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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Sunday Magazine Nov. 7, 1999
In Person

The royal me

If the six states were a monarchy, the queen would Cambridge and Providence - for starters
By Clea Simon

Recently, it has occurred to me that when I am queen, I will have some rearranging to do. No, despite intense lobbying by would-be courtiers, my coronation is not imminent. But my plans - perhaps I should begin properly - our plans are already taking shape for the new millennium.

No, not the obvious, although of course the public stocks for sexists and those who sneak into the "12 items or fewer" lane should already be under construction. No, I am - we are - more immediately concerned with this region of ours, this odd assembly of states that calls itself New England. For when we are queen, we will not allow mere geography to rule with us. We have had enough of a throw-together realm. We declare a rule of reason. A region organized along lines of logic and of taste, in preparation for a golden age when neighbors may actually converse with neighbors.

Right away, this Boston-Cambridge misalliance will have to go. Yes, we realize that time has softened the differences. That the capital city's stodgy image has been enlivened by the funky restaurants and galleries of the South End, and that the proliferation of chain stores in Harvard Square makes it resemble Copley more than any other square on that side of the Charles. But the gap remains too great to be bridged by mere concrete, masonry, or American Express.

No, Cambridge, with its propensity toward coffeehouses and a certain college-town bookishness, would be better paired with Providence, home of Trinity Rep, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Brown. Just think of sliding Cambridge down along Providence's twin rivers, and the cafe options become quite attractive. Plus, consolidating two of the region's Ivy League universities in southern New England would help contain their bad football and even worse halftime humor. Boston, meanwhile, set in the middle of the state (and incorporating, say, Worcester for added heft), could finally take its place as a true capital. Detached from the coast and from a nominally more educated city, it could relax into its dowager status, ignore its hemlines, and flatten its vowels.

Once we've loosened the earthly bonds, several other changes suggest themselves. We may give Cape Cod to Vermont, for one, to encourage parity with New Hampshire, and to counter all that Ben & Jerry's with a little fresh fish. Conversely, we urge an alliance between Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and Rhode Island's South County. Although both are sure to clamor that they have little in common - one all woods and the other sea-centered - we see a similarity in their home-proud, some could even say insular, outlooks. Those lifelong residents of Westerly and North Kingstown who claim to have never left their ocean state might feel more allegiance to our region if they found themselves a short drive from the Canadian border. And those benighted Vermonters, who have been brought up to believe that sea-bathing is occasion for pain and shivering, deserve easy weekends at Narragansett.

Connecticut, now, that's a thorny miscreant, even for omnipotent us. It's connected by economics to New York in the south and yet claimant for teams that bear our royal territory's name. We may have to deal harshly with Connecticut.

But we are merciful as well as just, and perhaps exile in the Berkshires, which would soften the dislocation with arts and natural beauty, would bring this recalcitrant subject into line. The proposed extension of the Providence-Northampton Red Line would effectively end this exile within a few years anyway, and then all our subjects would be welcome to join us in Central Square, to feast on quahogs and coffee milk, while the royal street musicians serenade us.

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