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?