As much as I’ve traveled, there’s no place like gorgeous New England clinging to its coastline of rocks, coves, safe harbors, islands, sandy spits, dunes, marshes, glacier ponds. Why go anywhere else in the summer? I’ve been hanging out in Provincetown at the very end of the long arm of Cape Cod — past the elbow of the arm, past the hand of the arm and tucked into the fingertips curling around the safe harbor of the tip of the Cape — for decades. There is something about these land’s end locales that draws misfits, artists, ornery individuals who can’t or won’t make it out there in the rest of the large, competitive country. Driven to its edges one way or the other, there they leave their imprint.
Provincetown’s fortunes rose and fell with the sea – a Portuguese fishing village while there were still fish in the Georges Banks (as recently as 15 years ago there were actual Portuguese restaurants in town and kids in the high school – now closed for lack of year-round residents). For most of the 20th century, they coexisted with the comings and goings of starving artists, budding writers, famous tough guys and well-known art colonies. Property values rose; the fish disappeared, and fishermen sold their cottages to a wealthy New York gay crowd who had summered in P-town for years when gays and lesbians were not much welcomed out in the vacationing world. The cottages came down; low-key, beautifully designed, high end houses went up, and a fast ferry took off from Boston several times a day depositing day trippers.
Yes, the center of town is packed with families on the prowl for salt water taffy and home made ice cream and fried clams, shrieking in laughter at or fear of the 6’2″ drag queens in garter belts and spike heels and fright wigs hawking that night’s drag show. And thank goodness they never venture much beyond the center of town because the art galleried east end and the residential west end stay tourist-free, for the most part. I am partial to the West End, a cluster of tiny streets beyond the Coast Guard station as the town melds with tidal marsh, moors, dunes, and surprisingly steep hills. Parking is impossible, most wheeled travel is by bike, everyone is happy (especially the many dogs), and nobody gives a hoot who you are – famous, straight, screaming gay, butch. I love it. It’s the most relaxing place on earth.
Below are some of the things I love best: The quirkiness of many signs randomly posted, the sense of removedness from the world, the exquisite gardens both planned and natural, the gorgeous seascapes, the evening light, the 360 panoramas of sheltered and open water.
Take what you need; pay what you want. This tiny collection of veggies and herbs from a West End garden is always on display.
The best bike path in the world?
Through the dunes, ocean vistas, beech forest, lily pad ponds, rewarded by a “refreshing” swim in either Herring Cove Beach or Race Point. Average water temp in summer is a high of a brisk 68 F (19 C).
Gardens: Tiny plots, pathways, window boxes, front yards, hidden back yards, decks with ocean views, gardens tucked into the side of the West End hill. Lush, full of improbable colors – the delicate patterns of lace hydrangea and hot pink, deep blue, cabbage-size hydrangeas are unique to the area.
Sculptures, found art, and oddities. You just never know what you will stumble across. Every walk is an adventure. Unpretentious creativity is all around.
Nature: The main course and why everyone’s here. The beaches are endless, backed up by dunes and the National Seashore – thank you JFK for having the foresight to recognize how precious and valuable this spit of land would become, and for protecting it from the ravages of over-development.