Pisa

LORELAI: I want Luke to look at it.
MAN: Hey, I put this thing together.
LORELAI: Yes, and I loved your work in Pisa. Now get out of the way, please.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, a freestanding bell tower of the cathedral in the Italian city of Pisa. It began leaning during its construction in the 12th century, due to unstable foundations, and is famous worldwide. Numerous efforts have been made to restore it to its vertical position: most failed, several have made it worse. It has been straightened slightly and stabilised since the 1990s, but it’s such a tourist attraction as a tilting tower that nobody really wants it corrected.

Helsinki, the Girl Band, and the Nordic Set

CHRISTOPHER: Where are you?
LORELAI: Helsinki.
CHRISTOPHER: Really.
LORELAI: Yeah, I finally got the girl band together and after a week opening stateside, we headed across the Atlantic and now we’re huge with the Nordic set.

Helsinki is the capital of Finland with a population of over 600 000, although the greater Helsinki urban area is over 1.5 million. It is the most northerly metropolitan area with more than a million people, and the most northerly EU capital city. It has one of the world’s highest standards of living, and has been rated among the world’s most livable cities.

Lorelai told Max that her dream was join The Bangles, and this is another reference to Lorelai forming a girl band. The Bangles did tour Scandinavia in 1986, but never played Helsinki.

“The Nordic set” is a media phrase, more common in the early 2000s, for the fashionable Scandinavian crowd (such as Danish supermodel Helena Christensen).

Boston

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, Boston. Baked beans, cream pie, tea party, strangler.

Boston is the capital of, and largest city in, the state of Massachusetts. It was founded by Puritan colonists in 1630. It has a population of more than 600 000 people, is one of the economically most dominant cities in the world, and is known for its diversity of neighbourhoods. It’s about two and a half hours drive from where Stars Hollow would be, so Christopher is significantly closer to them now. It’s also 15 minutes drive from Harvard University ….

Note that Christopher has moved to Boston without letting Lorelai and Rory know, or even giving them the landline number for his new apartment. It seems he hasn’t spoken to them since Lorelai’s bachelorette party, with the excuse that he was giving Lorelai space after she broke her engagement. Which might be reasonable, except he has a daughter, and there’s no excuse for not phoning her. Once again, Rory is an afterthought in Christopher’s relationship with Lorelai, rather than the focal point she should be.

Christopher quickly rattles off a few associations for Boston:

Boston baked beans

Baked beans sweetened with molasses and flavoured with salt pork or bacon. It’s been a speciality of Boston since colonial times, and baked beans with frankfurters is a favourite dish. Boston is sometimes known as Beantown.

Boston cream pie

A sponge cake with custard or cream filling, glazed with chocolate. It’s said to have been created in 1881 at the Parker House Hotel in Boston by a French chef. It’s the official dessert of Massachusetts.

Boston Tea Party

A political protest by the an organisation called the Sons of Liberty in Boston on December 16 1773. It was in protest of the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by British parliament. The Sons of Liberty strongly opposed the taxes as a violation of their rights, with the slogan “no taxation without representation”. Protesters destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company, boarding the ships and throwing chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The British government responded harshly, and the episode escalated into the American Revolution. The Tea Party became an iconic event of American history.

Boston Strangler

The name given to the murderer of thirteen women in Boston in the early 1960s; most were sexually assaulted and strangled in their apartments with no signs of forced entry. In 1967 a man named Albert DeSalvo confessed to being the Boston Strangler while serving life imprisonment for a series of rapes; he was found stabbed to death in prison in 1973. Although his confession revealed some details of the crimes unknown to the public, and DNA evidence has linked him with the Strangler’s final victim, doubts remain as to whether he committed all the Boston murders. George Nassar, the prison inmate DeSalvo reportedly confessed to, is the major suspect; he is currently serving life in prison for murder. Several films have been made about the case, most notably The Boston Strangler (1968), starring Tony Curtis.

Christopher’s glib associations for the city bring to mind the way Rory summed up Chicago to Dean as “Windy. Oprah”.

Salisbury

VIVIAN LEWIS: Well, you know she and Eugene split up last month.
EMILY: What?
NATALIE SWOPE: Oh Em! You knew about that. They had this huge fight at the . . . oh that’s right, you missed the Schafer’s cocktail party.
EMILY: They broke up at the Schafer’s cocktail party?
NATALIE SWOPE: He has another family in Salisbury.

Salisbury is a small town in Litchfield County, Connecticut, about an hour and a half drive from Hartford.

This is an example of the kind of juicy gossip Emily is missing out on due to turning down so many major social events.

The Bridge

Luke waits for Jess after school, then as they walk home, confronts Jess about taking money from the donation cup for the bridge repair fund at Doose’s Market. Jess tells Luke to leave him alone, and in frustration, Luke pushes Jess off a low bridge (more of a walkway) into a lake. It’s the #1 fan favourite scene in this episode, with good reason.

It feels as if this should be the bridge that Jess stole money from, as a sort of karmic punishment. However, if the bridge needed to be repaired (an ongoing community project, it seems), then why is it still safe to walk on? Or is the money for future repairs?

Also, in an earlier episode, a poster is shown for the bridge fundraiser the previous year, and it says it is an old bridge over Muddy River. This bridge doesn’t look old, and it’s said to be over a lake, not over a river, let alone a muddy one. It doesn’t look like the arched bridge with a handrail in the picture. Then again, props people don’t have access to canon – they got Rory’s birthday wrong on her invitation, after all.

Luke tells Lorelai that he pushed Jess into “a lake”, rather than “the lake”, suggesting that Stars Hollow has several lakes (there is one behind The Independence Inn). In real life, the area around New Milford and Washington Depot has several small lakes and ponds surrounding it.

This scene was filmed at the Jungle Pond on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank, California, used in numerous Warner Bros films and TV series. It is the same set used for all lakes and ponds in the show.

Tuesday night in Stars Hollow

RORY: Because it’s Tuesday night in Stars Hollow. There’s nowhere to bail to. The 24-hour mini-mart just closed twenty minutes ago.
JESS: So we’ll walk around or sit on a bench and stare at our shoes.

A confirmation that it is now Tuesday, and the previous day was Monday, which doesn’t actually make much sense. Also, we’ve gone from Stars Hollow being the small town that never sleeps and gets up super early, to having a 24-hour mini mart that closes at 7 pm.

Is the 24-hour mini mart a joke, just referring to Doose’s Market? Because Taylor only seems to fear competition from supermarkets in neighbouring towns, so presumably there is nowhere else to shop in Stars Hollow.

By the way, one of the most befuddling essays I’ve read on Gilmore Girls is one categorically stating that a grocery store like Doose’s Market couldn’t possibly survive in a town of only 9000 odd people, with graphs and pie charts and so on to prove its economic unfeasibility. This is despite the fact that Washington Depot, the real life original inspiration for Stars Hollow, only has about 3000 people, yet has managed to maintain a successful grocery store (Washington Depot Food Market) much like Doose’s for decades.

The Porcelain Unicorn Stores

LUKE: He’s adjusting. He just got here. He probably just went out and realised there are twelve stores in this town devoted entirely to peddling porcelain unicorns. I’ve lived in this town my entire life, I still can’t believe it.

I have trouble believing it too. It sounds like an exaggeration, but Luke and Lorelai appear to accept it as known fact. Stars Hollow does seem to have some very niche gift shops. I don’t think we ever see any of these unicorn stores.

Record Breaker Incorporated

LANE: Well, I found the greatest record store in the world. It’s ten minutes from your school and I’m wondering how much you love me.
RORY: Address please.
LANE: Record Breaker Incorporated, 2453 Berlin Turnpike.

The Record Breaker Inc was a real vinyl record store in the Hartford area in 2001, and the address given in the show is genuine. It may have been a store patronised by music obsessed Daniel Palladino.

The address is actually in Newington, a suburb of Hartford, which tells you that Chilton, Rory’s school, must be only ten minutes walk from the store. In real life there are several high schools in Newington, including a private Christian academy, but none fall within this range. As it is in a light industrial area, it seems unlikely to have an exclusive school half a mile from it.

As Rory’s grandparents are said to live five minutes from Chilton, they must also live in the Newington area. Richard may very well play golf at the Farmington Country Club, which is not far from here. Although there are some lovely homes in Newington, there doesn’t seem to be anything quite as luxurious as the Gilmore mansion. I think it is safe to assume this is a quite fictional Newington.

Record Breaker has now been replaced by a video game store called Retro Games Plus.

Rory and Lorelai Visit Harvard University

After examining the map, Lorelai surprises Rory by driving her to Harvard University, which is in the city of Cambridge in Massachusetts, part of the Boston metropolitan area. Why Rory didn’t think of it herself is really the big surprise in this scene – surely she knows where Harvard is, and wouldn’t she have been begging her mother to take her there? Apparently not, as they get all the way to the front gates before Rory seems to realise where they are.

Rory wants to get a guide to the university – Harvard offers free one-hour guided group tours of its campus, given by students. Lorelai opts for the self-guided tour: you can navigate yourself around the university with the help of a brochure. Rory already knows the foundation date of Harvard (1636) by heart.

Lorelai reads about important scientific discoveries made at Harvard. The idea for the pacemaker was first originated by John Alexander McWilliam from Aberdeen University in 1889, while the first pacemaker was devised by Mark C. Lidwill from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Edgar H. Booth from the University of Sydney in 1926. The brochure is probably talking about Paul Zoll (1911-1999) from Harvard Medical School, one of many who helped develop and refine the pacemaker during the 1940s and ’50s.

The other scientific advances mentioned seem to be referring to Sheldon Glashow (born 1932), a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is a Professor of Physics at Harvard University. In 1964, in colloboration with James Bjorken, he was the first to propose the existence of the charm quark, which helped to solve a number of problems in quantum field theory. In 1973, in colloboration with Howard Georgi, he proposed the first grand unifed theory, a model in which the interactions of electromagnetism, radioactivity, and nuclear forces are merged into one single force.

Lorelai is disturbed to see that out of 18 000 applicants to Harvard in the previous year, only 2000 were accepted. It’s a piece of news she should already know by now, and comes as a stiff reality check. Possibly for the first time, Lorelai gets an inkling that Rory’s dream of going to Harvard may be out of reach. The odds are even worse now – although Harvard still accept around 2000 students per year, nearly 40 000 applied to graduate in the year of 2022.

The scenes of Harvard were filmed at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in Westwood, which doesn’t resemble Harvard University. The front gates that Rory and Lorelai enter were made for the show.

Places on the Map

RORY: Well, I didn’t want to drive around aimlessly again today. [pulls out map]
LORELAI: I got it, I got it. So what’s near?

Concord is a town in Massachusetts, part of the Greater Boston area, with a population of around 17 000. It is important historically as the scene of the first battle in the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. In the 19th century it became a focus for literary life as the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. The Concord grape was developed here, hence Lorelai’s implication that there’s nothing to do there except eat grapes (in fact there are a plethora of interesting activities in Concord, and it’s a popular tourist destination).

Manchester is probably referring to Manchester-by-the-Sea, a small coastal town of around 5000 on Cape Ann in Massachussets. Blessed with scenic beaches, it has been a fashionable summer resort since the 19th century.

Salem is a historic coastal city in Massachusetts with a population of around 40 000. One of the most important seaports in Puritan history, its cultural identity comes from the fact it was the scene of the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692, as featured in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, previously discussed. Witchcraft history and culture is a major tourist drawcard to the city, and Lorelai seems quite interested in visiting it for that reason.

Boston [pictured] is the capital of, and largest city in Massachusetts; with a population of around 685 000, it is the largest city in the whole of New England, and the Greater Boston area contains more than 4.5 million people. It was founded in 1630 on the Shawmut Peninsula by Puritan settlers from England, making it one of the oldest cities in the US. It was the scene of numerous major events during the American Revolutionary War, including the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Historically a major port and manufacturing hub, it is also a centre of education and culture with numerous colleges and universities, and attracts many tourists. Boston has the first and oldest state school in the US (Boston Latin School, founded 1635), the first and oldest public park (Boston Common, established 1634), and the first and oldest subway system (Tremont Street Subway, built 1897).

Newton is a city in Massachussets, one of the suburban districts of Boston, with a population of around 85 000.

Needham is a town in Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, with a population of around 28 000. The mention of Newton and Needham are clues that Lorelai is looking at the suburbs of Boston.

All these locations are around an hour’s drive from Portsmouth, making them easy day trips.