Over the past week the world got a crash course in Boston and all it embodies, not just for Bostonians, but for the cityís nearby friends, including Vermonters, who have many reasons to love the place.
For Vermonters, Boston provides a bracing dose of urban life ó cultured, brash, civilized, loud, sentimental, mean, beautiful, gritty. When a Vermonter arrives in Boston, city life comes in a rush of people, noise and traffic. We donít know where to look first ó at the graceful historic buildings or the coldly gleaming skyscrapers. Usually, the first thing we look for is a place to park.
Vermonters love Boston because its winter weather seems worse even than the weather of Vermont. Its cold is more raw, its snowstorms icier, windier, more brutal. And yet the spring and summer have a grace compounded by the loveliness of the city setting, its buildings, parks, trees. A walk along the Charles is not exactly a walk on the Long Trail. It has a different sort of charm.
Boston is the place where Vermonters take their kids to get a taste of the larger world. Often their destination is Fenway Park.
Vermonters love Fenway. They love the loud, obnoxious fans and the sagacious, thoughtful fans ó the kind whose cheering conveys a varied assortment of subtle and not so subtle emotions, including joy, relief, irony, justice achieved. Vermonters love Papi. Above all, Vermonters love Joe Castiglione, the voice of the Boston Red Sox, who is a sunny, knowledgeable, articulate, friendly presence throughout the spring and summer.
Vermonters appreciate Bostonís place as the Athens of America, one of the nationís cultural capitals. Emerson and Thoreau didnít live in Chattanooga (they lived in Concord, which counts as Greater Boston). The Atlantic Monthly originated in Boston. The city is a center of publishing and learning, and when Vermonters go down to Harvard or another of Bostonís (or Cambridgeís) elite institutions, they feel they have arrived somewhere.
Vermonters know that Boston was a hotbed of abolitionism and appreciate it for that. Massachusetts was also the state that legalized gay marriage after Vermonters legalized civil unions.
Vermonters who want to hear the worldís best music can hear it in Boston.
In Boston Vermonters encounter the full force of ethnicity. Being Irish or Italian matters. Vermont has its ethnic enclaves in the Polish, French or Italian neighborhoods of miniature cities such as Rutland, Barre or Winooski. And the state increasingly serves as a melting pot for immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia. But itís nothing like Boston, where dinner in the North End can be a gratifying visit to Italy in the neighborhood of Paul Revere.
Boston reveres its cops and the other working-class men and women who are the cityís first responders. As the nation said thanks to the firefighters and others who gave so much after Sept. 11, we have learned to appreciate the service of all those guys in their bulky SWAT gear who found their man hiding in a boat Friday.
Vermonters are aware of the downside of Bostonís toughness. We donít love the history of racial violence, the narrowness, the viciousness of those on the margins. Vermonters donít love Whitey Bulger. Of course, neither does Boston.
Vermonters are hockey players, and some of us love the Bruins, but some of us also like the Canadiens. Thatís the way it goes.
For a taste of urban living, Vermonters can go to New York, which dwarfs Boston in many ways. Boston is not New York, and New York is not Boston. New York has many things, but it doesnít have the Common or the Public Garden, the North End, Back Bay, the Charles, Cambridge. It doesnít have the waitresses of Durgin Park. Above all it doesnít have Fenway.
Vermonters have long traveled to Boston to run in the Boston Marathon, and there were more than a few there last week. The rest of us understand and appreciate the glorious spring celebration that combines the marathon with Patriotsí Day. We watched from a distance as the city endured a terrible attack and its aftermath. It reaffirmed what many Vermonters have long felt but may never have said outright: Boston, we love you.
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