I first came to Boston in 1997, when my daughter and I, quite by chance, were watching the same TV show while we were chatting on the phone one night. Something hysterically funny happened and we each collapsed laughing in our respective lounge rooms . . . perhaps it was when Ally sat like a little girl on the office chair (you had to be there) . . . perhaps it was one of her private moments in the unisex bathroom . . . maybe it was the time she intentionally rammed her car into a that good looking man at the traffic lights . . . who knows, but for five solid years, every Tuesday night at 7.30, we sat together, either on the phone or in one of our lounge rooms, and laughed, and cried, and broke our hearts with Ally McBeal.
Recently, we watched it again, this time with my 14-year-old granddaughter, and with a new generation we laughed and we cried and we broke our hearts through all five seasons all over again . . . this time knowing bloody well that Robert Downey Jr and his drug habit were going to ruin season five for everyone.
And now, 15 years after the first episode, I am face to face with Boston.
Just as I would expect a small rain is falling. The city is green and soft. The buildings are quaint, ringed with wrought iron, shiny and black, and laced with brass so polished it looks like wedded gold. The gardens are damp and rich. The old is backlit by the new.
It’s cold. Summer cold. Not so cold there is snow. And there are no Christmas trees with lights, as there would be if Ally were in town.
I call by the visitor information centre. I want to see Ally’s house, at the very least sit on her steps. And call by the offices of Cage and Fysh, of course. And pop into the bar and sit awhile with Vonda at the piano.
The women behind the counter stare at me when I ask politely where Ally’s house is.
One has big eyes behind spectacles.
‘Ally who?’ she barks.
‘ALLY WHO?’ I echo, not believing for a moment she was serious.
‘Ally McBeal,’ I say again. ‘You must get asked about her all the time.’
I stare back at them.
Clearly they don’t get asked about Ally all the time.
They were expecting me to ask about Paul Revere, or a certain tea party, or Puritans and revolutionaries and even out of town witch trials.
I just want to see Ally.
In the end, I did find Cage and Fysh.
And a small and beautiful city whose people are as clipped as the edges of her lawns.
For two nights I stayed up at Stony Brook, wandering neighbourhoods of wall-to-wall New England houses cornered with Rapunzel towers, some circular, some octagonal, the tallest one high on a rock strutting an 8-pointed crown tipped with jewels (which I can only presume were really lights).
Wandering home one evening, the soft rain still falling with the darkness, I was slugged with an inexplicable loneliness, the kind that once tore my heart apart and these days rarely pays a visit. I looked around me, seeking the source of such sadness . . . laughing families racing together up the steps closing their doors behind them . . . lovers and friends – I didn’t see them, just imagined their presence as I understood this is not a town to be alone in.
Then it hits me – Ally!
Ally’s unbearable loneliness of being.
Now I understand – it’s because she was in Boston.