There’s no better excuse to explore your surroundings than hosting a visitor — a situation I took full advantage of today, when with a friend from back home I walked Boston’s Freedom Trail from start to finish. As the name suggests, the trail itself is a rather jingoistic jaunt through the history of the American Revolution, and neglects or obscures as much as it enlightens. But the chief virtue of layering a historical route onto a present-day cityscape is that it can serve as a yardstick for changes in present-day circumstances.
Amy Siskind has spent the weeks since the election following the advice of authoritarianism experts, who recommend keeping a list of things subtly changing around you. The corollary to that excellent idea is to explore things which haven’t changed but which now seem different — and the Freedom Trail was replete with examples.
Boston Common, where the trail begins, has long been a site for protest and the airing of grievances — but it now felt different, bearing the memory of last month’s Women’s March, a day after Trump’s inauguration. I’d long known that Faneuil Hall still serves as a site of citizenship ceremonies for naturalized Americans, but this felt much more poignant following the Trump administration’s attacks on the very notion of American immigration. And when we deviated slightly from the trail to take in the city’s small but sombre Holocaust Memorial, the exhortations to prevent such a tragedy ever happening again seemed much more pertinent.
It was George Santayana who first said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. So we should be grateful for the historical reminders embedded and engraved in our present environment that refuse to let us forget. Berlin, once divided, remains carved up by the line of the former wall engraved in the concrete beneath your feet. I never expected that the Freedom Trail would be as pertinent and urgent a historical marker as the track-marks left by Berlin’s wall — but today, on President’s Day, it felt that way.