Commentary: Cape Cod—from a Brit’s perspective
“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air,” goes the old song, “you’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.” Well, dear reader, this Brit did exactly that about 15 years ago. Ever since the turn of the millennium, my family has been visiting New England, mostly during the summer. More often than not, an essential part of the itinerary has been a trip down Route 3 and across the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape.
I have seen the Cape in blazing sunshine and in pouring rain; I have wilted in the heat and I have sheltered from the winds. And I remain as happy as can be. What is it about this outpost of Eastern Massachusetts that draws a Briton back so frequently? Partly it is the attraction of the familiar; I know my way around by now, and I am, I confess, something of a creature of habit. Some people go on holiday to experience new thrills and excitement, to expand their horizons. I am not one of them. I go on holiday to relax, and, 15 years on, the Cape fits like a comfortable pair of shoes. The tension lifts from my shoulders as soon as the wheels retract on the plane from Heathrow, and my mood improves further when we touch down at Logan (helped, it must be said, by a few glasses of wine on the flight).
There is also something unthreatening about Massachusetts in general and the Cape in particular for those from this side of the Pond. The first European settlers in that part of the world were, of course, from England, and several times I have stopped at Plymouth on the way to see the famous Rock. (I find it hilarious that this hallowed piece of real estate was trimmed to fit the pavilion erected around it.) An Englishman will find names that resonate—Barnstable, Yarmouth, Harwich, Truro—as well as those that recall rather earlier habitation, like Mashpee and Hyannis. Moreover, New England is the most comfortably European part of the United States that I have found.
Cape Cod, though, has a character all of its own. It manages, somehow, to feel relaxed and laid-back no matter how many visitors the holiday season throws at it. God knows, I have sat in the traffic waiting to cross onto the Cape for hours, and I’ve seen queues snaking out of cafés and restaurants. It doesn’t seem to matter. Walk down to the harbour in Hyannis, watch the ferries, laden as they are, come and go, and perhaps stop for a cocktail and a few oysters (though actually littleneck clams are my particular favourite). There is an inexplicable air of serenity. Don’t worry, life seems to whisper in your ear, everything will be fine. The world is a benign place.
Of course, the Cape also happens to be stunningly beautiful. The beaches and dunes seem to go on forever, and are sometimes surprisingly quiet. The waves break gently on the shore with a murmur. One year, we took a sunset wine-tasting cruise out into Nantucket Sound, and it really was the definition of idyllic. The wine was good, the crew was friendly, and the grand houses of Hyannis Port looked magnificent in the evening sunlight. The sea was as smooth as could be—not a drop of zinfandel or chardonnay was spilled. If you ever have the chance to spend a summer’s evening in Hyannis, I thoroughly recommend it.
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