Commentary: Cape Cod—from a Brit’s perspective
Friends often ask what it is I do on holiday. ‘Do’ is rather missing the point. The family usually rents a house in Hyannis, close to the sea, and we stock up on food and liquor. Once the provisions are in, it’s a matter of being, not doing. I always take a stock of good books, or else buy some on the inevitable trip to the Cape Cod Mall. My stepmother, who is a ferry enthusiast, likes to watch the ships come in and out of the harbour (each to their own). I like to stroll up the JFK Memorial on Ocean Street, partly as a sop (or small concession) to demands that I take some exercise, partly to blow away any cobwebs, but mainly for the view over Lewis Bay it affords. A brief moment of contemplation—it’s very good for that—then back to the house in time for a martini before dinner, ideally on the terrace on a warm evening, listening to the hum of cicadas.
I am also very fond of Nantucket. Recently, our visits have been restricted to day trips on the fast ferry, but we spent a delightful Easter on the island in the early 2000s. I like the scale of Nantucket, the quaintness of Main Street with its uneven cobbles dredged from the ballast of sailing ships, the Greek Revival houses and the small, friendly shops. I happen to be interested in the history of whaling, so the museum is a must, and the views from the roof across the town are beautiful. One of my dreamier dilemmas is whether, in the event of a Lottery win, I would have a summer house on the Cape or on Nantucket. I still haven’t resolved it. Sadly, it has yet to be put to the test in real life.
I’m not one of nature’s sailors. I don’t get particularly seasick, but I don’t worship at the altar of cleats and reef knots in the way that some do. Nevertheless, the journey to and from Nantucket is thrilling. The gentle cruise out into the Sound past habitation, then the furious churn as the ferry stretches its legs and the spray begins to fly. I like the wind in my hair, the clear blue sky and sea, watching the Cape slip into the distance and then, not too long after, the Grey Lady herself begin to emerge from the mist. She is well named.
If this account doesn’t sound very high-octane, then you’re right on the money. Life in Hyannis is about shrugging off the cares of life, forgetting home for a while, indeed, making the Cape your home for those precious few days. Good food, good drink, sea air. Patti Page had it right.
All of this is a complicated way of saying it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why I cherish my time on Cape Cod and why I’ve been back so often. It just seems to fit. Everyone should go at least once (and, indeed, there are times when it feels as if everyone is doing just that, all at the same time). Not everyone will like it, certainly not the way I do. That’s fine. Just means shorter queues for a lobster roll for me.
Readers may or may not be familiar with some of the British English terms referenced in this article. Here are some helpful (wink) definitions.
Harbour—a watery place where fishermen, seagulls, and boats like the Mayflower or the U.S.S. Constitution might be found.
Queue—a stringy collection of people, lined up front to back, with the intention of taking in a film, entering a pub, or ordering fish and chips.
Favourite—one’s top choice within a certain category. One might say “my favourite British actor is Colin Firth,” or “my favourite English communities are Sandwich, Falmouth, and Harwich.
Sop—no translation in English
Grey Lady—a colorful moniker commonly used to describe an affluent island off the south coast of Cape Cod. The island is also called “The Gray Lady,” “ACK,” “Paradise,” “Heaven on Earth,” or simply, Nantucket. – Matthew J. Gill
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