Saturday, May 13, 2006


Few things can make me feel as deeply peaceful as a good meal in a quiet place. I just got back from a late brunch at the Runcible Spoon, where I've been going for years and years (probably the first time I went there was in 1980 or so). I had their Weekend Special, which consists of: two eggs cooked however you want them (I had mine over medium); two pieces of toast with jam or appple butter; bacon or sausage or home fries or maybe there was one other choice (they were out of home fries, but I always get the bacon because their bacon is, for some reason, always perfect); and two pieces of French toast or one pancake (the pancake I had today was maybe the most humongous pancake I have ever had at the Spoon -- not only was it bigger than Julie Dill's head, it was the size of a large dinner plate and a full half-inch thick) with butter and maple syrup. And lots of good coffee. All for under ten bucks.

(Since some of the keys on my elderly laptop are a bit recalcitrant, I almost told you that my pancake came with male syrup. That would have been a different sort of meal entirely.)

For some reason the Spoon is the perfect place to be on a rainy afternoon. There are plants in the windows and fish in the bathtub, and instead of feeling gloomy it feels cozy. Plus I had one of the better, long-time waitrons, as opposed to the one I had last weekend who dropped my jam (I'd asked for apple butter, but whatever) and never brought me a new one, and had to be prompted for silverware. I wrote in my journal for a while before my food arrived, and then while I ate I started reading an interesting history of Provincetown. (I bought it last summer at Now Voyager bookstore in P-town, but am just now getting around to reading it.)

Although I visited Provincetown once in the summer of... hm, 1982 or 1983, I guess (for a women's martial arts camp), I didn't fall in love with the town until I spent a week there, alone, in June 2001. It was a wonderful, relaxing, energizing week which I credit for helping to bring me back to a place where I could write again after several years of not writing much at all. I know that in many ways it is past its heyday. People like me -- lower-middle-class folks, people who can't spend much money on things like vacations -- can barely afford to spend a week there, and it's no longer the kind of town where a starvingartist* can find refuge in a cottage or a dune shack just being an artist/writer, not without working a couple of jobs to pay the bills or being sponsored in some way. And the Portuguese fishing families that settled the town many decades ago? They can barely afford to live there anymore either, and many of them have given up and left. While it is still a town that welcomes the artist, the odd character, the queer in whatever sense of the word you choose, it's also a town that has gentrified itself almost beyond recognition in some ways. I'll never, unless I win the lottery (and a pretty substantial one at that), be able to afford a house there, not even a little three-room apartment.

And yet that town still reeks of magic for me. Partly it's the ocean and the air and the light -- things no amount of gentrification can eradicate. Partly it's the sense of literary and artistic tradition that pervades the place. Partly it's the joyous queerness of it all -- you gotta love a town where the sight of drag queens on rollerblades gliding down the middle of the main street is an everyday occurrence. It's a place that values independence, and is home to very few chain establishments -- there's a Ben & Jerry's, and a small Subway, and as far as I know that's about it. It's a small town, with big white church steeples and the sense of being reasonably safe walking back to your room at midnight after spending a few hours drinking beers at the Squealing Pig or eating a slice of pizza at Spiritus or window shopping or listening to music or just hanging out watching the nightly parade.

It's a place where, for so many reasons, I feel safe letting my inside be my outside. I get that sometimes in Bloomington, because it's home here, but it's different. And yes, the fact that I don't live in Provincetown -- that I can go there and be whoever I am and then walk away from it -- probably helps. It's like writing a poem every day: wonderful for short periods of time, but I probably couldn't live that way forever. (Although I do often feel that, if not for the money and the having to work for a living part, I would be very happy to live in Provincetown. If I ever win that big-ass lottery, I'll find out. At the very least, I do hope to spend some time there in the winter, before too long -- or at least the fall or spring; well outside of tourist season anyway.)

So that's today: loving my town, eating a good meal in a restaurant I've frequented for twenty-five years or so, watching it rain, dreaming of another town I also love. I think I fall in love with places more than I do with people.

Also: Lotus kitten would like to announce that his Loudest Purr can be heard well into the next county. I guess he likes it here. :)

* In Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet's father is always saying "starvingartist" or "starvingwriter." She writes in her notebook, "Are rich people ever going to grow up to be writers or are writers all like Mr. Rocque with no money? My father is always saying starvingartist or starvingwriter. Maybe I better reduce."


Pamela said...

Anne, you must be a breakfast fiend like me. If you're ever in western Kentucky, I'll buy you the same breakfast, plus grits, cinnamon toast, and/or red-eye gravy/biscuits at Skinhead's.

As for Harriet the Spy, I love her still. I wanted to be Harriet and blame her for my low-brow addiction to detective fiction.

Pamela said...

Just for the record, Skinhead was the nickname of the original 1940s owner, whose likeness used to be on the sign.

Suzanne said...

First, I love those town history books. Second I love Provincetown. Third, when we went we stayed in Turro, much less expensive and a short ride to Provincetown. Pretty, too, less developed, of course this was several years ago, but worth checking on. And fourth, Now I want to go to Provincetown! :-P

LitByFire said...

"Where my inside is my outside." Oh yes. You made me homsick. You can live that way--but you're right about the money. I was lucky to have seven years year round and many summers before the place got quite so rich.
Read: Time and the Town, by Mary Heaton Vorse for the most evocative history of Ptown, through the '40s. Just a great book.

Anne said...

P., oh yes, I could eat breakfast three meals a day! Not a big fan of biscuits and gravy though, which makes me an oddity here in southern-ish Indiana. Also, I think Harriet the Spy was the first book that taught me how to be a writer. Observe everything, write it all down, be scrupulously honest with yourself, ask lots of questions, understand that there will be consequences. I must have read that book, no joke, hundreds of times as I was growing up. I still go back and reread it every so often.

S., staying in Truro would be a bit less expensive for sure, but then I'd have to rent a car -- normally I just take the ferry over from the airport in Boston. So that would eat up a bit of the savings. This summer I will be staying at FAWC, which is a bit less expensive than other options, and I'm *so* looking forward to it. Last year I stayed just half a block down the road, and it was wonderful to be able to dash over to their computer lab if I wanted to print something out at midnight! So I think when I'm taking a workshop I will probably always want to stay nearby. Truro is a great thought for vacation visits though. :)

C., the book I'm reading has already referenced the Vorse book a few times! I'll have to pick it up. What I like already about the Krahulik book is how she traces the roots of the town's current problems all the way back; it's not the "it was a lovely town until the rich gay people came in and ruined it" story I've heard before and always felt was an oversimplification. Sigh, even if the town is ruined I still adore it!

Lyle Daggett said...

I've never been to Provincetown, though have heard enough stories that I'd love to go if I can finagle a reason at some point.

I fell in love similarly with Port Townsend, Washington (northern end of the Puget Sound, on the west side) the first time I was there, in October 1984. Was just there for a weekend, but loved the place so much I went back twice (1987 and 1990) for the Writers' Conference there in the summer.

Like Provincetown, a small town full of artists, writers, musicians, generally eccentric people, mixed with the local folks. Everything else you said too -- one of the places I've felt most truly like myself.

(Some of Herman Melville's relatives settled in the area at some point in the past. The times I was there, there was a used book store in the town called "Melville's.")

I've heard in more recent years that the town has, likewise, become too expensive to live in unless you're rich. And I can only imagine how touristy-tacky it's become by now. But I have no doubt that if I ever make it there again I'll still love the place.

Anne said...

Lyle, I've heard so many good things about Port Townsend and about that conference. I hope to go someday...