Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Born This Day in 1785, Naturalist John James Audubon Revered Nature

John James Audubon was a ridiculously handsome man, as seen in this portrait by John Syme, found
in the collection of the White House Historical Association. His artwork of wildlife, particularly of birds,
has contributed greatly to the study, conservation and appreciation of countless species over the years.
On April 26, 1785, John James Audubon was born under the name Jean Rabin, the illegitimate son of French plantation owner Captain Jean Audubon and his Creole servant Jeanne Rabin, in Les Cayes, in what is now called Haiti. He was raised in France in a style befitting the son of a wealthy merchant, affording him plenty of leisure time in which to explore the world around him while studying art, music and natural history. There he was also given a new name: Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon.
At a young age, his utter fascination with the natural world around him led to a particular interest in birds. Eventually, his fine artistic ability and his passion to portray every species of  bird that he could find would lead him into a career for which he turned out to have been uniquely talented.
When war broke out between France and England in 1803, Audubon was 18 years old. To keep his son from being conscripted into the army of Emperor Napoleon, his father sent Jean-Jacques to his estate in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It was on this journey that the young man renamed himself, becoming John James Audubon. Living on his father's Pennsylvania estate, John conducted his first scientific studies, and would go on to become a sort of self-taught scientist.
Audubon painting of the Roseate Spoonbill
In the meantime he met and married Lucy Bakewell and the two moved to Kentucky and started a family. Audubon tried his hand at business as well. Failing in several ventures, he was briefly jailed for debts he owed.
Next, he headed south to study and draw birds, finally settling with his family in New Orleans, eking out a living on Lucy’s income as a governess and the little money Audubon himself made by painting portraits on the street and giving art lessons.
He continued building his credentials as an artist and a naturalist, and eventually he had completed more than 400 artworks, with the desire to publish them. His work was far and away the best of any artist portraying birds, with a much more natural appearance to his drawings and paintings than anyone else could manage. Yet, in two years traveling the country, he found no one willing to publish his work.
Audubon's Northern Hare (winter)
In the mid-1820s he set sail for the United Kingdom, where he hoped to find a publisher, or at least to find engravers skillful enough to properly reproduce his work, which he was able to exhibit to great acclaim both in Scotland and in England. While his artistic skills captivated the public, people were also fascinated by his stories of American frontier Life.
These very successful exhibitions finally lead to the first publication of his true masterpiece, Birds of America, which depicted every bird known in this country at the time. This four-volume tour de force, for which he became most well known, was followed by other related volumes, and eventually lead to works on other sorts of wildlife.
The Cape Cod National Seashore annually hosts roughly 370 species of migrating birds, with about 80 of those species nesting and raising their young here during the spring and summer months. Beech Forest and Hatches Harbor are good spots to observe many varieties of birds in their natural habitats, with our streets and neighborhoods providing plentiful sightings as well. Provincetown is a veritable birdwatcher’s paradise.
Even when a part of a spring day is rainy, the birds quickly pop out again between clouds blowing along overhead. Try to get out between the raindrops today and spot a few birds, and give a nod of thanks to John James Audubon, born on this day in 1785. His life’s work in depicting the natural world has immeasurably enriched us.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Moby Dick Marathon Begins Today at Provincetown Public Library

This picture depicts the final chase of Moby Dick
from the book History of the Sperm Whale, 1839.
Beginning this afternoon, Provincetown Public Library is hosting a three-day marathon reading of Herman Melville’s epic novel Moby Dick, with some 120 participants either reading aloud, or dressing in period costumes and performing brief scenes from the book, while listeners take in an hour or two of the story, or attend the entire event and hear the book read from cover to cover. The complete novel of more than 600 pages will be read aloud over a period of 24 hours, spread over three days: 2 to 8 PM Friday, 10 AM to 10 PM Saturday, and on Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM.
The event will begin with Melville’s great-great grandson, Peter Gansevoort Whittemore, reading the first few pages, which include one of the most famous opening lines ever written: “Call me Ishmael.” Other whaling towns such as New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Mystic, Connecticut will also host readings of the novel.
Among more than 70 American whaling ports, Provincetown ranked number five in number of vessels with 160 outfitted here, and number three in voyages undertaken, with 902 launched between 1820 and 1920, when our whaling era ended. By the middle 1800s, Provincetown had become a thriving whaling port, and at one time was said to have been second only to New Bedford, making us arguably one of the wealthiest towns per capita in Massachusetts in those days.

Attend this reading Friday, April 21st through Sunday, April 23rd
Melville was inspired to write his whaling adventure, by the way, when he heard the story of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex, attacked and sunk by an angry sperm whale in 1820, with a handful of the crew surviving by resorting to cannibalism in order to stay alive during three months adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Whaling was a very dangerous way to make a living, and a substantial number of ships were lost at sea without a trace, though it was likely quite rare for a vengeful whale to attack and actually sink a ship! Still, we have no way to know what happened to the many whaling vessels that simply never returned to their home ports.
The story of Moby Dick follows whaling Captain Ahab on his obsessive quest for revenge on the villainous white whale that had destroyed his ship, and had cost the captain a leg. Melville's saga is considered one of the greatest adventure stories of all time. Get Thee to the library, at 356 Commercial Street, for at least part of this marvelous community event, or for the entire reading, which is free and open to the public. Contributions to the library are welcome, of course, but are not required.
Get out of the house and enjoy a bit of classic literature, delivered to us in this most unusual way. Our thanks to the library, and to the legion of readers and actors who will volunteer their time to bring life to this classic story.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Another Best Bite Award for The Canteen, Now Open Year-round in Provincetown

Kristen brings my breakfast, warming the room
with her characteristic charm and genuine smile. 
It's been great to have The Canteen, at 225 Commercial Street, open all winter. This offbeat little spot (in the most joyous meaning of offbeat) brought our extremely varied native population and what seems like a growing number of winter visitors together for great food and good fun in their Holiday Market event these past two winters.
I was delighted to find them open this winter beyond the festivities of food and drink, music, theater, handmade crafts and gifts of their expanding winter celebration modeled on European holiday festivals.
These folks are actively working to build community in this little spot in the heart of Provincetown, and they are attracting many more year-round visitors as well. They're also providing year-round jobs, with 15 employees in the winter and some 60 workers from around the world in the summertime.
Kristen, seen above, lights up the room with her smile, and her friendly, thoughtful service contributes to the ambience of this homey little counter-service café. She is here with her boyfriend, up-and-coming writer Tom Macher, who is enjoying his second fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, and is currently finishing a book which has already been sold to Scribner. Congratulations! The two will be here until May, with hopes of returning.

The Canteen wins TheYearRounder's Best Bite award for
this huge, wonderful Classic Breakfast Sandwich, just $5.50!
On a recent cold and stormy day I found The Canteen warm and cozy, and filled with a mix of visitors, Townies, and local people from neighboring towns who had sought out a welcoming spot for a good meal and a little atmosphere. As some were having lunch, I wanted to try the Classic Breakfast Sandwich, which turned out to be a big, tasty bargain, and I promptly bestowed upon it TheYearRounder's Best Bite award.
That designation goes to a meal or dish of outstanding taste or value, and often both, found in a PTown restaurant, clam shack, deli, pizza joint, gelato shop, or any other sort of eatery offering something quite exceptional. In fact, The Canteen won two Best Bite awards on my very first visit there, on their opening day in 2013.
On this blustery day I had ordered at the counter and settled in at a table, listening to Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, completing the perfect, mellow atmosphere for folks reading the newspaper or chatting with friends. Soon Kristen brought out my breakfast. It was a  huge, huge grilled ciabatta with cheddar cheese, slow-roasted tomatoes, 2 eggs over easy (or served omelet-style, if you'd like,) topped with two big, thick slices of applewood smoked bacon, for just $5.50. This is one of the greatest meal deals anywhere in town. That rustic, crusty bread and those slow-roasted tomatoes make this big, satisfying sandwich my new breakfast craving.
love a nice, beefy cup of coffee, but I can only have it just once in a while, so when I do order a cup, it has to be great. The Stumptown coffee served at The Canteen hits the spot, with a robust flavor and body, yet it's exceptionally smooth, without a hint of bitterness.

Julia and Mary both love The Canteen's Matzo Ball Soup.
Julia and Mary were in town this day for lunch. These two PTown expatriates, each now living in Wellfleet, often come into Provincetown together for a meal at The Canteen. Today it's Matzo Ball soup, which they'll likely follow with the Crispy Brussels Sprouts, and maybe another favorite or two…

All of these folks appeared to be visitors, here to spend a winter day
or two shopping, eating and seeking out things to do in our off-season.
Even with snow on the ground this past winter, the warmer days found the front patio at The Canteen packed with people eager to enjoy a little al fresco dining. Plenty of sunshine, fresh air and good food rewarded those who were fearless enough to venture to Provincetown on a winter's day.
The more businesses that are open in the off-season, the more folks come to spend time here. We salute The Canteen for working so hard at becoming part of the solution in Provincetown's efforts to bolster our year-round community, and congratulate them on their third Best Bite award.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Fool's Contest, 2017 - Souvenirs That Got PTown History Wrong

This souvenir plate likely sold quite well in the early 1900s,
but it got a bit of Provincetown's history wrong.
Many and various sorts of Provincetown souvenirs have been produced over the years, and many of these items depict our colorful history in one way or another, but a number of them have gotten several little bits of our history wrong.
This lovely plate, likely produced around the 1920s, shows several vignettes of well-known Provincetown sights of the day, such as the Pilgrim Monument, the steamship Dorothy Bradford arriving from Boston, and the building thought by many to be the  oldest remaining house in Provincetown. It's found at 72 Commercial Street.
In about 1746 the house was built by ship's carpenter Seth Nickerson, mainly using timbers and planks he had recovered from shipwrecks over the years. The beehive-shaped brick oven at the rear of the main fireplace dates this house before 1750. More "oldest house" claims are argued for other buildings, but this one was promoted as such, and was opened to the public by its resident owners somewhere in the early 1900s.
This souvenir plate was manufactured by W. Adams & Sons, Tunstall, England, and imported for F. H. Dearborn, who owned a shop near the center of town, selling souvenirs, newspapers and periodicals at 277 Commercial Street. The points of interest depicted on the plate seem to be from photos of well-known Provincetown landmarks, including the "Oldest House."

This image is definitely not the home known as the oldest house in Provincetown.

But look closer…
What's wrong with this picture?
A photo erroneously labeled as the oldest house was used in several postcards over a period of years, and also made its way onto this souvenir plate.

"Details" have been painted into the original black-and-white photograph
of this house, long ago mistakenly labeled as PTown's oldest house.

Here are two versions of this photo, each made into a popular postcard, with a number of artistic embellishments, such as the slightly-too-perfect clouds added in the photo to the left. The flower garden was also painted in.

In this incarnation, the artist "improved" the photo by trimming the trees and
shrubs a little, refurbishing the roof, and giving the house a red brick chimney.
This edition featured an embossed version of the photo, again enhanced by an artist, and pressed into the card leaving the image slightly raised. It made a lovely postcard, but the description was still wrong.
Several things in this photo tell us that this is not the West End building known as the oldest remaining house in town. Whoever can name the most clues to this mistaken identity will win a great Provincetown prize. Just point out as many discrepancies as you can find between this house and 72 Commercial Street.
Click on any photo above to enlarge it for more detail, and list every reason you can spot why this can't be the oldest house. E-mail your list to, or text your answers to 424•237•8696 (that's 424•23P•TOWN, if that's easier to remember, to leave your answers by voice mail, but by entering that way you'll lose a minute-and-a-half of your life listening to my message about my fabulous guided tour of Provincetown before you can leave your answers.)
You can also enter by good old US mail. Send entries to TheYearRounder (all one word,) at P O Box 1632, Provincetown, MA 02657.
Entries must be in my hand, or cell phone, or e-mail, by 12' O'clock Noon on April 28th, 2017. In case of a tie for greatest number of reasons why this photo is not Provincetown's "Oldest House," or for any other dispute, a panel of three level-headed citizens, as determined by ME, will resolve the issue by coin toss, random selection, prettiest handwriting, sexiest telephone voice, or any other senseless criteria they may choose, and by entering, we all agree that their ruling is infallible and FINAL.
And, as usual, I reserve the right to award an extra prize or two for no reason whatsoever, to one or more entries chosen at random from all entries received by the deadline. So, you don't even have to be right to win a prize, but you do have to enter.
Good luck, and happy April Fool's Day to one and all. And for a good giggle, click this link to see my all time favorite April Fools prank, perpetrated a few years back by the BBC.