I was on Long Island for three days last week. Though I am 37, and have lived in the Northeast practically my entire life, I had never been there before, past Brooklyn and Queens anyway. This was in part because there was never any necessity for me to go there: I had no one to visit, there were always other beaches nearer by, it was inconvenient to reach, etc. From wherever I have lived it was always too far to go on a day trip and too close to be worth the expense of spending even a couple of days there. For similar reasons I have still never managed to make it to Cape Cod or Lake George, which some people consider to be among the most beautiful places on earth, though I have lived within a three hour's drive of them for at least ten years. However, not being able to go anywhere very far away or for more than a few days at this time, and having recently developed some affinity for parks and nature and picnicking where formerly I would have wanted to spend all my time in museums and bars, and wanting to go somewhere new, it seemed like a good idea to go down there and have a look.
We arrived on the island by the ferry from New London, CT to Orient Point, which besides cutting a lot of distance off the drive when coming from New England, was an event of note to my young children, who had certainly not taken any such long trip on a boat before. Unlike some of the modern ferries that run out of Britain, you can still walk around on the deck on this one, and as there are lots of small islands in those waters and the trip is only 17 miles (it takes 80 minutes) you are never out of sight of land so it is a pretty entertaining ride as such things go.
Once we got on the Island and were driving along on the North Fork past very pleasant, even semi-sleepy vineyards and farms, I had some pangs of regret at turning south towards the notoriously unsleepy and stress-inducing Hamptons, where I could be certain no one was eagerly anticipating my arrival, but I had already decided to make that area the focal point of the trip, not because I have an unhealthy fascination with billionaires and billionaire wannabes (I actually don't) but because the area does have comparatively a lot of historical significance and artistic associations, and I like to see places like that. Of course we did not actually stay in the Hamptons. Conveniently it was August so I can say that everything was booked up. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppage, which is back in the suburban part of Long Island near the expressway, about an hour away. This was probably a $200 a night hotel that I got on Priceline for $57. I suppose some people get a thrill out of paying $60 for a $200 hotel, though personally I would rather pay $60 for a $60 hotel, only there are no $60 hotels on Long Island that you can respectably take a family to (I am of course not above staying in fairly vile places when traveling by myself). The situation with this hotel is that it is too big for where it is located, so that while they have mostly corporate people in expensive suits staying there, a grandiose lobby and bar, a golf course, etc, there is one floor where they warehouse all this obvious riffraff (including me) that got a deal on Priceline. Breakfast was not included--since most of my experience with hotels is from Europe I am always disappointed that hardly anyone includes breakfast in the U.S. The restaurant was one of these places where a couple of poached eggs cost $11, and a dish of fruit cup is 6. I know America is a rich country in part because there are lots of people in it willing to pay $11 for 2 eggs in the right environment; I may even be one of them, but this was not the right environment. This aside though, I liked the room. It had great air conditioning, which we don't have at home.
Another plus about the hotel was that when we did drive back to the Hamptons the next morning on the nearly empty expressway, and the sun was out with a few luxuriant white clouds, I really did get something of that Gatsby feel, which was in part what I was there for (Gatsby of course had to take the same drive to get to his place in West Egg). We went to the end of the island at Montauk and saw the famous lighthouse--commissioned by George Washington himself--and walked on the rocky shore they have there for a few minutes. It is a fine spot, but the awful biting flies, that I had completely forgotten about though I grew up in the Mid-Atlantic region where they are the scourge of just about every beach, were bad there. The baby especially bore the brunt of these attacks, though secretly I was not loving it too much either. We also went to one of the East Hampton public beaches--reading about this on the Internet one gets the impression that ordinary people/tourists, etc are somehow discouraged from going to these beaches, that one needs a parking sticker that costs $5,000 a year and is passed down in wills, fought over in divorce settlements, etc. These things may be true, but if they are they serve mainly as an example of the warped egotism of a certain class of people, because the parking is really not a big deal. You can pay--a lot, but not an absolutely insane amount--to park in a parking lot about 60 yards farther away from the beach than the people with the $5,000 parking stickers and the rented bathhouses. I guess if you park here it is equivalent to announcing to the people in the other parking lot that you are an unabashed nobody, so it is a very emotional issue for some. As public humiliations go however, I found this to be a fairly minor one.
East Hampton was voted the prettiest small town in America in the 50s by the Saturday Evening Post, which I was just writing about in the last article. While it is undeniably an attractive town, the traffic and the heavy shift to a wealthier and more cloistered population (most of the houses are famously concealed behind very tall privet hedges, or fences, one of which my wife pointed out must have contained $20,000 worth of wood alone) has given it a more imposing than graceful or charming character in our times. The area in general is not as beautiful, and certainly not as haunting, as the coastal areas in New England, especially Maine, though I suppose no one claims it is. The East Hampton beach is famous for its fine white sand, and this is very pleasant compared with the rockier beaches of the north, though the evenness of the coast and the absence of architecture along it apart from the large modern cottages make it less dramatic than many of the seaside towns in Maine, which settings remind me of the beach paintings that the early Impressionists made in Normandy (as opposed to those who came later and preferred the light of the Cote d'Azur; I am staunchly in the Northern camp when it comes to French seaside environments).
Such women as I saw on the beach on Long Island (there were not so many that you had to leave, but enough that you noticed a general pattern) I should note as a curious anthropological observation, made a more pointed, or at least more successful, effort, to be "sexy", as in, suggestive of being sexual creatures, than we ever see among the same type of affluent, high-achieving, where-it's-at crowd of women in New England. They also managed to do so without going over the top, even when they weren't actually very pretty, which I suppose is one of the secrets they teach you in boarding school. There were a lot of what I call "Esme" types around (though older than Esme would have been), obviously intelligent, sophisticated, bored 16-18 year old girls in sunglasses reading Trollope or something. One reads about such creatures a lot of course, but I have rarely encountered any in real life.
I will stop here and continue with the trip in another entry. Unfortunately my computer at home was left on during an electrical storm and appears to have been destroyed. It is highly probable that this will hamper my production for a time