I first visited America in the July of 2004.
I went alone, flying from Heathrow airport to Boston’s Logan Airport, picked up the car I had rented at Alamo’s a bus ride away and found my way to the YMCA on Huntington Avenue, where I had already booked a room for three nights weeks earlier over the internet. I had hoped to get to bed early so as to avoid as much as possible the effects of jet lag (it was three o’clock in the morning according to my body clock), but I was hungry, and looked for somewhere to eat and have a beer and eventually found my way to the Irish pub just across the road.
The following morning, I awoke early (EST) and as I looked out of my bedroom window across the rooves towards Cambridge, the light had that quality which reminded me so much of the light in Italy, seen from a train window early one morning many years earlier, and it was not difficult to believe that Boston is on the same latitude as southern Portugal.
After a full breakfast, I walked all the way to the Common, explored Beacon Hill with its strangely familiar Federalist architecture not unlike the Regency architecture back home, walked the Freedom Trail, visiting Park Street Congregationalist Church, a beacon of orthodoxy at a time when many of Boston’s Congregationalist and Episcopalian churches were going over to the Unitarian and Universalist heresy, the Old South Meeting House, venue of seditious meetings in the run-up to the Revolution, the Old State House, and Faneuil Hall, known as the “cradle of liberty”, stopped in the Food Hall of Quincy Market to buy a hot dog and, thus fortified, walked on to Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church.
In the afternoon, I went on the harbor tour, stopping off at the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned ship afloat and visiting the museum, where I was buttonholed by a young researcher who told me the fascinating story of a young midshipman who sailed aboard the Constitution and who saw the Philadelphia burn in America’s first foreign adventure.
I spent three days in Boston, which, for me, new to this country, constituted the sum total of my first hand experience of America at that time and indeed was America.
It was one of those experiences that you knew you would look back on and treasure for the rest of your life and you were in the process of living it!
What stands out the most?
The opening paragraphs of the declaration of Independence in an original Dunlap Broadside under glass on a wall inside the Old State House and being moved by those ringing words in a way I had never been before, and which, for me, formed kind of epiphany?
The Freedom Trail?
The intriguing Italo-American accents of Boston’s North End?
The Harpoon IPA? (And I always thought American beer was crap!)
The besuited “heavies” standing outside John Kerry’s residence in Louisburg Square?
The girl with cascading, curling golden tresses, who could have been anything from 14 to 24 who triumphantly held aloft a ball in the stalls above the Green Monster after a flurry to retrieve it after Kevin Youkilis had scored a home run?
The white sails of the yachts joyously plying to and fro on the Charles River?
What stands out the most are the following words of John Adams, America’s second president, which I read, displayed under Perspex on an information plaque, on Boston Common, and which hit me between the eyes:
What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations…This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”
Speaking of the condition of his troops at that time, Washington said: “ . . . you might have tracked the army from White Marsh to Valley Forge by the blood of their feet.”
The Revolution was supported by such friends as Lafayette and Rochambeau from France, von Steuben from Prussia, and Kosciuszko from Poland and, although we Brits were ostensibly at war with the Colonies, it had its Friends in this country, too.
The Duke of Richmond, a great grandson of Charles II, said in the House of Lords that under no code should the fighting Americans be considered traitors. What they did was “perfectly justifiable in every possible political and moral sense.”
All the world knows that Chatham and Burke and Fox urged the conciliation of America and hundreds took the same stand.
Burke said of General Conway, a man of position, that when he secured a majority in the House of Commons against the Stamp Act his face shone as the face of an angel.
Since the bishops almost to a man voted with the King, Conway attacked them as in this untrue to their high office.
Sir George Savile, whose benevolence, supported by great wealth, made him widely respected and loved, said that the Americans were right in appealing to arms.
Coke of Norfolk, a fellow farmer who corresponded with Washington, said: “…every night during the American War did I drink the health of General Washington as the greatest man on earth.” The war, he said, was the King’s war, ministers were his tools, the press was bought. Those who paid taxes, he said, should control those who governed. America was not getting fair play.
Both Coke and Fox, and no doubt many others, wore waistcoats of blue and buff because these were the colors of the uniforms of Washington’s army.”
I spent a total of fifteen days in America, visiting Boston, Cambridge, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Newport, Mystic, New Haven, New York (and yes, New Yorkers really do call it Noo Yoik!), Washington, the Watergate and Georgetown during a summer storm, the Skyline Drive, the house that Jefferson built at Monticello, Hooper’s Island on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, and back to Washington to visit Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress, the National Gallery, and Georgetown again, returning from Washington’s Dulles Airport.
And, despite the evil deeds done in America’s (and Britain’s) name in foreign lands, the Revolution still has its Friends in this country today. Oh, BTW, I found the tea in Boston a little salty!