I’m sitting on an airplane bound from Chicago to Boston. My seatmate, a pleasant woman in her mid-50s, Boston guidebook in hand, tells me she’s never been there and asks if there’s anything that’s a must-see. Now, I am in the process of moving from Boston to Chicago and, in the interest of preventing heartache, have been telling myself there’s nothing I’ll miss. I mean, baked beans, who cares?
So in answer to the woman’s question, I shrug and say, “To tell you the truth, I don’t like Boston very much.” “Oh?” she says. “The streets are like a plateful of linguine,” I say. “If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to get around. And the drivers are the worst in the world.” “Yes,” the woman says, “I’ve heard that.” “The people are pretty uptight, too,” I say. “Not nearly as friendly as in the Midwest.” “Oh, uh-huh,” the woman says. She returns to her guidebook, for which I don’t blame her.
I stare out the window, and an image comes to me. It’s the Venetian-style palazzo that houses the wonderfully eclectic mix of art that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I’m sitting next to the courtyard, which, thanks to the high, rose-colored walls that surround it, glows with a pale pink light best befitting a visit from an archangel.
Thinking of that museum unlocks the floodgates, and I realize there’s a lot of other things I’ll miss about Boston. The North End, with its fabulous Italian restaurants and narrow cobblestone streets, its stores featuring fine leather shoes and dishes the color of sun and sage, and endless varieties of olive oil and cheeses and salami. On hot summer nights, residents—some old and bent over canes, some young and jiggling babies—sit out on the sidewalk in lawn or kitchen chairs, offering friendly conversation to each other and to lucky passersby.
I’ll miss treegazing (4,000 kinds!) and Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Martin Heade’s hummingbird paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts. The golden lions at the front entrance of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. The exquisite shops on Newbury Street; the funkier ones on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The street musicians in Harvard Square; the Grolier bookstore, devoted entirely to poetry. I’ll never find another Bartley’s Burger Cottage, where irony is served along with the great food.
I’ll miss the Public Garden, home of the slow-gliding swan boats in summer, and in winter, Christmas lights looped over the tree branches like necklaces of lady giants. The Huntington Theatre is not too big, and not too small; the ballet at the Wang is fine; at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, you can get rush seats for $9 for performances on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Friday afternoons.
Oh, and there’s the chowder at Legal Sea Foods, the steak at the Capital Grille, the Italian sausages at the farmers market, the martinis at the Oak Bar, the sundaes at Cabot’s.
In Brookline, in the house where John F. Kennedy was born, there is the touching sight of his boyhood bedroom, complete with books and toys, and the old-fashioned kitchen where Rose bundled up her children before taking them outside for walks. At the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, you visit John the man and get your heart broken, falling for the myth of Camelot all over again.
I always felt proud when I picked people up at the airport and drove home past the Charles River, with its mix of sailboats and precision rowers in the water; and bikers, walkers, skaters, and joggers (and tail-wagging dogs) beside it. There are no better fireworks than those that happen here on the Fourth of July, no more exuberant rendition of the “1812 Overture” than the Boston Pops’.
And the dogwood blossoms along Commonwealth Avenue. The brownstones of Back Bay. The gaslights on Beacon Hill. The star show at the Planetarium. The Marathon!
I lean over to say to my seatmate, “Well, there are some things I could tell you about.” She closes her guidebook, and I begin.
Best-selling novelist ELIZABETH BERG'S most recent book is Dream When You’re Feeling Blue.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
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