Boston: Revisiting the Past in the Present

 

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Marcel Proust wrote that the “real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” When you return to your hometown after an extended time, you return with a new perspective – one that is shaped both by nostalgia and expectations based on your current frame of reference. Memories are like the Peanuts character Linus’ security blanket – it is comforting to return to find things the way you left them, like time stopped and preserved home the way it remained steadfast in your memory while you were away. Of course, it is more likely that things have changed… Some changes will be welcomed, others may shock and dismay. It can leave you feeling emotional and even conflicted the way a visit to another destination can’t. But all in all, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience revisiting your past in the present. I am able to have that experience when I return to my hometown of Boston.

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Like my memory of Boston, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market (shown above) are an example of Boston institutions and historic landmarks that seem to have evaded the passage of time. Surrounded by towering skyscrapers, time has stopped here as sure as the time on the clock tower of the Customs House nearby ticks on. In Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, vendors and stores bustle with activity – selling souvenirs, gourmet delicacies, and all kinds of wares while waves of crowds juggle shopping bags of delights. Street musicians and performers display their skills outside while the bars prepare for a rowdy night of feasting, feting, and fanfare in this nightlife-loving college town. It is a place teeming with energy and anticipation for a fun night ahead, just the way I remember it.

One of my favorite aspects of Boston’s landscape is the way that architecture from many different periods of time coexist in dazzling harmony. Above are the Old State House and the new State House, both surrounded by much newer structures, and emphasizing the timeless quality of Boston – grounded in history but modernistic and avant-garde at the same time. Boston is a rich patchwork of the old and the new.

At first glance, Copley Square looked a lot like I remember, surrounded by the old and new John Hancock buildings, Trinity Church, Copley Plaza, the Boston Public Library, and Old South Church. But appearances can be deceiving. I attempted to enter Trinity Church, which had always welcomed visitors through their doors: parishioner and public alike, just as I had done for so many years many years ago. But upon entering I discovered that a partition had been installed to direct visitors through the gift shop to a ticket station where purchase of a $7 ticket was required for admission ($5 student and senior discount). It reminded me of a theme park ride that corrals people through the gift shop on their way in or out – so commercial, and so out-of-place in the setting of a building which had been an inviting sanctuary to so many for so many years. As a matter of principle, and having had the opportunity to gaze at the richly decorated interior in the past, I refused to pay as a matter of principle and left. It wasn’t the place I remembered, and perhaps never would be again. But at least I was still able to behold the magnificence of its exterior design, which had not been tampered with in such a distressing way (yet, anyway!)

The tour trolleys which allow you to hop on and hop off where you wish are a convenient way to explore the city. They take you to divergent neighborhoods such as Charlestown, which houses the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and heroic vessel in the Revolutionary War, the U.S.S. Constitution, and Cambridge, home to M.I.T. and Harvard, as well as stopping at the sites that are more centrally located in town. The buses come by the stops every 15 minutes to whisk you off to the next point of interest, allowing you to see as much as possible over the course of the day. Given how much there is to see and do in Boston, this kind of efficiency is welcome!

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It was Moon Festival time in Chinatown, and I captured some amazing footage a short walk from my Theater District hotel which is posted in my latest YouTube video.

Dragon-costumed performers and groups of musicians were proceeding business to business spreading good fortune amidst waves of colorful flags decorated with Chinese calligraphy. It is always a boon to arrive in a neighborhood at just the right time to catch a special event that you just wouldn’t get to see every day. It was pouring rain, but getting drenched was a small price to pay for being able to join in on the celebration.

After an exhausting day of sightseeing I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown in the Theater District, which I was thrilled to be able to experience as a historic building that has been beautifully restored and renewed. Not every historic hotel in town has been so lucky… and I was pleased to have been able to support the preservation approach by giving them my business. I am sure to return here again and again. The decor respected the integrity of the historic building, while still providing modern touches that, brilliantly selected, did not seem out of place. The lobby maintains beautiful old woodwork, providing a grand entrance to this historic building – and historic city. The whole Theater District neighborhood has been revitalized in a major way since my last visit as well – one of those changes I am also happy to witness during this hometown return. So while I wasn’t pleased with all of the changes, and it was bittersweet to see a building here or there gone that I remembered from my childhood, Boston was definitely a place I could fall in love with all over again.

Boston from ship

Sailing in the harbor provides the perfect conclusion to witness this impressive skyline all at once. I look forward to what Boston has in store for me the next time I return!

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