I used to think the Boston Tea Party was some sort of social event where ladies of a certain age sat around and talked about how disappointed they were with their husbands. I now know that it was the first step for a bunch of honest hard-working colonists to throw off the shackles of tyranny and give freedom to all. Well, that’s what our tour guide said, just before he showed us the rows of brownstone houses where a single room studio costs more than a million dollars.
We’ve just spent an afternoon and morning in Boston, and, as I write, are sailing out of Bar Harbor in Maine. Both are beautiful places – Boston with its pretty architecture and leafy green parks, and Bar Harbor with its, well, pretty architecture, leafy green parks and wonderful Acadia National Park. As I said, we only had a short time in Boston in preparation for our cruise of the New England region, so we did what most tourists do – we hopped on the tourist trolley. Our guide, who I’ll call Bob, is a local guy with more corny jokes than a Kansas farmer, but he’s energetic and fun.
We cruise past the MIT campus – “You know whah it’s called MIT – Millionaires in Training”. As we pass the town common – “This has always been a great place for people to hang out” (referring to its dark history as the spot where people who spoke against the government were executed). We tour the historic sites, the financial district and the districts housing the super-rich and the very poor. What makes it fascinating for me is the way Bob unwittingly gives us little insights into how the average working resident views their city. There’s obvious pride in the achievements of the people who built both the city and the nation, but there’s also that sense of, well, it’s sort of hard to describe. Maybe it’s best summed up by his own words straight after he finished describing in accurate detail how the cyclotron particle accelerator at MIT works – “Anyway, I’m just a guy from the projects, so I wouldn’t know about that stuff.”
Then there’s Maine, or more correctly the little island that includes Bar Harbor and the national park. We’re only docked here for half a day, so, it’s time for another guided tour. Our guide Vince is originally from Maryland, but moved here with his wife as soon as he could “retire”. He’s obviously passionate about the place and seems to know the history of everything both natural and constructed by man.
We learn that this little island was originally the home of fishermen who didn’t care too much about fancy stuff. For example, the names of places are simply based on useful information (Bar Harbor has a sand bar, Northeast Harbor has northeast winds, Sand Beach has ….)
Then, the place was discovered by the same super-rich guys we came across in New York and Boston. They came, they built huge summer “cottages” on their estates, and even made private roads so they could drive around in carriages to see the sights. We hear how a massive fire in 1947 wiped out all but two of the mansions, but the attraction of owning your own little bit of coast here still remains – “That place you see over there belongs to (insert name of famous TV producer), and just over that hill a guy just spent $40 million on the house alone.”
The surprise is that the magic of Maine seems to work on everyone it touches, and they’re moved to give something back. The rich have contributed things ranging from funding medical units at the local hospital right through to buying all land for the national park then donating it to the nation. Others, like Dave the old lobsterman and Vince the tour guide, give up their time so tourists and visitors can get a feel for the place behind the place.
Ok, so maybe the Tea Party was a good thing after all.