A birthday weekend in Nantucket, Part 1

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Our hostess' house; in the distance, the spire of the First Congregational Church whose bells ring every hour on the hour day and night. Photo: JH.

Monday, July 30, 2018. I spent the last five days on a trip to Nantucket – two of them “traveling” despite the proximity of the island to New York. It’s approximately 35 minutes airtime. Mother Nature and her weather changed all those times for millions of us across the continent. Plane delays going and coming. This may sound like a complaint, although it isn’t. It’s just a look at the reality of traveling: you’re part of the moving masses of the 21st century.

Once aloft – Jet Blue —  the trip both coming and going was brief and perfectly pleasant. The seats are large – if you’re a child. But I’m not complaining, he said, for what is an airline to do if they’re jammed with the business of people moving around, all over, all the time? That is the reality of our times. One of them.

In the long queue for takeoff from JFK.

JFK was crowded Wednesday midday. The inclement weather was delaying many flights. Our departure was delayed more than an hour and a half. Returning yesterday (Sunday) morning, however, an 8:30 scheduled flight finally left the runway about 11:20, and we weren’t the only destination that was way behind schedule.

Nantucket had been having brilliant weather while we were having almost constant rain interrupting activity here in New York – that, along with high temperatures and tropical humidity. Wednesday, however, when we departed our apartments to head out to JFK, something happened in Nantucket: they got our weather.

Our destination. Over the door it reads: “Tourists Meals Rooms.”

This was my third or fourth trip for a summer weekend on the island. I was going as a guest, along with Marianne and Steve Harrison, and with JH as guests of Joy Ingham, the lady who gave the wedding we ran a couple of weeks ago for her two major domos/chefs/chief cook and bottle washer and all around keeping things up to snuff. Madam is a perfectionist, or, as she would put it, a Virgo (9/7).

What impresses on arrival is the architectural landscape that authentically reminds us of what and who came before. Much of it was built before there was even electricity and ordinary plumbing. The cobblestones that still line the main street and many other local roads came on the wooden sailing ships as ballast, and were loaded with product replace the stones ballast.

The cobblestone of the street leading up to her house. These stones came over as ballast on the ships coming for product and supplies (which would serve as ballast for the voyage home).

It was a world which required practicality, thrift and ingenuity. It was a world in which everyone had to work, to labor, to make the community. We are far far away from that world today, and therefore so is Nantucket. Yet its beauty, including the comfort it supplies when we are present, continues to preside. Otherwise Nantucket has gone through great changes like the rest of the world.

Thirty years ago, it was a much quieter community. There were families from the mainland who had summered here for generations. There were families, descendants of earlier settlers (and immigrations). But there were few if any people of color, or middle Europeans or Mexicans or South Americans. Today they are very much apart of the community year round. So too have many of the summer people taken on year round residence.

The house abounds with white lilies.

It’s a far different world with a different sensibility (or zeitgeist) than New York. A New England personality. Socio-economically it’s got a lot in common with the Hamptons in summer, but the vibe is more “down home” (although houses can easily range into the seven to eight figures and the despite the market’s tremendous growth, they don’t have any indication of an oversupply).

As soon as we were settled into our rooms, we went for a walk through town. It’s very busy with lots of cars and shoppers, strollers, young people, long time residents, but it’s the flowers – everywhere – that gets to me.

There is something definitely uplifting walking along the brick sidewalks and with corners, gardens, paths, abounding in flowers as if they’re there to talk to the world. It centers you, if only for the moment …

The “sign” over the door of a house whose garden surrounds it with beauty.
Another explanation of the the results of care and loving the house and the garden.
Main Street late Friday afternoon of what was another mainly overcast day occasionally threatening rain and at other moments, moving through.
The meridian line marker placed there at the top of Main Street on the brick sidewalk in 1840 “to monitor the (varying) angle between the magnetic and true North.

Wednesday lunch Joy took four of us to a place nearby called Dune, which is located in an old clapboard two- or three-story structure that was undoubtedly once someone’s home a century or more ago. Dune is very popular for lunch and dinner; very casual – men in T-shirts and Bermuda shorts, women in shirts or shorts or leg-clinging pants. I had the brie cheeseburger on a large bun (which was ample yet small for the sizeable burger in between).

Having made my way home covered with this great over-sized umbrella (Joy’s son Troup Parkinson is a vice-president of the Boston Red Sox), I was hoping to bring it back to New York because it’s the perfect size and the logo is just enough to make it a “mystery.” But I forgot it, last minute.
DPC and Steve Harrison walking to Dune Nantucket.

We were served by a bright-faced and industrious young man whom Joy wanted us to meet because she loves his story. Atanas Angelovski from Macedonia first visited when he was 18 on a student visa that allowed him to stay for 3 – 4 months. He first arrived in Provincetown. Having heard so much about America, and having seen so many films and photos of this world, he was surprised to land in a large, centuries-old village on a hill by the sea with a cacophony of lifestyles inhabiting it.

Atanas Angelovski with our host, Joy Ingham.

Someone directed him to visit Nantucket. He visited and was immediately impressed by its beauty, with the ocean easily within view, and a busy commercial area. After the first visit of three to four months, in 2007 he returned with a long-term visa. He got a job waiting tables in Nantucket. With the money he’d saved in his first five months in Nantucket, in the winter he went down to Florida to study to be a pilot, and found Palm Beach, again with its abundance of restaurants where he found work.

Atanas is obviously a worker who bears no grudge on labor. That was apparent just interviewing him this past Friday. We sat in the restaurant just before the lunch hour. While sitting at table with me, he kept his eye out on the incoming customers, making sure they were being taken care of adequately, as if he were the proprietor. In 2013, he met Isadora, a Serbian girl who had also come to Nantucket to find work in summer. There are many from Eastern European countries who have responded to the same beck and call. They see it as a nice place to work because it is a safe place to work and live.

Sian Ballen, our NYSD House guru, took the ferry over from Martha’s Vineyard to join us for lunch. We were all laughing (Sian included) at the yellow poncho she picked up along the way.

By 2015, Atanas and Isadora became serious. When it was time for him to go back South, Isadora went as well, and also being an industrious individual she too found employment in Palm Beach. That year they married. With their pooled savings they bought a property with two houses in West Palm. In winter now they go South where Atanas can continue his flying. He now has flown 900 hours and is aiming for 1000 so that he can get a license to fly privately owned planes. His ultimate goal is to fly for a major carrier.

Dune Nantucket’s Greek salad with yellowfin tuna, castelvetrano olives, cucumber, chick peas, feta puree.

Our interview was brief. Atanas was soon called away to take care of customers. His dedication and commitment to earn enough to educate himself, and make a professional career as a commercial pilot is just a matter of fact. Watching him in action at luncheon Thursday (where he was our waiter), you could assume he was grooming himself for a life in the restaurant business, so thorough was his service.

I was struck how Atanas has the kind of ambition that this country was built on, where the work ethic, even much more than formal education, is the objective to achieving a serious goal. Atanas naturally exudes serious enthusiasm for everything he does – from taking orders, carrying serving plates, mixing drinks and greeting guests (many of them admire and/or adore him) to flying planes.

Atanas telling us the daily specials.

I don’t know how the idea got started but JH who is a gourmet of sorts, or maybe it’s gourmand, in short loves all kinds of foods, especially basic ones with great value and interesting temptations for the palette. So somehow the idea came about for Victor to create an authentic Mexican dinner made from scratch with th assistance of his sister Chele. Victor is Mexican, born in Mexico, but a longtime US citizen who first came to Nantucket in 1987 when he was in school in New York; and he loves to cook.

Back from lunch, Victor had already started preparing dinner starting with black beans.
Onions, jalapenos, and tomatillos — the base for the homemade salsa.
Guajillo and arbol chiles to add some heat.
Cilantro, too.
Boiling the tomatillos and chilies.
When the tomatillos turn light green, they are ready for the blender.
Spooning in some of the “chili” water.
Blending the green salsa …
… until it’s smooth.
Next batch: the red salsa.
The red salsa being the less spicy version.
The green and red salsas ready to serve.
Slicing the avocado for the guacamole.
Victor does not add lime to his guac. He told JH only American cooks put the lime in.
While Victor was busy making the guacamole JH, Sian, and Marianne took a walk around the nabe.
Looking east down Main Street.
The crosswallks are made of brick to make for easy crossing.
Repairing Main Street cobblestone by cobblestone.
Dogs are welcome everywhere on the Island.

Old North Wharf where the paths are made of crushed white seashells.
Window shopping along the wharf.

The Nantucket Boat Basin.

Sian off to catch the ferry back to Martha’s Vineyard.

The Seven Seas on Centre Street.

Whale Tail Fountain by Ilya Kagan.
The Jared Coffin House, constructed in 1845, is a historic mansion built by Jared Coffin, one of the most successful ship owners during the island’s prime whaling days.

More classic cars.
An orange beetle comes in handy on the narrow streets of Nantucket.
Even the parking tickets border on Nantucket red.
Back at the house, the guacamole is ready for a taste.
A selection of apps included deviled eggs (Joy’s secret: curry powder), guac, and celery sticks with peanut butter and bacon (a first for me!)

Masa, white flour and water make up the dough.
The tortillas ready for the press.
When they are browned and puff up, they are ready to be transferred to a basket lined with towel.
Brother and sister cooking up a storm.
Victor sauteing the mushrooms, onions, and chicken.
Combining the chicken with the mushroom and onion mixture.
Cooking the red and yellow peppers with cilantro.
Adding the peppers to the chicken mixture.
Dinner is served. Rice and beans and chicken and peppers.
Fresh salsa to top it all off.
And when we finished our Mexican dinner, I was surprised with a birthday cake and quite a few (but not enough) candles (there wasn’t enough room on the cake!) with a birthday cake. A delicious chocolate with two different icings.
I made a wish (actually I did think about it) and blew out all the candles. That’s Victor and Peter who brought the cake in. I wound;t be surprised if Victor made that too.

Part II of our visit to Nantucket coming tomorrow …

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