boston unbound


Email|Print| Text size + By John Powers
Globe Staff / June 8, 2003


That is the dividing line between the old and the new Boston. If you don't know who Kevin was, you must have come here from San Jose, which is somewhere near Nepal.

Not that Boston is a parochial town. We never said this was the Hub of the Universe. The actual quote, from homeboy Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was being sarcastic, was that the State House was the hub of the solar system. Only Noo Yawk would be obnoxious enough to claim to be at the center of a whole universe.

The solar system, of course, is bounded by Route 128. Beyond that is terra incognita, which the old Bostonian has no desire to explore. ``Why should I go anywhere?'' the Brahmin matron said. ``I'm already here.''

That's why we put `The' in front of everything. The Rivah. The Marathon. The Latin School. The Game. The Country Club. The Mayah. The Curse. Maybe there's another one somewhere else. We wouldn't know. But we're learning.

All those people from beyond Route 128 - the recent arrivals from Latin America, Africa, and Asia and the students from everywhere - have been filling us in.

There are other rivers besides the Charles, other marathons besides the BAA, other football games besides Harvard-Yale, other curses besides that of the Bambino. So our definitive insularity is terribly confusing to new Bostonians, who often feel they've been dropped into a conversation that began in 1630 and stalled sometime around 1980.

Folks who were ``bon heah'' assume everybody knows that Kevin (White) was the mayor before Ray (Flynn). That the Custom House isn't on Custom House St. That you can get the weather report by glancing at the Hancock building (what do you mean, which one?). That milk shakes don't have ice cream (frappes do). That the Back Bay has been filled in for a century or so.

That's why you should never ask an old Bostonian for directions. ``Go down past what was Jordan's,'' he'll tell you, ``and take a left where Raymond's used to be.''

It's taken a while, but old Bostonians are realizing that they're living in a new Boston that is bursting with new faces, new languages, new food, new diversions, new attitudes. When the Szechuan dumpling was first served in Chinatown, it was considered a cultural revolution.

If we're a bit slow on the update around here (the new State House was built in 1795), it's because we've always equated age with eminence. The most impressive thing about Durgin-Park is that your great-great-grandfather also dined there, on the same Yankee pot roast and Indian pudding served by the same waitress.

That's why the impending menu change at Locke-Ober (not to mention the renovations) has filled older Bostonians with dread. What if they get rid of the lobster Savannah? Will the Common turn back into a cow pasture?

We hate getting rid of anything around here. We still have two State Houses and two City Halls. We tore down the Garden (before it fell down), but kept the old dead parquet floor. We want to build a new Fenway Park, but keep the old Green Monster.

So it's come as a shock to many of us that more than half our neighbors weren't living here 20 years ago. When did all these Dominicans and Russians and Vietnamese and Californians get here? Did Paul Revere row them across the Rivah at midnight with muffled oars while the redcoats were asleep? It's wikkid bizah.

And the new arrivals are baffled by what the R-droppers don't know about their own city. When does the T shut down? How do you drive from Southie to the South End? Where can you get tapas?

There are two Bostons these days - the one we remember and the one we're living in. The one we're living in is decidedly more eclectic, more inclusive, more vibrant. You can get tapas now. You can also get lemongrass soup, feijoada, and curried goat. What you can't get any more (except at Durgin-Park) are real baked beans.

This is a profoundly transformed city from what it was two decades ago. Our traditional ballet has a faster, funkier tempo now, and new restaurants, clubs, and shops are opening everywhere from Eastie to Rozzie. When Kevin was The Mayah (1968-84), there were no art galleries in the South End, clubs in the Leather District, or Indian food in Allston, Now, there's Afro-Brazilian dance, gay film festivals, and cricket matches in Dorchester.

That's why this section on Boston's cultural diversions should be as useful to those who were bon heah as those who just arrived. Lots of things have changed since Oscar Wilde said our city was ``the paradise of prigs.'' Our great-great-grandparents walked out on Brahms' Second Symphony because it was scandalous. We line up for ``Hedwig and the Angry Inch.''

NEXT: Classical

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