Friday, October 26, 2012

Provincetown's Town House, or Original Town Hall, From 1854 to 1877

Our original Town Hall on High Pole Hill, where the Pilgrim Monument stands today.

Provincetown's current Town Hall, the large wooden building with a spired clock tower at the corner of Commercial and Ryder Streets, is the second Town Hall we've had. This building replaced our original Town Hall, or Town House, which had stood behind this spot, on High Pole Hill, where the Pilgrim Monument stands today. That first town hall was built in 1854 at a cost of just under $15,000, with $350 paid to seven local men who owned the parcels of land that made up the hill. The business of the town was conducted there, where land deeds and other town records were kept, while the upper floor served as a high school. It made a highly visible landmark which could easily be spotted from ships more than twenty miles off our shoreline. But on February 16, 1877, at 8:25 P. M.,  the building caught fire and burnt to the ground, along with many of the Town’s records and documents. The cause of the fire was never determined.
Construction on the new Town Hall was begun in September of 1885 when Universalist Minister Dr. William Henry Ryder offered to have his house, which stood on the  corner of Ryder and Commercial streets, moved around the corner to 4 Winslow Street. There you’ll find a blue and white plaque telling of the Civil War era, when the original estate is thought to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, giving shelter to runaway slaves being smuggled to the Canadian Maritimes, though some dispute this claim.
Once the house was moved Rev. Ryder donated the land to the Town, and purchased two adjoining estates as well, to accommodate the rather grand design of Boston architect John A. Fox, and in August of 1886 the largest town hall ever built on Cape Cod was dedicated. It had cost $50,400 to build, and stood as a testament to the tremendous success of Provincetown in its early fishing and whaling days.
In the middle to late 1800s Provincetown was the richest town per capita in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with 56 whaling ships served by 54 long wharves. There were dozens of schooners, both Grand Bankers and George’s Bankers, and a mackerel fleet as well. At times we had 700 boats in the harbor, with ships sailing in from foreign ports as well, and the town supplied them all. Even the people on the land in those days made their living from the sea, in one way or another. For example, in 1890 there were 5 blacksmith shops on Commercial Street, even though horses were scarce here. They were just able to keep up with all of the demand for chain, anchors and other metal goods needed by fishermen, whalers and all the others in this thriving little seaport village. This period in time was truly Provincetown’s Golden Era, as witnessed by the erection of this rather elaborate Town Hall.
Ostensibly for reasons of public safety, in 2008 a two-year project updating and restoring Town Hall was begun, and in November of 2010, the restoration was completed for the most part, at a cost of more than $6 million. Some argue that the true cost was well over that amount, bemoaning the expense of relocating town offices for two years, as well as charges for many extra details, like restoring the original ceiling and chandelier in the auditorium, and reconfiguring the Judge Welsh room, which now offers far fewer seats for those attending meetings of selectmen and various other town boards and committees. A great deal of space is now taken up by a new dais, which now seats the Town Manager and Board of Selectmen, or other town boards, during their meetings. These are among several "improvement" expenditures deemed frivolous or wasteful by many taxpayers.
One of the nicest features that came out of this project is the creation of space to really highlight a bit of the Town's art collection, consisting of roughly 300 works of art which have been donated, or acquired by the Town, over many years. Some of these paintings periodically rotate into the public view when works adorning the walls of Town Hall and other town offices are exchanged for different works from the collection, while others are on permanent display. There is a new space at the far end of the first floor hallway permanently showcasing one of Charles W. Hawthorne's greatest paintings, entitled Crew of the Philomena Manta, painted in 1915 and made a gift to the Town of Provincetown by the artist in 1916.
Hawthorne founded the Cape Cod School of art here in 1899, and was perhaps the greatest influence on local artists of that time. Click to see my July 10th post about Hawthorne and his art school. By 1916 Provincetown had 8 art schools with some 300 students, in great part due to the efforts of Hawthorne and some of his early protégés. Seeing the artworks displayed on Town Hall walls is one of the best reasons to take a stroll through the building. And one of the best perks of working for the town is that these folks each get to choose one of these 300 paintings to hang in their offices. Next time you're there paying your excise tax or getting your shellfishing license, take a look around you and enjoy some of this wonderful art.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Before it's Over... One More Dinner at the Mayflower Cafe

8 ounces of broiled bluefish, choice of potato, dinner roll and salad is just $14
Before the season is really over, try to make one last visit to some of the seasonal restaurants that are favorites, for various reasons, of Townies and visitors alike. One of these spots is the Mayflower Cafe, at 300 Commercial Street. Opened in 1929, the Mayflower has been serving simple, home style food for 83 years; no frills, diner style food at reasonable prices, and served in generous portions, like the 8 ounce bluefish fillet for $14, pictured above.
I went to the Mayflower the other night because I was in the mood for steamers, which I followed with that evening's salmon dinner special. For dessert I had the homemade pumpkin pie with whipped cream for $3.50. The menu also includes hot and cold sandwiches, pizza and Italian style specialties, comfort foods, seafood, and a number of Portuguese specialties. See my blog post from September 22nd, about Portuguese Food at the Mayflower Cafe.
Try to get to the Mayflower and enjoy one of PTown's landmarks by Saturday, October 27th, their last day for the season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Drift Whaling or Strandings Brought an Occasional Bonus to Provincetown Shores.

This is a photo from what appears to be a "cabinet card" dating back to the late 1800s, showing a whale on the edge of a Provincetown beach. These cards consisted of card stock attached to photographs in a size slightly larger than today's picture postcards, with the first postal cards designed to be sold as souvenirs made available in Chicago, at the Colombian Exposition of 1893.
The back of this card has a handwritten note reading "Finback Whale." The landline attached to the whale and the date of the print suggest that this may be a "drift whale," a dead whale that had drifted in to shore or was found drifting off the shoreline and was then towed to shore, pulled with a line from a small boat. This sort of landing of a whale was serendipitous for the finder, and in any village of that day, a multiple stranding could prove a boon to the entire community, bringing a good price for many barrels of oil extracted from a single whale. Sometimes villagers would use the oil to light their own lamps for a good period of time rather than selling off the oil when whales drifted in or stranded on the shoreline.
This whale may also have been caught at sea and brought to shore for flensing, or cutting up the blubber and other usable parts, but that doesn't seem as likely, even though these men are armed with long-handled flensing knives. There are no barrels ready to fill with whale oil, and there is no wagon ready to haul the blubber away to be melted down, so this looks more likely to have been a lucky find.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Provincetown's Best Lobster Roll May Well Be at John's Footlong, a Best Bite

I had read and heard many times that a lot of folks think that the lobster roll at John's Footlong is the best in Provincetown, so after having tasted many lobster rolls all around the town this summer, I finally had to taste John's for myself. I believe the claims of countless Townies are correct, because out of all the many lobster rolls I tried over the course of the summer, the one at John's Footlong was my very favorite. Who would have thought it?
It was absolutely brimming over (just as everything served at John's is brimming over) with enormous, tender chunks of sweet, plump lobster claws and knuckles, mixed only with the barest little bit of mayonnaise and piled onto a couple of garden-fresh, crisp lettuce leaves which sat atop an equally fresh, nicely grilled New England style hot dog bun... a purist's delight.
If you look up John's address you'll have a hell of a time finding the place. It's one of those wacky PTown addresses that make no sense at all. It's listed as 309 Commercial Street, which you would think would be roughly right across from 310 Commercial, which happens to be Lewis Brothers Ice Cream, but noooo... It's around the corner from Commercial Street, on the way down to MacMillan Pier, on what ought to be called Standish Street since it extends from Standish down toward the pier and the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, by the way, inexplicably has the official address of 307 Commercial Street, even though it's even farther off Commercial Street than John's is, regardless of the smaller number of its address, and is well over a hundred feet off Commercial Street as you head toward the pier from the intersection of Standish and Commercial Streets.
Don't try too hard to make sense out if it. After all, this is Provincetown, where not everything is going to make sense, or even really needs to be understood. So instead of trying to find John's from its address, find Lopes Square, the little plaza with all the seating benches and the huge anchor in the middle, just south (toward the pier) from that same intersection at Standish and Commercial. If you stand in front of Lewis Brothers, on the northwest corner, and look south toward the pier and the harbor, John's is on the right side of the street, halfway toward the Chamber of Commerce, right across the street from that great big anchor in Lopes Square. It's a walk-up, counter service joint with a seating area of its own up the stairs on the south end of the building, or you can usually find a place to sit on a bench in Lopes Square.
I also like to take my meal down to the harbor, just at the far edge of the big parking lot that sits between MacMillan Pier and Fisherman's Wharf, where you'll find a tiny little neighborhood park made up of a string of trees and benches looking out over the harbor along the seawall that runs between the wharf and the pier. Those two words are interchangeable, by the way. A wharf and a pier are virtually the same thing: a dock where boats pull up to take passengers and goods on and off the boat.
Anyway, it's worth looking for John's if you've never had the pleasure of chowing down on their huge servings of impeccably fresh seafood, their very tasty Portuguese kale soup, or, of course, their venerable footlong hot dog. TheYearRounder names John's lobster roll as a Best Bite. And just looking at the photo above makes me want to dash over and have another one before they up and close for the season.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Provincetown Shoreline Disappears, Shrouded in Three Days of Dense Fog

It's not that unusual to see a fairly heavy fog rolling over the dunes and into Beach Forrest, and on into the center of town, where it sometimes gobbles up the Pilgrim Monument from the top down. This will happen on several mornings throughout the year. But this time the fog has been hovering just above our heads for three days,  hanging over the ponds, sweeping back and forth, drifting out to sea a mile or two, and then sneaking back in over the beaches and the harbor. A misty veil of tiny water droplets suspended in midair has hidden both Wood End and the Long Point Light from view ever since Tuesday morning, leaving hapless visitors to speculate on the whereabouts of the actual tip of Cape Cod. These minuscule beads of dew have caused the breakwater in the West End, and those walking on it, to vanish less than halfway out into the harbor, and they've collected on the leaves of trees all along Commercial Street, plopping silently onto our heads as we walk beneath the dripping branches.
There's one great advantage, however, to having this salubrious mist settling quietly onto every surface in sight: it makes nature's colors just that much more vibrant. The pitch pines at the edges of the dunes become more verdant, the last purple blossoms of the sheep's laurel brighten a bit, and the brown blotches of leaves slowly dying on the scrub oaks turn golden under a bit of moisture.
Get out for a stroll on the bike trails before ten this morning, when the sun is scheduled to return, and enjoy this drizzle from a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seafood Grille at the Waterford Inn Offers a Great Lobster Special, and a Best Bite

The Seafood Grille's perfectly cooked lobster is a Best Bite
Tuesday night is lobster night at the Seafood Grille at the Waterford Inn. They have reduced prices on lobsters of most any size you care to take on. This one was a four-pounder.
I ordered it solo, with a side of corn on the cob. It took me over an hour to eat it.
When I go out for lobster I'm really just interested in a good sized lobster, and an ear of corn. I generally don't care about adding a cup of chowder, steamers, mussels, potato or any of the other things that might make the meal a New England "clambake" because I order such a large lobster that I won't have any room to eat all those other things, delicious as they might be; I am there for the lobster.
So as I settled in at my table at the Seafood Grille for the wait as my four pound lobster was cooking, I removed my wristwatch as I always do when I'm about to tackle a big lobster. I had already scrubbed my hands till they were impeccably clean, and I had turned off my cell phone and donned the requisite lobster bib. I was ready to enjoy the king of the crustaceans, without distractions or interruptions. When this beauty came out of the kitchen other diners exclaimed, and asked about its size, some of them suffering from a little "lobster envy."
Although I've eaten at the Seafood Grille many times, this was my first time trying their lobster, and my hopes were tentative, having recently been disappointed at two "lobster specials" found in other establishments where the poor lobsters had given their lives only to have the kitchen completely botch the job of cooking them. What a delightful surprise to find that this would turn out to be the best lobster I had ever had! This month marks 24 years that I've been eating whole lobsters out of the shell, having not bothered much with the skimpy, overcooked, tasteless lobster tails I'd had in western restaurants before I moved to the East Coast. This was simply the most perfectly cooked, most succulent lobster it's ever been my pleasure to crack and eat, and that makes it TheYearRounder's choice as this week's Best Bite.
Actually, eating a large lobster is a little easier than eating a small one because the legs and body are bigger, and it's actually easier to get those larger nuggets of meat out of the body, where there is a tremendous amount of good meat to be found on larger lobsters. Over the years I've learned how to get to every bit of that meat, so it can take me a while to eat a lobster.
On Tuesday nights at the Seafood Grille, at 386 Commercial Street, you can get a lobster up to five pounds at a special low price based on the weight of the lobster, and you can have it served in any of three ways: you can order your lobster as a clambake, with all the trimmings mentioned above, or have it served "baked stuffed" with a seafood stuffing, or you can have it served all by itself. They also serve a number of other entrees featuring lobster from their regular menu. There's also a Monday night "all you can eat" fish and chips special for just $18. I hope these specials go on for a while, giving me a chance to return for another big lobster, perfectly cooked and at a bargain price, and a chance to try the fish and chips, too.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Art's Dune Tours - The Best Way to Experience the Dunes of Provincetown

In the 1940s Art Costa returned home to Provincetown, having been a soldier stationed abroad in World War II, wondering what profession he should take up in order to make a living. He was trying to think of something he could stand to do all day for the rest of his life. For a while before the war, he had been a driver for Mitch's Beach Taxi, driving folks out to the back beach, as the locals called what would become known as Race Point Beach when the Cape Cod National Seashore was established years later, in 1961. He had really enjoyed that job, driving out through the little forested patches and the amazing sandy hillsides that make up the dunes, and traveling along a couple of miles of the pristine shoreline of the Outer Cape.
In 1946, driving a 1936 Ford "woody," Art started a beach taxi business of his own, not only driving people out to the beach, but along the way he began telling them stories about the history of the dunes, the wildlife in the area, and the writers, artists and many others who had spent time in the now-famous dune shacks over the years. That's how the business evolved into Art's Dune Tours, taking people on guided tours through the dunes for some 66 years now. Over the years there have been thirteen companies offering rides through the dunes. The others have all come and gone, while Art's remains, happily touring the dunes on several trips each day from the spring into the autumn season every year.
Rob Costa, Art's son, took over the day-to-day operation of the company several years ago when Art's health began to interfere with driving several loads of passengers out through the dunes every day. Rob carries his dad's scrapbook of photos and mementos of the early days in his Chevy Suburban, the model that now makes up the fleet of 7 four-wheel drive vehicles that you'll often see going out caravan style through the dunes, and he tells some of the same stories that his dad had told to countless passengers over the years. Many times Rob had heard his dad say that if you really enjoyed what you were doing, it wasn't work. That seems to be the secret of the longevity of this company. They love what they do, and it shows.
Daily 1-hour tours, 1 1/2-hour lighthouse tours on Sundays, 2-hour sunset tours, and weddings or other special events can be arranged by calling Art's at 508 487-1950, or toll free at 800 894-1951, reserving your trip with a credit card. Or you can drop by their office at 4 Standish Street and arrange your trip through PTown's incredible sand dunes. Tour rates currently start at $27 for adults, $18 for kids, with children age 5 and under riding in your lap for free. Save $2 on your tour by booking online. You can also add a clambake to your sunset tour and enjoy a traditional New England lobster dinner served on the beach by your tour guide, picnic style. Barbecued chicken or vegetarian dinners are available as well.
As the days grow cooler and shorter, tours begin to wind down for the season. Be sure and get out into the dunes in the next few weeks before they give their last tour for the year. It is a remarkable experience and the beauty of the dunes is unparalleled.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Provincetown's Magnificent Sunset Behind the Pilgrim Monument

If you are in the right place at the right time, and if you carry a camera with you, you can capture moments like this all around Provincwtown. I happened to be walking past the corner of Ryder and Commercial Streets on this particular evening, just as a spectacular sunset was peaking in the clouds in the western sky, and just as the lights on the Pilgrim Monument were coming on. By maneuvering a little bit, and walking about ten or twelve steps in six different directions, I got this shot between the power lines and other obstacles that can sometimes muddle up an otherwise great photograph.
The Pilgrim Monument is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States, at 252 feet, 7 and 1/2 inches tall. It commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims' first landing, which was here in Provincetown on November 11th, 1620, and not in Plymouth as most Americans were taught in school. Construction was begun in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt came to Provincetown for a ceremony on August 20th where he made a speech and then laid the cornerstone for the Pilgrim Monument. Upon completion of the construction three years later, President and Mrs. William H. Taft, and the entire Atlantic Fleet of the U.S. Navy, sailed into Provincetown Harbor for the dedication ceremony of the Monument on August 5th, 1910.
During World War I the Monument was used by the federal government as a lookout tower, and during World War II it is thought to have been the site of testing some secret communication equipment. The "I Am Provincetown" website has a great deal of fascinating information and stories about the building of the Pilgrim Monument, so click on this link and learn more about it.
And carry a camera with you whenever you go out!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Portuguese Food at the Mayflower Cafe

Our quest for Portuguese food in Provincetown leads us this week to the Mayflower Cafe, a family operated business run by various members of the Janoplis family over the last 83 years, who built this restaurant at 300 Commercial Street in 1929. It's not a fancy place by any means, but is a favorite of locals for fresh food simply prepared, reasonable prices, and a number of Portuguese specialties on the menu. it's a great spot for folks traveling on a budget, and the large booths are perfect for families, with room to easily seat six adults or a family with a number of children of various sizes.
I often like to start out with a baked stuffed clam; priced at $4.99, which is a large sea clam shell mounded with a bread stuffing mixed with chopped clams and linguica (say lean-gwee-suh, a mildly spicy Portuguese sausage made with pork) and baked in the oven. It's served with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the top, and many folks will drizzle a little hot sauce over the top of this tasty appetizer. There's also a Portuguese kale soup, packed with vitamins from the green leafy chopped kale, with potatoes and red kidney beans in a broth flavored with, what else...? More linguica.
The Pork Chops Vinho de Alhos are a favorite entree, translating into English as "pork chops with wine and garlic." Center cut pork chops are marinated in wine, garlic, spices and a bit of vinegar before they go onto the grill, and are served with a small garden salad, a dinner roll and your choice of French fries, mashed or baked potato. These have a different flavor from other pork chops you've known, and are quite tasty, and a good value at $16.99.
Another specialty here is the Portuguese Fish and Chips. That's flounder battered and deep-fried, sauced with a mixture of vinegar, oil, garlic and spices, and served with French fries and coleslaw. This dish also carries the reasonable price tag of $16.99.
Stroll over to the Mayflower, with the big black-and-white striped awning out front, and try some of Provincetown's oldest recipes, brought here by the families of many of the early Portuguese sailors and fishermen, who were pretty much the backbone of Provincetown's early fishing community. There are other Portuguese specialties here as well, so give them a try. Bom apetite!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Great Blue Heron Makes Its Annual Appearance in Provincetown's Wetlands

Provincetown seems to be on a kind of migratory fly-over path for nearly 500 species of migrating birds, so at any time of the year we'll find several different types of birds winging in to spend a bit of time here. Some of these birds come just for a day or two to eat things that are "in season" for a very short time.  Out in the dunes I've seen swarms of hundreds of birds descend on some of the bushes on the sandy hillsides, gorging for a few moments and then taking to the air again, swooping up and down until the leader, whoever that is, decides it's time to land again. Some of those bushes will turn almost black for a few moments at a time with several dozen birds perched on each of the branches of a handful of bushes within a few yards of each other, and then the whole colony will take flight again, darkening a patch of the summer sky as they swoop left and right together with an almost military precision like hundreds of soldiers on a parade march, all making the methodical left-face in the same instant. These bushes are on the hillsides, away from the trail. and I've never walked closer to see whether they are eating berries or fruits of some sort, or maybe bugs, or caterpillars that can appear in the dunes in great numbers for a few days at a time.
Flocks of Baltimore Orioles swoop into Provincetown in the spring, and the American Goldfinch arrives in sizable numbers, and will often spend a good bit of the summer here flitting through the trees, especially out near the Provincelands Visitor Center. But every year, like clockwork, just a few of my favorites begin to arrive within what seems like seconds after that moment when the temperature begins to drop a bit, and the summer starts to wind down...
The Great Blue Heron can be found at this time of the of year out in the wetlands near the Moors Motel, in the Far West End of town. They are most often found standing at the edges of the little rivulets of water that snake through the tall reeds and grasses beyond Provincelands Road, standing motionless as tiny fish and other small edibles pass by in these shallow waters. They are found here most often as the tide is going out, usually at less than half tide, when their long legs will keep their bodies out of the water as they strike a pose and watch for whatever might swim by and become their lunch. They feed on small fish, aquatic insects, frogs and other delicacies that happen by, spearing them with their long, sharply pointed bills. Rarely they can be seen wading from one spot to another, but are usually found standing motionless at the very edge of the water, just behind a few reeds and  grasses where they are trying to hide from potential prey, which is what makes it a bit difficult for us to spot them as well.
Your best chance to look for this stately bird seems to be during the time when the tide is fairly low during the morning hours, while the tide is receding. Look for herons on the far edge of the little salt pond that rises and lowers with the tides, where the water flows beneath the road near the "bike rack" in that little bit of forest on Provincelands Road, where these birds are sometimes spotted knee-deep in the middle of the pond as well. You'll find them more often, though, by looking very sharply out over the wetlands, or the moors, as they are sometimes called, to the right of the Wood End Light, and sometimes quite close to the road. You'll likely see only one at a time, because they fish alone, but a pair of binoculars might help you find a few of them fishing in different parts of the marsh, far from the road. And of course you'll want to take your camera with you in search of this big, magnificent bird.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Daily Jamaican Special at West End Angel Foods is a PTown Bargain, and a Best Bite

One of the best deals on a meal in PTown is the Jamaican daily special at the new Angel Foods at the General Store, at 147 Commercial Street. This neighborhood deli, which had been the Provincetown General Store for many years, was taken over this summer by the folks who have run Angel Foods on the east end of Commercial Street, across from the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, for many years as well.
Prices seem to have gone up a bit on a number of items here, but an outstanding value has been added with the Jamaican meal which now augments the menu of takeout choices, with different offerings every day. This day they had three choices: brown stew pork or goat, or fried chicken. When I said I loved any kind of brown stewed dish and couldn't decide, they offered to make me a plate with a combination of goat and pork. Whatever choice you make will be served with a huge mound of rice and peas (actually rice and beans to Americans) and some sliced tomatoes, jam-packed into a "to go" box.
Brown stew typically is a sort of light sauce or gravy used to marinate whatever meat is used, and then the dish is simmered in the same marinade with a few more ingredients added. It usually includes coconut milk, scallions, onions, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, a little hot pepper and usually a little lime juice. The rice and beans are also very tasty, with the distinctive flavor of coconut milk. Any brown stew dish will be a little bit spicy and really delicious with whatever type of meat or poultry might be used. Americans may not be used to eating goat, but it is a staple in Jamaican kitchens and is quite good. Whatever you choose from the day's list of Jamaican specialty dishes, it always has a great flavor, the serving is huge and the price is about $11, making this dish consistently a Best Bite.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Warm up Your Evening as the Summer Turns a Little Cooler

As the days begin to shorten a bit, and the evening temperatures start to drop a few degrees, it's time to fire up the barbecue, or get a beach fire going, or to figure out some other way to take a bit of the chill off of the evening. There's something about the smell of a barbecue just as the sun begins to set, and the sound of a meal sizzling on the grill. Even hot dogs cooked on a stick over a fire taste particularly good as the weather cools off a bit, and as more of us have a little more time to relax a little. And don't forget the marshmallows and the s'mores.
If you want to have a beach fire at Herring Cove or on Race Point Beach, be sure to check which areas are designated as appropriate spots for your fire, and be sure to get a permit from the park rangers.
It's nice just to sit by the fire, too, and let the cares of the day fall away as you watch a few flames flicker and dance as the twilight descends. These folks are enjoying the fire pit at the Harbor Hotel, looking out over the beach as a boat glides past the Long Point Lighthouse. What better way to relax as the seasons get ready to change?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Cloud With Square Corners? Only in Provincetown

This photo was shot through the window glass while driving through the Provincelands, out toward the Visitor Center. This is another one of those examples of the sort of naturally occurring sights often found in the Provincetown sky where it makes me think that if you were to paint this sky, people would think you made it up.
What sort of wind would have to come along to swirl the end of this cloud into a square corner?
The sky around us never ceases to amaze me, and the shapes formed by the endless variety in the sorts of clouds rolling overhead every day show me something absolutely spectacular every single time I venture out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Provincetown's Oldest House, and a Tale of Two Time Capsules

A vintage postcard of the oldest house in PTown.
In Provincetown's West End, at 72 Commercial Street, you'll find the house that most folks will acknowledge as the oldest remaining house in town.
If you look closely at the small, individual glass panes that make up the windows on the front of the house you will see that several of them look rather warped and wavy, a bit bumpy, which is characteristic of very old glass, made before more modern manufacturing methods allowed window panes to be made with a uniform thickness throughout each piece of glass.
Some of these little panes are the original window panes dating back to 1746 when the house was built by Seth Nickerson. He made his living as a ship's carpenter, and is said to have built this house mainly from planks and boards and beams which he had salvaged from a number of shipwrecks over the years. This vintage postcard shows the house as it looked before Soper Street was built next to the east side of the house, where the car in the picture above is sitting. Judging by this early Ford, was the original photograph for this postcard  taken around 90 years ago?
If you walk by 72 Commercial Street you'll notice the rosebushes growing up the front of the house and onto the roof, exactly as you see them in the old postcard above.
This house had been waterfront property when it was s built, but when Commercial Street was finally laid out, in 1835, the road had to be built between existing houses, and since this one sat closer to the edge of the harbor than others on the north side of the path that would become Commercial Street, the house lost most of its front yard to the construction of the new road. When a four-plank wooden sidewalk was added along the edge of the street a few years later, the yard became narrower still.
In the early 1900s a whale's jawbone formed an arch and gateway in front of the house, and the Ship Model Shop and the Hooked Rug Shop were operated there by the owners, local artists Elizabeth and Coulton Waugh. In 1944 the house was bought by world-renowned photographer John Gregory and his wife Adelaide, a concert pianist. They allowed, and encouraged, tours of the house by the public, and a son who had grown up in that house tells of a childhood where the children had to keep their things put away and their room tidy at all times, because their father actively promoted "the oldest house in town" and would enthusiastically escort interested visitors through the home at virtually any time of the day or night.
The late John Gregory was a friend of the late Carl Sagan, the pioneer of space science, who created a sort of "time capsule" using recordings of sounds and images from the Earth, similar to a record album but made of gold in order to withstand the possible ravages of time and space travel. A recording was included in the payload of each of the two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977. Each "golden record" was  packed with a stylus and illustrations meant to show how these recordings could be played by whatever life form might discover these spacecraft at some point in the distant future. One of John Gregory's photographs of the oldest house in Provincetown is included among those images and sounds from Earth, with one of those spacecraft on track to fall within about 1.6 light years of the star AC+79 3888, in the constellation of Camelopardalis, in about 40,000 years or so. It may also pass right by that particular stop in that endless chain of stars, eventually coming to rest much farther away from the Earth and much, much later in time, if ever.
When the oldest house was bought by the current owners a number of years ago they did a very thorough and loving restoration of the house, even going to the trouble of having new wooden pegs carved by hand to replace the old ones in the joists and joints of the roof. In those early days when the house was built, nails were quite expensive and hard to come by, especially in the size needed to hold large beams together.
Cupboards, floorboards and walls were carefully pried loose so that the structures beneath could be inspected and restored.  Over roughly 250 years since the house had been built, a number of photographs, notes, small toys, bits of clothing and other items had fallen behind shelves or slipped between floorboards, and it was common to use old newspapers and other scraps for insulation between walls in those days. As the work progressed, artifacts of all sorts began literally pouring out of the woodwork.
These treasures were turned over to artist Morgan Norwood, who created an art installation in the front room of the house, placing newly found tiles around the fireplace and its mantle, and using a baby bootie, photos, marbles and other small toys that were discovered to fill a sort of shadow box on the wall next to the hearth, but with a door on the front of the box. When opened, the box reveals these trinkets, including a small eyepiece a bit like a tiny spyglass with a photograph placed at the end so that it will appear to be the view through the spyglass. Looking through this little eyepiece you'll see the expanse of the beach and the harbor in front of this house, before the other houses were built across Commercial Street. Pulling open the door of this box also triggers a recording of the voice of Provincetown Trolley owner Yvonne Cabrall talking about the "time capsule" as the trolley passed by the house on its tour of the town in the late 1990s, so the "view" of the early beach and that bit of the Trolley narration essentially create a bit of a time capsule inside the "oldest house" as well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

We're on a Search for Portuguese Specialties in Provincetown Restaurants

Provincetown has a tremendous Portuguese heritage, with many of the early sailors and fishermen here having been recruited by Yankee sea captains who sailed to Portugal and the Azores in search of skilled crews willing to leave their homeland, and often their families, to fish in the rich waters off the shores of North America. They worked very hard in the early fishing industry, often spending months at sea, fishing the Grand Banks off the southeast shores of Newfoundland. There the cold waters of the Labrador Current merged with the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream in relatively shallow depths, creating an upwelling of nutrients that turned these waters into some of the world's richest fishing grounds. Cod were found in great abundance, along with haddock and swordfish, making some of those captains quite wealthy, and after several seasons many of the Portuguese fishermen they employed had saved up enough money to send for their families to come and live in Provincetown.
One of the strongest links to this Portuguese heritage is the foods that were served in the homes of those early fishermen, often humble peasant dishes from recipes handed down by their ancestors; simple foods that evoked the flavors of their homeland. Over the next several weeks this blog will take us around the town to a number of restaurants where we'll find dishes based on those recipes and flavors. We'll start at the Lobster Pot with their Pork and Clams Osso Bucco, one of my all-time favorite meals.

A pork shank or two are chopped into manageable chunks that will fit in the pot, where it's slowly simmered in fish and veal stocks, along with linguica (say leen-gwee-suh; a mildly spicy Portuguese sausage,) tomatoes, onions and a few mushrooms. In the last few minutes of cooking, littleneck clams are dropped into the pot, and when they open, their liquor adds another dimension of flavor to this wonderful stew, which is then poured over a bowl of hearty Sardinian cous cous and garnished with a sprig of fresh herbs. Every Portuguese family has at least a couple of recipes that combine pork with clams, perhaps because these were fairly inexpensive sources of protein, readily available, not to mention that they taste so good together. In fact, this dish is a YearRounder's Best Bite.
This is such a substantial dish that I've never finished it in the restaurant, but have always taken some home with me for another meal. It's served with a good sized salad of mixed greens and the Lobster Pot's homemade salad dressings, along with a bread basket that always includes a bit of their wonderful pumpkin bread. Of course, part of the reason I save some of this dinner for another day is to make sure that I have room for dessert, because there are many choices at The Pot, and all are homemade. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

25th Annual Provincetown Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla, and This Week's Hot Ticket, the Celebration of Life

The first swimmer glides in to the shoreline at the Boatslip
in the annual Provincetown Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla
The first Swim for Life dates back to September 11th, 1988, as some 18 swimmers took the plunge from the Provincetown shoreline to the Long Point Lighthouse, raising $6,000 for the Provincetown Positive/People with AIDS Coalition.
This year's Swim, on Saturday, September 8th, marks the silver anniversary of this celebrated community event, commemorating the 25th annual Provincetown Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla. The Swim is followed by the Mermaid Brunch, catered by Far Land Provisions, and held on the deck at the Boatslip. It is a free community luncheon with entertainment, (donations are welcome, of course,) celebrating the efforts of the swimmers, and Provincetown's magnificent natural harbor. At this event awards are given for the highest fundraisers of the day, the Circle of Honor Award is given to those who have made the swim ten times or have raised $10,000, and the David Asher Volunteer Award is presented to an outstanding volunteer.
There are a number of local businesses that sponsor this event, as well as restaurants, guesthouses, and many other businesses and shops that provide prizes for participnts, totaling nearly 90 businesses in Provincetown and Truro that sponsor or support the Swim. Check this list of Swim Supporters and give them your support by patronizing them, and thank them for their contributions to this amazing event.
Artist, activist and Community Compact founder Jay Critchly will be officiating, as usual. He and Walter MCLean hatched the idea for this event back in 1988 when they made their own swim across the harbor to see if it could be done, and then within two weeks the first event was pulled together. The swim now runs from Long Point Light to the Boatslip, where swimmers are greeted by throngs of cheering friends and supporters.
Last year's event saw some 150 volunteers as well as 400 swimmers, some from around the country, and a few from around the world, gather in Provincetown for the yearly 1.4 mile swim across the harbor, raising $200,000 for HIV/AIDS, women's health, and the Provincetown Community Compact, as well as various local non-profit organizations supported by the Compact. To date, this event has raised about $2.5 million for programs supporting health and the quality of life in our community. Watch this YouTube video about the Provincetown Swim for Life 25th Anniversary.
There is still time for you to participate, which is exactly what this flagship fundraising event for our little community is all about. Swimmers, paddlers and volunteers are still wanted, and you can go to the website to find out more. There are pages on their website for everything from volunteer opportunities to safety in the water to fundraising tips. Swimmers are required to raise at least $100 in pledges, but if your schedule permits you to join in at the last minute, you could write a $100 check yourself and still register to swim.
Don't leap lightly into the water, however. A swim of I.4 miles is a long one for most folks, particularly for those who haven't done any sort of training leading up to the event, and in past years there haven't always been enough wetsuits to go around, so it could be rather cold. But don't let me dissuade you from swimming at the last minute, either. All manner of safety precautions are in place, and there are volunteers in kayaks and boats in the water as well as a number of medical personnel available, should they be needed.
Volunteers are also needed, to help with registration, to operate support boats, to serve and clean up at the Mermaid Brunch, for the lost-and-found, handing out Tee-shirts to swimmers and volunteers, and for many other jobs. One of the most important things any community member can do is to turn out at the Boatslip to cheer on the swimmers and greet them as they come out of the water. Cheerleaders remain on the beach, whooping and hollering and cheering on the swimmers until the last one has come to shore, for whatever time that takes.
Registration will be held from 9 to 10:00 AM on the deck of the Boatslip Resort, at 161 Commercial Street, at the edge of Provincetown Harbor. At 9:30 AM the Provincetown Trolley will begin to shuttle the swimmers to MacMillan Pier and the Viking Princess, the Cee Jay, and boats from Flyer's Boat Rental, which will all take swimmers out to the very tip of Cape Cod at Long Point. The Swim across Provincetown Harbor, from the Long Point Light back to the Boatslip, will begin at 10:30 AM, barring unforeseen circumstances like whales in the harbor, which delayed the start of the swim one year. The Mermaid Brunch follows from 12 to 2 PM, with the awards ceremony around 1 PM, or whenever the last swimmer is out of the water.
One of the best events of all, the Celebration of Life, takes place the night before, at 8 PM at the Meeting House, at 236 Commercial Street, so don't miss it. For many years local musician John Thomas has been putting on a huge show the night before the Swim, featuring just a number or two from each of dozens of the Town's favorite entertainers: singers, musicians, comics... even spoken word artists have appeared to read a few paragraphs to the packed house at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse, sometimes called the U U. Get there early to get a good seat. This event may be the most uplifting, joyous, life-affirming event in Provincetown every year, always held the night before the Swim for Life, and always at the U U. It is this weeks Hot Ticket, with no ticket actually required. It is a free event for the whole community. Donations are accepted, but not required, so don't let that be a barrier now that the season has shifted and some of us are already losing our jobs. I'll see you at the Swim and the brunch the next day, too.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Spectacular Provincetown Sky, Opus 1

There's not too much to be said about a sky like this. Just enjoy this photo, shot over the rooftops of the excavation and gravel yard in an alley off of Court Street. Beauty is where you find it, and in Provincetown you find it everywhere. Notice that instead of a high cloud allowing beams of light to shine down from above, the clouds near the bottom are casting streaks of shadow up from below. I've never seen this before. If you were to paint this sky, people would think you made it up. After 24 years here, every day in PTown I still see something completely new, something that just takes my breath away.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Get Out for a Swim While the Water is Still Warm

A gentleman stretches out in shallow waters near the breakwater in the
Far West End, bobbing on the slowly rising tide. Notice the darker water
beyond him, where the water is suddenly much deeper, and likely cooler
As we find the weather cooling down, maybe a bit early this year, it's time to get out for another swim before cooler water temperatures set in and make it too chilly to swim. Each summer, the last few comfortable days to swim come at a different time. In an exceptionally warm summer many years ago, I lasted all the way into October, swimming in the harbor every day at a spot where a wide mound of sand baked in the sun at low tide, warming the water slightly as the tide rolled in. If I could catch it every day just before the water got deep enough to go over my head, there was a pocket of slightly warmer water where that heap of sand made the depth of the water a couple of feet shallower, and the warmth of that sandy mound transferred to the slowly rising water.
I could feel a difference of a couple of degrees if the tide rose very calmly. If the water was a bit choppy, it all blended together and there was no warm spot. It took a bit of dedication to follow the tides, swimming every day roughly an hour later than the day before, but it was worth the trouble to be able to stretch the swimming season by a few weeks. When the tide inevitably began reaching this depth in the pre-dawn hours, I had to just gut it out, plunging into cooler water for a few days, at a more reasonable time of day, until my warm water cycle kicked in again.
You can do some good in the world by swimming, by the way, in the upcoming Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla, a 1.2 mile open water swim, or paddle, across Provincetown Harbor on September 8th. Swimmers, paddlers and volunteers of all stripes are needed, so click the link above for more information and to get involved in this fundraiser for a number of local health organizations and non-profits. Watch for an upcoming post about the 25th anniversary of this wonderful community event.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Edie, at the Art House Tonight Only, is This Week's Hot Ticket

Provincetown audiences are very lucky this summer to see the return (although much too brief) of one of the most entertaining performers ever to have graced the stage of the Art House, at 214 Commercial Street. It seems to me that it's been about five years since we've seen Edie on stage in PTown, and that is far too long a time without this special, classy brand of drag theater. Edie is first and foremost a dancer, classically trained, extremely talented, and it doesn't hurt that she happens to be a knockout!
Edie's alter ego is Christopher Kenney, who began dancing at the tender age of eight years old, then traveling the world with the ballet company that hired him upon his graduation from high school.
One Halloween, Christopher joined some friends in dressing up, and that night "Edie" was offered her first job as a performer. It sounded like fun, and Christopher decided to give it a try, and soon found the blossoming character of Edie moving in and taking over his life. He says he has rather enjoyed watching Edie's personality develop and mature over the years, taking on new challenges as they come along.
Edie is currently starring as the Mistress of Sensuality in the ultra-sexy Cirque du Soleil extravaganza Zumanity, at the NewYork-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Having a brief break from the show, Christopher has returned to Provincetown, one of his favorite vacation spots, and when asked to perform as Edie while here, he consented to doing just two shows during the limited time he has before he will return to performing in Las Vegas.
Patrons at the Art House this past Monday were treated to the high-kicking, high-class performance that has made Edie a standout in the world of drag entertainment over the years. One more performance remains, tonight, August 30th, at 10 PM at the Art House. Get tickets online, or visit the box office at the theater, at 214 Commercial Street, opening at 2 PM. Don't miss the playful, zesty and thoroughly entertaining performance promised as Edie takes the stage tonight.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PTown Residents and Visitors Venture out Despite a Bit of Rain

A little rain doesn't stop us from getting out and about in Provincetown. These folks are strolling the breakwater in the West End despite the off-and-on rain on this August afternoon. We tend not to listen too much to the predictions of the weather man, and since most TV weather is reported for the shoreline of Boston, most of the predictions really don't have much to do with us. Provincetown sits about 25 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by deep water, which often changes the weather as it rolls over us. The majority of the time when rain is predicted several days in advance, it usually dissipates by the time it reaches us, or it goes to the north or south as it gets nearer, most often missing us, or sometimes just nicking us with a few drops of rain, as on this day when a major storm had been predicted long in advance.
 In Provincetown we stick our collective head out of the window,  and if it comes in dry, we go out. If it comes in wet, we put on a jacket, and go out. We don't let a little rain stop us from enjoying the day. Watch for an upcoming blog post about a number of rainy day activities, shops, museums and other attractions to enjoy even in a real downpour, which doesn't really happen here all that often.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

By Popular Request, More PTown Carnival, Parade and Drag Bingo Photos...

This year's Carnival theme "Space Odyssey" obviously meant many different things to all the participants. See my August 15th blog post about  Aliens Roaming Commercial Street, and my August 16th post about sights seen on the day of the 2012 annual Carnival Parade. The costumes seen on Commercial Street both before and after the parade often rivaled those seen in the actual parade, with many celebrants obviously spending hours, and often a good bit of cash, on their outfits and props.
Drag Bingo also brought out a lot of costumes worn by most of the players, and by many who weren't actually playing Bingo in the Annual UU Meetinghouse fundraiser.
A striking costume found on Commercial Street, completely silver with a peacock headdress

"Sissies on Parade," strolling Commercial Street before and after Carnival Parade

A close-up of the alien and his spaceship on Marc Jacobs' float

Miss Mars rides down commercial street during Carnival parade

Phoo op for a visitor with Drag Bingo "cheerleader"

Party dresses come out of the closet for Drag Bingo

On their way to Drag Bingo these ladies are continuously asked to pose for delighted visitors

Every seat is filled for Drag Bingo

The glasses really make the outfit, don't you think?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Provincetown's Commercial Street Long Ago, and Very Long Ago

This old-fashioned linen finished postcard seems to have originated with a photograph taken at the corner of Standish and Commercial streets, looking east. Notice that in this photo the First National Store was where the Governor Bradford stands today, and today's Lily Pond was the A&P of that day. At the same time there were other grocery stores in Provincetown besides these two neighborhood markets.
Who out there reading this page knows their vintage autos? What year would this have been, when car windshields still were built in two pieces? Late 30s? Early 40s?
The Lobster Pot is seen just past the intersection. The big tree in the center of the photo would appear to be the old elm tree that stood in front of the original public library, at he corner of Freeman Street. Beyond that, the spire of today's public library, at that time the Center Methodist Episcopal Church, rises 100 feet above Commercial Street, having been reduced from its 162 foot height after it was seriously damaged in the Portland Gale, in the autumn of 1898.
Below is the same intersection in a photo from the 1890s. At this time the railroad, built in 1873, came through this intersection, and there was an enormous tree a bit farther up Commercial Street. Notice the old wooden four plank sidewalk, built in 1838. It's fun to look at these old photos and try to recognize a few of today's landmarks.