WAITER, THERE’S A WHALE IN MY TEA
WORDS: VARDHAN KONDVIKAR
PHOTOGRAPHS: UNNIKRISHNAN RAVEENDRANATHEN
Coastal New England is very different from the pumpkins-and-cherries interior, with a dramatic and bloody history, beautiful views and charming, energetic cities
So, I’m more a coffee person, someone who only really drinks tea if my peaberry isn’t available, or in the rains, when the kick of ginger really means something. Still, if you offered me tea, my first reaction would be to drink it, not tip the whole damn thing into the harbour.
But here, at the New England shoreline, that’s pretty much what happened. We got the American Declaration of Independence, a pretty protracted war, a wobbly conglomerate of colonies that steadily became an industrial power, and eventually, Nicki Minaj – which makes you wonder if that all that struggle was really worth it. New England is where it all began. Typically, this region has a sweet, rural, pumpkin-pie ring to it – and, in the autumn in particular, it’s hugely, wonderfully, four-generations-in-one-photograph wholesome.
That’s the interior, however. The coast has ghosts. Not the woo-woo kind (though there are plenty of those, too), but ghosts that sit beside you and remind you of just how much history has happened here. You can sense the fury of struggle here, both against an empire and against the ocean, the weight of events that still affect us today, on the other side of the world. This is where the first American settlers landed, where the Boston Tea Party happened, where names like Chesapeake Bay, Cape Cod and Nantucket bring a whiff of salt to the mind’s nose. This, adjacent to the great fishing region called the Grand Banks, is where fishermen and whalers went out, often never to return, where wives waited on terraces called widow’s walks, where great wooden ships were constructed and celebrated and mourned. This is a beautiful place. Boston, grand dame of American cities, seems a good place to start.
On a crisp, delightfully pretty autumn day, the ghosts seem to be sulking elsewhere. Boston sounds like it should have old-money families looking down their noses at each other (“The Lowells talk only to Cabots/ And Cabots speak only to God”), but Boston is also a university town – both Harvard and MIT are here, remember – and that makes it feel enchantingly young and fun. Harvard Square is leafy, kooky as hell (students, remember), and a superb place at which to people-watch. I have to try tea here, naturally, and find a tiny, hipster-y place called TeaLuxe, which is peaceful until a pair of ladies walks in. They’re well-dressed, so I smile politely when they walk in and offer me a flower (how sweet) – until they demand money for it. That’s when the derangement shows in their eyes. I decline, mumbling, and they turn to a student who’s just sitting there, reading, and harangue him until they’re thrown out by the owners. Hey, it’s America – never, ever say it’s boring.
Lonely Planet Magazine India’s December 2016 issue tells you why you need to do a road-trip along New England’s storied coastline in the fall – any how. Pick a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.