Tag Archives: Boston

Autumn in New England: Pumpkin-Flavoured Everything

28 Nov

Robbie Puggle

My blog has been lying dormant for quite a while now.  But not for lack of things to talk about! Since my last post, quite a bit has happened. I finally found a job at a great company (yayy! What a relief). And I moved into a house with two awesome girls and an adorable puggle named Robbie. I bit the bullet and got a car (the Boston T quickly became the bane of my existence). I’ve started an advanced Spanish course in Boston, since not speaking the language in five months has made me feel like there’s something is missing from my life. And I’ve signed up to be a Big Sister.  But all of these steps to setting up my new life here in Boston are posts in themselves and I’ll get to them later. I’ve had in the back of my mind that I wanted to talk about Autumn in New England for a while now- and with a second snow storm of the year looming on the horizon, I think I’m a little late to the party.

What’s been interesting these last few months has been how quickly I’ve felt at home. While doing things like walking around an American supermarket, driving my car to the Natick Mall, picking up take-out for dinner, or running to Dunkin Donuts for a quick coffee to go, it’s almost like my life in Barcelona never happened- which is something that kind of makes me feel sad for a moment when I focus on it. Aside from the stress of trying to find a job and a place to live, it’s been kind of incredible how little culture shock I’ve felt. I think the most jolting part of moving home hasn’t been the culture shock I was expecting to feel, but the “How the hell am I going to build a life here?” feeling.

One thing that has surprised me has been how nostalgic and emotional I’ll feel at really unexpected times; like when I drive past the “Welcome to Hopkinton” sign while visiting the town where I grew up. Or when I’m brought back to my college days when I see a girl walking down the street in a big college sweatshirt and Uggs (the fashion really hasn’t changed too much in the last six years, huh?). But the thing that really hits me most are is the smells I realize I haven’t experienced in years. This summer, I went to Cape Cod for the first time since college and it immediately brought me back the summers of my childhood. I was flooded with memories of beach vacations with my family- my sisters, my parents, all our cousins and aunts and uncles- and I found myself reminiscing about things I had not thought about in years. The Cape is so beautiful in such a different way than the beaches of the Mediterranean are- in a much more quaint way, with its sandy dunes, tall grass, and rustic wooden fences. The smell of the sea weed was so palpable in a way that just isn’t the same on the beaches of Galicia or the Western coast of France, beaches I visited that are also on the Atlantic Ocean.

Then this autumn (or ”fall” as we Americans prefer to call it) I was struck by how quickly the air turned crisp and the smell of browning leaves suddenly seemed to blanket New England. I realized that I have not had a proper fall in a long time.  The autumns in Barcelona are really just the Barcelona summer slowly tapering off until one day you’re just hit with winter. There were years when we were able to swim in the sea until Halloween. But in New England, fall is an event in itself and I forgot how important the culture surrounding this season was to New Englanders.

If you have never had the opportunity to see autumn in New England, it’s something you absolutely must experience at some point in your life. The landscape is suddenly overtaken by vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows as the leaves on the trees change colour before eventually falling to the ground in preparation of winter. The nature combines with New England’s quintessential country feel- with all the barns, houses with farmer’s porches, and wooden fences to make your everyday feel like a Norman Rockwell painting. Though the temperatures drop, New Englanders simply wrap themselves up in their scarves and throw on their favourite boots to go crunching through the leaf-strewn ground and take every opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, since they know the oppressive New England winter snow is not that far off.

One of the things I’ve been enjoying most about seeing the US through new eyes, has been the reminder that Americans love nothing more than a

Pumpkin Ale & Jack-o’-lanterns

theme- and when one is available to them, they take it and run with it. The culture surrounding autumn comes into almost every facet of your life. There are autumn decorations put up in the shops and in the offices. It’s like a pumpkin exploded all over New England, with pumpkins piled up in the supermarkets, in front of florists, available at every coffee shop in the form of Pumpkin Spice lattes, or at the bars with Pumpkin Spice Ale available from all your favourite local breweries. Seriously, everything is pumpkin flavoured- it’s a little much.

And all of the popular weekend activities entail taking advantage of what New England naturally offers. People go apple picking at orchards in the area, filling up baskets to go home and make warm apple pies (How American!) or to snack on for the next week. They go to corn mazes, which have been carved through fields of corn at local farms to lure tourists. There are country fairs like the Big E full of animals and seasonal food and carnival rides and games and concerts.

And the best part about fall is that it all seems to be leading up to two big holidays- Halloween and Thanksgiving. Halloween is a holiday that was very sparsely celebrated in Barcelona, with many of the Catalans rejecting the idea due to its clear Americanness and the fact it coincides with their own holiday of La Castanyada (castanyer meaning chestnut). In the States, children and adults alike prepare for Halloween by planning their Halloween costumes- with many children buying popular costumes from catalogs or party stores; and many women above the age of 14 choosing a “slutty” spin on some normally banal theme (Slutty Nurse, Slutty Disney Princess, etc.). To get you in the spirit, there are haunted houses- some of which are truly frightening; and haunted hayrides, which are kind of boring since you basically just ride around on the back of a tractor-pulled wagon and look at things. And then there is pumpkin carving! People buy pumpkins, scoop out all their insides, and carve Jack-o’-lanterns and other designs, so that the candle inside can shine through. Many people put their carved pumpkins on their doorsteps- which can be a way to share the Halloween spirit with your neighbours, but can also invite teenagers to take the opportunity to sneak up to your door in the middle of the night and then smash your pumpkin in the middle of the street. It’s a fun event for the teenagers that does not make for happy children/pumpkin-owners in the morning.

Lost in a Corn Maze circa 2005
(we made it out)

And Halloween day/night is quite the exciting time. Children go trick-or-treating going from house to house asking for candy. This was my first year working in an office and our company invited the employee’s children to go trick-or-treating around the cubicles… it was a little weird. (And the children were surprisingly rude- even with their parents standing right there. Come on American parents- teach your kids some manners!) I didn’t do anything for Halloween this year, but I’ve never been one of those people who gets really excited about planning a costume. Besides, I think the Carnival celebration in Sitges has ruined all future costume-related occasions for me. Nothing can compare to parades, drag-queen-filled streets, and dancing to DJs all night on the beach in February.

My family had a small Thanksgiving this year and it was fun- nothing compares to Thanksgiving food. But I have to say I was strangely nostalgic for all our Thanksgiving festivities in Barcelona. There is just something about a group of Americans abroad trying their best to throw together a traditional Thanksgiving meal in a place where traditional American foods are kind of hard to find. We loved inviting all our foreign friends, making them realize there’s more to American cuisine than McDonald’s hamburgers, and teaching them all our favourite American drinking games.

And now it seems like fall is already over. Christmas has taken over the stores, television, and the radio. Everyone is preparing for snow and pulling out their bulky winter jackets. My roommate has put up our Christmas tree and decorated our house with lights. Our holiday party invitations have all be sent out. And every once in a while I have to pause and pull myself out of the momentum and reflect on just how quickly my life has changed. I’m officially back in America and it’s kind of scary just how quickly you fall back into it all.

Going Home

8 Jul

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Welcome to my reverse travel blog!  Six years ago, after I graduated college, I moved to Barcelona for what was supposed to be one year abroad.  I jotted down my experiences in a long chain of quickly-filled journals and kept my friends and family in the loop with shamelessly long e-mails.  I never got around to making a travel blog and after a few “one more year’s” Barcelona started to feel less like a new experience that needed to be captured and more like a home.

Now, after I’ve packed up everything I own into three suitcases and said my tearful goodbyes, it’s time to go home- to the good  ol’ US of A, Amurica, Land of Opportunity.  Or, to be more specific, I’m returning to Boston, Massachusetts- Beantown, the Bay State, or as the car license plates always grandiosely remind us, the Spirit of America.

As I embark on this journey back whence I came, I can’t help but feel more scared than I did six years ago as I stepped off the plane into Spain.  I’m nervous I won’t fit in.  Living in Spain, teaching British English (with an American accent) all day, and having a mix of international friends has made me, I think… kind of weird.  During my visits home over the years, I found people looking at me strangely on many occasions; like when I over-enunciated the word “salmon” while ordering at a T.G.I. Friday’s.  Or there was the time I asked a saleswoman at Lord & Taylor where the curtains were and then proceeded to describe their function in case she didn’t fully understand me (“I mean, the fabric you put on the window to stop the sun?  Where would those be?”)  And I remember many instances when a Britishism would pop out of my mouth and I would freeze as my mind raced through a dozen thoughts (“Waaait.  God, I must have picked that up from Beth.  I must sound so pretentious!  Do they even know what that expression means?  Of course they know what that expression means- who do I think I am?  Have I stopped talking?  This has been a really long pause.  Has it reached the point of being awkward?) until I snapped back and would see the person I had been talking to standing with a polite, strained smile on their face and worry in their eyes.  And of course, there were all the times when people would approach me with friendly smiles and cheery voices.  My hand would jump to pull my bag closer to my body as I glared at them suspiciously, only to realize they were asking if there was anything they could help me with or telling me they had read the book in my hand and “absolutely loved it!”

This blog is my nod to Bill Bryson.  I love all his travel writing, but his weekly columns published in the book I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away has a different sort of charm.  After living in England for 20 years, marrying an Englishwoman, and having two English kids, Bryson moved his family to New Hampshire.  His observations were especially interesting because he wasn’t a foreigner discovering a new culture; he was becoming reacquainted with his childhood land now that he had another culture to measure it against.  While Bryson mused over cup holders, tech support and the post office, I find myself most intrigued with the cultural trends that have taken over since I’ve been gone.  My image of America now is of a land where people are treated to flash mobs on their way to work, the Kardashians are multiplying and taking over, hipsters and guidos fight it out for the spotlight, MTV features the everyday lives of pregnant teenagers in lieu of music, bromances are all the rage, it’s not unusual to get in a car accident with Lindsay Lohan, Wall Street is being occupied, and American politics will either make you laugh or cry.  It should be interesting to see how much I’ve got right and just how much more will surprise me.  Pues, adiós España.  Hasta la próxima.  Hello again, USA.  Let’s do this.

Keep an eye out for my next post about Things I Will Miss and Things I Most Certainly Will Not Miss about Spain.