So, what else would a girl who lives in the Sonoran Desert (a place that is typically well over 100 degrees) do on a freezing cold day in Boston while it was snowing?
Yes, that’s right. Go out and do a walking tour.
Sadly, my lofty aspirations to explore the far reaches of the city by foot didn’t exactly go as I’d planned (cold fingers started getting the best of me and I was too afraid to keep taking off my gloves to take photos with my camera lest I would end up with frostbite). But my self-directed walking tour, which was more of a “hey, I think there’s a park in that direction…I’ll go over there!” and less of an actual thought-out, mapped-out tour, did take me to some pretty amazing spots around what I think is one of the country’s most gorgeous—and undeniably most historic—city centers.
Bundled up in my warmest coat (it wasn’t that warm), my warmest gloves (see prior parenthetical), and my warmest boots (these were actually pretty awesome), I turned right out of the hostel, made my way down Stuart Street, turned right onto Tremont Street, and ended up right on the fringes of Boston Common, the nation’s first public city park—and a place that is not, as most erroneously think, a plural commons. There were two homeless men there to greet me with some uncomfortable cat-calling and panhandling, but once I got past them, I headed past the Central Buying Ground cemetery, complete with its centuries-old trees with their gnarled branches and its 18th century gravestones, nodding in reverence to some of the incredible artists whose names are forever engraved there: Gilbert Stuart, the man who painted the famed portraits of George and Martha Washington, William Billings, the composer who wrote “Chester,” the famous colonial hymn, and Charles Sprague, one of the first European-born writers to consider himself an American poet. As I walked by, it occurred to me: where would I belong for eternity?
This wanderlusting girl has no idea. Georgia….my hometown? Arizona….the place I grew into a woman? Malta….my favorite country on Earth? Some place I haven’t tread yet that might capture my heart even more entirely?
Who knows. Globalization has done strange things to homelands.
From here, I wandered over to a towering vertical statue on top of a hill that I soon learned was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Flag Staff Hill. It is another space whose purpose is to commemorate the dead. Here, though, the commemoration is for the male soldiers and sailors who died in the U.S. Civil War. As I walked around the statue, read the inscriptions, and touched the delicate engraving, I wondered: Why haven’t I had this jarring kind of experience with American history before? Why have I been so critical of the United States and our complicated coming-of-age? I realized, for perhaps the first time in a long time, that like it or not, I am a small part of this place, a place that has been through war, slavery, oppression, and domination, on this strangely optimistic, weirdly American quest to justice. And that we still have a long way to go before we get there, because first we have to address the many deep-seated oppressions that happen every day with our women, our people of color, our minoritized and underserved populations. I looked up at the pinnacle of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and I thought about how we needed a lot more statues.
And then I thought, trading spots on the steps of the statue with two college students who had decided to go to Boston for their spring break, is it weird to take multiple selfies while standing on top of a monument like this?
I don’t know. But I took at least a handful of them, just to make sure the lighting was right. After all, both I and the statue were backlit.
Next up, I headed across the street to the famed Beacon Hill, the old neighborhood renowned for its windy streets and old homes. It wasn’t difficult to find—it’s the strip of windy, old homes sailing their way down Acorn Street.
All I did here was walk. I marveled at the cracked streets, split apart by trees; the sometimes haphazard way the stones seemed to be dropped in place in the sidewalks; the peeling paint, the crooked windows, the simultaneous beautiful messiness and pristine preservation of historic districts. I thought about old friends, I thought about my first trip to Europe and the first time I walked proudly down cobblestone alleys in my high heels, I thought about where I was in my life—a very confusing place, as it turns out—and I thought about where I might walk next after I finished this crazy dissertation and decided where to land, at least for a little while. I coughed, and I watched my breath sail into the sky and disappear among the white wind.
And then, more snow started to drift out of the sky, collecting on the sleeves of my coat and leaving my teeth chattering, so I walked all the way back.
My advice? When you walk Boston, don’t walk it lightly. But maybe walk it when it’s just a teensy bit warmer. Your camera-snapping finger will thank you.
Yours in travel,