Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. I left mine in Boston.
I lived there nigh on 30 years, most of my adult life. The first day I got there, I took a room at the YMCA, then went exploring. I was waiting for the subway (the “T”) and asked a stranger, about my age (around 20), how much it cost to ride. Then I noticed his t-shirt was decorated with the Einstein field equations of general relativity. That was a good conversation starter! Later than evening — my first night in Boston — we went to symphony hall to hear Tchaikovsky. Not a bad introduction to a great city.
I remember signing up for the physics mailing list, to discover that there were a half dozen or so talks every week on topics like the early inflationary universe and the pulsations of massive stars. For a kid from a tiny little cow-town, that was a life-changing experience. I remember hearing, at least a dozen times, the old joke that in Cambridge (a nearby suburb) a Ph.D. qualified you to be a taxi driver. With Harvard and MIT, two of the world’s greatest universities, just a mile apart, and more universities per square mile than anywhere else in the world, Boston is a, if not the, center of learning on our planet.
I picked up my love of Irish traditional music in Boston. After all, they say that 60% of Bostonians are Irish and the other 40% are 60% Irish. There’s a pub in Somerville called the Burren which has a seisun (Irish musicians gathering to play together) every damn day of the year — if you want to play Irish music on Chrismas day, they’ll have a seisun. I remember a Korean tourist coming up to us one night and asking whether or not we knew “Danny Boy.” It’s a great song, but it’s so stereotypical that we all denied that we knew it. We were less than honest about that — I had recorded it in a studio that afternoon. I remember the great seisuns at the Green Briar when the girls would step-dance while we played. As a friend told me later, “The purpose of music is to make the ladies wiggle.” The craic was mighty.
Boston was also my introduction to a real sports-crazy town. With all the intellectual power concentrated there, Boston is still as mad about their sports teams as any place I can think of. I remember the heyday of the Celtics when the big 3 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish — laid down the law in the NBA. I remember the Patriots winning the super bowl multiple times, threatening to dominate the NFL. I remember Kurt Schilling’s bloody sock when he stayed in the game despite an injured ankle to beat the Yankees in game 6 of the ALCS. If you want to know what Boston sports fans can be like, watch the movie “Fever Pitch.” If you want to be insulted, ride the Boston subway wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. Count me as a citizen of Red Sox nation.
I remember singing renaissance music in an associated event of the Boston Early Music Festival, at the Old North Church — twice. The first time was straight madrigals, the second was early Polish music. They say you can’t swing a dead cat in Boston without hitting an early musician. I remember attending a concert of the early music festival at Jordan Hall, and having somebody recognize me for my performances of Irish traditional music. Talk about an ego boost!
I remember my first trip to the Boston Public Library. Before that, I only thought I knew what a real library was. I remember hearing, and presenting, scientific talks at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I remember walking through the Arboretum on what might have been the best day for autumn foliage ever. I remember busking, day after day, on the street and in the subway. I remember my partner and I finally concluding that when you did a song that was so good people actually applauded en mass, they tended not to give you tips. We called it the “inverse applause hypothesis.” I remember learning to tell the difference between the accent of the north shore and southie. Both of which are soooo different from the accent in Maine.
I remember all the friends I made, and still have. Boston is not as outwardly friendly as the midwest or the south, people are less likely to say “Hi!” on the street or visit a newcomer with a freshly-baked pie, but after you get to know them you’d be hard pressed to find better friends anywhere.
Nothing against New York, or Paris, or Rome, or London, or Tokyo, but to me Boston is the greatest city in the world.
I also remember sitting on the porch of my house in Newton (another Boston suburb), watching marathon runners ascend “heartbreak hill” in their quest to conquer what may be the most prestigious marathon race in the world. The most recent running of the marathon was marred by a cruel act of terrorism.
The recent events in Boston, the bombings and shootings, have affected me much more than such tragedies usually do, because they happened in Boston. I left my heart there. I take it personally.
But I also thought that in this time of focus on this great city, someone should talk about the things that are not tragic. Like why I love Boston so much.