My significantly better half and I have just returned from a lovely mini vacation on the eastern coast of the USA. Other years we have stayed in Maine, but this year we went a little further south and found a great place in North Hampton, New Hampshire. More about that in a subsequent post. One of the advantages of staying in New Hampshire was convenient proximity to Boston, where we try to enjoy a day or so during our vacations.
I have written before about how much I enjoy Boston, certainly not their dastardly Bruins, but just about everything else. Like Montreal, Boston has history and character; the history comes from being old, the character, as is the case with Montrealers, is produced by Bostonians. However with that in mind may I suggest that if you are looking for the real Boston, you not visit on a summer Sunday.
One of the many similarities shared by my home of Montreal and Boston is a Catholic background. Whether French or Irish in origin, the same Catholic religion affected how the cities developed, albeit much less today than at one time. One of those church intrusions in Montreal was a strong aversion to shopping on Sundays. Even though many people actually live in downtown Montreal, or within walking or biking distance, when I was a youngster downtown Montreal was deserted on Sundays; all the stores and many restaurants shut tight.
Locals started to grumble about not being able to shop on Sundays. A number of stores started to stay open in defiance of the law, figuring they would make enough to easily cover the fine – and they did. As time passed and pressure grew, the ban was lifted. Now Sunday is perhaps the busiest day in downtown Montreal. Not only are the streets chock-a-block with tourists, but those Downtowners, for whom this is their neighbourhood, can go about their lives. Commerce meets community.
This past Sunday I was astounded at the number of stores that were closed in Boston. It was as if the residents turned over the city to tourists for the day. The waterfront was packed, there was a festival in the Boston Common, anything touristic was busy. But the day-to-day life of the city, the heart if you will, was missing. Streets without tourist attractions were empty. I even wondered if the “Hollow Sidewalk” signs on some buildings were placed there to keep tourists in their place by scaring them. While the big box stores remained open, middle and small outlets were closed.
Last Sunday Boston felt like a smaller version of Montreal, but without a heart.
I look forward to my next visit to Boston, but will make sure to plan it for a weekday!