Monday, 23 July 2012

The Sun Sinks Under Boston, Bloody Red.

Off to New England for a couple of weeks. We caught an early flight to Boston and arrived just after lunch, American time. For the first week we're staying in the beautiful nineteenth century clapboard Harrington House in the East Boston town of Winthrop, a jutting peninsula five miles east of the airport. We caught a Tube out to Orient Heights and picked up the bus, over a connecting bridge, past a clam shack and into the town proper.

It's an unassuming place. A glooping centre of suburban houses and proud businesses, funnelling down to a spit of land bounded by the ocean on either side, which in turn connects with Deer Island, one of the processing centres for the Irish migrants escaping the potato famine. Some 4,000 or more stayed as  refugees here awaiting work and shelter across the bay in Boston.

Winthrop's main claim to fame, which it conspicuously ignores, is that it was the childhood home of Sylvia Plath, who lived here until she was ten, when the sudden death of her father, drove the family to seek pastures new. The Winthrop years were happy ones for Sylvia, running between her grandparents house and her own home, playing on the silver sands, nursing starfish, collecting shark teeth and watching the aeroplanes take off, like huge metal insects, from Logan airport, just a couple of miles out in Boston harbour. In later life she wrote two memorial poems set in the town, Point Shirley about her grandmother and Electra on the Azalea Path, which recalls a visit to her father's grave. Winthrop was a paradise which closed it doors abruptly on Sylvia.

In The Bell Jar, Esther, Plath's autobiographical heroine, returns, depressed, in her early twenties, hoping to find, somewhere in the shingle, the courage to take her life here, on the beach. She ends up in casual conversation with one of the Prison guards on Deer Island.

'If I'd had the sense to go on living in that old town I might just have met this prison guard in school and married him and had a parcel of kids by now. It would be nice, living up by the sea with piles of little kids and pigs and chickens, wearing what my grandmother called wash dresses, and sitting about in some kitchen with bright linoleum and fat arms, drinking pots of coffee.'

In contrast, death by drowning, in the darkness of sea, would, she concludes, be an act of cowardice. So having allowed the waves to lick her feet, she retrieves her shoes from the water's edge and turns for home. It doesn't take you long to realise that most people in Winthrop go quietly about their business. It's a hard place for poets.

As we were early, we left our bags in the porch and found a pizza shop on the water's edge whilst we waited for Maggie and Joey, our hosts, to return from the their day jobs. The view across the bay was wonderful. Boston, a promised land, waiting for tomorrow morning's adventures.

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