20 October, 2011

Courtship and hardship: Boston



May in Boston is a glorious thing. Sunday morning, neighborhood parks warm to the first pickup basketball games of summer, and the paths along the Charles River  are thronged with joggers. Everywhere the city's brick and stone is broken by spring green - the Crayola that, as a child, i thought too garish. I'd never seen it against the stately red-brick houses of beacon street, punctuated with blooming crabapples, as late afternoon sun slants warmly in. Bound for the south shore, from I-90 i see the skyline rise, downstream, across the BU memorial bridge, reaching to meet a cloudless sky. 

Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Malmo, Istanbul, Antalya, Batumi, Suleymaniyah: with each city i saw, i wondered what it would be like to call them home.  After all that rambling, i see Boston from a new angle - a city that, though i grew up scant miles from, i've never had the chance to appreciate for what it is - a small metropolis brimming with brilliant minds and cobbled corners, ethnic groceries and elite universities. 

Today i'm walking Harvard Square, keeping an eye open for "help wanted" signs. Old men on the park benches are talking at the volume of hearing impaired, their voices ringing with a thick Bahstin accent. The classier restaurants slide their windows clear aside, opening to the spring air. I wince when i notice i'll be leaving town before Harvard Book Store hosts authors Jonas Hassan Khemiri and Elif Shafak (acclaimed authors i first heard about while in Turkey; so far Khemiri's work has not been translated to English). But i'll be back in Boston soon: now that i've got a room in Somerville, just over the Cambridge line, the People's Republic of Camber-ville will be home. 

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October. There are three dollars in my wallet, less than ten to my name. I've found a job, but with the first paycheck still days away, i'm walking a tightrope. Budget shortfalls are all over the news, and they're all over my mind. When you take seventeen dollars to the grocery store knowing that's all you have until perhaps Friday, you understand austerity measures. 

My situation isn't per se a direct ripple of the global financial crisis. It's simply what happens when you move to a new place and the urgency of finding a job takes a backseat to painting your dad's house in another state and meeting your year-old goal of buying a motorcycle and learning to ride. Well, those are crossed off the to-do list and now the only "to do" left to do at the moment is climb back out of this hole. It makes you wonder the value of living in a city, without money to enjoy the urban life. 

But there are still things to do and people to meet. And one thing i have learned from all that traveling is a deeper appreciation of the relationship between person and place. The difference between denizen and explorer is not simply the difference between native and interloper, or local and tourist. It is a difference of habit. The denizen is set in patterns that the explorer does not hold; the local sees the same commute every day, and rarely finds himself in corners of town the tourist is drawn to. The native becomes, in a way, inured to place. If you take the red line across the Longfellow bridge every day, i suppose, you'll start to see the CITGO sign without feeling anything, without hearing faintly the voices of Red Sox radio announcers Jerry Trupiano and Joe Castiglione in the childhood recess of your mind. 

Getting to know a place is like getting to know a person. Sometimes you stall, and it takes finding a new approach to rekindle the passion.