Daily Archives: May 30, 2012

Tavel Does Beantown: A Big Apple in Molasses

For some New Yorkers, moving to Boston is like sleeping with the enemy. It’s like a Bowdoin kid transferring to Colby. It makes us feel like we’re cheating on our city — cheating on our Man(hattan), if you will — and maybe some people like that feeling. There is a very subtle sense of excitement when it comes to making the switch, like we are betraying a part of ourselves or someone (Manhattan) that we love. Or maybe we’re just teasing New York, and after years of it controlling us we’ve decided to play hard-to-get. I’ve been known to tease a little… Either way, for some reason, moving to Boston makes me feel like I’m crossing a line people didn’t expect for me to cross. But, as a traveler, it is these invisible barriers that tempt me the most.

Eye contact. Old Town, Quito.

Now that I am about a week-and-a-half away from becoming a Bostonian, I’ve decided to do a little research. For starters, I needed to know why Boston is called Beantown. Now, many of you might know this already, but if you don’t, Beantown gets its nickname from when Boston was part of a triangular trade route between the Caribbean, Boston and West Africa. Sugarcane was being shipped from the Caribbean to Boston, where it was turned into molasses, and then the molasses was shipped to West Africa, where it was made into rum (and then the rum was used to buy slaves in the West Indies). Because of this trade route, Boston was full of molasses — a thick, uncrystallized syrup formed from raw sugar. Cooking beans in molasses became a popular food, and that is how Boston became known as Beantown. I like beans.

Quitenos. Quito, Ecuador.

So, I know, Boston isn’t exactly the kind of travel adventure you’re looking to read about. Sure, NYC and Boston are both big cities with many cultures, religions, and socioeconomic classes represented. But lemme tell ya — they are also VERY different in their own ways. Sometimes, I feel like people don’t talk about these differences.

In the next few months, I’d be lying if I implied I might spend my summer exploring the Boston bar and restaurant scene. The reality is that I will be doing a two-semester sequence of college level physics (1 year of physics, in other words) condensed into 7 weeks at Harvard. This might be my craziest decision yet, but I did buy myself a “Physics for Dummies” book, so I feel a little better about things. I will be doing one week of physics material per day for 7 weeks straight, and something tells me I won’t get out much during those first two months in Boston. BUT, I am not a zombie. Even if most of what I get to see of Boston (initially) is the library, I will be taking it all in. For the first time in my life, I’m going to be living in an actual house, in what feels to me like the suburbs (our neighbors have an above ground pool, and I have my first ever backyard PLUS patio furniture and a fire-pit!!). No matter how similar Boston and New York are, living in Beantown is going to be different for me — very different. And I’m excited for that.

Ecuadorian family enjoying a Saturday stroll and some ice cream. Quito, Ecuador.

Obviously, TwT hasn’t been so much about “traveling” lately — at least in the geographical sense. Someone recently told me, “I miss all the traveling! I used to read your blog to live through you and now it’s all about school…I don’t want to live through that!” Yeah yeah, I know I know. And I’m sorry! Really. But as I explained, people used to want to live through all my travel adventures — they envied me! (I envied me!) And now, nobody wants to be me, so I think that’s a good balance, don’t you think? Now you can read my blog and think, “Whew — thank goodness I’m not in pre-med classes, unable to travel, and out of money like Tavel!” Meanwhile, I can secretly know that life is still awesome — just in a completely different, less sexy, less wild way. And I plan to find more of the “awesome” in Boston.

I have to admit: there is something flickering inside me, some remnant of the “old Tavel” (the one who fell for a Dutch-Caribbean swimmer and traveled to a Caribbean island to spend a long weekend with him after spending only one day with him 3 months before that in Argentina– yeah, her!) that I think will come out in some form when I’m in Boston. I make no promises, I make no predictions, but I do feel a sense of adventure in this relatively mundane move. I will try to channel it to keep things interesting for all of you but, as always, I keep some of the best parts to myself.

As I get settled in Boston, I’m going to write a sort of “New Yorker’s Guide to Boston.” As I search for the perfect brunch spot in what has been described to me as “not a brunch city,” and I find my favorite bagel place, I will record my findings and share my impressions. And maybe, just maybe, there will be more spice to this town than I expect.

Cathedral view. Quito. Ecuador.

It may not be the most exotic ride, and it may not be a long-distance one, but living in Beantown is still going to be a trip. The adventures might be more localized these days, but I can promise you that they never stop. So, with that in mind, I hope you continue to join me as TwT crosses the NY-Boston line and I take on the smooth and the sticky molasses of Beantown… and with it, another year.

(This video is from an Oasis concert at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2009).

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