Is Boston the Next Hot Place?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
May 7 2002 3:15 PM

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Dear Alex,

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Yes, the assassination of Pim Fortuyn—gay, Catholic, bald, waggish, liberal anti-immigrationist Dutch political comer—is a great shock. I believe it is the most prominent political killing in the Netherlands since that of William the Silent in 1584.

You are lucky to be moving to Boston. It is destined to be the most agreeable and vibrant American city of the 21st century. I am not surprised that the Big Dig is taking so long and costing so much—it is, after all, one of the most ambitious civic engineering projects ever undertaken. By sinking the nasty Fitzgerald Highway, it will reconnect the North End with the rest of the city, undoing some of the mutilation inflicted by urban renewal and car culture. Boston is one of the few American cities that has not had all the urban life sucked out of it by suburbs and strip malls. Middle-class and even rich people live there, not just the poor. The street texture is European in quality. You can almost be a flaneur there. And—as a Yankee fan I hate to say it—how about them Red Sox?

For the past few years you've been living in Brooklyn, which has been gentrifying at a rate second only to that of Boston (with San Francisco and Chicago just behind). Before that you spent a number of years in Washington at the New Republic. But basically, as far as I can tell, you're a Beantown boy in your bones, having grown up in Boston and gone to Harvard. If it's not a foolish question, how do you rate the relative quality of intellectual life in these three cities?

I came across a good literary anecdote today. An admirer approached James Joyce at a party and said, "May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?" Joyce replied, "No, because it has done other things."

Yours,
Jim

Jim Holt writes the "Egghead" column for Slate. He also writes for The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. Alexander Star is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. This fall, he will begin editing the "Ideas" section of the Boston Globe.

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