17 August 2006

Memories of Overdevelopment

Mr. Gordo and I just returned from an extended holiday in the surf and sun on Cape Cod, which was absolutely delicious (or as Mr. Gordo would say: day-lee-shus). The roar of traffic and sirens outside the window of Mr. Gordo’s Big Eastern City Easy Bake, and my impending return to Cold City on Saturday for the commencement of the school year, threaten to push aside both the idyllic images of lovely beaches, blue skies, and deep-fried everything on the sunny porch of Captain Frosty’s as well as the less halcyon queues of traffic on the road to Hyannis, crowds of ugly and beautiful people packed onto small beaches at high tide, and the horrors of trashy tourism on Commercial Street in Provincetown.

Grace à The Beautiful Lisa, my cuñada who lives in Yarmouth Port year-round, we were able to descend into the fantasy of an almost two week holiday by the sea, at relatively little cost to ourselves (not counting Captain Frosty’s and extraneous trips to Christmas Tree Shop for beach junk and the CVS in Hyannis for Vichy). For the better part of the trip, The Beautiful Lisa was away in Caracas caring for a friend undergoing chemotherapy, so we had the house (and her luscious Turbo Jetta) to ourselves, aside from a crowded first weekend when Big Sis, her partner The Printmaker, and the familial unit of La Antropóloga, Mr. Polemic, and El Babycito (plus the proverbial visiting Israeli cousin, who turned out to be lovely) all arrived practically simultaneously for a couple of nights with us, in The Beautiful Lisa’s fantastic house, with all the mod cons and more. It took me three days to finish the laundry from that initial, semi-bacchanal weekend.

We settled into a somewhat predictable pattern: mornings spent watering the garden, maybe some weeding, over cups of coffee, then figuring out a meal of some sort (In or out? Breakfast or lunch? Fried or deep-fried?), with afternoons dedicated to finding a beach that was not completely inundated by fellow Cape visitors. For this last part, we were only partially successful, but wanting to avoid stinging jellyfish, we tended to stay on the bay side of the Cape, in particular venturing lazily over to Dennis (the next town over) and lounging on the beautiful tidal beaches of Chapin and Mayflower: two beach chairs, an umbrella (!) and books. I made my way through Arenas’s Before Night Falls and Gloria Naylor’s Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills while basking under the glorious late afternoon sun (Mr. Gordo is sun-sensitive, and who wants a sunburn anyhow?). The photo above was shot by Mr. Gordo as I waded into the sea during one of many spectacular sunsets.

Of course, we went to Provincetown for a late day at a cold and windy beach (Herring Cove, but we found out later that we made the wrong turn at the entrance and were on the “straight” part of the beach), with an evening spent with Ms. Bounder, a beautiful ex of The Beautiful Lisa, sharing delicious fish sandwiches at Clem and Ursie’s and continuing on to see Hedda Lettuce’s show in town. While Hyannis and Provincetown seem a million miles apart in terms of their socio-commercial raison d’être, the long and powerful reach of American capitalism has turned both into strange examples of overdevelopment and excess: Hyannis with its big box stores on its large boulevards along the northern edge of town and its relatively anemic Main Street (whose only saving grace is Tim’s Books, with a remarkable collection of used and hard to find material; amazingly, I was able to find this and this and this there), and Provincetown, with its gloriously overdeveloped and pretty Commercial Street weighed under with the dreck of T-shirt shops, tchotcke shops, gelato shops, postcard shops, “gay” shops (rainbows everywhere, and not a drop to drink), and overpriced fish and chip stands. Bleh! While venturing through the various commercial wonderlands of the Cape, I wondered about how this all happened, and what brought people (people like me) back to these places? There was beauty, under all the makeup, somewhere, but certainly not in the dreck of Commercial Street nor the all-American contents of Hyannis’s shopping malls.

The only true difference between Hyannis and Provincetown I could spot was that the former was straight, and the latter decidedly LGBT, with a deadening commercial effect on both. Oh, and P-town has pretensions to a better class of people, although all that seemed to indicate to me was that things were more expensive in P-town, and therefore “better.” In fact, the open presence of LGBT sexuality in Provincetown was nice, if a bit alarming (even in the city, people aren’t so open about their affections; perhaps it is the effect of the sun and sea?). The highpoint, or low point, of the visit was the outrageous Human Rights Campaign STORE on Commercial Street. You read that right Mary, a store, dedicated to all sorts of objects/crap bearing the HRC’s signature Equality logo: book bags, caps, t-shirts, mouse pads (who uses those anymore anyhow?), mugs, shot glasses, hoodies, windbreakers, flip flops, and even a beach ball! Mr. Gordo was strangely fascinated by all these objets trouvés, while I was reaching for the barf bag, which no doubt also had an equality logo on it. I’m, ahem, as proud as the next queen, but why would I want to parade around with an HRC hoodie and matching flip-flops? I already loathe the flip-flop trend anyhow (more bad, bad American sartorial choices). Besides, I hope people can see my gayness from 50 metres, like a big searchlight, therefore making advertising redundant.

Other moments: A gaggle of early teen girls, wearing matching Cape Cod hoodies (in different colours), too much makeup (The light touch, honey, you’re already pretty. Jesus, honey, you’re fourteen! You’ve got years yet to use the trowel!) and bored out of their minds, wandering around Inaho during dinner while Mr. Gordo and I demolished several scallop hand rolls. The silence of the ocean just a few metres from shore. Quiet nights reading in bed, or smoking outside under the stars. The Brazilian grill in Hyannis with delicious feijoada, diet guaraná and a rude waiter (although cute). Racks of hats that didn’t fit at the Yarmouth Port Christmas Tree Shop. Buying matching chiquititos with Mr. Gordo at Ocean State Job Lot (primarily because I had brought my clothes up in shopping bags, which Mr. Gordo labeled as “rancho”). Eating scrumptious clam pie with The Beautiful Lisa upon her return from Caracas. Collecting rocks and seashells with Mr. Gordo along Sandy Neck and Yarmouth Port’s “secret beach” on Barnstable Harbour. Irish girl hostesses, Irish girl shoe clerks, Irish girl fish and chip slingers. The young Lithuanian waitress at the Optimist Café straight out of Almodóvar, running around with an understaffed kitchen in heavy, clunky heeled shoes, exasperated and comic all at the same time. Sand, everywhere (the car, the sandals, the porch, the rugs, the bathroom, the chiquititos).

I have only a few more days here in Big Eastern City, and have turned anxious, and not only because I will have to negotiate Prancilla’s no doubt spider-filled garage in the dark without a flashlight when I return to Cold City late Saturday night (Prancilla, having decamped to Staid but Multi-Culti Eastern City for his new job [sob!], left my car at her as yet unsold but empty house). Having a long-distance relationship means, on some level, always saying good-bye, and that has made me sadder than the impending doom of the school year, which promises to be rather spicy (new department faculty arriving, new challenges, refining my teaching, getting some work done, etc.). My garret waits in Cold City, silent and dusty and no doubt stuffy as well, since the windows have been closed since July 2nd. Prancilla is gone, and I have no one to ring on Saturday night upon my return to celebrate with, for Prancilla was really my only true friend there, and now he is gone. Oh, sure, I have things to do: clean, stock the fridge, get a haircut, and the meetings, already the meetings, begin Monday. Oh, yea, and write a couple of syllabi. So, hopefully idle hands and devil’s playthings will be kept at bay, for the moment at least. But, I am feeling sadder and sadder as Saturday comes closer and closer.

Ambivalence, regret, sadness, hope, inspiration, et al. Some of this is leaving the heavenly embrace of Mr. Gordo, who is always soft and warm as a child’s bath, as mother’s breast (mine personally had the intoxicating liquor of Chloé and Virginia Slims, a smell that can bring tears to my eyes), as milk with cookies. Some of this is returning to a (s/cold) city minus your bestest doublegood girlfriend [double sob!]. But no doubt some of this is also just the end of summer, finally, irresolvably, again. But I have a nice tan.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful vacation... I too am doing an academic long-distance relationship. Even though you talk on the phone, e-mail etc.. , we are always saying goodbye.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Oooh, Cape Cod!! My parents live in Yarmouth Port (in the summers - snowbird lifestyle), and when I visit them I HAVE to eat at Captain Frosty's! Despite the commercialism, I so miss it, sigh...

GayProf said...

Well, you have the tan. In the end, isn't that all that matters?

Good luck with the return to Cold City!

Jason Chang said...

Love your blog, I check in often. Moved to the Bay Area from a cold Eastern city to get from Masters in Policy to Doctoral in Ethnic Studies. I thought everyone in California was tan? Only when you get back from sabatical it seems.
Will link up to your blog, if you don't mind.
Here's to pre-semester anxiety,

Anonymous said...

Great post.