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.