Oceans, such a pull, like the tides. Bays, inlets, coves, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds; I’m drawn to any body of water. The surf, waves roll in, again and again, it’s mesmerizing. Stare into the horizon — can see about 10 miles until the earth curves. Blue skies, trains of cumulus clouds; some days gray, a light rain, a thunder storm. Sandy beaches, warm, hot in the sun; to sit, to walk, toss a ball, fly a kite. Gentle winds from the sea, from the land; strong winds that drive the waves. Salt sprays and smells. Sanderlings flit along the surf line; gulls, alone or a flock, sit, fly, scream. Wrack line of seaweed, worn gray bits of wood, shells, human debris. Jeep’s and SUVs with permits, surf fish, cast, relax, occasionally a bite, a catch. Salt marshes, cordgrass, a distinct decaying smell. Dunes held together by dune grasses. Keep off.
Ocean, water: boats; canoes and kayaks, rowboats, sailboats, sailfish, motorboats, inboard and outboard, yachts, big ships, historic ships. I’m near Plymouth, the three masted Mayflower was known as a carrack. Other designs — schooner, clipper, bark, brig, galleon, shallop, sloop, steamer. I’m watching “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The original ship was a three masted collier. Wading, swimming, surfing, skim boarding, parasailing, digging in the sand, building castles; fishing, clamming, crabbing, lobstering. Spreading out a beach towel and falling asleep. Walk the dog. Oceans are dramatic, are fun.
Today Cape Cod, yesterday Nantucket, growing up on Long Beach Island, the Jersey shore, the Chesapeake Bay, Briny Breezes Florida, Cape May, the Outer Banks, Washington State and Oregon coast, New England, Connecticut and Maine. So many beaches. What do you remember? Where do you go? This week I watched “Jaws,” shot on Martha’s Vinyard.
How many books have I read with an ocean setting. The Old Man and the Sea, The Sea Around Us, Moby Dick, Two Years Before the Mast, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island, Shucked, many travel books. And movies.
Two years ago, David Sears recommended I read “The Outer Beach: a thousand- mile walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore,” by Robert Finch. I ordered it from Amazon and put it aside until our annual trip to the Cape. I was surprised when searching my books for something to read I found Finch’s “The Primal Place.” A perfect pre-Cape read. A re-read actually although I didn’t remember much. Finch lived in Brewster on Stony Brook Road when he wrote “The Primal Place.” He worked at the Cape Cod Natural History Museum on Route 6A. We’ve been there several times.
“The Primal Place” is a very personal book. A very local book. The story of its author discovering and becoming rooted in a place. Finch is a naturalist but also a philosopher, a historian. His home is next to the small Red 𝚃𝚘𝚙 cemetery. On our Finch tour to Brewster in 2019, we visited Red 𝚃𝚘𝚙. The first gravestone we read was a Sears, as were many others, Finch reports 38. He calculates the average age at burial as 43.6 years, “roughly the national life expectancy during the late nineteenth century.” The oldest was Dorcas Holland who dies in 1939 at the age of 99. Infant mortality was high. A brass plaque reads: “Site of Reformed Methodist Church (Old Red 𝚃𝚘𝚙) 1821-1867.
I was struck by the number of stones that documented drownings. Finch found a half dozen including the stone of. “Leonard, son of Moody and Jane Sears, who was lost off Provincetown at the age of eighteen in the schooner “Bride” during the legendary and fatal gale of October 3, 1841.”
Tho’ I was drown’d in younger waves
Beneath this stone I sleep
While some of my companions dear
Now lie beneath the deep.
I discovered these quotes, stuck in my email for several years:
“I think I took him to the beach that winter’s day to show him that it offered a truer image of the human condition. One’s foundations continually shift here; the sea regularly breaks through in new places, constantly forming new inlets, closing off old ones, running in new currents. The beach teaches us the need to adapt continually to change, always to be watching for undertows and rogue waves, to dance nimbly along its edges. If I have learned anything from living here, it is that this world is not geared for large answers, and certainly not for final ones.” ― Robert Finch – The Outer Beach
“This would be a perfect time and place to meditate, if I practiced meditation. But I don’t want to empty my mind. Rather, I want to fill it more deeply with what is there. I don’t wish to detach myself from this solid, perishable world, but to feel it even closer, to pay it the attention it deserves.” ― Robert Finch – The Outer Beach
“So it is with blackberries. If you pull too hard, you may get the berry but you will lose the sweetness of it. On the other hand, if you leave it, it may be gone the next time you come by. Each person must find this point of equilibrium for himself.” ― Robert Finch, Death of a Hornet and Other Cape Cod Essays
“I learned . . . to read and interpret the country: the ground underfoot, the coming and going of creatures, the arrival and departure of birds, the seasonal flowering and fading of plant life. These things — the physical evidence of them — constitute a language, a grammar , and a syntax; they represent in some way the original perception we may have acquired of a fundamental order in things, in their relationships and significant connections. Ad by this I mean (among other things) story, narrative, the thread of sequence and consequence [John Haines, “The Creative Spirit in Art and Literature”, The Norton Book of Nature Writing, Robert Finch, editor].” ― Robert Finch, The Norton Book of Nature Writing
“An Encounter on Pochet Island” (Radio broadcast)
“Earlier last month I lifted my rowboat into the van, drove out to a town landing in East Orleans, and shoved off into the waters of Little Pleasant Bay. It was a beautiful, sunny day, a warm, early spring day, with a brisk southwest wind coming in with the tide. The low islands of the bay lay spread out like basking dinosaurs feeding on the bordering salt marshes. I landed on Pochet Island, the largest of the bay islands, and climbed up its high, marsh-skirted bluffs forested with undulating banks of wavy-topped junipers. I walked southwest down a path through a sumac meadow, still barren and leafless, and at a small clearing at a sharp bend in the path, the dry grass to my left hissed and slithered. I stopped short and saw flashes of gray quicksilver sliding and flowing away from me, as if in a dozen separate pieces. They stopped in a second or two, but when I made a step into the grass they came alive again, hissing electrically. Then I caught sight of them: two black racers –a pair of long, dark, entwined bodies -that had presumably been warming themselves in the sun.
Black racers are hard to miss. They are the largest and most widely-distributed snake on the Cape and Islands. They can grow up to six feet in length and have been found virtually everywhere except on Nantucket, most of the Elizabeth Islands, and most of the islands in Pleasant Bay – except here on Pochet. The motion of a snake through grass is deceptive. The body appears to swerve from side to side, but actually it follows strictly the track laid down by its hidden head. It gives the odd illusion of passive motion, like water flowing along a curved incline.
The two snakes slithered ahead of me in the grass for several yards before one of them stopped, turned, and, true to its name, raced speedily towards me. I backed up instinctively onto the path, though, like all native Cape reptiles, the black racer is not poisonous. Still, according to the biologist James D. Lazell, Jr., these snakes “can bite hard and bloody if you give them a chance.” I watched as its wedge-shaped head emerged cautiously from the heavy grass into a small cleared space a few feet in. I can’t explain it, but I had the strong conviction that this was a female I was looking at, and the other one a male, though black racers supposedly only pair up in the late summer and fall, when they mate. Her head and neck were more of a dark dull silver gray than truly black, and I guessed that her body was at least four feet in length.
She poked her head exploratorily where I had stepped a moment before, tasting my presence with her tongue. Then she slowly moved off, back towards the spot where I had first seen them. Then I saw what she had been heading for: a small whorl of grass that hid a hole about an inch in diameter. With no sign of haste, she thrust her head into its dark entrance and once again, resuming the motion of passive flow, allowed the earth to suck her in like a strand of spaghetti. I tried to locate the other snake, but he had presumably found another hole to enter. They were both somewhere beneath my feet now, under the dark door of the warming earth.”
The Mystery of Merritt Island” (Radio broadcast)
“Cape Cod is a place of small mysteries. Sometimes the mysteries are so obvious we don’t recognize them. Take Merrick Island. Merrick Island is one of a half dozen or so islands that line the western boundary of Wellfleet Harbor. Besides Merrick, these islands include Great Beach Hill, Great Island, Griffith, and Bound Brook.
Once a true island, Merrick is now bordered on the north by the Herring River, on the west and south by marsh and wet meadow, and on the east by the meandering black top of Old County Road. But it is the woods of Merrick Island that are a mystery. Most of the upland forest of Wellfleet’s islands is either pure pitch pine barrens, as on Great Island, or, more commonly, mixture of older pitch pine and younger oaks succeeding them. Merrick, on the other hand, is almost pure oak, with only a handful of tall, older pines scattered on its ridges and slopes.
Most of the trees on its ridges are typical cutover sprout oaks, gnarled and stunted and rarely over thirty feet in height. On its steep slopes there are a number of thick, sizable oaks, though also misshapen – and on the lowland of its east side, bordering the county road, are some of the biggest and tallest oaks I have ever seen growing wild in the town, but one of these, recently downed and cut up, showed that these oaks were only about fifty years old.
The uniqueness of Merrick’s forest cover is most apparent in the fall, when its oaks form a coat of deep golden leaves, and also in the winter, when its bleak barren leafless contours are exposed, and its few scattered pines stand out like green fires.
What caused Merrick to maintain such a pure but varied oak cover? The answer may lie in its unique topography. The slopes of Merrick Island are unusually steep compared to the others. My guess is that the island was used for woodcutting, but not pasture, and that the trees on the steep northern slopes may not have been clear cut, partly due to the difficulty of access, but possibly also to prevent erosion of the soil into the river. Being an island may also have isolated it from the numerous brushfires that plagued the Cape earlier in the previous century. All of these factors may account for the persistence of an original oak forest on its slopes.
Every landscape is initially taken for granted, for we have nothing to compare it to except what we have known elsewhere, but as we get to know a landscape, it becomes both more familiar and more mysterious, just like a person. Gradually we begin to compare it to itself, rather than to our image or idea of it. We begin to notice inconsistencies, departures from pattern, inexplicable appearances, seemingly whimsical absences, arrivals, departures, transitions, appetites, omissions, stubborn consistencies, and unanticipated changes.
The mystery of Merrick Island’s oaks is not a dramatic or profound one. My guesses as to its origin may or may not be accurate, but it is only through long familiarity, with landscapes or with individuals, that the real mysteries begin to emerge.”
“Natural Beauty and Darwinian Doubts” (Radio broadcast)
“On a late afternoon earlier this month I walked out to one of the rip-rapped bluffs overlooking Wellfleet Harbor. I like this spot because it provides a particularly satisfying perspective.
The eye is drawn outwards, first to the marina of the inner harbor, then out to the greater harbor, and finally, leaping beyond the encompassing line of barrier spits and islands, to the wide waters of the bay.
The tide was a little past high, leaving a strip of damp beach wide enough to walk on. An occluded sun threw sheaves of light through the clouds and over the flooded marshes. As I descended the steps and started to walk south on the beach, I heard a pair of harsh screams above me. Looking up, I saw the dark forms of two red-tailed hawks circling in tandem, as if engaged in a deliberate dance. Given the steepness of the rip-rapped slopes and the flooded nature of the marsh, I wasn’t sure what they expected to see. And why, for that matter, do these hawks always announce their presence when hunting? Are they trying to scare some trembling mouse up onto a tuft of marsh grass? It seems to me that such screams would only send any rodent to seek cover.
The hawks swung low, over and beyond me, less than 100 feet in the air, and I stood mesmerized by the synchronized singing and swinging of their aerial pirouettes. But, as often happens in such moments, the intense beauty of their motion raised questions in my mind, questions about how such beauty can come to be. As one who grew up reading such Darwinian disciples as Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson, I have no trouble accepting that evolution can sprout a wing, a feather, or the hooked beak and furious eye of a hawk. But Who or What taught these avian apparitions to ride the chill winter air with such astuteness and confidence, such precise and masterly knowledge of their airy medium? If only natural selection had stopped short of claiming that mindless change alone had created such intense, finished and fitted creatures, I could be an unqualified believer in natural selection.
Then, as if to shake me out of my nagging skepticism, I had another, unexpected visitation. I had just reached the end of the beach and was turning back when, against the massive wall of boulders lining the beach there appeared the large, nearly all-white, round-headed, low-flying, unmistakable form of a snowy owl. It was the first I had seen all winter, though I‘ve been told there have been numerous sightings of these owls on the Cape this season.
What made this sighting memorable, though, was that the bird was carrying in its talons the limp form, also pure white, of some prey, about half the size of the owl itself. The owl flew so fast and purposefully that I only glimpsed what it was carrying for a moment. But what could it have been: some child’s pet rabbit? A chicken? Snowy owls are said to feed on small ducks in the Arctic, but I know of none on Cape Cod that are pure white. Still, other northern species are sometimes driven south to the Cape during hard winters. Well then – an Arctic ptarmigan, perhaps?
When I got back to the car the two hawks had landed in the limbs of a bare, leafless tree. They called to one another in such close proximity that, not even my most narcissistic tendencies would allow me to pretend, that their operatic screeches were meant for me.”
Want to read more of Finch’s radio broadcasts, check out: https://www.capeandislands.org/people/robert-finch
Several Osprey frequent the trees on Arey’s Pond if front of our Orleans rental house. Since we did not put up a bird feeder this year, they and the occasional gull and a few song birds in trees are our only visitors. I think the first time I remember real birding was on a trip to Cape May, probably in the 70s. We approached a small pond that was surrounded with people with binoculars. We stopped and asked what were they looking at? A Fulvous Tree Duck. (or Fulvous Whistling Duck). I snapped a few pictures.
There are other birding moments that stick in my memory. We took several trips to Hawk Mountain in Kempton, PA. I recently saw a book we purchased, “The View from Hawk Mountain (1973) by Michael Harwood. I think it was the first time we saw people using scopes rather than just binoculars. We eventually bought better binoculars and a scope. My most exciting encounter with a Bald Eagle was a early morning beach walk with Norval Goe on the Olympic coast. It was total fog when we arrived. As it burned off, to my amazement, huge sea stacks arose in the ocean. Suddenly a Bald Eagle swooped low over our heads and headed up the beach. What a beautiful sight. No photo but what a memory. I did photograph the sea stacks and teeming life in the tidal pools. So different from our Atlantic beaches.
Closer to home. I was on a walk through the woods in upper Washington Crossing Park, near the Thompson Neely House. When, there pecking away at a tree was a huge, red headed woodpecker. Excited I stopped a park interpretation headed to her car, that’s our “Pileated,” she said. I don’t think I’ve seen one since. There are big birds and small birds. We regularly have hummingbirds at home at a deck feeder. But I remember dozens in a grove of trees near the White Mountains in Bethel, Maine. We spent the summer, 1975 I think, with the Bonnema’s. We took mountain hikes several times a week. I always enjoyed the hummingbird grove.
One of my favorite flocks were terns, don’t remember what kind, circling and screeching at the cut between the ocean and Sesachacha Pond on Nantucket. I know I took many pictures. Shore birds have always been a favorite. We’d take our scope to Nantucket and walk to the harbor from our rental, Rattlesnake Bank. Sometimes there was a great variety, sanderlings, willets, yellowlegs, plovers, sandpipers, dowitchers. I particularly liked the Oystercatchers and Ruddy turnstones. Great markings. We’ve also enjoyed the Red Knots feasting on the horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay. Quite a sight.
We took several birding trips to the DelMarva peninsula with the Bucks County Audubon Society. Our first trip with them was a disaster. We went to the NJ shore, maybe Cape May, members went running on sand dunes to see some bird. I was appalled. I’d just read a book “Design With Nature” (1969) by Ian McHarg. There was a chapter on protecting sand dunes. I refused to join the Audubon for years. When we finally gave it up, a Frenchman, Jerry was leading the birding trips. We did the several Delmarva shore trips with him and another in February to New England. He was a great guide, sharing his scope, imitating bird calls to draw them out of hiding; a great storyteller. On these trips we explored forests and the shore. The trips were totally amazingly focused. Cheap motels, fast food restaurants. No history or other distractions. Straight birding. We do miss the trips, Jerry moved away. We’ve also gone to several— in N J, the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge – Brigantine Division and in DE, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Always egrets.
We haven’t done any birding trips in years. We have a feeder. We also enjoy Great Blue Herons, sometimes a Green Heron, mallards, wood ducks, Canada Geese along the Delaware Canal. Canvasbacks and other ducks are sometimes seen in the river. And I’ve seen some a Red Tail Hawk and a Bald Eagle in the back yard and along the river. Diane has her binoculars when we travel but maybe we need to dig out the scope and do some travel birding.
Last year, the age of COVID. From Christmas until last week we stayed home. We survived. We ate out quite a bit, first take out, then outside, finally a few times inside. We walked, read, gardened, cooked, took a few local drives. Did most of our shopping at farmer’s markets, farms, speciality food stores. During most of the cold we built an afternoon fire.
Our first COVID trip was pre-cape stop in Essex CT then on to Orleans, MA on Cape Cod. Fantastic. The two nights in Essex was to break up driving. It was a perfect stop and will go back to the Griswold Inn on the way home. This is our sixth year at Peck’s Way on Ayers Pond in Orleans with the Kwait’s. There were also three years on Pilgrim Pond and a year on the bay marshes. Diane and I also stayed at several Inns in the area on our way to Nantucket. She recently said Nauset Inn was among our best B and B stays. Just up route 28 is Waquessett Resort and Golf Club, not our typical stay but an experience we tried one year. My first memory of Orleans is arriving in Orleans Center from the Cape Cod Bike Trail. I even remember Mahoney’s. Maybe we ate there. We would have been staying in an Inn on route 6A. We know the area well.
Our Cape days start slow. I get up at six and put the morning routines to bed. By 7 or 7:30 I’m sitting on my living room chair with a cup of coffee, looking out the picture window or at the table on the screened in porch, facing the pond. The image sitting in that chair with coffee, wine, book, is one of my daydreams that help me get to sleep.
There is usually a little boat activity on the pond. Sailboats heading out to or returning from Pleasant Bay. A rare motor boat. Kayaks. In a good wind I love the sound of halyards on the masts. A seal passes through. Several osprey fish and inhabit the trees around the house. We see a few squirrels and chipmunks. Toads are fairly common. We haven’t put up a feeder this year but when we do there are a variety of small birds. This year we only hear them in the trees. Surprisingly there are fewer insect noises than at home in Yardley.
In front of the porch is a table and white plastic chairs. Closer to the pond is an old picnic table. When the sun is set or setting they are nice places to sit, a clearer view of the pond through the trees, a vodka tonic, glass of wine or beer, maybe a cool breeze, a faint marsh smell. The pond ripples in the breeze or can be a flat sheet of glass.
Most days or evenings we spend some time at a beach. We tend to avoid Skaket (Orleans main bay beach) and Nauset (the ocean beach). There is a parking fee and a lot of people. So far this week we’ve sat on the inlet at the end of Tonset Road. There are several other town landings — Snow, Mill Pond, Doane and Priscilla. Unfortunately Doane and Priscilla now have beach permit signs. We ignored them. We spent several days on Pleasant Bay off route 28. We’ve been to Rock Harbor to sit on the Dyer Prince Road beach, to watch the sunset and buy clam chowder from Young’s. Pilgrim Lake is just up the road, good for kid swimming. We rented there for three years. And Wiley Park on Great Pond is another kid swim area. There are other beaches we frequent; “First Encounter” on the bay where the Pilgrims and natives first made contact; Wellfleet beaches and the National Seashore. Some years we’ve gone to Race Point or other beaches near Provincetown.
There are walks. Off our driveway is a short pond side trail. Kent Point is a forest/ beach walk not far from the house. Fort Hill is a favorite in the National Seashore. In Wellfleet there is the Great Island Trail. Wellfleet and Chatham are shopping walks. Art galleries, boutiques, craft shops and restaurants. Some years we go to Provincetown, probably not this year with the COVID outbreak. Route 6A also provides a lot of craft and antique shopping. Many years Diane and I have done a pottery tour. There are a few shops in Orleans, the Sea Howl bookshop is one of the few that interest me.
Food. Seafood. Delicious seafood. In town there is the Nauset Fish Market and the Orleans Seafood Market. We also go to the Chatham Fish Market and Hatch’s and Mac’s Seafood in Wellfleet. All are good; Hatch’s is a favorite. We cook in, do take-out and eat in restaurants. This week we’ve had Cod, fried oysters, shrimp, lobster roll, steamed clams, clam chowder (Young’s is delicious), scallops, seafood pies from Marian’s in Chatham and bluefish pate. Who knows what week two’s catch will be? We usually have a full lobster dinner. Corn and some other fresh vegetables come from a small farm or farm stand and we bring lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers from our Yardley garden. I avoid supermarkets but don’t mind Nauset Market (milk, bread, cheeses, crackers; mostly staples, a few surprises). And there is an Orleans Whole Food Store. Some years Diane and I have explored some other farm markets on route 6A. We’ve also been to Orleans Hog Island Brewery and Truro’s Vineyards of Cape Cod.
In Orleans we do take out from Sir Cricket or Cooke’s Seafood. And locally we’ve eaten in Land Ho, Yardarm and Beacon Room. But usually we go out of town. Wellfleet has Mac’s Shack (popular, hard to get reservations), Wicked Oyster, the Bookstore, and The Pearl on the docks, an annual stop. Blackfish in Truro was trendy. Marshside in Dennis was a nice birthday dinner one year. In Chatham we liked the Impudent Oyster and this year looking at Pisces. The Sesuit Harbor Cafe is good for lunch; Oysterville Fish Too is a great find on Barnstable Harbor. In Provincetown we’ve eaten in the Lobster Pot and . . . There are many other restaurants I’ve forgotten.
This end of week one, we awaited hurricane Henri. The track changed and it’s further west. Sunday we had some morning rain and wind but not a direct hit. Kwait’s are scheduled for a Vinyard trip Monday/Tuesday, I think they will be OK. So ends our first week of the 2021 season.
Monday, August 16, 2021, we’re staying at Ayers Pond, Orleans, Cape Cod. We arrived Saturday after two nights in Essex, CT at the Griswold Inn. Today the sweltering 90s have given way to a cloudy day in the 70s. Since this is our first get away from Yardley since December 2020 when we spent several holiday nights in Bethlehem, PA. since this is almost our twentieth summer in Nantucket or Cape Cod, I am immediately on what I’ve called “Nantucket Time.” Enjoying the moment, no hurry, no thinking that I need to . . . Our family rented a cottage, Rattlesnake Bank” on Nantucket from about 1996 to 2006. In 2012 we began to rent on the Cape with Rob, Jenny, Eli and Viv. For three years we were on Pilgrim Lake and then moved to Ayers Pond. I was able to figure out the dates after I found a picture of Eli with a good size pond bass (he caught two in Pilgrim in 2014).
I just finished reading “Second Wind: a sunfish sailor, an island, and the voyage that brought a family together,” by Nathaniel Philbrick. The book may have caught my attention even if it wasn’t set on Nantucket, by a writer I’ve read — “Away Off Shore” (a history of Nantucket), “Bunker Hill,” “Mayflower,” “Why Read Moby Dick,” and “Abram’s Eyes: the Native American legacy of Nantucket Island.” I’ve also seen Philbrick speak several times on island. He grew up in Pittsburgh, with his father and brother became a dedicated sailfish sailor and regatta competitor. In 1986 he moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa who also sailed. But the racing ended until 1992 when he washed off his sailboat determined to compete again. He had two children, Ethan and Jennie; he was thirty-six, writing full time.
Philbrick begins to train for a North American competition in Springfield in 1993. He decided to sail the ponds of Nantucket, many left behind by the glaciers. I recognized almost all to the ponds he sailed. The first Sesachacha was one of our favorite beach stops. The pond is adjacent to the ocean and is drained annual as a mosquito control. On one occasion Philbrick sails the pond after the cut had been made and water was rushing into the ocean. He likes a challenge and avoided being sucked into the Atlantic. Other ponds included Gibbs, Capaum, Caskata, Miacomet, and Hummock. Most of these sails although short are in winter, in one he is ice breaking. Danger never seems far away. Reading about Philbrick’s Nantucket brought back many great memories.
Philbrick admits the sunfish is almost not considered a sailboat by some sailors. But he recalls that Jack Kennedy loved them. He enters two competitive regattas. The first is the Midwinters in Sarasota, Florida. Before Springfield, he, Melissa and the kids (two boats) sail in the Connecticut River Race from Hartford to Deep River, just above Essex where we stayed Thursday and Friday last week. His second regatta is the North American in Springfield. As with all his sails in the book, we’re provided with detailed nautical descriptions. Many of the competitors are sailors Philbrick knew from his racing days in the 70s. In the end, after several races, he placed seventh in a field of sixty. Not exactly what he wanted but not a bad showing. Maybe he’d sail again.
While reading “Second Wind,” I was reminded of David Halberstam. I remember reading his book on the Kennedy administration, “The Best and the Brightest.” He is also known for his reporting and writing on Viet Nam. And he turned to sports writing. I read “The Amateurs,” the story of four young oarsmen training in Princeton, N.J. for the rowing competition in the 1984 Olympics. In “The Purist Ambition Of All,” in the New York Times, Norman Hildes-Heim wrote “In The Amateurs,” David Halberstam focuses on the quest of four oarsmen to become the United States’s single sculler in the 1984 Olympics. He has drawn interviews with a number of figures in American rowing into a narrative that becomes a paean to the four oarsmen who devoted themselves to becoming Olympians ”because they wanted to, for no reward other than the feeling itself.” Halberstam also rowed, sculled near his home on Nantucket.
I remember hearing David Halberstam speak on Nantucket. Don’t remember the topic. I googled “Halberstam Nantucket” and found an 2007 article, “Nantucket on my Mind.” He fell in love and purchased a small house island house.
“This is my thirtieth year as an owner here. I bought my house in 1969, the year I began working on “The Best and the Brightest,” the moment when I went over to writing books full time. Over the years I have come to love the island – it has given me sanctuary in a difficult and often volatile professional life, allowing me to work diligently each summer while putting myself back together among people who I know love and care about me. I leave the island in the early fall rested, but with a great deal of work done. I stumbled on it at first – my friend Russell Baker brought me here in 1968 and I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. It seemed to have more of the good things of life and fewer of the bad than any vacation spot I had ever seen before; it offered an almost-perfect balance between the possibilities for friendship and the right, when I needed to work, to my privacy. Because the happiest part of my peripatetic childhood was spent in a small town in northwest Connecticut, Nantucket – with its strikingly handsome library, the sense of community manifest at high school games – reminded me of the best part of my youth. People knew one another and treated one another with respect. The people who did have money (and it would be considered small money these days), those old Yankee families said to be very wealthy, very consciously did not manifest it. In the great houses along Hulbert Avenue, our showcase street that runs along the harbor, the houses were, as they always had been, a little worn down, with bathroom sinks stained green by the relentless drip of the water – a reminder of plumbers never summoned.”
Most of the essay documents the changes Halberstam saw as the “Old Nantucket” became wealthier. Small houses (like the one we rented for ten years) were torn down for modern mansions. Rusting red Jeep’s were replaced with top of the line SUVs, driving and parking became a challenge, restaurants went from “classic” to expensive “trendy.” I was amused to read Halberstam, his writing echoed the changes we saw during our summer visits. But I also appreciated what remained from the past. Halberstam writes:
“For all of the crowding downtown, many of the beaches remain secluded, the nature walks are pleasant and accessible, and there is no time for them. If you want to picnic, and have a boat, there are places in Polpis, the large inner harbor, where, if you know the tides, you can miraculously enough go and picnic in a beautiful spot – more of an idyll than one can imagine on the East Coast – and never see another soul. I am a fairly serious fisherman, and our light-tackle saltwater fishing is arguably the best along the East Coast, perhaps because we are so far into the Gulf Stream. But it takes time and skill to learn how to fish here, and money will not do it all for you – you have to learn to handle a boat in what are daunting waters, going out on days when the weather changes, when the shoals are murderous and when the fog rolls in so suddenly that unless you know what you are doing, it can all be quite terrifying. I know, because I had a boat for ten years, and it was a difficult and exacting apprenticeship, not so much learning where the fish are – that part was easy – but how dangerous the Atlantic Ocean can be. So perhaps it is not surprising that, for all the money being spent on boats, many of them with GPS/Loran guides that should make dealing with fog and shoals virtually idiot-proof, on the July Fourth and Labor Day weekends, the most crowded days of the year, you can be at choice spots for fishing for blues or stripers only thirty minutes from Madaket Harbor and not see another boat.”
I’d love to vacation on Nantucket again but when our rental was sold and I assume replaced with a mansion in 2007, Orleans, Cape Cod soon became an acceptable substitute. A few 2021 Cape Cod photographs.
I would love to go to Paris but unfortunately I suspect I won’t make it. Maybe thinking about going will push me to say, “why not?” My condition is manageable. On library online I found “A Guide to Hemingway’s Paris” by John Leland. The author scours the fiction and nonfiction, books and letters, even interviews people to come up with places real and invented. “The Sun Also Rises” (fiction) and “ A Moveable Feast” (nonfiction) are both loaded with specific references. Some on the Left Bank (south of the Seine); some on the Right Bank (north of the Seine). Montparnasse and Latin Quarter or Montmartre. Both have draws.
It’s amazing how many of the cafes, hotels and restaurants Hemingway frequented are still there. Some places have had name charges. Leland quotes Hemingway’s description and relates how each place fits into his life. He explores the addresses of Hemingway apartments and places where Fitzgerald, Joyce and others lived.
Unfortunately I’ve gotten rid of my photography books. I had Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, and Brassai. But their photos are available online and there are other French guidebooks I could read. Maybe virtual can turn into real.
The summer after my junior year in high school, John Paglione and I took an enrichment American literature course at Neshaminy High School. It was my first exposure to twentieth century American literature. It was there I first read Ernest Hemingway. I was blown away. I’m not sure exactly what I read, probably some short stories, maybe “The Old Man and the Sea.” My English course at Holy Ghost Prep in senior year with Fr. Dave Marshall had a similar focus, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, the muckrakers, and other twentieth century American writers. The two courses were probably responsible for my decision to major in English.
I had conversations with another English teacher, Fr. Francis Meenham. He advised me that to become a writer, I should start writing daily, keep a journal. Now over 50 years later I still write daily in a journal. Just haven’t published my first novel. Meenham also recommended Boston College. He said that had a good growing English department. He was right. BC was expanding and recruiting new teaching talent. My freshman year English course was writing with John McCarthy. Early on he assigned a research paper on an American author. I chose Hemingway. My academic style was to become absorbed in a topic, sometimes ignoring other courses. I read all of Hemingway, the short stories, novels (good and bad), fiction and nonfiction, magazine articles, even poetry. I read all the criticism available in BCs classic Bapst Library, a regular hangout for me. Then I traveled to other campus libraries. I read dissertations as well as published criticism. I recall one dissertation title, “The Insect Symbolism in the Nick Adams Stories of Ernest Hemingway.
I sat down to write, summarizing what I had read (would be curious to reread what I wrote then). But what was my thesis? My main idea. I despaired. Everything had been written about Hemingway. I had nothing new. I went to McCarthy and explained my writer’s block. He sympathized and then suggested, “Have you considered similarities between Nick Adams and Huckleberry Finn?” How easy. What a great thesis for my paper. I recall that my final paper was over 20-25 pages, about 2 or 3 devoted to the Nick Adams, Huckleberry Finn connection.
At some point I found the quote from Hemingway that, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Even more interesting, the discovered that other critics had written about the Adams-Finn connection. I think it was mentioned in “Papa Hemingway” by A. E. Hotchner published in 1966. Also published in 1966 was Philip Young’s “Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration.” I believe he has a chapter related to the comparison. Oh well, so much for an original thesis.
Karsh wrote about the Hemingway portrait,
“I expected to meet in the author a composite of the heroes of his novels. Instead, in 1957, at his home Finca Vigía, near Havana, I found a man of peculiar gentleness, the shyest man I ever photographed – a man cruelly battered by life, but seemingly invincible. He was still suffering from the effects of a plane accident that occurred during his fourth safari to Africa. I had gone the evening before to La Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite bar, to do my ‘homework’ and sample his favorite concoction, the daiquiri. But one can be overprepared! When, at nine the next morning, Hemingway called from the kitchen, ‘What will you have to drink?’ my reply was, I thought, letter-perfect: ‘Daiquiri, sir.’ ‘Good God, Karsh,’ Hemingway remonstrated, ‘at this hour of the day!’” (1957)
I hadn’t read or thought much about Hemingway for years but then this April Ken Burns and Lynn Novick premiered “Hemingway” on PBS. within days I watched the three part, six hour series. Like one of the author’s Marlin or Tuna catches off the coast of Cuba, I was hooked. Before I had processed the series, I was reading “Everybody Behaves Badly: the true story behind Hemingway’s masterpiece “The Sun Also Rises,” by Lesley M. M. Blume (2016). It was sometimes difficult to separate fiction (Hemingway’s “Sun”) from fact (Blume’s commentary on his life in the 1920s). “The Sun” was probably my favorite Hemingway novel. As a college Literature major, I dreamed of travel, adventure and writing.
Hemingway in the 1920s. Paris. In Gertrude Stein’s words, “part of a lost generation.” Accurate or just clever, “The Sun Also Rises” became the portrait of post-war generation. Sherwood Anderson (the first of many writers who would see promise, yes even greatness in Hemingway) urged him to go to Paris with his new wife Hadley. Sherwood provided intros to Sylvia Beach (Shakespeare and Company bookstore) and Gertrude Stein whose salon hosted the avant-garde — intellectuals, painters and writers. Welcome James Joyce. Welcome Pablo Picasso. There Hemingway took lessons from Ezra Pound, “strip language down.” Hemingway had a style that flowed from his years as a reporter and a belief that a writer’s job was to tell the story straightforward, with clarity, honesty. He knew he was a great writer but his only publication to date was in newspapers and magazines. He had to write a novel.
It’s amazing to see the small world. During these years Hemingway meets and has relationships with Ford Maddox Ford, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Lincoln Steffens, others previously mentioned and many names we do not recognize today. While in Paris, he wrote, he drank, and fraternized. I’ve never been to Paris but recognize the names of cafes he and other expatriates patronized — Les Deux Magots, Dingo, Rotonde, La Dome.
It is during the Paris years that Hemingway becomes a lover of Spanish culture and bullfighting aficionado. For several years he gathered a band of “friends” to participate in the annual Pamplona fiesta, including the running of the bulls. His companions on these trips are the characters (names changed) in “The Sun.” If you’ve read it you haven’t forgotten Lady Brett Ashley (the real Lady Duff Twysden), Robert Cohen is the fictional, sometimes annoying Jew based on Harold Loeb. Donald Ogden Stewart becomes Bill Gordon; Patrick Guthrie is the real Mike Campbell. Hemingway is the character Jake Barnes. Hadley makes the trip but not the book (Hemingway would soon have a second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer).
Prior to Pamplona, some of the group go fishing. So typical Hemingway. Tensions takes seed, and will grow and blossom in the mud and blood fueled by alcohol at the fiesta. In my view there are no good guys and bad guys; no heroes or villains. All are in for the ride. Lady Duff acts as a spark. One wonders how this group stays together. The face of the lost generation.
I’ve only been to one bullfight during our Peace Corps years training in Mexico. I can honestly say for me It didn’t become part of a glorious tradition, a ballet, an intriguing dance with death. Words like dreary, dismal come to mind. Diane left after the first bull and sat outside the arena under a tree talking to young Mexican kids. I remember thinking, she had such a better experience. But my infatuation with Hemingway had lead me to read about bull fighting and watch video.
I highly recommend, “Everybody Behaves Badly.” It’s well researched, well written, and filled with insights about Hemingway. Life in the Parish years. He is always concerned about writing. Hadley will lose much of his writing on a train trip. Including short stories and the beginning of a novel. Years of work. He will eventual put together several short stories and poems, “In Our Times.” He finds an American publisher, Liveright. But when “The Sun” is ready Fitzgerald has introduced him to Maxwell Perkins at Scribners. Hemingway wants the new publisher. He writes a parody “The Torrents of Spring” sticking a knife in Sherwood Anderson (published by Liveright). He is immediately freed from the Liveright contract and “The Sun Also Rises” is published by Scribners. There was controversy. Hemingway’s content, the drinking, sex, and disillusionment in “The Sun” was disturbing to the more Puritan Scribner house. But it was also his style. Gone was the flourish of the Victorians; intro twentieth century minimalism. Short, hard clear, declaratory sentences. No adjectives allowed. Hemingway was transforming literature.
I got a copy of “The Sun Also Rises” from the library. I’m not sure when I’ve read it last. Probably in the 1970s when I taught Literature at Holy Ghost Prep. I think I may have even catalogued my Hemingway book collection in the Library. As I read the characters and text were so familiar. The content far from shocking by today’s standards. But the language, a reporter, declarative, straightforward, crisp, clean. The vocabulary basic. When I thought about writing in college, I wanted to write like Hemingway (not alone there). I also dreamed about the bohemian, expat, living in Paris. Freedom, love, good food and drink, cafes, the Seine, artists . . . And I still have never been to Paris. I liked the detached, independent nature of Jake Barnes. He may have wanted Brett but accepted that there was competition. Fishing, bullfighting, writing, drinking, would get him through. I identified with Hemingway and somehow I put aside his many negatives.
I also just read “The Short Stories.” I had strong memories of many. I enjoyed re-reading about Nick Adams. Collectively there is a lot of violence, boxing, killers, war, bullfighting, big game hunting, and death. And there is controversy including abortion. Many of the stories are snapshots. We meet some characters in a situation. Events unfold. Ends. No real conclusions. I liked “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Both about life changing, endings. Both written later in Hemingway’s life. Who could forget “The Big Two Hearted River,” escape fishing in Northern Michigan, healing after the war or the shock of “Indian Camp.” I almost want to read many of them again. Maybe.
This renewed interest in Hemingway was initiated by the Burns and Novick three part documentary, “Hemingway.” I’ve actually watched it twice. The Burns style of historic photographs and film footage, with contemporary interviews, and ongoing commentary has always captivated me. The first episode is “The Writer (1899-1929). Growing up middle class in Michigan, Hemingway yearned for adventure? He volunteers in the Red Cross during World War 1. In June 1918 he was wounded. He falls in love with a slightly older nurse, Agnes but she eventually breaks away from him. In 1920 he met Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. They married in a year. Much of the episode focuses on Hadley, their first child and their life in Paris. Hemingway tries to write completing some poetry and short stories but a novel evades him until “The Sun.” Hadley is slowly replaces by Pauline. This episode follows closely the story in “Everybody Behaves Badly.”
In the second episode, “The Avatar (1929-1944) we follow Hemingway’s rise. His fame in the literary world is fed by his own need for celebrity. During the Spanish Civil War he serves as a war correspondent. An experience he would turn into “For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway will settle into Key West with Pauline. Her uncle Gus provides money for the house and financed an extravagant African safari. He would also purchase the Pilar, Hemingway’s fishing boat. In many ways Hemingway is forced to live up to his legend. He travels to Spain with another correspondent, Martha Gelhorn who he marries in 1940. They will end up in Italy together but Hemingway becomes annoyed at her career demands.
Episode 3, is titled “The Blank Slate (1944-1961). In the last years of the war, Hemingway lives in Cuba, begins a relationship with Mary Welsh and she becomes his fourth wife. He deep sea fishes, travels to Europe, African safari, buys a house in Ketchum Idaho. He struggles with writing and with Mary. In 1952 he publishes “The Old Man and the Sea.” In 1954 he is awarded the Nobel prize for literature. I was always fascinated with this period in Hemingway’s life. An accomplished, successful writer, he traveled, hung out with friends. His signature drinking continued, even giving his name to drinks including a unsweetened daiquiri. I might try to make one. But despite success, Hemingway starts a decline. His health and mental condition deteriorated. He was hospitalized. On July 2, 1961 he shot himself in Ketchum. It was suicide.
I decided to read “A Moveable Feast,” published after his death. The edition I got from the library contains material that Hemingway cut. It’s the Paris years but through Hemingway’s lens. “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I enjoyed his voice. Much of the material was familiar. I was surprised that he did not write about bullfighting or Pamplona. He does describe skiing at Schruns in Austria. There are chapters on Shakespeare and Company where he borrowed books (the Russians, for instance) from Sylvia Beach; on Ford Maddox Ford; Ezra Pound; and Scott Fitzgerald. He quickly tired of Zelda. “A Moveable Feast” is a good memoir.
On the shelf in the library next to “A MoveableFeast” was “Hemingway in Love: his own story” by A. E. Hotchner. I’ll read just one more Hemingway book I thought.
“Aaron Hotchner, who was still writing up to his death earlier this year at the age of 103, was one of the great personal chroniclers of Hemingway’s life, having known the novelist from 1948 until his death in 1961, and the last in a line of memoirists who had played an important part in Hemingway’s life and work after World War II, bringing him back into the limelight by promoting his work to a wider and newer audience through his TV adaptations of some of Hemingway’s short stories, and, by becoming an inner member of Hemingway’s so called cuadrilla, an observer of the great literary stylist. But, unlike some in that group, Hotchner also became something of an agent for Hemingway, but more importantly a caring and supportive friend. There is no doubt in my mind that A. E. Hotchner was, like the literary historian, Van Wyck Brooks, who reminded Americans of their literary past, a genuine saviour of Ernest Hemingway, and his work.” (Steve Newman Writer, 2020)
In an article, “A. E. Hotchner— Papa Hemingway, a memoir,” Steve Newman Writer wrote:
“Hotchner’s book, Papa Hemingway, came into my life in 1967, care of The Readers Union, and was, for me, a life changer. I’d read most of Hemingway by then, including Hemingway’s own posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast, and although that gave something of a limited view of the writer’s life back in the Paris of the 1920s, it would be Hotchner’s account of the last creative, yet troubled, period of Hemingway’s life, a period much closer to my own, that not only gave a vivid account of the man that was Hemingway, but the man that was Hotchner, and what a damned good writer, and man, he was too. I liked him, and could sympathies with his nervousness at meeting Hemingway, and his self doubt, and his determination to persuade Hemingway to write a piece for Cosmopolitan magazine about the future of literature, which he sort of managed before flying back to the US in an alcoholic fog and smelling of fish.” I read “Papa Hemingway” around the same time and my recollection echoes Steve Newman Writer.
“Hemingway in Love” is a good way to end this Hemingway festival. It is a very personal account of how Hotchner supported and promoted Hemingway. Can you imagine deep sea fishing, hanging out in Cuba, trips to Paris, Spain and Italy. It was quite an adventure. Hotchner was also there at the end. I might need to reread his “Papa Hemingway.” Let the fiesta go on.
Do you like Hemingway’s work? Have you read any recently?
Yesterday I met with my nutritionist, Amy. It’s all pretty standard after several years. She urges I cut down on pasta, white potatoes, dry cereal and sweets. And always more vegetables. We are more aware and have increased some like avocados, yams. She encourages my vegetable-fruit-yogurt smoothies (2 or 3 a week). With the garden, we have lots of greens. We buy some healthier staples that she has recommended (chickpea pasta for instance or almond flour). She concludes each session by my setting goals. Recently I’ve been interested in using more herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, to increase taste and variety especially in salads and vegetable dishes. My motivation flows from several places.
I recently discovered an online source of spices, Burlap & Barrel. I bought three types of pepper and Black Urfa Chili (Turkey); Purple Stripe Garlic (Vietnam) and Cured Sumac (Turkey). All three can be used on meat/fish, salads, dips. I’ve used the Sumac and Chili when I roast pepitas or sunflower seeds in olive oil for salads. I’ve also been buying bleach and pickled garlic.
I recently wrote about Marcus Samuelsson’s PBS series, “No Passport Required,” that explores ethnic cuisine in American cities and has ignited my interest in exploring different ethnic cuisines. This may involve a restaurant; we recently ordered Japanese from a local Ginger Wok (Japanese and Chinese). Or it can involve cooking new things or familiar things in new ways. I also have written about Samuelsson’s memoir, “Yes Chef” and then locating our copy of his cookbook, “Acquivit.” (check out my blog Marcus Samuelsson). We’ve been having more smoked fish and also trying some different types. Last week combined smoked salmon on avacado toast.
I also just finished reading Samuelsson’s most recent book, “The Rise: black cooks and the soul of American food, a cookbook.” His purpose is to explore and bring to the table African and African American cuisine. He features brief biographies of dozens of Black chefs, home cooks, historians and social activists. Their story is followed by several recipes. I came away with a broader understanding of ingredients that have become standard in African (American) cooking. They go beyond the traditional fried chicken, grits, yams, cornbread, collards, and watermelon — i.e. Soul Food.
In the back of the book is a pantry. A few observations. I was familiar with many of the vegetables and spices. A few were new to me. There were many I don’t use regularly. I was surprised that many of the spice blends with exotic names were made from things we already have in our spice cabinet. A list if things that caught my attention — okra, plantain, cassava, yams, cocoa beans, vanilla beans, harissa, sumac, cardamom, masala, za’tar, grains of Paradise seed, tahini, tamarind paste, fermented shrimp paste, coconut, couscous, bulgur, chickpea and almond flour, many types of beans. There were various spice blends. Shito, a spicy Chile sauce from Ghana, Yakima blend for meats from West Africa contains peanuts, ginger, paprika, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Chermoula blend from North Africa contained 13 familiar spices. Kelewele was salt, ginger, turmeric, smoked paprika, nutmeg, pepper. Dukkkah was an Egyptian blend of sesame, coriander, hazel nuts, salt and pepper. All there blends can be used on seafood, meats and vegetables.
The last section of “The Rise” are sources for ingredients. Some were online; other were markets. I’m not sure yet how I will incorporate any of this into my cooking or eating. There is nothing I need to specifically buy now unless I want to try a recipe. But now I am much more aware of ingredients common in African cuisine and want to continue to explore. Maybe there is a market in Philadelphia, similar to the Markets I’ve been to in Chinatown.
Another thread in my herbs, spices, tastes thread is “High on the Hog: a culinary journey from Africa to America.” It is a 2012 book by Jessica B. Harris. I want to read the book but have just finished the four episode Netflix series based on the book, hosted by Stephen Satterfield, “High on the Hog.” The first episode is “Roots,” which takes Satterfield to Benin, Africa with the author Harris. The second is “The Rice Kingdom,” featuring the Carolinas and Gullah. I’ve watched “Our Founding Chefs,” twice. It’s primarily the story of Hercules, George Washington’s chef and James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s French trained chef. Two shorter segments introduce us to Philadelphia oyster man, Benjamin “Moody” Harley and one of the city’s catering families, started by Albert E. Dutrieuille. Both fed my local history interest. The last episode, “Freedom,” features Juneteenth feasts, barbecue and African American cowboys. The more I watched, the more I liked Satterfield. He and others in the series are featured in Samuelsson’s book, “The Rise.” In today’s e-mail, Mark Bittman writes about Satterfield. Small world.
So much of what we cook and eat is standard, traditional. I think of how we ate in the 1950s. It’s Tuesday it must be . . . lettuce means iceberg, Chicken Chow Mein was exotic Chinese. Although our current cuisine is much more varied and inclusive, I think we’re still missing out on a lot. So my goal is to continue to explore. I need to search out some different ethnic restaurants. R. E. Remembering as Stanley Tucci showed in the CNN travel series, “Searching for Italy,” there is even a lot a variety in Italian cuisine. But I’m also thinking more African, Asian, Middle Eastern, South American. And then there is shopping and cooking. Are there good ethnic markets. This Father’s Day a new Jewish deli, “The Borscht Belt,” opened in Stockton. We’ve only recently put Altemonte’s Italian market on our regular shop there list. We haven’t been to the Garden Farm Market in Morrisville in many years. They carried some different products. Cooking obviously follows shopping. And I realize now it may not be a new ingredient but a new way to use it. A new combination.
Let me know if you have favorite ethnic restaurants, markets, recipes, herbs, spices, tastes. What adds to culinary diversity to your life? Bon Appétit.
On Saturday, December 18, 2004 Diane and I went to New York City with Jenny and Rob. We took the train but I’m not sure if we spent the night. Jen and Rob had only been married several months. We went to MOMA and in my journal I recorded that “Water Lilies” was lost in a new huge room. The main reason of the trip, however, was dinner at Aquavit. I’m not sure where or when we became intrigued with Marcus Samuelsson but Jenny and Rob had gifted us a copy of his cookbook, “Aquavit,” several years earlier and then a gift certificate to the restaurant. My food journal documents our meal. We tried Aquavits, a flavor infused vodka like drink. The meal was a 3 course price fixe. We had herring or oysters. Entries were seafood stew, venison, tuna and char. You guess who got what. There were several very excellent sweet desserts. Whales Tail ale from Nantucket was available. It was expensive for us, $400 plus tip, but I rated it five star except for the decor which I found a bit dark. “Exquisite food; relaxing evening.”
An added treat: Marcus was in the bar area.
Recently I watched Samuelsson on his PBS series, “No Passports Required.” Marcus takes us on an explore of 12 American cities. What’s unique is how he focuses on a specific ethnic group that has a presence in the city. Usually not a group you might expect. Filipinos in Seattle; Armenians in Los Angeles; Nigerians in Houston; Italians in Philadelphia; Chinese in Los Vegas; Middle Eastern in Detroit; Vietnamese in Chicago; Haitian in Miami; and Ethiopian in Washington DC. You get the idea. Samuelsson’s focus has always been on flavor and taste. He genuinely explores ethnic cuisine. I totally enjoyed and was amazed at his interactions with chefs in restaurants and home cooks; young and old; rich and poor. He always attempts to prep or cook with the local. He also dresses in colorful shirts, hats and scarves. Although these are cooking shows, Samuelsson is aware of social issues. Each episode features about five segments, a restaurant or two; maybe shopping; a home cooked meal. Food is prepared and tasted.
I recently decided to borrow a book from the Bucks County Library’s cloud library. My first choice was “Yes Chef: a memoir,” (2012) by Marcus Samuelsson. 1 also checked out “The Red Rooster Cookbook: the story of goof and hustle in Harlem (2016); one of his his current restaurants.
Marcus was born in Ethiopia. His sister and he were adopted by a Swedish family. It transformed opportunities in his life. His first cooking was with his grandmother Helga. He learned the basics of Swedish country cooking which became the foundation of his style and taste. He worked in a fish market; took some classes; got a job in one of Sweden’s top restaurants (French food); another in Switzerland (again French). But he moved up the kitchen ladder quickly. In New York City he landed a job in Aquavit, created and owned by Hakan Swahn as a taste of Scandinavia on West 54th street. This is where we ate. Part of Samuelsson’s success was his determination; he was willing to wait for the best offer and he believed he could be an innovative chef. At Aquavit, in 1995, the chef died and Hakan took a chance on Samuelsson, appointing him head chef. He was about 24 years old. It was here he connected his name to a Swedish cuisine transformed with new tastes. In order to leave Aquavit, Samuelsson, recently married, had to use all his savings to buy out his name. Quite amazing but his lawyers advised it was necessary. In 2005 Aquavit moved to new quarters 65 East 55th street. It’s there today and the current menu reflects Marcus Samuelsson.
Marcus didn’t retire, in the early 2000s, he was working to open his dream the Red Rooster in Harlem; doing TV (chef celebraties ); chef for Obama administration state dinner in 2009. There were some failed restaurants but for the most part a trajectory that fulfilled his ambition, to be a great chef.
Today I paged through the original gift cookbook from Jen and Rob, “ Aquavit: and the new Scandinavian cuisine,” (2003), by Marcus Samuelsson. I’m not sure if we cooked many recipes. But I found many of interest. First off was gravalux, pickled salmon with dill. Actually I’ve made it several times. There are other pickled fish, tuna, herring. And lots of fish recipes. Root vegetables are a staple, lots of potato recipes to try. And many pickled vegetables, some only a few hours — cucumbers, beets, cabbage, beans, garlic. Some breads; some sweets.
In the coming months I want to use the Aquavit cookbook. I’d love to go to the Red Rooster in Harlem, they have lunch. And the bar at the newly renovated Aquavit opens before noon some days. Into NYC and out. I’ll also check out and read other Samuelsson cookbooks. He even has video of Harlem. Recently I’ve also been interested in exploring new flavors, new seasonings, and attempting to combine foods I think go together. This is the Samuelsson style.
Almost 40 years ago, I read John McPhee’s “The Survival of the Bark Canoe” (1982). I believe it was my first McPhee. Since then I’ve read them all, some more than once. I assigned the “Bark Canoe” to my English class. A few of my high school juniors were drawn to it; most were not. Personally I fell in love with McPhee’s New Yorker magazine style. How he interacted with characters, in this case Henri Vaillancourt, the Greenville, New Hampshire birch bark canoe builder. How he combined science, history, and current events into a personal adventure story. With Vaillencourt McPhee traces Henry David Thoreau’s canoe trip in Maine (read “The Maine Woods” ).
Today in Yankee Magazine, I discovered another maker of birch bark canoes, Steve Cayard from Wellington, Maine. on his website, Steve writes:
“I am building birchbark canoes in the traditional style of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet builders of Maine and New Brunswick from the early- to mid-1800’s. My information has been garnered from research on old canoes in museums, old photos, and written accounts. My building experience has given me an understanding of the construction details of the old canoes, which are then incorporated into my canoes. It has been my goal to contribute all that I can to the revival of the traditional canoe style of this area, in which there have been few if any birchbark canoe builders since the 1920’s, that is, until recently. The acceptance of my canoes as traditional by present-day tribal members is the ultimate compliment to my efforts. It has been my privilege to complete the circle by offering the results of my research to the people from whose culture these beautiful canoes arose.”
“ I have roamed the woods for many years, starting in the hills of West Virginia where I grew up. It was there that my German mother and grandmother taught me to love nature, and there that my Texan father taught me to work with my hands. I first moved to Maine in 1973, where the woods still felt like home, just a little further up the Appalachian chain. I roamed a while longer, until I met and married fellow West Virginian Angela Derosa, and together we settled on a backwoods homestead in Wellington, Maine in 1987. It is thanks to her strength and tenacity that we have been here ever since.”
Agwiden is a movie by D’Arcy Marsh about Steve and building birch bard canoes. I watched it this afternoon.
“AGWIDEN follows the building of a Wabanaki Birch Bark Canoe from the harvesting of the birch bark, the cedar logs (which are split and carved into ribs and gunwales), and the black spruce roots (which are used to sew the bark) all the way through to the launching of a completed canoe. For 80 years the Penobscot Indian Nation had stopped building birch bark canoes. Then Chief Barry Dana invited Steve Cayard (a white man) to help him and the Penobscots, along with members of the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet nations, to bring back the ancient craft and tradition of birch bark canoe building, which is the heart and soul of Wabanaki culture. The Wabanaki Nation is made up of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq tribes.”
It’s an amazing movie, available on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/77745115). I was amazed how Steve and his companion students peeled a ten foot strip of birch bark from a tree, rolled it up and soaked it in water while they crafted the ribs. Craftsmanship, heritage, and respect for the environment.
As I watched the crew constructing the canoe, I was reminded of the week, five years ago, when John Paglione and I worked with a crew reconstructing a slave cabin on James Madison’s estate, Montpelier. Also in recent memory is a visit to a kayak makers shop in Washington where my sister had one of her hand-made wooden ocean kayaks built. What a work of beauty. How I would love to go to a class in canoe or other boat building. Since I don’t think it will happen soon, I’ll go find my copy of “The Survival of the Bark Canoe.” Or could I attend a boat building class?