Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Favorite Place in the World

For the world, I’ve got to say that this has been a pretty bad summer. Global warming is undeniable, the war in the Middle East is more terrifying and horrific than ever, and it seems unlikely that things are going to change for the better anytime soon. So…I have admittedly been attempting to insulate myself and my family from present-day reality. We were very fortunate to be able to travel clear across the continent (thunderstorm delays at O’Hare notwithstanding) to visit our favorite place on earth (or mine, at least), Nantucket, Massachusetts. Yes, I know it has a reputation for being one of the playgrounds for the rich and famous (needless to say I can boast of being neither) but it is much more than that. For one thing, it’s got history that makes the West Coast look pretty newly-hatched in the grand scheme of the world. (Yeah, I know, Europeans laugh their heads off at the notion of anything in the U.S. of A. being “old”) But, Nantucket is a place of many fascinating ghosts: the Whaling industry, the Quakers (who have a sizeable cemetery in Nantucket WITHOUT headstones because they did not believe in such adornments), the monument at the top of Main Street listing the Nantucket men who died in the Civil War. The early Nantucketers lived hard lives – on this island 30 miles out at sea. I wonder how many of the tourists driving SUV’s think about that?

I love the ancient cobble-stoned streets with old New England style upright gray-shingled houses crowding the sidewalks, miles of unspoiled moors and sandy beaches, and fog – yes fog. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you might wonder why I have to travel 2000 plus-miles to see fog? For one thing, Nantucket gets “real” seasons, so although the fog does come in early in the morning and at night, it does dissipate during the day and the ocean is warm enough to swim in for hours.

The air there feels scrubbed clean - maybe because the island of Nantucket is so far off the coast. My dad was lucky enough to have a friend (with whom he wrote songs for off-off Broadway revues in the early ‘60’s) who had a cottage there that his wife inherited from her Aunt. And I do mean COTTAGE, built in the early 20th century – no TV, no dishwasher, horsehair plaster walls (if you look closely enough you can still see the hairs,) a teeny tiny loft/ attic with cheerful yellow walls and the floor painted blue with glow-in-the-dark stars and sleeping cots for the kids, a fold-up card-table for meals, a couple of beat-up bicycles in the garage for transportation, and of course, a piano - wedged under a breezy window at the end of the downstairs hall, across from the bathroom (bathtub. no shower). This house remains virtually unchanged in the thirty-plus years I have been visiting. It still has that wonderful mothball-and-sea-air beach cottage smell. It is the kind of place that always has a little sand on the floor, no matter how much you sweep. My Dad’s songwriting pal happened to have a daughter my age, Jean. We went to school together in New York, and have remained friends all these years, having shared many coming-of-age experiences both in New York and Nantucket (but that is enough material for a novella or two, so I will spare you). It was through Jean that I became reacquainted with the beloved island about ten years ago – when our children were toddlers and we were sealed inside that charming cottage for two days during a hurricane. The beach NEVER looked as good as it did on that third day when the sun came out…

There is really no substitute for watching your kids run in the surf at the same beach where you learned to swim (although you don’t tell them about how you were afraid to go in the water for a week the summer that “Jaws” came out) and ride bikes on the same sandy back roads that you did, and listen to the same ghost stories about the old windmill, and live in flip-flops and bathing suits for days on end.

I think that is the main reason I love it so much, to be honest. It’s the bathing suit and flip-flops and bike thing. We are very lucky to be able to indulge in such simple pleasures…