Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Like in the Movies

Boston, MA (September 6, 2008)

The first time I landed in the US was at the end of October. I came to visit Mayli, just a few months after she had moved to this country for graduate school, in one of the many Universities of Boston. At the time she was living in a small apartment in Somerville, one stop before the end of the red line.

Old State House
I still remember Mayli's letter describing her first landing at the Boston Logan International airport. How the city seemed impossibly large, extending in all directions not occupied by the ocean. But while she first landed in August, my first landing was in the fall: it was already after sunset and all I could perceive from my seat was the dark expanse of the Boston Bay and the sudden noise of the plane wheels hitting the tarmac. My first landing was not very scenic. Immigration: check (Italians at the time could get in the US for three months with just a passport stamp on entry; now they need to get a visa in advance). Custom: check (what could I possibly have to declare, in my rigid-frame suitcase with three weeks of underwear change?). Butterflies in the stomach (the anticipation of seeing Mayli). Actually finding her on the other side of terminal E's sliding doors. The taxi ride through the Sumner tunnel (for many years I thought is was dedicated to a season), negotiating the pre-Big Dig traffic all the way to Somerville. The small annex apartment in Clyde St. (tiny, but hey, not many graduate students were lucky enough to rent their own apartment).

That's how it began. 

Somerville didn't conform to my idea of the USA. My knowledge of american middle class neighborhoods came from the Milwaukee of Happy Days, but somehow I was expecting either the New York city of Annie Hall, or the desolation of the Bronx in a old Paul Newman cop movie. At least I knew I wasn't visiting the Old West, so I wasn't expecting horses and crazy tumbleweed bushes roaming in the desert. Somerville seemed a safe neighborhood, with its old and slightly run-down New England-style cardboard houses (I discovered that they were made of cardboard the first time I sat on the futon, when leaning back I heard the deaf sound of the wall as I hit it with my knuckles): it was no Bronx here. But the half-rusted cars parked along the cheap chain link fences, and the open-air tangle of wires hanging from the street wooden poles, not one of them standing straight, didn't have the glamour of Manhattan either. Reality was a little more prosaic than the Hollywood fiction. Yet all was so alien to me that even the chocolate chip cookies with earl grey tea in the humid and cold mornings tasted like the new world.

It rained a lot. Between the unpleasant rain and my exceedingly bad english I didn't dare to get out much alone the first days. When Mayli was busy, I spent most of my first week studying in the Tufts library, and watching the cat-sized squirrels in the extraordinarily green lawn across the library windows. Then the weekend finally came, and with it my real introduction to Boston. We took the T from Porter to Park Street, and from there we followed the freedom trail. I don't have photos taken in that expedition, but I remember it like the small image above on the left: wet pavement in front of tall modern buildings, and the occasional old-brick piece of history embedded in the glamour of a modern US city. We walked the full day, me still trying to reconcile the reality I was seeing with the idealized world remembered from TV. Then sunset arrived, with it the night's shadows enshrouding the urban landscape, now lit by the streetlamps and the car's headlights. That's when I saw it.

The steam rising from the manholes in the street. Like in the movies: at last, I found my America. 

Boston, MA (September 6, 2008)

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