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Where do they all come from?

So, last time, I had us at Quincy Market. We’d just bought some sandwiches and we were finishing them off. Around us, the crowd surged and flowed. It was sort of like being at the beach. Except with less sand and more sneakers.

We took a moment to consider our options. Where to? Well, there wasn’t much else in Quincy Market we wanted to see. But, the Market, while it is the heart of the Marketplace, is still only part of it. On the north and south sides of it are two more buildings...the North and South Markets (obviously) respectively. It is in these two buildings (as well as the atriums on either side of the Market) that you have most of the shops of the Market.

I can recall going to those stores rather a lot, years ago. There used to be a stationary store we went to--Martha’s wild about stationary. Give this woman a bunch of pads and a few dozen pens, and she’ll be happy for a day. And there used to be some cool gift and gadget shops there that we would frequent.

About the photos: Two today. The first is yet another experiment. I’m embarrassed by how few photos I actually took of Boston while I was there. But, I was busy. So...instead, here is an image I’ve created that is supposed to look like a painting of the crowd at Quincy Market. It is from a photo which I did take and which I then processed with a Generative AI program. See what you think. Does it look sufficiently impressionistic?

Strangely, though, even before we left, we had sort of given up going to the shops in the two Markets. I’m not sure why. I guess the stores we were particularly interested in kind of drifted away...probably in search of lower rents. And we found that the prices of goods at the shops that remained escalated a bit, possibly to compensate for the same rents.

Also, the stores which have increasingly dominated the site sell things that are just fine, but they’re not things that are for us. There are, for instance, a lot of high end women’s clothing places there. Which, as I say, is fine. But Martha tends not to buy that many pairs of super-skinny, tourniquet-tight blue jeans (with pre-ripped holes) from Abercrombie & Fitch. And me, while it is true that I have a certain interest in the offerings of Victoria’s Secret, it isn’t a spot I’m going to hit on a regular basis. At least not if I don’t want Family Protective Services showing up every time I visit the grandkids.

So, that day, we decided we’d do what we almost always do when we are at the Market. We didn’t shop. We looked. We strolled along, and watched the vast crowds of our fellow tourists.

It is remarkable, really, our seemingly endless variety. I looked out over my companions and tried to make sense of them all. Were there any common themes? Had there been any changes in the visitors since I first, myself, visited?

Well, the visitors here come from all over. You can tell there are quite a few native New Englanders and Bostonians here, out for a day or a visit with the family, or they simply walked here from where they work to have lunch or at least a moment away from the offices. You can hear it in the accents, and the way people are dressed (suits and ties, business casual, and, among women particularly, the fashionable shoes replaced for a defiant moment with sneakers).

Visitors from elsewhere in the United States? They’re from all over. California, New York City, the Mid-West, the South, Texas (like ourselves)...families with children, a little overwhelmed by the crowds and the sites and the sounds...young couples (newlyweds?) more interested in one another than the sights, but still, touring...older couples, senior citizens on the town, like us...

Visitors from around the world...I’m amazed by all the countries represented. When I first came to Boston, it seemed that the majority of the Hall’s foreign visitors were from Western Europe, the British Commonwealth nations, and Japan. You still see a lot of people from those places. But, there are others, now. You see a good many more Eastern Europeans...Poles, Czechs, etc. Before the war in Ukraine, you even saw a considerable number of Russians. Thanks to Putin, though, that is no longer the case.

There are many Chinese, as well. Though, from something someone told me later, I gather their numbers, too, are down--because of Covid, though, not war. For the sake of Boston’s merchants, I’m hoping that by this time next year, the Chinese tourists will be back, their pandemic defeated, and their pockets positively combusting with Yuan.

One group that is new--South Asians. There have always been some Indians and Pakistani visiting Boston. But for the last few years, their numbers have grown, and grown, and grown. They are now present in great happy masses--shopping, laughing, carrying on, just being good tourists like the rest of us.

Second, a photo of Martha looking mischievous here in Georgetown, specifically in front of the Rivery Cafe, one of our fav coffee and pastry hangouts. As per norm, nothing to do with the story. Just like the photo.

Long, long ago, when I was first in Boston, many of the people you’d see at the Market and who might identify as “South Asian,” were either local (i.e., they were immigrants, Indian-Americans or Pakistani-Americans), or, they were students at the universities, or...and I’m going to be blunt here...or they were wealthy visitors.

Now, though, we have some changes. First, we have a good many more locals -- that is, Bostonians and New Englanders who just happen to be of South Asian heritage. You forget that Indians and Pakistanis are now among the most common immigrants to America. According to the think tank Migration Policy Institute, the United States is now the second most popular destination for Indian immigrants.* And they’re welcome. Many of them come here with extremely marketable skills. There are a lot of doctors coming from South Asia, for instance.

And, of course, these people have been coming for quite a while, and some of them now have children and grandchildren, adding number and vigor to the South Asian-American community.

But, second, the other thing that’s new is the tourists--that is, South Asians who are not Americans and don’t care to be, but who are here on a visit, and can afford to do so. They are the beneficiaries of the Indian economy’s liberalization and rapid development.

Both these groups fascinate me. The locals, because we are watching (yet again) the changing nature of what we call an “American.” The tourists because they remind me -- and should remind us all -- that the economic nature of the world is changing, and doing so at high speed.

If we can positively respond to both these developments, then we will, I’m sure, do fine in the future.

But if we cannot...

Well, you know, sometimes...

I worry.

More to come.



* “Indian Immigrants in the United States,” By Mary Hanna and Jeanne Batalova, October 16, 2020, MPI,


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