I admit that before I went to Cape Cod, I had no geographical clue.
My knowledge extended only to the fact that I would be north of New York and south of Maine. I thought it was just “a” place, like somehow that little curly cue sticking out off the upper right side of our country was “Cape Cod” - the one place. As many of you more versed in New England and common knowledge than I am I'm sure know, it is in fact hundreds of miles – a whole peninsula leading up to the curly cue with lots of places along the way.
The names of these spots are what I would like to talk about first. You'd think since I was born on Long Island that boasts some killer indigenous names like Massapequa and Ronkonkama, I'd be over the funky indigenous sounds, but I never get tired of these: Sippewisset? Sandwich is always good for a chuckle, and there is East Chop and West Chop, as if the place has side burns. Mashpee, Mass. - Do they make baby food? Then try out a few like – out loud remember and with your creative caps on – Falmouth and Hyannis.
My far-and-away favorite Massachusetts town name, however, is no where near Cape Cod but too good to pass up: Athol (long o). I just bounce around the house saying it over and over again – Athol, Athol. It makes me so perversely happy. The only thing I find funnier than pondering why on earth a town would retain the name Athol, is thinking about what exactly the people from that town call themselves...
Maybe it's because I was raised on a crowded, touristy peninsula, home to the newly wed and nearly dead that touted “dockside dining” (read: seagull poop on your table) where the streets - depending on the tides - had a way of smelling like various shell fish and other stinky catch. Or, maybe it's because I am currently living on a crowded, touristy peninsula that touts similar residents and dining options and indeed reeks like yesterday's clams when the wind is right. While I felt quite at home in Cape Yawn, I'm not rushing back. I must say also that people were friendly – to the point where as I walked along the bike path talking to Mike on the cell phone they continued to greet me. My side of the conversation: “Hi. ... No, not you. What? Hi. ... No, not you. What?”
Just before heading out to CC, I was going on and on to Mike about how I just didn't know if I could ever live away from the ocean as we walked around groovy Northampton, Mass. with its rainbow flags outside the churches and its Poetry Center at Smith College which this past spring apparently hosted Tony Hoagland, Sharon Olds and Mark Doty – a trifecta of holy cow in poetry (“All events free and open to the public”). Flash ahead to Camp Dockside Dining (I hate seafood, have always, and now am a committed vegetarian) with its accompanying aromas and its sleepy pace and I started to wonder about myself. Luckily, we can sniff out the rebels pretty much anywhere and so stumbled onto the proverbial café/bakery with its menu in big chalky orange letters, its fair trade coffee and its bulletin board advertising yoga classes and Westfalias for sale.
Just to put a face on my passive hostility to the homey little Cape, I left without purchasing a teeshirt, not even one with a black dog on it. I'm reasonably sure I could have been held at security in Logan Airport for such an offense had they cared to investigate (though when you come right down to it, Logan needs no extra reasons for delay...).
What I did do is something I like to try to do in places I visit whenever possible. I seek out craftspeople, the tradesmen, the artists, the workshops. In Santa Fe, it was the indigenous people shaping storyteller bowls out of clay. In Otavalo, Ecuador it was everything from reed boxes to felt hats. In Cape Cod, it means potters.
In the days before Isaac, I was free to creep up to someone's home where there was sewing happening in the back room, a wheel spinning yarn in some tiny shed in the yard and tap lightly, hesitantly before being let in to view their wares and watch their process. These days I get to pick one potter that I can check out briefly while Mike and Isaac are around the corner at the beach.
I didn't get to meet the artist herself, unfortunately, but I did get to spend time with her lovely mother who said the most irresistible things, the first memorable one being: “Go look over there, dear. There's a beautiful piece you can't have.”
I spent a good while poking around the laundry room/studio before emerging back up the stairs next to the pantry with three ceramic cups that fit wonderfully in my hands. Mom was on the phone drumming up volunteers for something or other. I stepped gingerly over the extended hose to her oxygen tank and watched the turtles splashing wildly in an aquarium nearby.
“Hello, Steve and Alice.” She was talking to an answering machine. “I'm calling because I know you'll want to take the Wednesday spot again from 12 to 2 for July. That's the one we need filled. I know you have so much fun doing it and I so appreciate it. Maybe you'll call me back soon and confirm that you're going to do it. You know...” (I was beginning to wonder what kind of time allowance Steve and Alice's voicemail carried.) “... you can bring lunch and just sit and enjoy th view. We really need the help, and I thank you; I thank you. They say you should only do it if you really love doing it, but of course I know you really love doing it...” (apparently, a hefty time allowance. I looked around at the art on the natural wood walls, more artists in the family judging by the signatures. I felt the grip of my new cups painted in ocean blues and greens.) “...So, Alice, I meant to thank you for the flowers you brought me...”
The message continued for what seemed like another three or four minutes, after which I wanted to put down my cups and take Mom home instead. “Okay, then, bye-bye now.” Click.
“Ooooooo!” she hummed, turning her attention immediately back to me. “You've made some good choices. I have to get down there and get one of these for myself,” she mused, turning my favorite in her hands. I started a bit imagining her headed down the steep, narrow staircase with her tank, but had no trouble believing she could find a way to do it.
“I think this one's $18,” she told me, estimating up $2 from the smaller cup, the only one with a price tag. “If it's not,” she continued, eyeing and immediately disregarding my California address in the guest book, “you'll be back again and we'll give you $2.” The turtles tumbled off their rock, mouths agape, jaws working under water. I was glad to have had this moment in the inner sanctum of a real life in a foreign/too familiar place, but the turtles and I both knew it'd be a while before I'd pass this way again.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
I admit that before I went to Cape Cod, I had no geographical clue.