­po­rium — there’s no way I am head­ing back out in the wet New Eng­land mis­ery.

By morn­ing, the damp weather has bro­ken and I set off to do the fa­mous Free­dom Trail, a walk­ing tour of Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ary land­marks. Sun­light fil­ters through a thin, grey haze, a slight glare com­ing from ev­ery direc­tion, and noth­ing in the mono­lithic le­gal and fi­nan­cial district stands out in sharp re­lief.

It looks like TV land. It’s easy to imag­ine some­where around here are the swank of­fices of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, the setting for Bos­ton Le­gal , the out­ra­geous David E. Kel­ley satire star­ring Wil­liam Shat­ner as the inim­itable Denny Crane.

While not shot here, lo­cally born Kel­ley’s bril­liant se­ries re­veals a per­fect Machi­avel­lian uni­verse shin­ing in per­pet­ual sun­light, where re­sults trump process, pro­ce­dural rights are ridiculed and con­science is a woe­ful li­a­bil­ity.

While won­der­fully satir­i­cal, Bos­ton Le­gal is a caus­tic re­minder Bos­ton his­tor­i­cally stands out as one of the US’s most tan­gled, cor­rupt me­trop­o­lises, one filled with shady lawyers, politi­cos and busi­ness lead­ers. A city, as Kel­ley sug­gests, built on phoni­ness and fake smiles.

The ele­giac nos­tal­gia of the 4km Free­dom Trail, a red, mostly brick, path through down­town, pushes pulp thoughts of shady women, snitches, junkies, bag­men and psy­cho­pathic city coun­cil­lors out of my mind. The trail leads to 16 sig­nif­i­cant rev­o­lu­tion­ary sites, in­clud­ing the house of Paul Re­vere, made fa­mous in Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low’s bal­lad for his dar­ing mid­night dash to warn of the im­pend­ing Bri­tish in­va­sion.

I pick up the marked trail a few min­utes’ stroll away at ge­nial Quincy Mar­ket (lo­cal pro­nun­ci­a­tion ‘‘ Quinzy Mahket’’), a large group of re­cy­cled ware­houses de­voted to bou­tiques, fast food and fash­ion­able booze. There are ac­ro­bats on bi­cy­cles, ma­gi­cians try­ing to tie down huge bal­loons in the wind and cos­tumed ac­tors read­ing Shake­speare aloud in the sun­shine. And as many gy­ros, em­panadas, piz­zas, knishes and lob­ster sand­wiches as a de­tec­tive nov­el­ist could eat.

From the items on dis­play, it’s pretty ob­vi­ous lob­ster is Bos­ton’s most im­por­tant prod­uct, more so than Cheers T-shirts and even Red Sox caps. The Ma­jor League base­ball fran­chise fa­mously ended its fa­bled 86-year cham­pi­onship curse in 2004, but fans are grum­bling on the street af­ter an­other loss last night in a sea­son of in­juries and health scares to play­ers.

A few steps away, the knick-knacks and ephemera of the present are for­got­ten as I wan­der into Fa­neuil Hall, where fiery or­a­tors such as Sa­muel Adams once stirred the fires of in­sur­rec­tion, ap­pealed for the end of slav­ery and now lay chill hands on the heed­less present. Orig­i­nally a mar­ket­place for food on one level and a mar­ket­place for ideas on the sec­ond, Fa­neuil Hall re­mains a land­mark of Amer­i­can free speech, once called the cra­dle of lib­erty, a term later ap­plied to Bos­ton.

The weather-beaten hall smells of var­nish and dust, with a faint odour of honky-tonk and bar­rel­house. It’s pleas­ing there are no in­ter­ac­tive screens to be seen, no over­hyped post­mod­ernish dis­plays of text, just fad­ing wall paint­ings of rev­o­lu­tion­ary heroes and tired old wooden chairs. A man in a pale blue uni­form sees my note-taking. He is an at­ten­dant named Ron Grow and looks like an an­cient Henry Fonda, ob­ser­vant and pa­tient.

‘‘ Just soak up a lit­tle en­ergy, son,’’ he says. ‘‘ These days new ci­ti­zens are sworn in here, in the very place such great peo­ple have spo­ken.’’

I take in the Old State House, now a mu­seum, where the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was first read aloud to the town of Bos­ton in 1776, and the Pu­ri­tan King’s Chapel Bury­ing Ground, where Nathaniel Hawthorne liked to wan­der among the graves and read the epi­taphs on the moss-grown slabs.

Me­an­der­ing about these land­mark build­ings and mon­u­ments, the vis­i­tor en­coun­ters a chain of stored cul­tural mem­ory, es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing the way they rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent ages.

Nine­teenth-cen­tury Bos­ton was the cul­tural, in­tel­lec­tual and lit­er­ary centre of the US, with Longfel­low, Hawthorne, Louisa May Al­cott, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emer­son fig­ur­ing among the house­hold names. The great arc link­ing Bos­ton and nearby Cam­bridge and Con­cord was also a spawn­ing ground for gi­ants of the mod­ern era, such as Kahlil Gi­bran, Willa Cather, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, O’Neill and T. S. Eliot.

Bos­ton’s dead — in­clud­ing John F. Kennedy, whose pres­i­den­tial li­brary and mu­seum at Columbia Point sim­ply can­not be missed — are a per­verse and un­man­age­able lot. They refuse to re­main safely buried and re­sist all ef­forts to oblit­er­ate their traces, glo­ri­fied and memo­ri­alised in mon­u­ments, im­ages and cer­e­monies.

Wher­ever you look there’s a sense of his­tory: of bricks and mor­tar, colo­nial weath­er­board and cob­ble­stone, pre­rev­o­lu­tion­ary tav­erns, an­ti­quated book­shops and post-Treaty of Ver­sailles sailors’ quar­ters.

On the way back to the Lang­ham, I fi­nally get a seat in the crowded Cheers bar at Quincy Mar­kets. The bar­man, his head the size of a cir­cus bal­loon, tells me the town is very po­lit­i­cally cor­rect and once even banned Hil­lary Clin­ton jokes.

‘‘ She re­minds ev­ery­one of their fourth-grade English teacher,’’ he says, laugh­ing. And he tells this other joke: Hil­lary and Bill are killed in a plane crash. At the Pearly Gates, God is sit­ting on his throne and asks Bill who he is and why he de­serves to be let in. Bill tells him and is let in. God then asks Hil­lary. ‘‘ My name is Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton,’’ she says, quickly. ‘‘ And I be­lieve, sir, that you are sit­ting in my chair.’’ Graeme Blun­dell was a guest of Lead­ing Ho­tels of the World, Am­trak and Air Tahiti Nui.

Eu­gene

Colo­nial ac­cent: Like all great cities, Bos­ton has many well-es­tab­lished parks

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