Monday, September 14, 2015

In the land of quiet

Sky above the West Side Highway. 7:20 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, September 14, 2015.  The rains came over the weekend and cooled everything off. I went up to Martha’s Vineyard to visit old friends on Friday.

The JetBlue flight departed JFK at 1:56 and arrived at the airport in MV at 3:01. Or thereabouts. The actual flight time is not much more than a half hour. The flight was filled. My seatmate was a very attractive, sophisticated woman of a certain age with salt-n-pepper grey dreadlocks. She immediately made a phone call. I don’t listen to other people’s phone calls but she had a distinctive voice that was impossible not to listen to. The phone call was brief, but the voice was charming and cultivated with a contralto tone. Soon after, we were airborn. My seat mate read the Times, and I read the two Oliver Sacks pieces on The New Yorker. Sacks’ piece “Filter Fish” written at the end of his life, reflecting on his childhood introduction to gefilte fish is both informative and autobiographical. Classic Sacks who cannot avoid giving pleasure through teaching.
Edgartown Harbor as seen from the ferry from Chappaquiddick Island, at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
As we were landing in Edgartown, my seatmate and I had a conversation. It turned out she was a voice I had heard many many times over the years, especially on PBS News. Charlayne Hunter-Gault. It is a great and unique pleasure to meet someone you’ve long admired and on meeting are charmed without knowing you know that person. Ms. Hunter-Gault lives part of the year on the Vineyard.

The clouds were the story for the day, and by sunset they were the drama. The sense of autumn returning is in the air, in small but familiar ways, altering the mood, in my case at least bringing some calm.

Late Friday afternoon, here on the lawn of my friend’s cottage on the island of Chappaquiddick looking northwest, with the rays of the setting Sun over the Edgartown harbor. It established the mood for the weekend. Perfect fair weather with lots of painterly cloud formations at play hovering over. Far from the city’s noises.
Later on, about seven-thirty, we went over to Edgartown to dine at a popular restaurant called Alchemy.  You have to take the ferry to and from, about a three minute ride across the channel from Chappaquiddick island, leaving our car in parking lot of the ferry.

Edgartown is a very picturesque village with narrow streets, brick sidewalks, and wood frame houses from two centuries ago. It is a very prosperous resort for both visitors, summer residents and year-round residents who in island-parlance were known as locals.

Everything is kept up neatly and impeccably. The buildings are mainly either white clapboard or weathered shingle. It is reassuring, reminiscent of another state of consciousness in our society when there was great pride of place, not just places. It remains reflecting that: picturesque, reminding of the whaling days of yore for which such towns as this were established -- but with all the accoutrement of 21-century life in that land of prosperity and technology.
Saturday afternoon we went back over to Edgartown for lunch and to visit a couple of bookstores. The town was somewhat on the quiet side, the weekend after Labor Day. Summer was over for many who would visit for a weekend. All the streets were well trafficked and the sidewalks were busy with shoppers and people who’d come over from the mainland for the day or the weekend.
And people were open for business.
Saturday night we stayed in for dinner with a couple of guests, island neighbors of our hostess joining us. I took this picture about four o’clock from the terrace. We’re looking out over the harbor to Edgartown.
A lot of people who live and work on the island of Chappaquiddick call it “Chappy.” That’s the local’s word for it. It’s a good name. There’s something just-folks, yet dignified about it. The houses have a modesty architecturally and are mainly weather-shingled. Just across the water, for example – the three minute ferry ride – in Edgartown, the houses speak a different language, and tone; personal maybe, but a step up and away from the frugality or modesty you will see on Chappy.
Sunday late morning we went over to the Black Dog Bakery Café for what you might call a brunch. A lot of people are familiar with the Black Dog label. It is a marketer/ merchandiser’s dream come true and a reflection of the New Age Prosperity that emerges on the island over the past few decades. I think they started out as a bakery in Edgartown, and later expanded to this location just outside of town on the way to Vineyard Haven. Now you can find the Black Dog image all over the world on T-shirts and what have you.

This place is very casual. I should have taken a picture because its charm is its interior rusticity and is what we call in California call laid-back (but enthusiastic about food) vibe. All wooden with the daily menus on the chalk board behind the counters and display cases of desserts you won’t be able to resist.

You see the whole community here at one time or another. Nobody doesn’t like the food at Black Dog. And it’s ample and delicious. And very casual. The service (behind the counter) is mainly young woman who look like this might be a summer job, but efficient, friendly in a good-neighbor way, and busy. Somebody told me that Bill Clinton was a patron back in the days when they spent their summer vacation on the island. I can believe it.
After lunch our hostess drove cross island to Oak Bluffs. The ferries crossing over from Woods Hole on the Cape go to Edgartown, and to Oak Bluffs. There’s the ferry arriving from Woods Hole.
Oak Bluffs is a small town of  less than 5000 year-found residents. Like Vineyard Haven it is a point of arrival from the mainland and therefore in instant access to tourists.  It is an area that has been inhabited for 10,000 years (!) firstly by the Wampanoag people who were a Native-American tribe. The Europeans settled in the area two decades after the Pilgrims arrived on the Cape. Oak Bluffs which gets its name from the oak grove that runs along the buffs overlooking Nantucket Sound, is the only one of the island’s towns planned specifically for tourists. In the last quarter of the 19th century a group of religious (Methodist) people who first pitched tents for their summer conventions began to build wood framed “gingerbread cottages. There are at least scores of them running through the narrow village streets and they reflect the joy of the place.  The houses also became a tourist attraction.
About the same time the houses were going up, the Tabernacle, an open-air pavilion constructed in the middle of a village green (not uncommon in New England towns in that era – many of which remained through the first half of the 20th century and were used for convocations and band concerts in summertime). This one went up in the 1880s and still is put to use in summertime. Yesterday afternoon, the town was much quieter than it had been just the weekend before (and all summer), but there were tourists as well as local residents out and about. We were there in early afternoon, after lunchtime, and the heavy clouds moving in were suggesting rain on the way.
We had to make our plane back to New York.  At the airport we ran into Linda Fairstein with her husband Michael Goldberg who were heading back to town after a weekend at their house on the island. The plane was almost full. It began to rain as we were waiting for take-off. The pilot warned us that, having just flown up from JFK there were some rocky moments in the clouds awaiting this flight. We were about fifteen minutes late in departing because of traffic at JFK, and once aloft, and ten minutes into the flight, we had a few moments of the aforementioned “rocky” clouds; but, as the pilot had already assured us, it was soon over and we arrived on-time at twenty minutes to four.

Back on East End Avenue, after that peaceful weekend in the land of quiet, the town seemed almost as quiet as the Vineyard, at least in my neighborhood. I took the dogs down to the Promenade for a quick walkie, and got this shot of those clouds covering the pink of the sunset, dramatically beautiful and threatening (but not delivering) a storm. It was a cool and dry night in Manhattan with temperatures in the upper 60s. The perfect temperature for us after an island weekend with the clouds.

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