I once worked with a brilliant web developer named Mike. Mike was tall, skinny and wise. Great guy. Very stoic with his actions and speak. I hear his voice in my head every so often, calmly speaking his incisive views on life. I remember Mike and I were talking about our collective hallucination of time speeding up to the point where hours felt like minutes and months felt like weeks. It’s a disheartening feeling when you want to write the date as October, but it’s actually December.
Mike and I talked at length about our similar experiences regarding prolonged busyness and how it affected our consciousness. I was much more concerned about the effects than he was. I’ve always questioned the quality of my productivity looking back at months that bled into each other. Not Mike, though. Because he learned how to stop the hallucination. He figured out that breaking the blur of time was dependent on breaking up your schedule with worthwhile events. It turns out that looking forward to something on your calendar can effectively slow down time.
What a simple solution. I still think about that conversation when I begin to feel the numbing agents of time massaging my brain. The last time I felt its touch was late November, 2017. I intervened like Mike had recommended and booked an extended weekend in Boston for the following week. It was definitely something to look forward to, and would be a good change of mental pace. But why Boston?
Boston in my blood. Am I a Bostonian? No. Have I ever lived there? No. This trip was my first time being in Boston. And oddly enough, the downtown cobblestones felt so familiar beneath my boots. The streets treated me like they knew me. For the first time in a long time, I had no gut feelings about a place. For reasons I can and can’t explain, traveling around Boston felt like I was home again.
For reasons I can explain…Boston felt like a really big Halifax. They have an ocean bay separating Boston and Cambridge—we have an ocean bay separating Halifax and Dartmouth. They have the Boston Massacre—we have the Halifax Explosion. Both have history with the British. At the end of the day, both places feel like they’re built from the same stuff.
For reasons I can explain…my family has always had a relationship to Boston because my Grandfather, Arnott, spent time during his 20’s playing amateur hockey up and down the east coast of the US. The last time I talked to him, he was regaling me with stories about the times he would drive from New Haven, Connecticut to Boston to have dinner with the New York Rangers. His old pal from Thunder Bay played backup goalie for the Rangers and would give Arnott tickets to their games in Boston.
The pinnacle of my grandfather’s hockey career was during the time he played for the Boston Bruins farm league affiliate team, Hershey Bears. He played alongside Don Cherry. They were roommates. And until this day, Arnott and his kids (and his kids kids) hold the Boston Bruins very close to their hearts.
For reasons I can explain…Boston is really good at things that I enjoy. Beer—they have pubs everywhere and dives like An Tain where you can get $1 pints. Cream-filled pastries—joints like Maria’s Pastry Shop make cannolis the size of hotdog buns. Comedy—there are comedy clubs all over the city. I was able to visit two clubs. The Comedy Studio in Cambridge is located on the third floor of a Chinese restaurant. It’s a magical place. If you hadn’t been there before or didn’t have a map, then more than likely you would never have known it existed. But it does exist and thrives as a small club. Especially serving salad bowl-sized cocktails that are so heavy that it comes with a two-foot long straw.
The second club I went to was Nick’s Comedy Stop. After grabbing a banh mi sandwich in Chinatown, I walked towards the show and bypassed a giant line of people (outside in the cold) who were waiting to see Chris Rock at the Wang Theatre. For a second I felt a bit a FOMO. It lasted a minute or two as I watched the dancing lights fill up the marquee sign overhead. But I kept walking and realized that I don’t have to wait in line, I’m going to be front row in an intimate club, and I’m more excited to see comedians I don’t know, as opposed to comedians I do know. Theatres are majestic, but you can’t beat the echoes of laughter in a small and intimate room, where years of happiness and joy is saturated deep into the walls like cigarette smoke.
For reasons I can explain…Boston has the Celtics. There is no NBA without the Boston Celtics. Their franchise is part of basketball royalty. Just because of their historical impact on the game, every basketball fan is kind of obliged to like the Celtics. It’s an unwritten rule.
I myself, am a Celtics fan. Always have been since the days of Antoine Walker’s shimmying. In my mind, part of the romance of traveling to Boston was to pick up scalped tickets to a game. I tried and I failed. Apparently, scalping tickets isn’t as big as it used to be. By the time I arrived at the box office, only rich people tickets were left.
After my defeat, I sulked into Coogan’s to watch the game with a steady flow of $1 beers that came in transparent plastic party cups. After starting up a conversation with one of the locals, I learned that scalping tickets was “illegal.”
My new friend, Mike, was shocked at my gall to even propose the idea of scalping. He looked at me like I look at people who buy DVDs from the gas station. “Scalping is illegal here buddy, we use StubHub.” Mike then proceeded to pull out his phone and show me how the StubHub app works. I didn’t interrupt him. “Cool, thanks Mike!”
Whether I was at Coogan’s, the Commons or walking the harbour, I felt that I was rediscovering things instead of discovering them for the first time. I think a lot of it had to do with Boston’s historical significance and reputation. It’s not a place I had to research because I had a good amount of working knowledge already within my understanding. But there were certain moments, three in particular, that toyed with my consciousness. The experiences made me question my relationship with Boston like I question my reality after being in a flow state or experiencing deja vu.
Within the last year, I’ve become increasingly curious about genetics. In particular, epigenetics and research being conducted on inherited or genetic memory. Genetic memory is the ability for learned memories to be passed on through family lineage. It sounds pretty woo woo, and I agree; however, this isn’t an “I think I was an Egyptian Prince in a past life” kind of thing. Research has shown that (in mice) memories from parents and grandparents can be adopted by their children and grandchildren. Sounds mystical. Maybe this be why I felt so at home in Boston?
As I mentioned before, my grandfather, Arnott, played hockey in his 20’s up and down the east coast of the US. What I didn’t mention was that even though he’s lived in Ontario for a majority of his life, he’s was actually born in New Brunswick. I don’t know the history of his family beyond his parents, but it makes me wonder—did his ancestors spend time or migrate from the Boston area? Are my genetic memories from their experiences and/or from Arnott’s time spent in Boston?
It’s fascinating to think about the curious feelings I felt and how they may potentially be correlated to my ancestry. This is why Boston is in my blood for reasons I can’t understand.
For reasons I can’t understand…I think my subconscious mind intentionally chose to travel to Boston during American Thanksgiving weekend. I sure didn’t plan it. The holiday completely slipped my mind when making my travel plans. I didn’t realize the coincidence until I was packing my bag.
The history of US Thanksgiving began roughly 400 years ago in the Boston area—Plymouth to be exact. Traveling to the birthplace of a tradition that old gave me chills of anticipation. It was the first of three experiences during my trip that made my blood tingle.
I took the subway early in the morning en route to Cambridge—more specifically, Harvard. It was an oddly hot and sunny day considering it was late November. I made my way to campus and decided to walk the grounds and experience the sights and sounds of the Ivy League school.
My first unnerving observation was that campus was as much of a tourist destination as any other in Boston. People snapping photos moved in droves, whether they were on a guided tour or walking the grounds as I was doing. It was much busier than I anticipated and I felt a bit discouraged. I walked and walked, feeling less enthusiastic by the moment, until I reached a giant open yard that was filled by tall trees, and the perimeter was surrounded by uniform looking academic buildings in red brick with white trimming around the windows.
I remember standing outside of Harvard Hall looking across the yard in the direction of the John Harvard Statue when I felt my blood tingle again. It was the same feeling I felt before. Unlike the last time though, I became hyper aware of my surroundings. My senses felt super-charged.
A rush of thought came over me. Everything looked and felt familiar—the sounds of muffled voices speaking across the yard, the movement of the tree shadows moving over the grass, and even the scent of the air smelled different, yet familiar.
Then another feeling overcame me. I was in a place of history. This is where Presidents went to school. This place is why Barack met Michelle. This is where Facebook was invented. This is where Matt Damon was wicked smart.
I walked the campus from the morning to the early afternoon, soaking up the sunlight, admiring the architecture, and daydreaming about what kind of hyjinx JFK or Conan O’Brien got into during their tenures. It was strangely relaxing. I didn’t expect to feel that way. I had a better (and more unexpected) time than I anticipated. I left campus because I made plans to eat dinner that night in Chinatown. And as I walked towards the subway, I remember feeling like I was reliving fond memories. I just don’t know who’s memories they belonged to?
The next morning I got up early and started walking toward downtown. The air smelled like fallen leaves and wet brick at low tide. The late November sun added a warm shine to the old stone temples of industry. The streets were lined with old, beautiful buildings made of carved stone, brick, iron and copper. They remained stoic, strong, and uncompromised by modernity. They casted monumental shadows across flower gardens, courtyards and the roads and sidewalks below.
I remember standing in front of a giant building, marveling at the stone masonry. I was alone, standing in the midst of its giant shadow. Across the street was a Dunkin’ Donuts that had a steady revolving door of customers getting their morning coffee. Close to the Dunkin’ Donuts was an old graveyard. The graveyard had long been at capacity with corpses dating back to America’s infancy. The wrought iron fence surrounding the perimeter of the graveyard casted an intricate, yet violent shadow across the gravestones. Small birds hopped through the short grass between the mounds, then flew away as the wind toppled empty pink and orange styrofoam coffee cups their way. The wrought iron fence stopped the cups at its base, which became a clutter of wet newspaper, loose twigs, and garbage-stained debris. People walked by on the sidewalk beside the graveyard, paying no mind to its inhabitants. The people all wore billowy winter coats and struggled to keep their hands warm as they as they interacted with their cellphones. Every fourth step inhaling, every fourth step exhaling. It was cold enough to see their breath as they walked through the monolithic shadows cast over the graveyard.
I walked past the graveyard more than once that morning. Around midday, I returned to the graveyard and decided to enter. The sun had shifted in the sky and the violent shadows cast by the wrought iron fence now project onto the sidewalk. The small birds returned to the short grass between the mounds and the sunshine revealed a scattered mess of styrofoam coffee cups everywhere.
The gravestones were old. Most were so eroded that the names and dates had washed away. The first discernible gravestone I found read 1707. As I moved through them, the only sounds I heard were my own thoughts. There were no cars horns, braking vehicles or even birds chirping. It was peaceful.
My footsteps were soft and slow. The gravestones were tilting forwards or backwards just a bit—like an elderly person nodding off in their chair after a meal.
I stopped in front of a gravestone that was slightly different than the others. It had a relief carving of a drop cap letter A within a heralded crest in the top right corner. The epitaph reminded me of an illuminated manuscript. The grave belonged to a woman named Elizabeth Pain.
I stood in place, staring at Elizabeth’s gravestone for longer than any average person should have. There was something about it that made me feel sad. The epitaph was in good enough condition to read. She was 52 when she died in 1704.
I slowly moved on from Elizabeth’s gravestone and walked the rest of the path leading back to the entrance gate. None of the other names on the gravestones made me feel as sad as Elizabeth’s. As I reached the wrought iron gates leading back to the busy street, I stopped to read a placard posted waste-height near the entrance. Some of the people buried here had historical significance. But none more so than…Elizabeth Pain.
My sadness morphed into curiosity. As I read the sad story of Elizabeth Pain, I learned that she was the inspiration for Hester Prynne—the heroine figure of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlett Letter.
I read The Scarlett Letter when I was a lonely undergrad student who just moved across Canada from Ontario to BC. The book provided me comfort during a scary time in my life. I remember feeling so much compassion for Hester and her daughter Pearl. It’s an incredible story about being self-confident in the face of adversity and condemnation.
My pulse began to race. I felt starstruck. I was in the presence of literary history. And it all happened by accident! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
Then in an instant, my feelings of excitement morphed into anger. I thought about what happened to Hester in the story and then I thought about Elizabeth. During her life, she was marked as an adulterer because she had a child outside of marriage. And even after her death, those piece of shit Colonial Puritans slut shamed her on her own gravestone by adorning it with a giant heralded letter A.
An A for adultery. Those fucking pricks.
I love Boston. My 96 hours there was metaphysical. The only qualm I had with the city is that it lives under the blanket of America. America has some subtle yet significant differences from Canada that I can’t get onboard with.
When I was killing time in my hotel room, I would keep the TV on and noticed that every third commercial was for pharmaceutical drugs or vacation packages. I’ve never seen so many forms of escapism presented so blatantly. When I left the hotel to grab a morning coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, I learned that all their cups are styrofoam. Styrofoam is a non-sustainable material and is incredibly bad for the environment. Now think of how many Dunkin’ Donuts there are in the US. And side note—Dunkin’ Donuts coffee tastes like shit. Why are there so many of them?
These subtle observations make the cultural divide between Canada and the US more noticable. In my experience, a majority of Canadians see Canada and the US in a big brother/little brother scenario, only separated by an imaginary line. Our similarities are vast and our differences seem trivial. I think a lot of this thinking comes from how reliant our culture is on US culture. We take so much more from them, than they do from us. It’s very one-sided.
Remember my friend Mike from the bar? I talked to Mike for nearly an hour. He was a good guy, but I noticed fairly quickly how large a divide there was between what I knew about the US compared to what he knew about Canada. I told him that earlier that day I was at Faneuil Market where they were putting up the six storey Christmas tree that Halifax gifts Boston each year to commemorate the aid Boston provided for the Halifax Explosion, 100 years ago. Mike’s response was, “Oh that’s neat, I had no idea.” Mike also didn’t know where Nova Scotia was located.
Even though I remain critical about many issues involving the US, I speak very romantically about Boston as a subject when I talk to people. My mystical connection to the city may be something I never fully understand, but I’m okay with that. Unlike most places, I left Boston having more questions about myself than about the city or its culture.
A big part of why I travel is to find the hidden gems and unexpected feelings I get from new experiences and cultures. The unexplainable things are an example of how there is still some sources of magic in the world. I don’t think too many people feel the same way about Boston as I do, which is fine. I just hope the people who haven’t experienced the city and culture have an opportunity to travel there, walk the streets, eat the food, talk to the people, and feel how the collective history of Boston has made its mark on the world.
I can’t wait to go back.