A gift of circling the world against the direction of spin is the first morning when you awake at five AM, refreshed and itching to explore. For me it feels like nine, just in time for a late breakfast, yet here i am gifted the extra hours, hours to waste, hours to wander.
I’m staying on the edge of the Harbour, Battery Wharf, whose name belies it’s original purpose: site of an original English defensive fort, lapsed slowly first to trade and then to residential dog walking and coffee shops, where i find it today.
It’s with some trepidation that i realise my hotel is built on shifting sands: from the side i can see the massive wooden piles supporting the structure through to the granite blocks of the harbour wall. Architecture should be grounded on foundations as far as i’m concerned: it has no right to float, even if the piers themselves are thicker than i am and have clearly weathered many a winter storm.
I hadn’t realised last night that i’m overlooking the Coastguard base: as i look out of the window in the sunrise i see a Cutter moored opposite, even at this early hour, signs of life on the deck. Come six, i’m sat outside on a bench, watching the harbour come to life. Reveille sounds on the boat, not with trumpets or horns, but rather a more prosaic whistle and someone shouting over the tannoy ‘Reveille, get out of bed, get up!‘. Modernity at it’s best. It’s a far cry from the Royal Navy, who probably still do it with bugle and a tot of rum.
The Coastguard lead a varied life, or so the tourist signs tell me: fixing up buoys and navigational markers, saving dozens of lives every day, busting drug smugglers and intercepting illegal immigrants. All that probably before breakfast, but the base in front of me has the organisation and sense of stocktaking of harbour-sides everywhere. There are warehouses, fork lift trucks and a sense of spaces that are used for stacking, hauling and loading. These are the purposeful spaces.
Then there are the neglected spaces: crates, winches, bits of machinery with altogether too much rust to really fit in. Buildings with weeds. The edge-lands that every quayside has: old nets, parts set down one day and never again needed. Once you slip through the mesh of purpose it’s nobody’s job to deal with it.
The Cutter itself is magnificent: white painted and at ease, moored here on the tranquil shores of the estuary, but you still get a sense of purpose and energy, barely harnessed. No boat is truly alive when moored. They sit restlessly, waiting for the wind, waiting for the spray.
The bows: chains and ropes, boxes lined up. A place of transition from shore to sea. The bridge up high: tinted windows don’t permit me to identify individuals, but rather occasional movement and sense of calm energy. At the back, probably out of sight of everyone but me, a young sailor stands in the early light, texting. Or on Facebook. Or maybe checking the scores. Even in this regimented environment, social behaviours persist.
Moored alongside, a tug. I like tugs: the heavyweight hustlers of any working harbour. In the hour i sit by the water with my coffee, three large tankers come past, each one nudged, nestled and jostled by the little boats. I can almost hear them scolding and chiding their more reluctant charges as they make slow but deliberate progress.
The joggers are out: even in my first hours of Boston life i’ve realised that it’s a thing here. Running. Young and old, they start to come thick and fast. Predominantly neon. And dog walkers. As i head East, i leave Battery Wharf and make slow progress, walking up and down the crenellations of each successive pier. It’s a dog-toothed map to follow.
The piers are built of granite: giant blocks, arranged in broad lines, but somewhat tumbled. Few lines are straight. Reminiscent not of the pyramids, with their geometric perfection, but maybe some kind of central American architecture from prehistory: the sort with giant blocks that you can’t fit a sheet of paper between. Perfectly laid, but unruly by design. I like how they differentiate: this is water, this is land. And in between: granite.
But these structures no longer support warehouses and sheds: today, it’s semi detached houses and Starbucks. A little further along, a bar. Artillery to retail. Cannonballs to latte. Transition and adaptation, the bywords of any city finding it’s way into the Social Age.
The harbour itself is firmly mixed use: sailing ships cross paths with ferries, water taxi and even amphibious DUCKS, the mainstay of tourist trails the world over. Indeed, there is a sense of this everywhere: ‘what’s Boston known for’, i ask my host. ‘the Red Sox and eating’, came his reply. Not car making or military, not government or retail. Not pharma and tech. ‘Oh, and history’, he added.
The Boston Tea party. I knew there was something i had to check out. But maybe that’s for tomorrow. For now, perhaps i should explore the eating.