Jutting out to one of the most easterly locations in the United States is Cape Cod. As if hesitant of reaching out too far into the Atlantic, the peninsula suddenly turns in an a northerly direction and then points back slightly toward the Eastern Seaboard like it does not want to completely forsake its motherland. Yet reach out away from the continent it must.
The geography of Cape Cod has been a formative factor in its character. At the very end of the Cape is Provincetown. The first white settlers, the Pilgrims from England, arrived in 1620. Though they were off-course, Provincetown Harbor proved to be further east and have calmer waters than the mouth of the Hudson River. Since the first white non-conformists arrived, it has been a Mecca of non-conformity ever since (though the Native Americans there were ever non-conformists on the world stage). The Pilgrims eventually settled north of Cape Cod, but the Cape remains an important part of American history.
Provincetown had a vibrant whaling industry, and adventurous souls sailed from the harbor to join the hunt. The whaling industry soon faded, and in the early twentieth century, artistic souls began migrating to Provincetown. Arrivals of such notables as novelist Susan Glaspell, Eugene O’Neill and others caused The Boston Globe in 1916 to declare Provincetown, “The Biggest Art Colony in the World.” Visual artists and actors also settled in the community.
In 1940, Tennessee Williams arrived in town. In more recent history, American Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz was an active member of the literary community. I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kunitz in New York City; he was a true mentor for poets. He was 100 years old when he died and in his later years portrayed a kind of prophet-poet image—very rare for a modern poet.
A discussion about lively Provincetown would not be complete without mentioning how gay-friendly it is. When I was there is the early 2000s, it was a sunny, beautiful, breezy day; I still see the many rainbow pride flags blowing in the wind backlit by sunlight. It was the only place I have been in the entire world where as a heterosexual, I felt like I was the minority. Provincetown remains an enclave of quiet, artistic rebellion and acceptance—maybe more now than ever.
There is more to Cape Cod than just Provincetown. The island of Nantucket is a favorite getaway. Refined and distinctive vacation homes abound.
One of the wonderful things about Cape Cod is the variety of people. For some reason, New Yorkpsychologists and psychiatrists flock there in the summer; this is what in part inspired the comedy, “What about Bob?” Maybe I will go there in August the next time I need to head shrunk (all too frequently I must confess). While New Yorkers and other vacationers flood the Cape in the summer, there are salty, year-round residents who give the place its character and are the backbone of the community.
Just as varied as the people in Cape Cod are the restaurants. You can get Cape Cod’s famous lobster in everything from fancy to casual environments. I had lobster in a very casual restaurant and it was tasty!