Sunday, 30 August 2009

From England to New England

I arrived in Boston yesterday, about an hour late due to a ‘VIP departure’ that meant that the entirety of Boston Logan airport was closed for several hours; I assume something to do with Ted Kennedy’s funeral. Now apart from the absurdity of closing an international airport for several hours because a few planes need to take off, there’s the fact that it could surely have been planned for – our pilot clearly hadn’t predicted it, as he was forced to come out with possibly the least comforting intercom message ever “they’re going to move us to the front of the landing queue, as we have a limited stock of holding fuel” (translation: we’re running out of gas. Great).

So what with the disorganised airport and crappy weather (apparently there’s a hurricane by Martha’s Vineyard and the on-land effects are wind and rain), my first impressions of the US weren’t great. Happily, it improved fast – I found the airport shuttle to take me to the T (subway), and the Bus driver got out to help me get my bags onto the bus. Then at the T station, a nice man helped me buy a ticket. When I had to go down some steps to change lines, a lady helped me with my bag and, when the subway went above-ground, pointed out local landmarks. And I got my first glimpse of the waterfront, which was pretty cool, albeit wreathed in cloud, as we went over the Charles river (oooh, the Charles. Note to self: find a rowing club). I also had my first element of culture shock; being passed by a family, three of whom were wearing jumpers saying ‘Boston’ (two just Boston, one Boston fire dept). In the UK I wouldn’t hesitate to dismiss them as American tourists (note for Americans: no-one, but no-one from London wears ‘London’ hoodies). But here I’m not sure. They have American accents, and after all there must be some explanation for the fact that people buy the ‘London’ hoodies – maybe people wear that kind of thing here.

Eventually, I emerged at Davis Square T stop. I had been told that it was a 15 minute walk to Tufts, or a bus ride. So I looked for a taxi; no joy. After five minutes, and having been assured that there wouldn’t be a bus for ages, I set off walking. I had no trouble finding my way (there are helpful signposts), but I started to question the wisdom of my decision when I got a block away and the road started to slope steeply uphill. Oh dear. The stretch of hill was actually pretty short, but carrying more or less my own bodyweight in luggage, it was a struggle. I broke it down to stretches of 50 paces, but even so by the time I got through the campus, I was exhausted.

Finding the Hall was the next challenge; I had printed out a map, but it had disintegrated in the rain, and no-one seemed to know where it was. I eventually remembered that it was near the tennis courts – walking around the back, via one last push uphill, I finally found Blakely Hall, checked in, and found my room – on the third floor. The room was nice enough though – teeny-tiny but part of a suite of three with a little living area with comfy chairs, and while mine is the smallest, it faces south-west rather than north-east, and it’s the best arranged. Plus I have barely any stuff, so I don’t need the space anyway.

Having unpacked, I go downstairs and ask directions to a food store. They tell me that whole foods (how is that a supermarket!) is about a mile away, so my best bet is the “local convenience store”. Clutching a map, I head out into the (by now mercifully light) drizzle, passing several streets of clapboard houses. Now I may be missing something, but this seems like a totally illogical way to build a house – why not just use brick?! Investigating more closely, I notice that many are in fact made of brick and faced with clapboard – again, why?! Another culture shock is that they are all detached houses – I also see an apartment block, but no terraces or semis anywhere. There’s something decadent about having so much space in a big city. And to my delight, one of them has a flag flying. I permit myself a quick snigger – I don’t think I’ll EVER understand the on-your-sleeve (or front porch, or bumper sticker, or whatever) American brand of patriotism.

Getting to the supermarket, I get another shock. I am expecting a medium-sized corner store of the sort that you would find in England – but I’m totally wrong. Rounding the corner, I’m faced with a huge parking lot and what looks like a small supermarket – about the same size as the Tesco on Cowley Road, for Oxford people, and a bit smaller than the Morrison’s in Larkfield, for Kent people. It was a bit dingy (if I’m brutally honest, it reminded me of an African supermarket, or what I would imagine a supermarket in Small Town, Tennessee to look like), but definitely a supermarket. And, again to my delight, they had a big bunch of American flags on sale at the till. Then there was the stuff they sell – all sorts of vegetables, with no respect for what’s in season (including winter squashes. Where do you get winter squashes from in August?), a massive meat and cheese selection, and no healthy ready meals (yes, I know, but I’d got off a plane and I didn’t want to cook). Even more confusing was when I looked for soap; it wasn’t with toiletries, but with kitchen stuff, and I couldn’t find soap, but could find a Dove ‘moisturising bar’. It looked like soap and smelt like soap, so I took a chance and bought it; luckily when I got home I discovered that it was, in fact, soap!

Getting back to the Hall, I met and chatted to a few people, before heading to bed. First impressions of Boston; it rains a lot (but I’m assured this will change); people are helpful; the subway is grotty and weird; their definition of a convenience store defies all logic, and the clapboard houses and big green spaces are pretty cool.

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