Day Four: Irish Eyes Are Smiling and Lips Are Flapping…
Sunday, September 29, 2013
The day of my birth was celebrated by the four of us piling into a nondescript white van and being driven all over Boston—as well as random parts of Massachusetts—by an Irish tour guide and history savant named Declan. Shannon had reserved a tour guide for the day to lead us in historical-based exploring and we were blessed to have Declan appointed to our rag tag group who desperately needed a day of education to break the “monotony” of eating every two hours. He was born in Ireland and still carried his thick accent comfortably, along with a wry wit and bone dry sense of humor. He was a delight and made what could have been a tedious, dreary history lesson into a powerful treatise on the early years of our country’s birth. That Irishman made me proud to be an American. We left early, returned late and in between enjoyed a clear, crisp fall day.
Breakfast consisted of only coffee because it was an early departure, Declan and his van picking us up in front of the Hotel Commonwealth at eight. Everywhere he drove us he pointed out landmarks and dropped historical facts into every conversation; his knowledge and recall were impressive. We spent all morning visiting most of the famous landmarks, sometimes stopping and wandering around the grounds and other times just stopping the van and listening to him talk. He was remarkably unconcerned with most traffic laws and saw every open space as an opportunity to idle and chat. I was initially nervous but soon cloaked myself with his Irish swagger and waved off the annoyed cabbies and locals. We visited most of the hot spots of the American Revolution—Old South Church, Bunker Hill, the Old State House where the Boston Massacre occurred, Old North Church—and also visited Beacon Hill and Boston Common. He even drove us by the spot where the bomb exploded during the Boston Marathon which was a lot creepier than I anticipated.
We ate lunch at the Warren Tavern in Charlestown. The tavern was built in 1780 and is the oldest in Massachusetts with claims that George Washington and Paul Revere spent more than a few evenings talking and drinking inside its doors. Hope and I split a hamburger and a large salad and I had a Sam Adams Oktoberfest from the tap to salute my heritage. We did not bump into any ghosts of former revolutionaries which is a shame; I would have shared our lobster roll with them.
After lunch, Declan drove out of the city and led us on an exploration of the rocky shores of Northern Massachusetts. We first stopped in Marblehead and climbed on large rocks on the beach in the middle of a neighborhood, watching the boats and enjoying a bright blue sky and cool temperatures. As we continued traveling up the coast, the history lessons did not stop. We drove past Salem, famous for the witch trials, plenty of horror movies and the first menthol tipped cigarette. Actually, I have no idea if the Salem cigarette was invented there but I thought of it as we drove through and I hate to waste a thought. We also passed the diner in Gloucester where the fishermen who died in “The Perfect Storm” used to hang out, shooting pool and drinking beer. We did not stop, although Declan offered, because it felt tacky and they probably did not serve a lobster roll. We eventually landed in Rockport and spent a couple of hours walking along Bearskin Neck, a street full of old fish shacks now turned into shops selling everything from shell ashtrays to fine art. As the sun began to set, we realized we had gone way past our allotted, paid time with Declan, so we apologized but he insisted we eat dinner and then get us back to the hotel. Maybe he enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed him.
We dined at 7th Wave Seafood Restaurant, a block off Bearskin Neck, and commenced to do our usual damage to the seafood industry. Trays of raw clams and oysters, clam chowder, crab cakes and, yes, another lobster roll. Obviously very fresh—the restaurant sat on a point with views of the ocean from most windows—so the food was very good. I also chose to drink another Oktoberfest since every bar and restaurant in Massachusetts provided it on tap, listed in the menu as “seasonal beer.” I imagine that is code for whatever Sam Adams sends them. After a final stroll through the market and an ice cream cone for dessert, we finally turned the tourist van back toward Boston.
We arrived at the hotel in time to watch the final episode of Breaking Bad but discovered the hotel did not offer AMC so we decided to ignore potential social media spoilers and visit the Island Creek Oyster Bar next door to the Hotel Commonwealth. What makes this restaurant unique is they have a variety of oysters from which to choose, all pulled from different northeast spots, all, supposedly, with their own unique taste. At least that is what the waiter told us. There was other seafood offered and the ladies indulged in those choices, but Kyle and I decided to take the oyster tour and ordered four each of the first three listed on the menu. That night there were nine different varieties available so, by the time we were done, we had eaten three-dozen oysters, comparing all nine distinct flavors.
We were determined to keep the oysters in their natural state, not decorating them with sauces, letting their true flavors dictate whether we liked them or not, so no lemon or hot sauce touched our victims. We created an impromptu system, each of us tasting the same kind of oyster, commenting on it, then moving clockwise to another type. After making our way around the platter once, we would start again with the final two of each type and work our way around again. It was methodical and worked well for us. We felt like professional oyster eaters, a career I hope exists because I aspire to be that when I grow up. I stuck with a pinot noir as my drink of choice and palate cleanser, and we finished our tour with a new appreciation for how location, water and size can affect the taste and character of an oyster; the waiter had told us the truth. I cannot claim to be an expert, just a satisfied customer and, hopefully, one day, a professional.
Our last evening in Boston was quiet and satisfying. Lying in bed that night, Hope informed me that I smelled like oysters—and I had already taken a shower. Apparently, my body had soaked in the earthiness of all the seafood consumed over our four-day visit and had reached a saturation point. I could not have been any prouder. Alone on my side of the king sized bed, but proud.