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And on to the city on the hill...

When I left off, we were touring the Bearskin Neck area of the town of Rockport. To be precise, I had us all the way to the end of the Neck, and we were standing exposed to the sea winds.


At that moment, we realized that being so exposed wasn’t the best thing in the world, right then. At long last, it was starting to turn cold. There was a touch of sea-ice in the weather, and the sky...which had been blue...was turning gray.


Yikes! In fact, it got a little ominous. I’ll post a photo of the day below. The irony was we’d been sweating like ye olde proverbial pigs in a steam bath all through the Texas summer and parts of this, its New England analog.(1) A few days before, we’d have prayed for a some stormy skies and a touch of wind. Now, though...it was chilly. I mean, pretty darn chill. As in, Eew Ick, did we remember to bring our ski parkas? (Answer: you must be joking.)



About the photos: Two today, and...for once!...they actually have to do with the story. This first one is of a street on the Neck just as the clouds rolled in. A few minutes before, it was sunny and hot. Then...a touch of frost.


We realized we should be heading back. Besides, we hadn’t yet had lunch. So, we spun about and headed back towards the city and the point where the Neck joined the street. We kept a lookout for restaurants, but weren’t lucky. We didn’t see any that seemed to be open. Finally, way down the way, almost to where the Neck intersected with Main Street and Mount Pleasant, we discovered a little luncheonette that seemed promising.


We went in and ordered chicken salad wraps from a pair of teenagers -- one male, one female -- who were far more interested in one another than in waiting on the public. Indeed, the terms “hostile” and “sullen” spring to mind. Hostile and sullen, with maybe a side order of Not Giving A Bach Fugue At A Rolling Olykoeck.(2)


But, the sandwiches weren’t bad, and there was a terrific view of the sea from out the side windows. So, we shrugged it off and got on with our lives. (Though, we also didn’t exactly tip heavily. Though I’m sure the two young people will enjoy the 25¢ in pennies and pocket lint I left in their tip cup. Hours of fun, you betcha.)


After that, we went back into Rockport proper and cruised for a bit longer. However, we noticed we were getting a bit tired. So, finally, and with some regret, we returned to the car, and headed down the highway.


We still had a ways to go. To be precise, we were headed to our next port of call -- which is the town, or maybe it is a village, of Nahant.


What’s that? you ask. Ah, so glad you wanted to know, I answer. If you’re online, pull up a map of Northern and Coastal Massachussets. Start at Rockport and trace the coastline with your finger going south. You’ll pass Salem (a town I wished we had time to visit. It is one of my favs. But we just couldn’t manage it), then Marblehead, then Swampscott, then Lynn (we have a history with Lynn. It’s not a happy one. More about that another day), and then, finally, you’ll see a long, thin isthmus of land stretching out into the sea. At the end of that, like the bulge of a lollypop, is a swelling of land. If you’re looking at the map closely, you’ll realize that this area...this peninsula (which literally means “almost an island”) is only about a mile square. And it is almost entirely covered with streets and houses.


This is the town of Nahant.(3)



The second photo of the day is of Martha looking not particularly thrilled with my snapping a picture of her at lunch. But I like the photo.


A quick historical aside: you may be wondering at the curious nature of the town. Why would people elect to settle in such a small place, so close to the mainland, and yet so far? The answer, of course, is defense. A peninsula is easily protected, and when the first Europeans arrived here, the Mainland was a vast and mysterious place, filled with possible dangers.


If you’re interested, it is a fairly common design strategy for seafaring peoples. Everyone from the Philistines and the Phoenicians to the Dutch and Portuguese have employed it in their bases and settlements round the world.


Even Boston itself was once the same. It, too, was an island-like tidbit of land connected to the mainland by the “Boston Neck” -- a thin line of sand and rock. And by the way, the Boston isthmus must have been a scary place, particularly at night. I’ve read that it was lined by creaking windmills and much used gallows, with the bodies of the condemned left for public examination and instruction.


Then, in 1775, the British found themselves fighting a revolution in New England. They occupied Boston itself while the Patriots (under George Washington, no less), held the shore. The Red Coats easily defended themselves from Patriot incursions--the Neck was too easily guarded. But, then, a combination of smallpox and artillery (the Americans managed to bring in cannons from Fort Ticonderoga), made their position untenable. So, they sailed away for New York, leaving Boston to become a mighty citadel of the Revolution. (3)


But that, too, is a story for another day.


Oh, one last thing about Boston’s relationship with water. It is now solidly on the coast. That is, it is not an island or peninsula. The reason for that the bay around it was filled in over the years. Sometimes, when you read the city’s history, you feel a bit like you’re re-visiting the Netherlands. There is the same battle with the sea for every bit of land. And, who can say? Maybe in the long run, it will be the Atlantic, not the land, which will have the final say.


Anyway, now we were headed toward Nahant, where we would spend two nights at a local B&B. We were both new to the town. We had visited it only briefly when we lived in New England. Thus, we would have an adventure.


What would we find? We would discover a town that could be warm and welcoming...but, at times...


As alien and strange...


As the sea itself.


More to come.




Footnotes


1. Which is amusing because, in actual fact, pigs don’t really sweat, or at least not as much as humans do. They use other strategies, like panting, to cool down. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig)


As for the term “sweating like a pig,” that may come from the early iron industry, where small ingots were known as “pigs.” When iron pigs cool, moisture condenses on them...so, hot pig iron looks like it’s sweating Or, at least that’s what this article says: https://www.historynet.com/sweating-like-pig-come/


2. Olykoeck is just an old Dutch word for donut. I could have just said “rolling donut,” but, come on, where’s the fun in that?


3. I’ll be using the Wikipedia article on Nahant rather extensively. You can see it here if you want to play along: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahant,_Massachusetts


4. Again, I’m using the Wikipedia article on Boston as my main source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston


5. For more about Boston during the revolution, go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Boston






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~mjt



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Copyright©2023 Michael Jay Tucker


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