A few weeks ago, on my birthday, we spent an afternoon roaming around Boston. We got no closer to my old haunts than Charles street. That was close enough for me; I hardly need reminding that the entire area has become so gentrified that it’s almost unrecognizable. Charles street was still Charles street, though. A commercial strip of small shops, galleries, and businesses of all sorts. A few I even recognized as having been there in the 1960s. For this, I was thankful. It saved me from an engulfing wave of melacholy for what had been. It had always been an unapologetic commercial strip, and it had remained true to its nature – no cosseting there.
A tour into the seaport district, the North End, and the Fanuel Hall Marketplace were different. No Dejavue there. It was more like a total makeover into a tourist carnival had happened there. Hanover Street was wall-to-wall restaurants – the smells from one mingling with the odors from the next; the marketplace was wall-to-wall national chains, few unique experiences remained. Only where the old elevated highway had been was free non-commercial space. The gardens and walkways were a pleasant contrast to the total commercialization of the rest.
It had been since the 1990’s that I had spent much time in these areas. Of course, the transformations had been well underway then, but you could still see the old Boston under the veneer of the new.
I’ll be honest. I find something Kafkaesque about the sort of transformations that get made in the name of tourism by the tourist industry. It all seems to be an endless food court and cheap commercial glitz. My oldest son summarized it best when he noted a balance between the number of restaurants and national chains in a resort area and local spots and points of interest. Once areas become rededicated for the typical tourist, they become tourist destination malls. Unfortunately, malls are noted more for the sameness of experience than for the uniqueness of the experiences offered. Smaller local businesses get priced out as rents go up.
I imagine that the local business organizations are pleased with the volume of the proceeds. But as the chains move in and every other storefront becomes a restaurant, my family moves to other locations.
I can find mass-produced trash in any mall. But, when I’m on the move, I’m looking for the unique. Sameness is the bane of the over-popularized.