Where’s Whitey Bulger?
Don’t ask those travel guides, which include a few mistakes about Boston - big and small
I’ve traveled a lot during the past year, and I’ve been spending major time with guidebooks. Yes, they are expensive, but - like dogs and children - they are worth the price. Many contain useful geo-optical applications (GO-apps) that boot up immediately when you are lost in a foreign city. In other words, maps.
My wonderful, well-thumbed Time Out Lisbon guide sent me to the beach at Cascais on Easter, then north to the pine-clad mountains of Sintra, Lord Byron’s “glorious Eden,’’ the following day. Barely a week ago, the Lonely Planet practically ordered me and my family to spend a night at the Jingguan Minglou Hotel/antiques museum and showcase in downtown Guilin, China. The Planet got it right: The hotel was tasteful, inexpensive, and relaxing.
As someone who seems to believe every word printed in guidebooks, I wondered: What do they say about Boston?
First off, they say a lot of nice things. Boston is a terrific city to visit, as we often fail to appreciate, primarily because you can walk around and see stuff. Here is some puffy palaver from the Lonely Planet: “The Cradle of Liberty. The Hub of the Universe. The Athens of America. These are big words for a mid-sized city. But Boston lives up to them. With its rich history, grand architecture and world-renowned academic and cultural institutions, the city retains and radiates the glory it has garnered over the last four centuries.’’
“Twenty-first century Boston is a hot destination,’’ Frommer’s reports. “The city has nearly shaken off the well-deserved reputation for stodginess that dogged it for most of its first 4 centuries of existence; the Boston area enjoys a reputation as a hotbed of innovation, its economy slowed but not crippled by the recession that started in 2008.’’
They love us. They really love us. Mostly.
In a brief moment of lily de-gilding, Frommer’s calls Boston “a famously parochial, insular city’’ with “an intractable reputation for racism.’’
The Frompeople likewise report that “Bostonians Walk Everywhere,’’ which is a bit of a stretch. The plutocrats on Beacon Hill and the cool kids in the South End walk a lot, it’s true. Given the choice, I’d rather take the subway or have lackeys ferry me to my destination in a palanquin.
Fodor’s calls us “the undisputed epicenter of American history,’’ a title likely to be disputed in Benjamin Franklin’s adopted hometown of Philadelphia. The guide also purports to know “What the Locals Do,’’ which is fishing in dangerous waters. They say we like to hang out in libraries. Really? Outlanders don’t want to know What the Locals Really Do: Drive like madmen (“Seriously, we will run you off the road,’’ says the Not for Tourists Guide to Boston); complain about ticket scalpers; stick pins in Rex Ryan dolls; and lament that the Kennedy bloodline thinned out so darned quickly.
The Lonely Planet lets you download portions of what I assumed would be its most up-to-date guide for a modest fee. The file I bought on Wednesday had some small mistakes. Tourists looking for Filene’s Basement will be disappointed, and it’s understandable that the guide hasn’t caught up with the very recent closing of Opera Boston.
But here is a whopper no in-the-moment guidebook should allow: Among Boston rogues, the Planet reports, James “Whitey’’ Bulger “has been on the lam for nearly a decade . . . Whitey’s photograph is now showing in a post office near you.’’
More like on the front page of the Globe and Herald. Sweetheart, you gotta read the papers.
On a positive note, the Planet includes a handy sidebar on candlepin bowling, “found only in New Brunswick and in some New England states.’’ Quoth the guide: “A novice getting a strike in candlepin bowling is about as common as a cow milking itself.’’
I was initially attracted to the “Not for Tourists Guide to Boston’’ because its website loves the Cafe Algiers in Harvard Square. Who doesn’t? NFT’s hot-off-the-presses 2012 guide, like the Planet, has some minor errors. Porter Square’s famous McIntrye & Moore bookstore is no more, and Hi-Lo Foods closed its doors in Jamaica Plain, with much attendant hoo-ha, a while ago.
My real beef with the NFT guide is that it is, in fact, for tourists. What self-respecting Bostonian needs 50-odd maps - sorry, GO-apps - to navigate the city? And who wants a comprehensive guide to the Freedom Trail? That’s for the Old World squares piling off the 747s, not for us.
And while you’re at it, New York-based NFT, stop calling us small. (“this very . . . small city’’; “the little City on the Hill’’). We punch above our weight, and we’ll mix it up with you, any time. Ask your friend Rex Ryan.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is firstname.lastname@example.org.