Friday, September 26, 2014

New England



I was born and raised in New England and have always been fiercely proud to call the region home.  My family came from Greece to America almost 100 years ago...my father's side settled on the New Hampshire seacoast by the end of WWII and my mother's side arrived in the same place by the mid-1950s via Boston and New York City.  My parents, aunts, and uncles were all born and raised in NH (and all except for my parents still live there). I was born in Massachusetts, lived there for the first two years of my life, and after a year in Pennsylvania from the age of two to three, moved back to New Hampshire where I lived until I was twenty-six. My wife was born and raised in New Hampshire and lived her whole life there as well. In 2006, I completed my PhD and, at the ages of 26 (for me) and 28 (for my wife), we made a big move down to South Carolina so that I could spend two years as a postdoctoral fellow. However, when I completed my fellowship, I got a job in Boston and we moved back to New Hampshire.  Six years of a grueling commute caused us to move down into the Boston Metro West area to make it easier for me to get to work.  Apart from the two years we spent down south (which we loved!), we're New England lifers. All four of our kids were born in NH and it's all they've ever known.  I, my wife, our kids...we've lived here our whole lives and I thought we would never live anywhere else. Well, I was wrong! The six of headed off on a new adventure earlier this month when I accepted a new position at a company in central Pennsylvania and, for the first time in my life, made a permanent move out of New England.

Now, I know it's not that far away...it's not like we moved to California or Alaska! It's an easy day's drive from where we're from to where we've moved to. However, it's a very different place and will take some for me to adjust to, the same way it was in South Carolina when we first arrived. For as united an identity as we Americans have, this is also a huge country and each region has its own unique heritage, culture, identity, accent, cuisine, and traditions. All of these changes, which are exciting but also have my head spinning at how fast they all happened, got me thinking about what makes New England such a special place, why I love it so much, why I'm sad to have left it, and why no matter where I live, it will always be home to me and my family.


I *NEED* this shirt!

For those of you reading this who are outside of the United States (or for those of you within who don't...shame on you!), New England is the northeasternmost region of the country and is made up of six states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut. It is the site of the earliest English settlements and by the 18th century, the region initiated the resistance to the British Empire that eventually resulted in American independence. Nicknamed "The Cradle of Liberty," the area was where the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's midnight ride, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Boston Massacre, and numerous other pivotal events which helped shape the eventual push for freedom by the colonists and birthed the USA.  New England is steeped in history and tradition relating to the Revolutionary War of Independence and the very beginning of the USA. It's also the only geographical region in the country that has clearly defined borders and a name that doesn't have any reference to its geographical area.  Each of the six states has a unique identity and variations on New England traditions that are specific to them.  Boston is not only one of the major cities in the country, but is the unofficial "capital of New England" due to its size and status as a city world renowned for its universities, hospitals and medical research centers, history, and culture (art, music, literature).

As I mentioned above, each state in New England has its own identity and, as is typical, there are stereotypes that are generally accepted by all who live here regarding each state. For instance, Maine is the land of beaches, seafood, and wilderness, while New Hampshire is the no-tax, freedom-loving, gun-toting land of Live Free or Die.  Massachusetts is a mini Soviet state filled with terrible drivers, funny accents, and high taxes, while Vermont is full of farmland and hippies. And lastly, Rhode Island is a wannabe Massachusetts on the water while half of Connecticut roots for New York teams and isn't even really a part of New England, anyway (that last part is true, actually!).  Now, I mean no offense to anyone who is from any of those states who might get upset...it was meant to be lighthearted and in good fun...in fact, if you're from New England, you probably agree with some or all of them!  There's a germ of truth to them, too, as there is with nearly all stereotypes.  What a lot of people who aren't from the region don't understand is how provincial and proud we are. Most of us love living here and cannot and will not consider living anywhere else.  I certainly didn't think I ever would, and yet here I am 400 miles away in Pennsylvania!  That got me thinking as to what it is that makes New England so special to me. Many of these things will be the same for anyone else who lives here or is from here, while others will be of a more personal nature and unique to me. In any event, I thought it would be fun to list them all, so here goes!

1. Geography



One of the best things about living in New England is how close you are to just about every type of terrain you could want.  The seacoast, lakes and rivers, mountains, forests...there's everything except deserts, and let's face it...who wants to go hang out in the desert? (No offense to any of my desert-loving readers).  You also have access to towns and cities of all sizes, as well as major cities, most notable of which is Boston.  And of course, people I speak to always marvel at how all of the town and city names here are either from Native American or British descent.

2. Climate

Typical to see between December and March

I realize this one won't be popular with everyone, and there will be many native New Englanders who will be aghast at what I'm about to write, but the weather in New England just might be one of its strongest selling points. And like we always say here, if you don't like the weather in New England, wait half an hour.  For starters, we get all four seasons without fail, every year (although depending on the year, Spring is sometimes called "Mud Season," while other years it's little more than either an extension of winter right up until summer starts, or an extension of summer right after winter ends). Autumn in New England just may be the best season anywhere the country, period. The crisp, cool yet comfortable weather still has a fair amount of daylight, the air smells fresh and earthy once the leaves have fallen, and the foliage when the trees turn color is absolutely gorgeous. There's a reason leaf-peepers from all over the country descend on the region in September and October.

Just look at that foliage!

The summers are typically nice, with temperature rarely exceeding 90 oF, although we do often get stretches of oppressive humidity that can make it uncomfortable. Even so, the summers are so short, lasting only from June through August, that it's rarely unbearable. Which leaves us with winter...yes, the winters are loooooooong, they're bitterly cold, we get a LOT of snow, with barely 10 hours of daylight at its peak. Some winters, like the past two from 2013 and 2014, have started earlier than usual (early November) and dragged on well into mid-April.



Even hardened lifers such as yours truly can get sick of them. But there is something beautiful about being outside on a cold, clear day when the temperatures are well below freezing, there's not a cloud in the sky, and the sun is shining down on the snow-covered landscape. And let's not forget that skiers from all over flock to our mountains for some of the best skiing on the East Coast.

3. Sports

Our teams have won titles for decades, the most recent stretch coming since 2001

I've written about our sports heritage and teams before, so I won't belabor the point too much, other than to say that we have old, storied, championship-winning franchises in all four of the major sports, and we are routinely listed as one of, if not THE, best sports towns in the country year after year. Our loyalty, devotion, and fervent support for our teams is well-known, often-mocked, and rarely equalled. The region is not a hotbed for college sports at all...unless you support your alma mater (for instance, I am still an avid fan of UNH Hockey), the only college teams with a sizable following are Boston College's basketball and football teams, and even then it's only when they're doing well. In New England, it's all about pro sports and in that regard, we're nearly without equal, especially given our championship success, both history and in recent years.

4.  Food

New England clambake, anyone?

Every region of the country has specific cuisine it's known for, and New England is no exception. Given our proximity to the ocean, we have some of the best seafood in the country, from Maine lobster to shrimp, steamers, fried clams, mussels, scallops, and a whole host of delicious fish (cod, haddock, flounder, etc).  Everyone knows about New England clam chowder. There are also regional dishes within New England, like whoopie pies, clam cakes, grilled bagels, bar pizza, and more.  We've also got the love-it-or-hate-it soda Moxie, Necco Wafers, and a bunch of other things that make us different from other parts of the country.

5. History



Nicknamed "The Cradle of Liberty," there's a ton of history in New England. It was one of the oldest settlements in the country, the pilgrims having landed at Plymouth Rock, and the region gave birth to the men and the movement that eventually launched the American War of Independence. From Paul Revere's midnight ride and the Boston Tea Party, to the Boston Massacre and the Battle of Bunker Hill (which actually took place on nearby Breed's Hill), so much of our nation's early history took place in the region. You can still visit the Old North Church, Fanueil Hall, Paul Revere's grave, and walk the Freedom Trail, among many other things you can do in Boston, which brings me to...


6. Boston

"I love that dirty water..."

Boston is the unofficial capital of New England and one of the major American cities. It's one of the oldest cities in the country and is rich in tradition, history, character, and charm (as is the rest of the region).  It's the closest you can get to a European feel in an American city and has quirks all its own. It also happens to be a very modern city, with many of the country's most respected and cutting edge hospitals and medical centers, as well as being a hub of technology. Much of this is due to the city having the most colleges and universities of any city in the nation, including top-notch research institutions like Harvard University, MIT, Tufts, and Northeastern.  There's also a rich cultural tradition here, from art museums like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, to Boston Symphony Hall and the Boston Pops. There's an active and vibrant live music scene, with local, up-and-coming, and established major touring acts passing through playing concerts all over the area.  Basically, Boston is similar to every other major American city in many ways, but unique enough to make it special in its own right.



8. We're Provincial and Proud



Of course, our regional magazine is called "Yankee!"

Again, I've written about this before, but we are very provincial and initially wary of outsiders here in New England. It's a place we're all fiercely proud of...we're proud of being from here, proud of our traditions and way of life, and proud to live here.  It's somewhere where outsiders just can't understand the appeal and draw to those of us who hail from here. I remember when we were living in South Carolina and I'd told a friend I'd made there how I couldn't wait to find a job and move back. He gave me a puzzled look, scrunched up his noise, and asked "WHY?" As in, "why on Earth would you want to move back there?" Like I said, if you're from here, you'll understand; if you're not, you never will.

7. Accents and Slang


Finally, I can't finish writing about New England without touching on one of the major things we always get made fun of for: our accents and slang! Let me say right off the bat that I and my family don't have the typical accents...in fact, we come from a region in New Hampshire that has NO accent. But I've been around everyone else who does for so many years that it's natural for me to hear. The most famous is the thick Boston accent that gets made fun of in movies, TV shows, and more.






But there is also a thick Rhode Island accent that sounds like a cross between a Boston and a New York accent, where a word like "source" is pronounced like "sauce" and "crayon" is pronounced "cran." And don't forget the Downeast Maine accent, where "yes" is "ayuh," and the phrase "you can't get theah from heah" was made famous.



I also grew up hearing people pronounce "drawer" as "draw" and "draw" as "drar." In fact, that's another funny New England accent, mainly in northern New Hampshire: where an "r" is added to every word that shouldn't have one (ironically, since the Boston accents DROPS "r" from the end of words). So for instance, someone with a Boston accent says "cah" instead of "car" or "yahd" instead of "yard," but someone from northern NH will say "idear" instead of "idea" or "raw" as "rar."  And let's not forget our most famous slang, the use of the word "wicked" to mean "really," as in "this ice cream is WICKED good!" I'm guilty of this and have been my whole life...if you're from here, it's just how you talk. I had an English teacher in high school complain that it made no sense, because how can something be "wicked" and "good" at the same time? The thing is, she wasn't originally from here, so she didn't get it and she never would.



So there you have it! I certainly could have gone on and on even more about how much I love New England, but I don't want to belabor the point. If you're a native like me, you'll get everything I've written, and if you're not, you're either tired of reading about it (I hope not!) or not convinced it's anywhere special. That's absolutely fine and I respect the opinions of everyone reading this. The impetus for writing this was my homesickness at having moved out of the area for the first real time in my life, which made me really step back and take a look at why I was so sad to leave. It made me reassess the place that is such a part of me; it's an irreducible and integral and part of who I am. No matter where I live until the day I die, I'll always be a New Englander.

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