Salem and Boston: American cultural saturation, witches and baseball

“We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Salem, Massachusetts

Bewitched in SalemIn summary, Arthur Miller’s play is a classic parable of mass hysteria drawing a frightening parallel between the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 and the McCarthyism Cold War fears of 1950s America.

Set in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, the townspeople are stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and hatred, culminating in the wrongful sentencing to death of 20 people for the crime of witchcraft.

Though Salem was also once a great maritime trading port, the witch trials have become its most notable ‘attraction’. I’m sorry to say that I too ventured to Salem –  drawn by morbid fascination, the impossibility and injustice of the real historical events, Arthur Miller’s play, and the 1996 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Wynona Ryder – a tempting combination.

The facts:
  • The frenzy of accusations, trials and sentencing lasted just 9 months in 1692.
  • 20 people were found guilty of witchcraft.
  • 14 women were executed by hanging.
  • 5 men were executed by hanging.
  • 1 man, Giles Corey, aged 81, was crushed to death.
  • None were burned to death – that happened in the European witch trials.
  • All maintained their innocence, though some eventually succumbed to pressure and signed admissions of guilt.
  • It was all started by children and a puritan superstition of spirits, witchcraft and otherness.
  • The name Salem means ‘peace’. In the Bible, the town called Salem is later changed to Jerusalem.

salem I found the town to be small, quaint, friendly yet odd. A 1 mile walk around the town is marked with red paint along the pavements. Eerily, many of the buildings date back to the time of the trials. The history lover in me loves this. I understand the power and interest such a place holds and I agree we should preserve history – lest we repeat it. But it felt strange to walk those streets, stand beside the memorial stones and enter the home of the magistrate who presided over the trials and who saw fit to have a man crushed to death.

Boston, Massachusetts

I’m afraid a full-blown tourist review of Boston is not possible. It’s a city of many hidden gems which I will hopefully one day explore. The churches, parks, riverside, old town and universities looked particularly interesting.

What I did do can be summed up in two words: food and baseball.

I discovered a lovely old road called Newbury Street in the historic Back Bay area of Boston, not far from our conference venue and hotel. This row of 19th century brownstone houses has been converted into shops and restaurants – very quaint. We took our Peruvian clients out to a small Italian restaurant & wine bar – Piattini – on Newbury street. We had a sumptuous meal of delicious pasta, wine and melanzane parmigiana – I may turn into an Italian food lover after all!

I also discovered a take-away salad bar – Sweet Greens.  In true American style, these ‘healthy’ (lots of dressing) salad mixtures with curly kale, seeds and roasted veg were HUGE – impossible portions for one person!

If I had a pound for every oyster bar and seafood restaurant I saw in Boston, I’d have made a serious amount of money – I believe seafood is a speciality of the area. Sadly, because of my experience with shellfish in New York, I could not partake 😦

Red Sox vs Colorado Rockies

Now, the baseball experience cannot be explained without a reference to food. We were given tickets to see the Red Sox vs the Colorado Rockies at the famous Fenway Park. It was about 28deg C and humid. Crowds of supporters, wearing Red Sox gear thronged the streets of Back Bay. It wasn’t necessary to check Google maps for directions because going against the flow was almost impossible. I think it was either the last or penultimate game of the season and Red Sox were up (that’s me speaking American). There was an exciting buzz and Hubby and I had done a bit of homework – players, scoring, jargon etc. To find out what a Knuckleball is, refer to the image below.

Baseball is a game of patience. I’m sorry to say we did not stay to the end. Having had our hot dog, popcorn and giant cup of lemonade (we shared); done the Mexican wave; booed a foul ball; puzzled over the score board; chanted “Ortiz, Ortiz, Ortiz, Ortiz!” and watched the replay of his home run (because we missed it – there’s so much else to look at) … we were very pleased to make a quick getaway and head back to the hotel.

Knuckleball baseballSMALL PRINT
P.s. We were primarily in Boston for a Tugboat and Marine Salvage conference. This is a huge event in the world of shipping which comes around every two years. This time it was in Boston – next time I’m holding thumbs for Cape Town!
P.p.s.I’m certain that the key to curtailing both spending and waistlines in the USA is to share plates!
P.p.p.s. My revelations about the USA: too much air conditioning, too much ice in my drink, too much sugar, too much food.
P.p.p.p.s. Boston accent noted: corn = con, idea = idear, Martha = Mather, Dorothy = Doothy.
P.p.p.p.p.s. We heard back recently from the clients in New York who fed me the crab – they were having a doughnut eating contest the day after we met them. The outcome was that the man who won, ate 13 doughnuts! Is this what happens in a testosterone-driven office sans les femmes? Or maybe it’s one of those ‘only in America’ things?
P.p.p.p.p.p.s. Commiserate with me, please – I went for a run on the treadmill at gym tonight and discovered that I am the ‘fattest’ and most unfit I’ve ever been … I only managed 2.5km in 18mins … that’s over 7mins/km! And since we don’t have a scale at home, weighing myself was a bit of a shock and I can’t even claim it’s because muscle weighs more than fat … Shameful.
P.p.p.p.p.p.p.s. Now celebrate with me – my hair has finally returned to its former lustre, thickness and health after falling out in chunks from my year of IVF meds.

For your viewing pleasure, a home run from the Red Sox game:

3 thoughts on “Salem and Boston: American cultural saturation, witches and baseball

  1. What a lovely account of your stay in America.You both certainly took in a great deal in the short time you were there mixing business with pleasure.I love the food stories especially “the doughnut competitors”.Amazing.I think I will keep to the salads as usual during the summertime.Glad to hear your hair is as beautiful as ever again.Hope to catch up soon.x

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  2. Dear Nyama – I found your Boston insights interesting as this is one of the few major American cities not known to me, the other being the windy one. I like oysters more than I like baseball, to say nothing of the witches. I’m not sure preserving history lessens the likelihood of it being repeated. After all, millions have traipsed through Auschwitz since 1945 and we’ve still since witnessed genocides in Bangladesh, East Timor, Guatemala, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur to name but a few. Lastly, it was not just witches who were crushed to death in those times. The death of English Catholic martyr Margaret Clitherow (1586) was a masterpiece of crushing – ‘She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face then laid across a sharp rock the size of a man’s fist, the door from her own house was put on top of her and loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones so that the sharp rock would break her back. Her death occurred within fifteen minutes, but her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed’. On second thoughts, I think Giles Corey’s death was a piece of cake.

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