Friday, April 22, 2016

City Fix

If you asked my son his favorite part of being in Boston last week, he’d tell you it was looking out on the city from the top of a tall, tall building. That, or the 14 firetrucks surrounding our hotel, lights flashing, as we stood outside in our pajamas with other guests while firefighters extinguished a small fire on our floor.

These are things that just don’t happen in Franconia, and we filled our three days in Boston with experiences we’re unlikely to have at home. What I have always loved about traveling – whether to a nearby city or a foreign land – and what my children are learning, is that visiting other places bridges the divide between the familiar and the exotic. Both – familiar and exotic – are, of course, relative perspectives, altered by time and knowledge and new experiences.

My children think nothing of being able to run out the door into lots of space for playing and exploring, or of gazing at a gazillion stars in a night sky unhindered by light pollution, or of riding their bikes down the middle of our sparsely traveled road. But to these small-town kids – and their mom – everything about the city seems exotic: the tall buildings, the subway, the stoplights and constant buzz of traffic, the people moving everywhere.

The first time we took the kids to Boston they were preschoolers. They stood in the window of our hotel room with palms and noses pressed against the glass, peering down at the busy streets and sidewalks several stories below. We were only a couple of hours from home, but for all the wonder of country kids in a big city, we may as well have been on the moon.

Now that we’ve been to Boston together a few times, there are favorite city places my kids like to revisit. This trip we hit the Aquarium and meandered through Boston Common to the Public Garden to see the Make Way for Ducklings statues. We rode the T, an underground adventure complete with escalators and weird subway smells. We wandered the crowded food stalls of Quincy Market, searching for lunch, and marveled at all the offerings: pizza, sushi, chimichangas, chowder, lo mein, nan, lobster rolls, gelato – a virtual world tour of tastes in one building.

We ventured on new explorations, too, walking the length of Newbury Street (so many shops!) from the Public Garden to the Prudential Tower, where we took the elevator to the 50th floor. From our bird’s eye view, we studied the city laid out far below: the Common where we’d just been, the Charles River, Fenway Park, the blue and yellow finish line of the Boston Marathon painted across Boylston Street and awaiting the runners who would cross it in a few days.

Even from that height it was easy to see the history woven into the city’s concrete cloth. The past is everywhere, of course, but in Boston it is on plain display, tucked conspicuously into nooks and corners throughout the city. Our first night in town we walked by the Old State House, a 300-year-old brick structure surrounded now by towering glass buildings. From its balcony, the Declaration of Independence was read two weeks after its signing in 1776. The narrow brick pathway of the Freedom Trail ran along the sidewalk by our hotel, on either side passing ancient cemeteries containing the remains of such historic giants as Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Sam Adams. There are statues rising from squares and plazas all around the city, and historic interpreters dressed in Colonial garb regaling onlookers with tales from Boston’s Revolutionary past.

Around all of it, the modern city buzzes with activity and myriad new experiences there for the having. During this city fix, the kids took their first taxi ride, complete with the sudden stop-and-go of city driving. And they saw their first big show – The Wizard of Oz (a journey of a different sort) – in a real theater.

After three days packed with sights and sounds, tastes and smells, new experiences and lots of pavement walking, we returned home, tired and filled with thoughts of all the things we’d seen and done. We settled back into our familiar space, the sounds of cheery robins and spring peepers replacing the steady, noisy hum of traffic, the view now of clouds drifting across craggy mountains rather than tall buildings.

The kids were both sad to leave Boston and happy to be home. By the end of our visit, the city had become a bit more familiar, and there were more things we wanted to do. That’s a conundrum I’ve often had when visiting other places: the more I learn and see, the more there is I want to explore. Still, at the end of each journey, I know where I want to be. As Dorothy discovered in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the April 22, 2016 edition of the Littleton Record.

1 comment:

  1. If I were ever (I'm never...) going to live in a city it would be Boston. Boston Public Market is incredible. I stocked up in November while visiting my daughter and son-in-law. Fire & Ice is a great place for lunch, fun for kids and adults. I do love Boston.