The Daily Telegraph - In the footsteps of freedom
November 19, 2005

The tea party is long over, but the celebration of independence carries on in Boston.

Beside the Old State House in downtown Boston, an oversized gold teapot hangs outside a shop that once sold sacks of Darjeeling bought from the British East India Company. It's a memento of another era. Now the shop is a Starbucks.

What better way to chart the ascendancy of America ?

The rebellious colonists not only chucked the motherland's tea leaves into Boston harbour, but they capped the insult by replacing this imperial teashop with one of the global success symbols of today's US empire.

Americans consider Boston the birthplace of the nation, a place where political activists fought for freedom - and won.

The struggles continued long after the War of Independence. Abolitionists, suffragists and religious freedom fighters all made their protests on Boston Common, and many were hanged there.

The Common is also the start of a three-mile heritage walk, the Freedom Trail, marked by a red stripe on the pavement. I followed it, with the aid of an audio guide, to key sites in Boston's history.

I passed America's first public school, walked through the historic marketplace at Faneuil Hall and went aboard the wooden USS Constitution, the world's oldest warship still in commission.

On street after street, there were plaques commemorating battles and statues of military heroes.

I found the graves of some of those soldiers in shady cemeteries, and among them were US flags, speared into the earth by the daily flow of American tourists. Buried opposite my hotel were three signatories of the Declaration of Independence, including Samuel Adams.

Today Sam Adams is better known as a brand of beer and Boston's biggest heroes are on the baseball field - the Boston Red Sox won last year's World Series after 86 years of trying.

Three million turned out for the victory parade. Ernie, serving me at a stand in Quincy Market, said they had run out of lobster that night, a travesty in a city built on the seafood industry.

"But hey - now we've recovered the situation, what'll it be? Oystas, chowda, lobsta?"

On the waterfront, seafood bars serve classic Boston scrod (young cod or haddock), New England creamy chowder, fried clams, fishcakes and fresh lobster plucked from the cool waters of Georges Bank.

There are Chinatown eating places, traditional Irish pubs, steakhouses and sushi bars.

Up in the North End, a seriously authentic Little Italy, I walked along Hanover Street past restaurant windows stacked with cream-filled cannelloni. Inside, waiters were setting down hefty bowls of home-made pasta.

At pavement tables, men sipping espressos chatted in Italian with thick Sicilian accents.

The diverse dining reflects Boston's waves of immigration: English, Irish, East Europeans, Italians. African-Americans later moved up from the South. More recently, Latinos and Asians have settled here.

But the most international district is across the river in Cambridge.

This town is where some of the country's - and the world's - cleverest minds converge at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

In its main bookshop, the Co-Op, I looked at the shelves of published faculty work: The Future of Life, The Illusion of Conscious Will, Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised? and so on.

It was a relief to see that the campus bestsellers included Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code and How Soccer Explains the World.

But there's no doubt they're smarter here in Boston. The city feels literary and learned, cultured and cosmopolitan. Henry James, Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson were all, by birth or adoption, Bostonians. Mark Twain wrote: "In New York they ask, 'how much money does he have?' In Philadelphia they ask, 'who were his parents?' In Boston they ask, 'how much does he know?'"

Sometimes, in Boston, they ask all three. The city's most famous son, John F Kennedy, had smart answers to all those questions and it's he who heads the Boston hall of heroes. The John F Kennedy Library and Museum has attracted six million visitors since it opened in 1979 in a dazzling building by IM Pei, designer of the Louvre pyramid.

Inside, tracking Kennedy's life and legacy is a stirring experience. There is footage of him in televised debates and of eloquent speeches he made to the press club. There are photos of him sailing off New England. And there is the TV announcement of his assassination, delivered with a tremor in the voice by the newsreader Walter Cronkite.

Perhaps the most moving part of the museum is the last room, a huge corner space of this geometric architecture with a waterfront panorama of Boston's shimmering skyline.

There are no bronze busts or oil paintings here -Jackie Kennedy insisted on that - just a simple Stars and Stripes flag and the inspiringly modern view of an understated yet iconic American city.

Michelle Jana Chan travelled with British Airways Holidays (