Short reflection on my time in Boston. What struck me about Boston was that it looked very much like a post-Soviet apocalypse already happened – except the apocalypse was capitalism. Boston, long under the sway of the idea of commonweal had gone down the garden path of the free market with privatization of everything including the most expensive half mile of tunnels in history complete with failing adhesive for massive cement tiles (which are fancy words for “we used funtack in construction”). It seemed that there has also been a collapse of the New England ethic of the civic – as well as Yankee ingenuity. And Common Sense. And frugality….. Perhaps held together with that same funtack.
Boston is indeed the city of a thousand graduate students, what seems like hundreds of research institutes, several universities of international renown, and no good ideas. They blame the Puritans for everything – the stupid laws that close the bars an hour after public transportation has halted, the laws banning under 21 from live music, the laws banning people of a certain age from living together, the law that bans the sales of beer on a holiday. However, where are these Puritans? How many hundreds of years have they been gone? They are replaced by elderly and cranky Irish and Italians still who think fun is “nuf” spelled backwards.
It seems that after WWII the city was stultified in divisions, ethnic, religious, economic, and sundry other divisive lines. And, the 1960s saw those lines….. remain. And so too the 1970s. The 1980s saw the introduction of neo-brutalism (see Boston City Hall) and variations by famous architects all vying to use more cement than the last person in an attempt to unify the population. Really, autistics should not be allowed near structures created for humans. One needs empathy, not ideology to create a cityscape for humans and a building where you can see the ductwork does not make for a more transparent society…. Then, in the 1990s, old divisions melted away, not because Bostonians stopped hating but because the population of Boston and the environs melted away. The industrial jobs vanished and city after city around Boston and Boston itself came a landscape of large empty industrial buildings-cum-condos, vacant lots and soon to be vacant lots with industrial buildings-sans-condos remaining upon them. Boston/ Greater Boston is not quite a bombed out a’ la French Connection noir playground or Old World Kafkaprague, but a collection of impulses that had come and gone, leaving behind a rummage sale of stuff piled by the big big water thingy that the duck boats use for tourists. Ultimately, Boston is not the worst city in the United States, yet it is a poster child for the rot at the heart of the current American experience…
Paisa Bostonia attempts to capture that Boston as well as the United States in the twilight of the George Bush-era. At this time the economy changed daily, the city may have been convulsed in politics – but few spoke openly about this. Strangers did not have conversations on the T platform, hippies did not conduct teach-ins attended by hundreds, and except for the union sponsored protests – a hilarious charade of “protest” so regular that by the second year of working next to the capital building I could set time by them – oh, purple shirts, the 1199 is out there? Must be September 23rd at 11AM – there was not much discourse. There were signs of discontent in the cracks of the city however, but they were limited. Small signs that people were worried were on the back of telephone poles. The flyer crowd was flyering. The sticker crowd was stickering, someone with a bucket of paint had written “losers” three stories high on an abandoned building in Dorchester. On some of the faces of those who pretended nothing was wrong, there was something wrong. They had lost their house value. Their 401k was not worth as much. Their retirement was further out of reach. “It’ll come back” they were all saying. The house I lived at had open and funny conversations – often the theme being “it’s not going to get better if we don’t open our eyes.” Different perspectives and ideas were discussed over many jokes, Hindi and Pakistani videos long into the night and of course wine. I like to imagine that these private events occurred in other places and outside of the protest groupies and poli-sci crowd (oh yeah, Kennedy School… um, as me about it sometime).
These different ideas… are not captured in the film. It is a visual rant. Paisa Bostonia is taken as the second in a series of films attempting to follow the conventions of Roberto Rossellini‘s trilogy that started with Germany Year Zero, Rome; Open City, and ended with Paisa. So, ok this is not quite Neo Realism, but it felt like the right exercise at the right time.