Category Archives: Boston

A Spoonful of Beantown

This morning marks my second morning here in Beantown, and I have to say: so far so good! Despite the four flash thunderstorms since I arrived (one so powerful I think it was right above the house!), it’s been a really nice 41 hours. I definitely feel like I’m in another world than I am used to. Waking up at 5am to the loud bird songs and going to sleep to crickets is not exactly the “white noise” I’m used to in Manhattan, but I slept like a little angel these past two nights (until 5am at least) — and I look forward to more of that!

Living in Somerville makes me feel a little like I’m in the suburbs, or at least in some up-and-coming area of Queens. I’m a little farther away from public transportation than I am used to (a 15 minute walk up/downhill), but at least there is public transportation at all. There is a whole network of buses that I’ll eventually have to figure out, but I’ll get to that. Honestly, I like accidental exercise so adding a 15 minute walk uphill everyday makes me happy. I mean, whose ass doesn’t need a hill once in a while?

Rainstorm over Quito. View from my apartment in Quito, Ecuador..

I always seem to end up on the top of a hill when I move. If not on top of an actual hill, then on the top floor of a walk-up apartment. In Quito, which is built into a valley, my street — Guanguiltagua (pronounced “wanwuiltawua” if you want to sound more like a local Quiteno) was two streets down from the outter-most ring of streets. Think of the city as a circular stadium or arena, and my street was the second-to-last row of seats all the way at the top (btw, do you know that the word “arena” comes from the latin word “harena” — “arena” is Spanish for “sand” — which referred to a fine sand that was good at absorbing blood and used to fill the floor of stadiums like the Colosseum in Rome? BOOM. Now you do!). The nice thing about living way up at the top of the city was the incredible view, and getting to watch the daily rain or hail storm approach from the southern end of the city, or watching the sunset over the Andes mountains. It was a stunning, daily show, and I will never forget the beauty that I saw while living high in the mountains of South America. There were so many days when I would just sit in my living room watching the weather pass through the mountains like some sort of constantly changing parade…

But back to Boston. Unlike the hill in Quito, which was a straight-up ascent at 9,400 feet and left many of my visitors huffing and puffing through the thin air, this hill I now live on is short and sweet, but definitely noticeable. I have to say — I didn’t expect Somerville to be as pretty as it is. Sure, it helps that June is a favorable month to live in a quieter area (let’s not talk about Boston winter yet). But really — the houses are adorable; no two are exactly the same, each is a slightly different color, with unique details/accents that are special to a girl who has been surrounded by too many buildings lately. Maybe I’m giving Somerville too much credit, because I’m new and everything is a little exciting and different, but I really am excited to be here and try this whole house-thing out.

Sunset over Quito. View from my apartment in Quito, Ecuador. Real life colors — nothing altered/enhanced.

Yes, I have never lived in an actual house (long-term). I’m not used to having a backyard, and despite the two beautiful days that have gone by, I have yet to do more than stare at the backyard and smile knowing that I have it. But today I hope to actually go out there and enjoy it, maybe for a stretch before/after my run around the neighborhood. Maybe to help my new roommate with the gardening she plans to do this morning…

Butterfly. Dutchess County, NY.

Of course, it has only been one full day here, so this post is just a net to quickly capture that first impression before it escapes. I can’t believe I live here now. I can’t believe that after a thunderstorm, I get to hear frogs croaking, and after a long day, I get to walk through a peaceful neighborhood without getting caught up in the tangled energy of many other people’s rat races. I love NYC, I really do. And yes, I’m a city girl. I like being able to order Tibetan food at 11pm if I wanted, or wander into a gallery because it’s on my way home from the gym. I’m used to being able to grab a bagel at the 24-hr deli downstairs if I need it, and choose any type of food I feel like and have it in my mouth within an hour. But this “almost-that” is worth trying. This slightly calmer environment is worth sampling, before the roughness of NYC and all that comes with it makes me forget the alternatives.

Right now, as I type, bells from a nearby church are playing “Amazing Grace.” An American flag waves next to the house next door. There are Virgin Mary statuettes in front of many of the homes on my street. The next door neighbors sit on the front steps of their house, smoking cigarettes while one guy sips a Red Bull, their Boston accents thick and proud. The birds have calmed down since 5am. The frogs are quiet, for now. And I am sipping my coffee at my new desk, thinking… I like it here.

It’s a start. A good start.

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Filed under Boston, Life Stuff, USA

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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Filed under Boston, Life Stuff, School, Uncategorized, USA