down the cape
for the last three years, i've spent some time in august "down the cape," as they say 'round these parts. actually, not all people say it that way. some say, "on the cape," which has a more grammatical but, despite its connection to upper-class tastes, less distinctive ring to it, at least in my opinion. this morning, as we discussed tennis-pairs over breakfast, i was reminded of the similarly distinctive boston phrase, "these teams are slaughta." i'm quite the amateur at tennis, y'know. and i like the way that language can illuminate class differences. the problem is when people don't notice. as volosinov wrote, the word is the "ideological sign par excellence." par excellence, indeed. knamean?
becca and i are staying with the rest of the nessons in a beautiful, airy house in truro. the house is owned (and rented out) by harvard's official piano tuner. i've been listening to his large collection of CDs, which are mainly of the classical repertory, though there is a fair amount of dave brubeck, elton john, and the beatles. i've been tending toward the minimalists: steve reich, philip glass, arvo part, john adams. (reich's drumming has received several pull-ups.) like so many structures in cape cod, the house blends right into the environment. a weathered-wood exterior gives it a brownish-grayish hue that plays off the sand and rocks and rugged little trees.
the house sits upon a hill overlooking the mouth of pamet harbor and cape cod bay. the few quiet roads around it are completely hidden by the trees and the slope of the land, and one's etes are naturally drawn to the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. because truro is so far along the cape--it's just before provincetown, which sits at the very end of massachusetts's craggy curled arm--one can watch from the deck as the sun sets over the water, a rare treat on the east coast. the sunsets from here are absolutely stunning. (unfortunately, i missed some of the best ones last week, before i retrieved my camera. allow me to cheat a bit in order to bring out some of the colors.)
ah, the firmament in technicolor.
just around the corner stands the house that henry david thoreau stayed in when he journeyed to the cape. i always sympathize with the transcendentalists when i'm out here. last year, after reading some emerson, the view from the deck (pictured above) inspired the opening lines of sexy jesus: "as i look from the earth to the sky to the ocean / it's clear that the doors to the temple stand open." nature's beauty is just so in-your-face here that it's totally undeniable. one is jerked, again and again, into appreciative--almost meditative--awareness of the world, and out of the anxious daze that can preoccupy one so much of the time. i guess being on vacation is good for that, too. at any rate, i like to think that i am walking paths and seeing sights similar to those thoreau walked and saw.
last week i picked up thoreau's cape cod, which was sitting on the shelf here, and read the first few chapters. i was surprised, and at first disappointed, to find him talking mostly of people. he describes coming upon the scene of an immigrant shipwreck--quite a disconcerting start--and then riding in a carriage alongside various "cape" types. in the process, he observes people's (class-inflected) attitudes (and their ability to co-exist, even in the same carriage), discusses the aesthetics of small cape towns, and conjures up some rather vivid portraits of weathered men and women. in addition to social history and ethnography, thoreau also provides interesting details about the geology and flora/fauna of the cape. after wondering just the day before about how so much sand made it to the inland parts of the cape, i was glad to be informed that indeed most of the cape is composed of sand. apparently, boston harbor has belched it out over the course of a millenium or two. to this day, the cape remains a shifting landscape: some beaches recede with each year and major storm; others grow.
i was happy to read recently that walden is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a publication. it's filled with wisdom, inspired passages, and wonderful turns of phrase, and i'm thrilled to know that--despite attaining its popularity posthumously--walden has been translated into two dozen languages and has had more than 200 editions published. i was even more delighted to learn how thoreau marked the event in his own life. apparently, on the date of walden's first publication, his journal read: "walden published. elder-berries. waxwork yellowing." how appropriate.
one of the most remarkable things about the cape is the range of environments one finds here. there is a coherence over all, of course: it's a sandy, rugged kind of place. but one finds, in addition to beaches: forests, dunes (the ones near provincetown are amazing), shrubby hills, and--one of my favorites--salt marshes. there's something about marshland that really piques my curiosity. it just always seems to be swarming with activity. one day, becca and i biked along a marsh until we came to a corner where hundreds of crabs were crawling ahead with a seemingly unified sense of direction and purspose. they looked like stange reptilian creatures slinking along, until we looked closer and saw that they were indeed moving sideways. the marshes themselves seem to offer a plethora of small environments, and this is one thing that makes them so interesting to me, not to mention beautiful.
it's been a fortnight full of activity, from beach-going, where i've been adding to the brown-ness i picked up in jamaica and reading walter rodney and frantz fanon--not exactly light, "beach" reading, but stimulating to be sure. there's been lots of biking, sailing, and running (against bush). driving around, from beach to beach, i've been enjoying a soundtrack provided by os mutantes, lyrics born, so, and a bunch of reggae mixes (new and old). we've taken several trips into provincetown, and p-town remains one of the strangest vacation spots--or even places--i've ever been to. the mix of gay culture, (straight) family vacationers, and cape kitsch (which appeals, seemingly, to both groups) is truly something to be seen. as becca pointed out, it's pretty amazing to watch a tranny on a scooter sporting a g-string-and-fish-net number drive down commercial street and barely turn a head. sure, there are some incredulous--and perhaps slightly scandalized--adults standing around with mouths open (though usually they just smile), but their kids rarely bat an eye. one of the most remarkable things about p-town during summertime--and this will have to wait for a blog of its own--is the high number of jamaican migrant workers staffing the restaurants and shops. to them, p-town must seem like some crazy bizarro world--US decadence run wild. i wonder what they tell their friends back home.
we went into p-town for a couple of meals. i had lobster one time, flounder on another, and salmon on a third occasion. i realize that my blog has devoted quite a bit of space to eating fish, which has more to do with where i've been than the focus of my blog. i love the mix of advertisements which blogger has been suggesting at the top of the page: reggae labels and seafood retailers crop up frequently. (fyi--that's the same type of thing that happens if you have a gmail account. i don't really find it invasive so much as funny.)
an old family friend and regular cape-codder-come-august, jamie gorelick, gave the nessons--becca included--a few autographed copies of the hot-off-the-presses 911 commission report. last week on the boston globe's nonfiction bestseller list, it was ahead of walden. it was also ahead of two other favorites of mine: howard zinn's people's history and strunk and white's elements of style. (strunk and white would probably tear me apart for adding that possessive 's' to white's name only. oh well. "strunk's and white's" just sounds weird.) jamie served on the 911 commission and devoted the last 18 months of her life to it. we had many a conversation about the report over the last couple weeks. she encourages folks to read the footnotes, many of which she fought to have included and many of which are more revelatory than the main text of the report itself. so, here you go.