Friday, February 27, 2009

Colombia, Part I (Having Very Little to do with Colombia)

I tried to read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez back in 2004. I didn't get very far. In fact, when I picked it up last week to give it another shot, I found a receipt keeping my place at page 16. Apparently at 3:00 pm on April 21st, 2004 I was filling up my tank at a Hess gas station in Lowell, Massachusetts.

I hate Lowell. It's usually the standard by which I judge other awful places: "Well, it's pretty horrible here but it's better than Lowell." This is, of course, completely unfair and 90% to do with the fact that I was miserably unhappy while I was living there. That's also why I never finished the book. I was too busy listening to John Mayer and crying into my Easy Mac.

But anyway, in the interest of fairness, we should probably take a minute to talk about it.

Lowell, population approx. 105,000, is located in north-eastern Massachusetts on the banks of the mighty Merrimack River (which also runs through my hometown of West Newbury). It's very close to the New Hampshire border and all of the lovely malls and liquor stores the Granite State has to offer.,_Massachusetts

UMass Lowell, a satellite campus of the University of Massachusetts, makes up a major part of the city. You may also know it as an important center of the American Industrial Revolution. Tindall & Shi in America: A Narrative History (an A.P. U.S. History textbook I've saved for occasions like these) write:

In the early 1820s a steady stream of single women began flocking toward Lowell and the other mill towns cropping up across the region. To reassure worried parents, the mill owners promised to provide the "Lowell girls" with tolerable work, prepared meals, secure and comfortable housing, moral discipline, and a variety of educational and cultural opportunities such as lectures and evening classes. Initially the "Lowell idea' worked pretty much according to plan...But Lowell soon lost its innocence as it experienced mushrooming growth. By 1840 there were thirty-two mills and factories in operation, and the blissful rural town had become a bustling, grimy, bleak industrial city.

Well, there you have it. It hasn't changed much.

Want a list of famous people born in Lowell? I know you do because everyone loves to know where famous people were born. Here it is:

  • Bette Davis
  • Olympia Dukakis
  • James McNeill Whistler
  • Jack Kerouac

I heard a story once that Jack Kerouac failed to show up for a speaking engagement at UMass because he couldn't bring himself to cross the bridge that connects the two parts of campus. If it's true, I can't say I blame him. It's a particularly scary bridge that sits over what I now know is called the Pawtucket Dam. The combination of the cars crossing and the water pounding makes for a pretty shaky experience. And of course, like everything else in Massachusetts, you're never entirely certain anybody's bothered to take a look at it since it was built in, you know, 1765 or whatever.

As for Bette Davis and Olympia Dukakis- who knew! Well, I guess "Dukakis" probably should have tipped me off. And yes, she is related to Michael (cousin). It's also worth mentioning that Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, NOT the next town over, but close and also an old mill town. Who knows, maybe it will be a Double Jeopardy question someday.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on the other hand, was born in Colombia.

Come back later for Colombia, Part II, which will probably be about Colombia.


sgronald said...


Sara said...

1) I love Olympia Dukakis.
2) Did you read Love in the Time of Cholera? Ugh, I hated it, so I desperately hope Solitude is better.
3)I read a book about Lowell and the Industrial Revolution called Lydie. It might make you hate Lowell more, so I don't recommend it to you, but I liked it.

Julia said...

Unfortunately, I really liked Love in the Time of Cholera. I'm sorry. As for Lydie- WOW blast from the past! I think I might have read it on a fairly regular basis circa 5th and 6th grade or so. I haven't thought about it in ages but I think it really stuck with me subconsciously.