09 March, 2009

Beantown

Boston: Beantown. The Athens of America. The Hub. I grew up in Massachusetts, in the Boston suburbs, in fact - but there were so many things i never experienced. I never knew the fantastic array of cultures that filled the city - from Chinatown and the North End to the Brazilian neighborhoods of Somerville. For years my mother and i visited Concord, where they dance two - and sometimes three - nights each week to some of the best contradance bands in the northeast. I didn't discover contra or the international scene until we moved to Maine. Thus last week, i was privileged to taste the Boston metro with a new palate. The only trouble with such whirlwind adventures is that in the thick of them, there's little time to write.

I drove down Wednesday to spend the evening in Cambridge with Emin, an old friend who welcomed me with rakı, delicious food, and a space on his floor to unroll my sleeping bag. After three days with a CouchSurfing visitor, communal meals, shared space, and living from day to day were becoming habitual for me. One bit of advice, though - never drive to Cambridge, unless you have lived there for years and know the few free parking sites by heart. I left the car in a garage at the other end of town, a mile or more walk, because parking around Harvard Square is either prohibited, or pricey.

Thursday. After visiting the cable access TV studio where i spent many hours as a young teen, I headed to Concord for a lovely dinner with my old boss (who continues to be a friend, ten years later, and continues to air the "Nature Clips" i produced a ten and more years ago). Then to the Concord Scout House for a grand night of contradance with Heathen Creek and caller Dan Pearl. Fellow dancers gathered at Uno Chicago Grill in Waltham, where i ditched the car and hitched a ride back to Cambridge.

Back at Trowbridge Street, Emin and i discussed my task: shooting a second STA video on the faith that we (i say we to include all of the friends who have put their faith, positive feedback, and energy behind my effort) will make the top ten. Emin has been interested in film and making amateur movies for years, so he was full of ideas. A Woody Allen feel - never showing the iconic side of Boston? Meeting friends around town, and warming up as a world traveler by talking to others, world travelers who make their home in Boston now.

Friday. By seven thirty i was wide awake. Too jigged up about filming to sleep, or to do homework while i waited for Emin to awake. I set off alone through Harvard Square, exploring with all the glee of a child. Red Line to Park Street, Green to the library. The "T" is a great deal, far more affordable than the San Francisco subway system: $9 buys a one-day LinkPass to all subway and local bus lines. I walked Copley Square and the Public Garden, then met Emin back at Park Street at noon. We spent the afternoon wandering the city; meeting Homoud and his cousin Rashed (who just arrived from Saudi Arabia he day before) at Prudential Center and visiting Emin's roommate Efe at Emerson College. Efe taught me a Turkish soccer victory chant on the common. Homoud showed me how to wear the traditional arab kefiyyeh. We discussed mideast politics over mocha in the North End and walked through the open market; gave the lovely Belarussians Eva and Veronica flowers at Government Center. We caught the Red Line back to Harvard, and Rashed and i talked musical taste while we walked the campus.

Jose McVitty, a Harvard grad student from New Zealand, took us to an 80's party at the Kennedy School, and our little band of travelers visited Newbury Comics to get a fortune told by the great Zoltar. Dusk fell; teams rowed the Charles and the city lights blinked on. At Cafe Algiers i decided it was time to check the train schedule; i'd already missed the 6:30. Back at Trowbridge Street i found out the next train would be 7:45 - that gave me twenty minutes to dash to Cafe Algiers, return Emin's keys, dash back to Harvard Square, and ride the Red Line to Porter. Carrying all my stuff.

You know how travel sometimes doesn't go as planned? Well, i made it to Porter at 7:43. The conductor apparently had a fast watch; the train was accelerating away from the station by the time i had run up ten - yes, literally ten, maybe more - flights of stairs. But there was a woman in the same bind, so we made the most of the wait. With the local coffee house closed, we settled for Starbucks. Turned out that Susan was a professional gardener and longtime traveler; she had wise words for me - and told me to visit Hostel in the Forest, in Brunswick, Georgia - where all the rooms are treehouses.

The 8:55 train took me to Concord, where it was a short walk to the Scout House for another great contradance. And another after-dance meal. Saturday, and the five-hour drive home, came far too early.

Alas, i did not take many pictures this trip: i was much too occupied with the videocamera. Now i eagerly await the second round of STA World Traveler submissions.