Friday, August 5, 2016

Falling for Nantucket

Joy's summer house in Nantucket where DPC had his summer vacation. Photos: DPC.
Friday, August 5, 2016. A beautiful day in New York with lots of sunshine and lovely summer temperatures in the 70s.

It was also like that in Nantucket where I’d spent the last three days with my friend Joy Ingham. This is opening shot I took on arrival of the house Joy takes every summer (she used to be an owner but now prefers the rental).

I don’t know the history of this house except it is certainly at least early 19th century. And from the looks of it, and its location on a hillock in the town which is heavily residential with houses of that era, it was the house of a prosperous person, possibly a whaling captain or maybe a ship owner, since there is a widow’s walk (where I got a little Sun briefly) on the top.
The view of Nantucket Harbor from the Widow's Walk (good place for sunning) at Joy Ingham's house.
In it’s 21st century entirely renovated and re-invented and upgraded form, there are five bedrooms, five baths plus a lav/powder room or whatever; a laundry room, a dining room and a den with enough space and privacy for everyone who needs it when they do, and all the rooms are ample for their purpose.

The sign over the door. With Joy as chatelaine in summer, the house is fully functioning as a family residence, as she has a list of houseguests to partake of the hospitality, friendship and gregarious activity that is Joy. She might have been a general manager of a hotel in a previous incarnation. Or maybe a theatre director. Not because of the number of guests so much – because she doesn’t overbook for her own sanity – but because of the care and thought that seems to just casually go in to her playing hostess to her friends.
There are also grandchildren along at times. In the three weeks before we arrived there were three, with mother in tow; and before that I don’t know except I know she was booked.  The sign over the front door, incidentally, is only temporary for the length of her residence. Someone found and gifted it to Joy because its style was authentic with the historical environment, and said it all (non-commercially) in the present.

I arrived by JetBlue early Monday afternoon with our friends Marianne and Steve Harrison, and earlier in the same day another old friend of Joy’s Joe Pugliese arrived also.

Our first night we dined at a restaurant called Oran Mor on Beach Street down near the harbor. It was about a ten- or fifteen-minute walk from Joy’s house. The sidewalks are paved with brick, as the village roads are paved with cobblestones. Someone informed us that the cobblestone served as ballast in the whaling ships. On our walk down Main Street Joy pointed out this Victorian house that is now a small hotel, and rather new, I believe.
Oran Mor is in another big old house that may have served a number of purposes over the centuries including residences, inns and other commercial purposes. Its been a restaurant in this location for a long time. Our reservation was made by our hostess a month in advance because she wanted us to have a special table which is located on a single table porch in the back of the restaurant over looking the back of the Whaling Museum. The lantern on this railing of the porch will be our light for the dinner.
It is a good size restaurant with tables as well as a large bar where people also eat. This porch we occupied is the only one and has to be reserved far in advance. Besides dining outside on a beautiful evening, there is a special privacy, as if you are being served in your own home under the most convenient circumstances.

Here we (minus me) are at table right after sunset. I didn’t use the flash to get the lantern-light atmosphere although we could see each other much more clearly and with more light from the lantern than the camera will indicate.
Those are menus spread out before us. The menu is very creative to this non-gourmand eye. I am not a daring eater, by nature and habit, but being a good guest, I had to jump in with my friends who were delighted with the choices. It turns out their poetic descriptions of the menu items were realized as absolutely delicious dinners. I had the chicken, of course, and although the description on the menu rendered it unimaginable by this gourmet rube, it was fabulous and very tasty.

My starter: Peas & Wildflowers; Spring Pea Crudite, favas, summer squash & sunflower Baba Ghanoush, Seed Crunch.

Main Course: Chicken Ballotine; Fingerling Potato Chicken Ash, Milk Aioli, Shishito.

If you’re curious:
Walking up ahead are the Harrisons and our hostess head toward her house, passing that same Victorian hotel, we passed in the daylight.
And there they are passing Wendy Schmidt’s “Nantucket Bookworks” which remains open until 10 PM.  There are two very good bookstores in Nantucket and they are busy enough to keep those hours. I just missed the chance to go inside for a quick browse.  Wendy Schmidt is the wife of Eric Schmidt, of Google. She met her husband when she was in graduate school at UC-Berkeley. She is now at 61 (on a very minor note, we share the same birthday although I am quite a bit older). Now an important philanthropist in America, as president of the Schmidt Family Foundation which she and her husband founded in 2006, Wendy Schmidt has emerged as a Renaissance woman, a woman embarking  on programs of social/ cultural/environmental, and economic creativity. Among her projects in Nantucket besides this bookstore, is a music school, and an excellent local bakery which our hostess patronizes very often in the morning.
This is the Jared Coffin House. Now one of the oldest hotels on Nantucket, it was built by Mr. Coffin in 1845. Mr. Coffin was a very successful ship owner in the great days of whaling. At the time the three-story brick mansion was the first mansion of its kind built on the island.
Back at the house, that’s our hostess talking to someone as I’m photographing. They’re watching Jill Kargman’s show on Bravo, “Odd Mom Out.”
The Harrisons enter to watch.
Monday afternoon, everyone was home when we were visited by Michelin chef (on the left) Joe Keller. Mr. Keller and his brother Tom Keller are proprietors of the famous French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, etc. He was in Nantucket advising some investors on creating a new inn, which will be Greydon House.

Joe Keller, besides being a chef, is an executive and a man about the food business which now includes bakeries, cafes and wineries. They currently employ 1500 in their enterprises. He’s an ebullient man with a sunny, almost jolly personality. He loves his business, that’s for sure. 

He’d come over on Monday to prepare the vichyssoise for Tuesday night’s dinner party. Here he is (in a photo taken by Joe Pugliese with his iPad), with (center) Victor Mendez who is our hostess’ chief cook and bottle washer/chef and major domo; and on Victor’s right is another Michelin chef Marcus Ware, more recently with Aureole restaurant in New York, soon to be the chef on this new inn in Nantucket.  They are in this photo in the midst of creating the menu for Joy’s dinner.
The table set for dinner. iPad photo by Joe Pugliese.
Tuesday night. There are the chefs as dinner is being served talking to dinner guests Coco Kopelman (Jill Kargman’s mother) and Charles Hale.  The man in the glasses looking at the lens is in-house iPad photog, Mr. Pugliese.
The vichyssoise with chives and caviar (another of the Keller businesses) The evening’s menu: Vichyssoise; New York Strip Rack; Ratatouille; Potatoes Anna; Oranges stuffed with Orange Sherbet.
Victor Mendez, aside of his domestic achievements at chez Ingham-in-Nantucket, in the kitchen and out of it, is also an accomplished painter. These are some of his works, painted from photos he took with his iPhone.
Breakfast the following morning. iPad photo by Joe Pugliese.
Tuesday afternoon I had lunched with my eldest sister Helen who was up from Naples, Florida where she now lives, along with her daughter Susan, my niece, and my younger sister Jane’s daughter Mary, along with brother Bob Flanagan, a lifelong summer resident of Nantucket and his wife Mary and their niece Catherine Stover, who is the Town Clerk of Nantucket. Catherine has officiated at hundreds of destination weddings here, and she had the table roaring with laughter describing some of the more “creative” weddings she’s officiated at.

Afterwards my sister and my nieces and I took a walk around the town. All of us are New England-raised but Nantucket's presence, with its 18th century cobblestoned streets, brick sidewalks and buildings along with its simple, modest and utilitarian wood structures, not only amaze but soothe in this techno-tarian world of ours today.
It was overcast all of Tuesday afternoon and the residents and guests were all out, and many in their cars.
Bronze plaque commemorating Thomas Turner Square, “Thomas Turner, a son of Nantucket served on the ship Bon Homme Richard, killed in action with H. M. S. Serapis, September 23, 1779.
Out after lunch, maybe doing some shopping.
Emily Brooke Rubin; Jewelry Design.
Exterior wall of the Whaling Museum. In the 18th century Nantucket was a town made prosperous by the whaling industry. And an industry it was with its economy made up of the whale fishery – rope-walks, cooperages, blacksmith and building shops, ship chandleries, sail lofts and warehouses.
Businesses around it flourished including seamen's boarding houses, grog shops, clothing shops, purveyors of groceries and dry goods. When the whaleships returned to port with their valuable cargo, great profits were made on mainland refineries and candlemakers. The product was used in domestic lamps, street lights, and many industrial uses. Spermaceti candles, made from the solid wax derived from the head matter, were then the best lighting illuminants in those pre-electricity days.

From the early 1700s to the 1840s Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. Melville wrote in “Moby-Dick”: "Thus have these ... Nantucketers overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders." The Quaker religion dominated the community’s spiritual life. Their rejection of worldliness, their spurning of adornment, and their "lack of sympathy for anything calculated to make earthly life happy or even pleasant" did not prevent them from having an astute business sense. Many of Nantucket's first families — the Starbucks, Barneys, Coffins, Macys, Folgers, Gardners, Husseys, Colemans, Worths, and many others — were Quakers and powerful in the the whaling industry. Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to the island as the “Nation of Nantucket.”
It all ended in the third decade of the 19th century with the discovery of oil in the fields of Pennsylvania where kerosene was being produced, and easier to obtain than sailing the deep blue seas for sometimes a year or more at a time.

In 1846 there was a Great Fire on a July night which destroyed more than 200 buildings. Hundreds were left homeless. Also, during that period, the entrance to Nantucket's harbor silted up creating a sandbar making it impossible to cross for the heavily loaded whale-ships. Then the California Gold Rush of 1849 drew hundreds of Nantucket men out to seek their fortunes as they once had before at sea. The once bustling waterfront filled with rotting hulks. Between 1840 and 1870, the population decreased to a little more than four thousand.
The summer visitors began coming from the mainland in the fourth decade. Rooming houses and small inns sprang up. The first big summer hotel went up in the late 1870s, four more in the next few years. Nantucket women opened their homes to summer boarders. The lure was their "large airy rooms" and their "nicely cooked bluefish." The town’s "two boats a day" created The "Season." Now one of the most popular and attractive destinations in the world, the present-day Nation of Nantucket is as prosperous a little "elbow of sand," as Melville described it, as can be found anywhere in the world.
The flower boxes in front of the businesses all over town.
The Whaling industry gone almost two centuries still lives in Nantucket’s image in the 21st.
On Wednesday, we were invited to lunch with Daisy Soros at her house overlooking the ocean in Sconset. But first Joy dropped by the house of Martie Cox overlooking the harbor.
From Martie Cox’s terrace we could watch the sailboats, yachts and ferries, moving through the channel arriving and departing the harbor.
While some seagulls remained in permanence on one of Ms. Cox’s terrace tables.
The ferries from the mainland entering the Nantucket harbor.
Once the house of a prosperous Nantucket citizen circa 18th century.
Arriving in Sconset to lunch with Daisy. The view from her house of the beach and the Atlantic. Visible at least 15 miles out, although I couldn’t catch it with my camera, were stretches of waves breaking white as they do on the shore. I asked Daisy what we were looking at in the distance. “The Gulf Stream” was her reply. Amazing.
Daisy Soros is famous among her friends for her gardens. Here is one festooning.
The lady herself with her poodle, Tango.
The dining room table. These lilies are found all over the island in gardens as well as in people’s houses.
The luncheon table set  for five, on the terrace overlooking the ocean.
Daisy (who happens to be a Virgo with the same birthday as our hostess) is also into great detail in entertaining her guests. The napkin holders are wooden likenesses of garden citizens such as the Japanese beetle, the bumblebee, the grasshopper, etc. The menu was fantastic, as good as any great restaurant and impeccably served by Daisy’s quietly attentive staff: canapés,vegetable tempura, cups of foie gras. And lunch: Carpaccio of beef served with shavings of Parmesan and Prosciutto salad; (the most amazingly perfect looking cheese soufflé, moist and light, and tarte Tatin. 
On our way back to town, Joy stopped off to pay a brief visit to Francie Neely at her house in an area called Monomoy overlooking the harbor in the distance. Getting a tour of Ms. Neely's sprawling, weathered shingle island domicile, I spotted this Hunt Slonem painting on the wall in the breakfast corner of her kitchen. Hunt, who is a friend, is very popular with Nantucket residents who find that his images of birds and wildlife within their homes add another flourish to Mother Nature’s magnificent island full of history and anchors to what became known as the American Way.

Contact DPC here.