Thursday, August 21, 2008

Boston and Nantucket Seaside

There is beauty in what scares you. The New England Aquarium illuminates jellyfish to throb and glow in a twilight sea. I could spend hours watching. Are the waving tentacles so engrossing because they could cause pain?

As much as I love the dreamy underwater world, a shark is my nightmare. I wonder if that fear is hard-wired. I remember taking my daughter as a toddler to this aquarium and pointing out, “Look, a fish with teeth.” She didn’t buy my forced cheerful tone but burst into tears, hiding her face from the shark’s grimace. I know sharks are important members of the ecosystem and rarely attack humans. Phobias aren’t rational.

“Sharks” said with a Boston accent (on the aquarium sign: shahhhks) are funny. A multistory cylindrical tank displays huge fish, rays, sea turtles and sharks. The viewing platform wraps around like a ball run. The New England Aquarium in Boston is not unlike the Guggenheim Museum in NYC only it is nature rather than art on display. Good architecture enhances the viewing experience in both buildings.

At the base of the tank are the penguins, which delight all children. This one appeared to be taking a bow. My daughter and I are big fans of penguins, but they don’t transfix me in the way that sharks and jellyfish do. Why are we so fascinated and drawn to what we fear?

My real life fears were alleviated by seeing my mother in the hospital. She was pale but doing remarkably well after her surgery, although there will be many weeks of physical therapy ahead of her. I spent a couple of days visiting her at Mass General Hospital in Boston. Since the kids were with me, I broke up the time by taking them to the aquarium. My mother is now home and walking with the aid of one crutch.

Last time my mother broke her leg, I was living in England. It’s times like that which make living abroad painful. Even if you can’t do much to help, it’s good to be there for family. We are always stretched with my husband’s family in England and mine in the USA. As parents age, this becomes a bigger issue, especially for multinational families like ours.

Luckily our parents are generally in good health and very active. The joy they find in life after 70 is inspiring. Aging need not be something to fear, but as a daughter, I can’t help worrying sometimes.

Perhaps the biggest support my being there offered was to give my father a break and to provide a welcome distraction. It’s hard to be the supportive spouse. We went to dinner at a really good and inexpensive Italian restaurant my father discovered. Antonio’s Cucina Italiana is on Cambridge Street in Boston, right across from Mass General. I highly recommend the pasta fagioli soup.

We stayed at the ironically named Liberty Hotel that used to be a prison. They preserved some of the cells for the jailhouse look, but the hotel is quite luxurious. Best of all, The Liberty Hotel offers a reduced rate for those visiting patients in the hospital next door. The view from the hotel is spectacular and familiar. I used to work in an office building on the opposite side of the Charles River. I have so many memories from my 12 years in Cambridge, Mass.

When my mother left the hospital for NYC, the children and I continued onto our planned vacation on Nantucket Island. Now you’re probably wondering why I’d leave Maine, with all its lovely islands, to go to Massachusetts. Well, the water is much warmer. The Gulf Stream channels southern water from the Gulf of Mexico to Nantucket, but there’s more to it than that.

Nantucket Island is 30 miles out to sea from Cape Cod and is wrapped with sand beaches. It has miles of bike paths along the wild moors. Nantucket has long since been an inspiration for my art. I wrote most of my master’s thesis on island one spring when I needed quiet and solitude to write. At some point I’m sure to set a novel there.

The main draw for me is my family and our three decade history with this beautiful island. When I was a kid, my father used to split a summer house rental with his sister and her family. It’s fun to come back now to see my cousins with a third generation in tow. It was sad to arrive dockside without my parents greeting us. The two hour ferry journey had erased all tension and transitioned us into vacation mode.

My children joined their cousins for the Nantucket Sand Castle Competition and won third prize in the “Resourceful” category. That means they built their castle with natural items found on the beach. I appreciated their literary theme and pun: Prisoner of ACKaban. There was the Harry Potter reference, and ACK is the abbreviation for the Nantucket Airport. Theirs was the only actual sand castle in the “sand castle” competition. Other teams were flipping over backwards to be original.

This team stretched the rules by using dyes and a painted sign. Those are steps leading down to China (6,827 miles.) You can’t help but laugh.

Here’s a Nantucket lightship basket filled with hydrangea which grow well in sandy island soil. Being on a lightship, anchored out at sea as a floating lighthouse, was lonely. To ease the boredom, the lightship watchmen would weave baskets out of beach grasses. Now these baskets are mass produced for preppy women vacationing on the island.

Once a wealthy whaling community, Nantucket is now a vacation destination. There are only 12,000 year-round residents which swell to 55,000 over the summer. Good beaches combined with fine dining are the draw. No other restaurant blends these elements as well as The Galley Restaurant.

At The Galley there are no windows but rather open tarps to the beach and sea. The atmosphere is elegant and feels more French Riviera than American, especially when the planters sported red and white geraniums. The food isn’t as delicious but still tasty enough to satisfy if stretch the wallet. This year the cooking was better than usual. I especially appreciated the pastry chef’s nod to the restaurant’s sunset views.

The Galley is perfectly positioned to watch the sun set into the sea. Californians might take this for granted, but an ocean sunset can only be viewed from an island on the east coast. Film couldn’t capture how the sun glowed a deep red like a coal in a campfire. All the diners stopped eating and the servers froze to watch the sun sink into the water. Everyone clapped for this grand finale.

Next week I’ll blog more about Nantucket. I wasn’t able to download the images from my DSLR camera because the high definition memory card is beyond the capacities of my old card reader. My point-and-shoot Canon Elph did a fine job (especially at the aquarium,) but I want to share a sunrise and moonset that only a manually set SLR could capture. Technical problems are only an excuse. Don’t you want to dwell on summer, now that August is drawing to a close?


Jean Merriman said...

Glad you are enjoying your vacation even if it is without your parents Sarah. Very nice to hear your mother is doing well. Spunky lady for sure to be walking with only 1 crutch!!! Hope she does not get antsy and overdo it.

The kids did a great job on the sandcastle!!!

Can you believe I have not bee to the Boston Aquariumn but the shark tunnel at Sea World is pretty scarey. I should make an effort to go as everyone says it is great and do love them. I was brought up downeast and used to go to the smally one in St. Andrews, New Brunswick all the time. Also took my kids every summer.

Sarah Laurence said...

Jean, you can see why I worry sometimes. Next time you're in Boston, check out the aquarium. I use the kids as an excuse as I love it as much as they do. Another vacation, we'll have to take the ferry to New Brunswick from Portland.

tina said...

I always love aquariums. I think the tentacles are transfixing because they are so graceful, like a ballet.

I am glad your mother is fine and vacation is still nice, albeit with without your mom. I hope she can join you soon or next time for sure.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, the jelly fish do seem to dance, but they are slaves to the current. Yes, it is a relief that my mother is recovering. We'll be seeing my parents over Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as next summer in Nantucket.

Cindy said...

Sarah ~ I'm so glad to hear that your Mother is recuperating. It's nice that you were able to visit the aquarium. Those photos are great, esp. of the jelly fish.

Your time on Nantucket sounds so relaxing. I'm sure it wasn't the same without your parents, but I bet it makes you appreciate the time with them even more.

Congratulations to the Sand Castle Builders! They did a great job. It's interesting to see the other creations as well. My brother built a big castle on our trip, but I didn't get a photo before the little ones and the sea demolished it.

I'm looking forward to your next post with your DSLR shots. It's certainly nice to dwell on summer as autumn is knocking on the door.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I'm glad your mother is doing well at home. Her zest for life into her 70's is so inspiring and has to be a comforting thing for a daughter.

I loved the photos of Nantucket. It's been too long since we were there. And we never went in summer, only in fall, which was beautiful.

And sharks just look like monsters, that's why they're scary. I mean, that is not a friendly face.

walk2write said...

Sarah, I am relieved that your mother is doing so well. It's so frightening when your loved ones are sick. Your aquarium pictures make me long for a visit to one. I saw the Boston one years ago, and it is wonderful. The spiraling walk makes you feel as if you are descending into the depths of the ocean. I will be going home to Florida next weekend for a short visit so I will try to soak up as much summer as I can. Enjoy the rest of yours.

Elizabeth said...

Have never been to Nantucket but it's on my list......!
A most interesting post.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thank you, Cindy. Isn’t that the true nature of sand castles? I have to say, as proud as I am of the kids winning a prize, a sand castle competition sounds like an oxymoron. I’m still figuring out my DSLR so it’s great to have my Elph as a back-up.

Pamela, I hope I do age as well as my mother. I love Nantucket in the fall – fewer crowds and interesting colors. I do enjoy swimming in Nantucket, and happily there are few sharks.

W2W, I love your observation about the aquarium. That’s great that you can head back to Florida to see your family and the beaches. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Elizabeth, I think you’d appreciate the history and the architecture in Nantucket. It’s rare to see this in the USA. England is so much better at preserving the past.

Les said...

I think Jellyfish are beautiful also, but they can make swimming difficult late in the summer here. I try not to think about all the sharks that are in the water, I know they are there, but I swim anyway. I have always wanted to go to Nantucket, thank you for bringing it closer.

Anonymous said...

Awesome photos !! The jellyfish one is just too good.

And the sand castles were beautiful. :-)


Bee said...

After I read your posts, I always have to take stock for a minute or two . . . as you always leave us with so much to comment on!

Starting with a personal anecdote, I am VERY wary about venturing into the ocean these days. When I was a teenager, I managed to get stung by a jellyfish and "bitten" by a baby shark -- all in one week's holiday! (To be honest, the shark wasn't exactly gunning for me; it was more accurately a collision. However, I still have a scar on my thigh and a healthy fear of venturing out too deep in the water! Today we will visit the beach at Antibes and I will probably do no more than dip my toes in the surf.

I found your sunset picture very moving -- particularly as a postscript for the end of summer. Is it unusual for a restaurant of people to unite in sunset watching?

I've always thought that it is an incredibly romantic thing to have a summer place to return to each year. Nantucket: lucky you!

Best wishes for your mother's ongoing and speedy recovery.

Sarah Laurence said...

Les, I feel the same way about your gorgeous post about the Virginia shore. Your photos are stunning.

Welcome to my blog, Cuckoo, and thank you! I enjoyed reading your travel and India blog.

Bee, you were bitten by a baby shark and got stung by a jellyfish in one holiday?! I don’t blame you for avoiding ocean swimming after that. Actually bitten by a shark . . . I’m still recovering from the shock of reading that, and you have to live with the memory. I do hope you’ll still manage to enjoy the coast of Antibes. I look forward to your blogging about it. Thanks for your well wishes for my mother. She is taking things a bit easier now (back to 2 crutches) to heal.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

My Mom's whole family is from Boston and it seems every time I go I visit the Aquarium. Welcome back to the US (little late) and I see you are enjoying some of the finer places in the country like Nantucket.

Did you get the D80? That is what my wife has. Great camera don't be afraid to custom setup the menus for the type of shooting you like to do. A DSLR can take a little getting used to to.

The D80 can be run in fully manual if you want :lol:

Sarah Laurence said...

DFP, thanks – I still feel like I just came home even though it’s been a month. It was nice to catch up with your blog too - such beautiful photos.

I did get the Nikon D80, thanks for your advice. I often see what the camera takes on auto and then switch to total manual (M) and bracket to get a better exposure. I raise the ISO for low light shots as I don’t like flash and use the P setting. I love being able to focus manually. I’m really enjoying it but have a lot to learn- tips welcome!

Alyson | New England Living said...

Wow! I want to go to Nantucket. Maybe next summer.

I'm very familiar with the New England Aquarium. We have a membership and go whenever we get a chance. I just love the north end of Boston!

Glad to hear your mother is on the path to recovery.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, I remember your fun post about Boston. Thanks, my mother is recovering although it’s painful.

Rose said...

Glad to hear your mother is out of the hospital and doing better. It's difficult for anyone to be there when needed for an aging parent, but I didn't think about how much more difficult this is when you live out of the country. I'm sure you were happy you could be there for her this time.

What clever sand "castles"! Nantucket looks so beautiful, and seeing the sunset must have been quite a treat.

TBM said...

One of the hardest things about living abroad is leaving my parents and my husband's family behind. Fortunately, everyone is in good health, but one of my worst fears is something will happen to one of them while we are here. I am glad your mom is on the mend. I am sure her spirits are higher having seen you and your kids. And speaking of your kids, I like their sense of humor! Well done on the sand castle.

And of course, lovely photos. The first and the last ones made me sigh.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose and JAPRA, it is a relief to be back in the USA at the right time. Nantucket, sunsets and all, was the perfect anecdote to all the stress. Now I can get back to unpacking from England! Thanks for your nice comments.

Tess Kincaid said...

Interesting hotel! We had an old penitentiary in town that was being considered for a hotel but was torn down.

Lovely vacation pix. Glad to hear your mother is on the mend.

Sarah Laurence said...

Willow, there’s also a new hotel, Mal Maison, in what used to be the Oxford County Jail. I like the idea of reusing beautiful old buildings, but there is something creepy about staying in a prison. Thanks for your kind words.