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By James Stewart on 4.7.2023

Tales from the other side of the pond (Part 3)

The statue of John Harvard, founder of one of America’s most prestigious and oldest academic institutions lies at the heart of Harvard’s campus. He is displayed seated, reclining in stern intellectual fervour, his gaze surveying all who pass through the academic landscape. American tourists and students alike have an affinity with this statue, coming from far and wide to rub John Harvard’s “lucky” shoe.

So desperate are they for some divine intervention in their lives that the bronze on Mr. Harvard’s shoe has now faded away into pale yellowy beige. When I visited Harvard an orderly queue had been formed on the campus allowing each person to take part in this unique ritual. Yet as I went up to place my hand on the worn bronze (after a 15 minute wait) I heard a group of Harvard students pass by:

“Dude, I don’t know what the big deal is with touching that statue, the amount of guys I’ve seen hurl and wiz on that thing is unreal”.

Such is Boston. A truly modern and diverse city littered with historical monuments and relics which become part of the nitty-gritty aspects of day to day living.

And that’s important. Many of the other cities I visited in Massachusetts lacked the character of Boston, a city which beautifully mingles the past and present. After all, where else in America could you get a great view of the US Navy’s oldest vessel, the USS Constitution, from the highest observation deck in New England? Or see the oldest churches in the US, coupled with places of worship for the newest faiths?

When choosing where to study abroad I paradoxically wanted familiar surroundings. Many people had suggested that Massachusetts was the most “English” part of America, and although the historical patchwork of Boston is reminiscent of London, I now know that these people were completely and utterly wrong.

A fierce patriotism dominates Boston, the city which instigated the American Revolution and served as the birthplace to several fiercely anti-English politicians. Exploring Boston I came to realise how ignorant I had been to judge the beauty and atmosphere of a foreign land on how “English” it was.

Like many of the other sightseers I hopped on a tour bus so as to get a glimpse at the best sights. As we boarded bus the tour guide asked each of us where we came from, and gave flattering compliments of each nationality and culture. He even managed a “Mar haba” for an Egyptian girl behind me. Yet when he discovered my nationality he simply replied: “Didn’t we kick you guys out?”

I sunk further into my seat as the guide regaled us with stories of the atrocities committed by the English and the brave American rebels who stood up to them. Perhaps the xenophobia and fear of foreigners I had felt displayed towards me at passport control was really my failure to realise the importance of independence for most Americans.

Whatever it was a day in Boston had shown me that whilst I as an Englishman and a foreigner could enjoy the beauty of Boston, it is a beauty ultimately created in opposition to the English and European way of life. Yet somehow this history of defiance and protest against British tyranny made it all the more beautiful and important for me. On that day I stopped being a British citizen and became, as Tony Benn once passionately phrased “A citizen of the world”.

Next Week: James nearly gets shot by riot police after watching a baseball game.

Comments

  • Great Stuff – I can’t wait for next week!

    By chairman on 4.7.2023

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