Literary Tourist in Boston, MA. Day 1
This time it was different. No wife. No daughters. Just me, my pal Dave Monkhouse, books and Beantown. We hit the road good and early heading from Montreal to the U.S. border. I stopped in at the Duty-Free, as instructed, to get some stuff to charge to my credit-card so they’d know exactly when I crossed the border ( for travel insurance purposes). I selected some sweet snacks, walked over to the check-out counter and started fumbling for my wallet. I fumbled some more until it became quite clear to all concerned that I didn’t have it on my person.
I called Caroline at home who swiftly located the item in question – I’m guessing with at least one roll of the eyes – and offered, right away, to drive the 45 minutes required to return it to me. This left Dave and me just enough time to visit The Eloquent Page, a used bookstore I was familiar with in nearby Saint Albans, VT.
And didn’t I just pull out a copy of Leonard Baskin’s The Raptors and Other Birds.
For me, Baskin is most closely associated with the poet Ted Hughes. He illustrated Crow and Flowers & Insects by Ted, among other books I’m guessing. Leonard influenced the great book illustrator/designer Barry Moser who I had the pleasure of interviewing at his home a year or so ago. Listen here
The dust jacket on Raptors was admittedly a little shabby. However:
this made up for it…and the best part? $6.00.
Back we tore to McDonald’s near the border-crossing, to find Caroline waiting in the parking lot. After a coffee and something too sweet to be good for anyone, we set out for Boston. Caroline picked up some special food for our cat Boo Bou and drove back to Montreal. Yes. I know I’m lucky. Plus, my absent-mindedness paid off big time.
The highway was smoother than most you’ll find in Canada, and the drive was scenic, but uneventful. I say this because we were doing something very 2020 – listening intently – pretty well to the exclusion of everything else – to podcasts, in this instance Slow Burn, two series, one about Nixon, the other about Clinton, one Watergate the other Lewinsky.
We arrived at the AC Marriott Hotel Boston North in darkness. I’d chosen the hotel because the price was right, but also because it was on “the T”, just 20 minutes from downtown, and there was a Legal Sea Foods restaurant ( ‘on the Mystic’), within a five minute walk.
Here’s where the trip gets different. Of the five possible directions Legal’s could have been in, we ventured down four before setting on the correct course. This never happens when I’m with Caroline.
I’d ordered a bunch of books from ABE weeks in advance of the trip, and many of them were waiting for me when we arrived. Shipping within the U.S. is now about a hundred-fold less expensive than paying for delivery to Canada ( well, actually, about $25.00 a book versus $4.00, but still, I’d saved a pile). One of the books was Robert Darnton’s A Case for Books. It contains a famous essay of his called “What is the History of Books?” written in the eighties, which in turn contains this famed diagram:
What I find delightful about it is that it sketches out pretty well exactly what I’d had in mind when I launched The Biblio File podcast. The mission I’d set for myself was to interview best practitioners throughout the English speaking world in each of these many roles. I also wanted to get to people who knew about great past practitioners. Now, the line hasn’t been arrow straight, but this goal has always been in mind, and I’m now at approximately 440 episodes and counting ( suggestions for interesting interview candidates are always welcome). Funny thing is that when I set this all out, I had no idea of who Robert Darnton was or what his ‘communications circuit’ referred to. I can however report that there’s nothing quite like arriving cluelessly on ones own at a personal solution to some great big challenge, and then having it validated by a giant in the field after the fact.
Darnton’s (and my) point was that one must understand the roles and functions played by participants all along the circuit in order to get a complete understanding of the book. The final sentence in his essay is a resounding: “By unearthing those circuits, historians [and clueless podcasters] can show that books do not merely recount history; they make it.”
Hard to believe I was actually going to interview him in a few days.
We were hungry. I knew how good Legal Sea Foods was. My late brother Stephen and I had memorably gorged ourselves at one of the downtown locations several years ago. We’d never seen, let alone consumed, such gigantic platefuls of seafood before in our lives. I called to make the reservation. Dave searched for directions on the Internet and we strode together purposefully out of the hotel’s front door. After arriving at a main drag two blocks away, Dave admitted he wasn’t 100% sure which direction to turn in, so we stopped a young woman to ask for instructions. “Yes. I know the restaurant. It’s just across that bridge over there which goes across the Mystic River – there to the right.” As the pavement started to slope upwards onto the bridge, we could see, over its low walls, that our confident friend didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about. There was no river. Just a series of inter-connected train tracks. We returned to where we’d met her and stopped in at a little convenience store. When I asked the clerk for directions, several helpful people in line piped up. “I live here, I know the restaurant. It’s down there to the left. Just follow the main road.” “For sure you’ll find it,” one of them said. We didn’t. There were no seafood restaurants on that road. And no Mystic river within sight. Just the road, and darkness. After several more wrong turns, and a visit back to the hotel lobby for “guaranteed” directions, we exited, taking the only un-explored option open to us.
The waiter recommended the bouillabaisse for we ecumenicals who wanted a piece of everything. It was like a smorgasbord in a bowl. Loads of crab, grouper, lobster, bass, squid, plus a few chili peppers to keep things interesting. The bread was warm and wonderful; adding cold Scandinavian beer made it a veritable Yeastfest. Our oysters slid down pretty perfectly up-front of the soup as well. In all, a very decent way to finish off a decidedly different day.
To be continued.