Friday, June 15, 2012

To The (Long Point) Lighthouse

Without the slightest doubt, October is Cape Cod’s best month.  On a good day, the air is crisp and cool, and the light is bright and sharp as a razor; the pale blue sea and the aquamarine sky sparkle and compete for the eye’s attention, the atmosphere is so clear and devoid of haze that you can stare off across the sea into the far heart of infinity.  Between sunset and darkness the waters of the harbor can pass through a whole unbelievable cycle of color changes, and this cycle itself can change completely from day-to-day.  At sunset it might be a bright light, blue-tinged with rose, and a few minutes later it will become like polished silver, then like burnished pewter, and next it will be gun-metal blue like a polished Toledo blade.  And if there happen to be dark clouds in the background across the harbor, the water will turn into the richest tone of indigo you could imagine;  the white boats bobbing in the harbor will become whiter than white, something outside the spectrum, a luminescent trick played on the retina by a never-never landscape.


   The little old lighthouse sitting out on Long Point is the constant gauge, like an optical metronome, to which the eye always returns to discover the beat, the vibrations of each day’s visual symphony.  As William Butler Yeats said, “Lulled by this sensuous music, one neglects monuments of unageing intellect.” 

Note:   Perusing Howard Mitcham's wonderful Provincetown Seafood Cookbook (Reading MA, Addison-Wesley, 1975) last night, something I hadn't done for some time, this passage struck me as being exactly right.  (So, for that matter, is everything else about Mitcham's book, which is a must-read-and-own for fish-lovers, Cape Cod enthusiasts, and anyone who likes charming marginal drawings by artistically gifted authors.)   Over the past decade, I’ve mostly recovered from my previous antipathy to the state of Massachusetts.  (It was a matter of putting some unfortunate memories behind me and replacing them with some good new ones.)   We have spent a fair amount of October time on the Cape during annual reunions of our “Wuhan Six” Chinese adoption group and, with the exception of one unseasonably Equatorial year and another Arctic one (both exciting!), Mitcham’s description is spot on.

Howard Mitcham, who passed away in 1996, was a legendary figure in Provincetown life, both in cooking and artistic circles.  One aspect of his book which I appreciate, something current “celebrity chef” Anthony Bourdain also cited when he nominated Mitcham’s book in the New York Times as the out-of-print cookbook most deserving reprinting, is Mitcham’s championing the grand culinary qualities of certain of our less “prestigious” fish.   Adapting a smart wine adage, there isn’t a fish for every occasion, but there is an occasion for every fish. 


  1. Cape Cod, another place I wish I had visited but likely will not.

    I am a huge lover of all kinds of fish. I've been reading some terrible things about the dangers of certain types of fish or fish gotten in certain geographical areas. Such as salmon ... only the non-farmed types out of the Northwest are considered safe. Shrimp ... it's best to avoid them overall. Eel (which I love as a sushi roll) ... a bottom feeder and therefore dangerous. Catfish, dangerous from certain areas. I could go on ... very depressing.

  2. It's truly terrible because I'm basically a fish eater and doctors have instructed me to eat oily fish, etc., which I love for flavor, but not for toxins. I write a "food news" column for a magazine in Pennsylvania and recently researched the subject of "local fish" in southeastern PA and it was alarming. I love eel (nice that you recognize him/her as a fish; so many people just don't get eel), but you're absolutely right. Mostly, I just eat all sorts of vegetables and bean curd lately, which I prefer and is helpful because I'm trying to lose weight. The Tuxedo Farm market, which is held on Saturdays, opened yesterday and this morning's breakfast (for me) consisted of some vinegary/sesame-inflected thinly sliced radishes on good toast, which was great. Caroline tried the very good ricotta cheese one of the vendors there sells with some strawberries from Pennsylvania, which we brought with us. The birds left us one strawberry on our terrace here, which was truly extraordinary, sort of like the time we successfully grew a single shittake mushroom from a kit I gave Caroline for Christmas. It was the best mushroom either of us had ever eaten. I'm down and off the ladder, thank heavens. It was a hairy morning of cleaning and polishing, but thank heaven it ended safely. Should you decide to visit Cape Cod, avoid driving there during any ok-weather weekend day or any day bordering weekends. There are only two roads on and off the island and the traffic congestion is horrible. It's pretty nice there and when we have our reunion trips, it's usually a blast because it's so great to see how the kids have grown. And the seafood meals on Cape Cod and just the chowders are splendid. Howard Mitcham's book makes very interesting and good reading. A remarkable man. Also, he was deaf. It's amazing what talented and determined people can accomplish. Curtis