Tuesday, December 06, 2005

There's no particular reason for these two pictures of Tim McGraw except the obvious one that he's one hot man and extremely pleasant to look upon. A year or so ago Fritz and I happened on a Tim McGraw special on TV and became country music fans so fast you wouldn't believe. The man is sex in boots and he can actually SING. At one point in the performance he wound up next to one of the back-up musicians who wasn't looking too shabby himself and Fritz commented, "I'd buy THAT video!"

I've been looking specifically for gay bloggers in Boston and have finally done something I should have a long time ago--expanded my heading to "boston-area bloggers." That's because Michael (Chaosfactor), Sean (Seanlandia), Jeff (Esoteric Diversions) and Agent XXX (Scott E D) all live outside Boston's peripheral highway, route 128. But when Chris (chris-says) from the University of New Hampshire just over the border in Durham joined us and signed up for the QBB pot luck and poker party at my house this coming Saturday, I decided the time had come to abandon the idea that all the local area gay bloggers were "from Boston."

Occupying slightly more than 48 square miles, Boston's population is just under 600,000 and has been declining slowly in the past couple of years. A major center for culture, higher education, medical facilities, banking and tourism, Boston is actually extremely small. When I came here from New York City for college I was surprised that the downtown area of a city that offers so much could be walked across in a mere twenty minutes. Eventually I came to love the compactness.

Boston has a very specific feeling. Europeans I know who've traveled all over the U.S. comment that Boston is the most European of American cities (they consider New York an international city and Chicago the quintessentially American city). They often compare Boston and San Francisco as being strikingly alike on opposite coasts.

The original Boston was almost an island in the harbor, very roughly circular at the end of a narrow neck of land attaching it to the mainland. There were three hills (the Trimount, memoralized in the city's Tremont Street) out on the "island" two of which were eventually leveled and one that was cut down to half its height (Beacon Hill) in the mid 19th century. Their soil was dumped into the harbor either side of the narrow neck, along with the soil from other hills cut down on the mainland, to create big tracts of land for residential development.

There are other interesting features to the city's topography. I live just down the street and downhill from an extinct volcano. It now supports the area's water tank. Out here in Roslindale and West Roxbury, the land is full of "pudding stone," huge composite rock formations of ancient stones and boulders trapped in lava. And the San Francisco comparison is apt because Boston was also destroyed by an earthquake, flattened completely in 1636, just half a dozen years after the first settlers established it. Other notable earthquakes here struck in 1727, 1744, 1755 (now estimated by seizmologists at 6.5 on the Richter Scale) and 1872.

Title page of an early History of Boston showing the three hills, probably volcanic in origin before they were cut down.

The original settlement was named, as were so many of the English settlements, after a location back home, Boston (in Lincolnshire) which is a contraction for St. Botolph's town. Botolph was a Saxon Abbot who died sometime around 680 and about whom little is actually known beyond his mention is several important chronicles. St. Botolph Street can be found in the South End, just off Massachusetts Avenue south of Symphony Hall and the Big Christian Science Church complex.

The reason the city is so small is due to the fact that Boston never absorbed towns and cities wholesale as did New York that swallowed the entire city of Brooklyn, for example, on its march to becoming a five borough megalopolous. Cambridge, just across the Charles River, remains a separate city, as do communities like Newton, Dedham, Watertown, Malden and Somerville that are as much a part of the life of Boston as Beacon Hill or the Back Bay. Brookline (which began as the farm community Muddy River Hamlet and fought a long time to become a separate town) even thrusts up into Boston from the south west like a giant fist, nearly cutting the city in two in the area of Boston University. Boston there is reduced to a strip of land only 900 yards wide along the Charles River until it opens out again into the Brighton-Allston neighborhood.

More on the city's interesting past and vigorous present in a future post.

Hey, this is a terrific summary. Always been interested in bits of the city's history but never sat down and just read about it. Please do continue, if you'd like!

I have 3 questions:
Two a cabbie once told me:
1) Is "Tremont" Street referring to the three hills ("Tremontaine")?
2) Does Washington St run all the way from here to Rhode Island, and every street crossing it must somehow change it's name in honor of George Washington?

One, I thought I read:
3) Was Brookline once part of Boston?
Thanks, Atari, and I'm glad you enjoyedit. I really fell in love with this city and decided to make my entire career here. Your questions jogged my memory about facts I had meant to include but that slipped away when I wrote the post around midnight after a very eventful day. So, you may want to revisit it and thank you for the nudge.

Tremont Street is all that remains of the "Trimount," as you suspected. And Muddy River Hamlet, the farming community that is now Brookline, went through a lengthy process of getting its independence from Boston, first winning exemption from Boston taxes, finally getting the right to incorporate from the General Court of Massachusetts.

Washington was the name finally given to the street that came down the neck of land joining Boston to the mainland, stretched down through Providence and eventually to New York City--the Northeast's original interstate (well, intercolony) highway. Route 1 going south is supposed to shadow that road's original path pretty closely.
The walk takes a lot longer if you follow that yellow line!

I bet you've never done the Heritage Trail, have you?
Interesting post, Will! I really enjoy learning more about Boston; I hope to visit there - maybe even live there - someday. I hate that Tucson is completely car-focused and lacking in quality culture.
Au contraire, Gert, I'm not one of those people who don't actually visit the historical sites of their own city. I suspect you're referring to the Freedom Trail and while I have never done the whole thing sequentially, I've visited every stop, generally while showing visitors around the city.

The one place on the trail to which I will not take visitors is the so-called Tea Party Ship which is a total fraud. It's a late nineteenth century Norwegian fishing boat that was heavily (and badly) adapted to look as much unlike a late nineteenth century Norwegian fishing boat which is about the best they could hope for. It bears no resemblance to an eighteenth century English merchantman and almost sank on its way across the Atlantic because the reconfigured stern was a disastrous design.

One hope of the massive "Big Dig" in Boston was that a genuine English merchantman known to have sunk in its dock, been left there and eventually covered with earthen fill might be excavated as the tunnels moved through land that used to be the original waterfront. But although a lot of fascinating historical material did come to light, a ship was never uncovered.
I'm amazed at the history, especially as Boston did not "swallow up" the neighboring cities to become a megalopolis, though I doubt Boston will allow itself to become engaged in the "twin city" phenomena with any of it's neighboring cities, either.
The fierce independence of every city in Massachusetts is reflected in the setup of the counties. That is, there are counties that contain many cities and towns, but nearly noone pays any attention to them and there is no County powers, that I know of. There's just the state and each town.

So I'm not surprised that cities here didn't gobble each other up. If Boston tried to do that to Cambridge, for instance, there would likely be a revolt.
Just as a note. I live in Danvers which inside the 128 belt. Not that it makes much difference it just makes me feel like I am closer to the city. I am only one town from the ocean.

When I look at the cost of housing here I am always amazed at how expensive it is. In West Hollywood I had a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment with 2 parking spaces and a patio for $1350 a month. In Boston that would be been $3,000 if you were lucky enough to find one. And parking? Fagetahbahtit!
Apologies, Scott, I thought you were further north on the North Shore. Hope you know you are welcome at any of the QBB gatherings. This Saturday night at my house in Roslindale is the next one. Email me if you want to get info.
I totally agree Tim McGraw is sex in boots and I'd kill to be Faith Hill.

Thanks for the history on Boston. I love facts like that. I think I have a drawing/ print of Beacon Hill. It didn't say what city it was in, so for the longest time I didn't have a clue.
Interesting post about Boston, Will!
In regard to the country singers, do you know this animated song "Dear penis" by Rodney Carrington which is very funny?
here is the link:


All the best,

I LOVE Tim McGraw... that man can convert anyone to be a serious lover of country! LOL
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