Monday, August 22, 2011

A Souvenir of Nantucket

Well, souvenirs actually.  I liked the sound of the title better as "A Souvenir of Nantucket," since it sounded more old-fashioned to me.  And that's what I like about Nantucket: it is old-fashioned, in the best sense of the word.  The pace is slower, the air is cleaner, and there is little here to jar the eye, that seems out of place.  Nantucket still retains a lot of what I fell in love with when I spent my first summer here as a little boy, more than forty-five years ago.

I bought these playing cards on the ferry over from
the mainland.  I was drawn to them because
I liked the old-fashioned graphics on the package

Some people complain that Nantucket has become "Disney-fied" over the years, what with its rigorous zoning and enforcement of aesthetic codes designed to preserve and promote the island's heritage as an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century whaling center, and then as a vacation destination for the nation's WASPy Eastern elite.  Well, if that means there are no big-box retailers on the island, no invasive light pollution, and no Tuscan-style condo developments littering the landscape, then that's just fine with me.  Yes, there are a lot of ridiculously expensive stores in town catering to the island's richer-than-rich population, it is hard to find a decent house to buy for less than several million dollars, and the restaurants are as pricey as ones found on the UES of Manhattan.  But you don't find the attitude or aggressiveness or the midnight traffic jams here that you do in the Hamptons (a place I'd as soon visit again as have my fingernails extracted), and so long as you steer clear of the insanely picturesque town of Nantucket on weekends (which becomes unbearably clogged with day-trippers), then it is a remarkably serene place to spend a leisurely and relaxing vacation.

Oh, and most of the people you see out and about are actually wearing real clothes.  The other day I saw a gaggle of college-age boys in town horsing around with each other, and not one of them was wearing a tee shirt, cargo shorts, or flip flops.  They were all casually dressed, to be sure, but they were wearing shirts that had collars, bermuda shorts, and loafers or boat shoes.  They looked great.

What a pleasure it is to come to a place where people still have standards.

The deck and view of the ocean at the house we rented

This year, for the second summer in a row, we've rented a sweet little salt-box shingled cottage sitting on a bluff overlooking the ocean in a sparsely settled area of the island.  Plain and simple.  Nothing fancy about it, but rather "just so," and as satisfying as tucking into a perfectly cooked lobster pot pie washed down with a cold bottle of beer.  There is no internet service at the house (I'm writing this sitting at a table at the Nantucket Atheneum), and I have to get into the car and drive around in order to receive a signal on my BlackBerry.  The lack of electronic connections at the house is rather inconvenient, I admit, but it does enforce one's resolve to "get away from it all."

Our "new" mustard spoon

The weekend that we arrived on the island we attended the Nantucket Historical Association Antiques Show, where we came away with a number of souvenirs of our visit.  While Reggie has been known to buy a refrigerator magnet or two while on holiday (including one on this vacation) he generally aspires to acquiring loftier trinkets than the basest run-of-the-mill sort to commemorate his journeys.  The antiques show we attended was a happy hunting ground for such purposes.

The first thing we found to buy was at Kathleen and Roger Haller's Silver Plus Antiques, where we purchased a diminutive silver mustard spoon (it's only four and seven eighths inches long), made in England in 1831.  We already owned a number of what we thought were mustard spoons, that look like tiny soup ladles.  However, we learned from the Hallers that what we own are, in fact, condiment spoons, and that mustard spoons have oblong bowls, as is shown here.  With that new information in hand we had to acquire a spoon appropriate for the delivery of England's favorite accompaniment to roast beef.

A pair of late nineteenth-century watercolors
of coastal Massachusetts, bought at the Nantucket
Historical Association Antiques Show

Our other purchase at the show, after much dithering on my part, I admit, was a pair of charming watercolors of coastal Massachusetts.  We found them at the booth of Carlson & Stevenson, who thought they possibly depicted the ruins of the old Sandwich glass works on Cape Cod.  They were painted by an E. L. Moore of Southbridge, Massachusetts, in the 1880s, and have a marvelous limpid quality to the sky and water depicted.  I was immediately drawn to them.  The pictures are small, measuring only 9 ½ inches high by 12 ½ inches wide, including their frames.  I bought them to hang in our flower arranging room at Darlington House, where I look forward to seeing them and pleasantly remembering where I found them.

A Staffordshire pearlware figure of a
boy feeding a rooster, circa 1800-1820

One of the antiques shops that we always make sure to stop in when visiting Nantucket is Linda Willauer's charming shop in town specializing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English and Chinese export ceramics.  It is a veritable emporium of antique figures, dishes, serving pieces, tureens, and jugs stacked chock-a-block floor to ceiling, accompanied by every imaginable decorative period accessory to go with them.  As readers of this blog well know, we have a weakness for such things!  Over the years Boy has bought a number of figures from Ms. Willauer, and came away from her shop this visit with a sweet early Staffordshire pearlware figure of a boy feeding a rooster.  Boy has been eyeing this particular figure for a number of years—both in Ms. Willauer's shop on Nantucket and in New York where she exhibits at the shows—and finally succumbed to its charms once and for all.

In closing, I leave you with an image of another old-fashioned souvenir of Nantucket: calamine lotion.  As I wrote earlier, the house we have rented is located in a sparsely settled area of the island.  It is far away from the manicured lawns and perfectly maintained privet hedges of the town of Nantucket or the village of 'Sconset.  The landscape where we are staying is mostly untended, and mostly wild.  And lurking in much of the bushy scrub is that most pernicious of plants: poison ivy.

I've come down with a minor case of that vine's infernally itchy rash, despite valiant efforts on my part to steer clear of its evil, oily leaves.  That is because our dear little Pompey is a most efficient delivery device for spreading the plant's venom to unsuspecting fellows such as I, particularly when he snuggles up next to me in bed at night, which he is wont to do.

Much as I do love to let the little darling run off lead when it is safely possible to do so, he has been firmly leashed to my side when crossing the threshold of our house ever since I realized that he was the source of the inflammation that precipitated the purchase of said calamine lotion earlier this week.  It is, for me, a somewhat unexpected souvenir of the island, but fortunately it is a far more impermanent one than those we happily found elsewhere during our visit.

photographs by Boy Fenwick

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pompey sur la Plage

We are on Nantucket for our summer beach holiday, which is one of the reasons for the relative infrequency of posting here.  That, along with my rather demanding responsibilities at the Investment Bank where I work.  One does have a day job after all.

As some of my readers may remember, last year at this time I wrote that Pompey didn't care for visiting the beach here on the island.  In fact, not one bit.  It was all so wet, sandy, and noisy—what with waves crashing and seagulls screaming.  This year, though, he finds it a bit more tolerable.  At least he wasn't outwardly miserable when Boy took him there the other day just before cocktails.

It does help, though, that he has a nice fluffy towel to sit on.

He sends you his snuffles and kisses, Dear Reader. 

photograph by Boy Fenwick

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Saucer of the Week: English Stand, Part II

This week's Saucer of the Week is of yet another stand, continuing the theme of my last installment in the series.  My inspiration for again featuring a stand, as opposed to a saucer, was a comment I received from a perspicacious reader who was convinced that the stand I featured in my previous post was most definitely designed to hold an oval teapot.

And right he was.

Our early nineteenth century English stand and teapot

In our cupboards at Darlington House we have an example of such a stand that has not become separated from its intended teapot.  It is identical in form to the stand I featured last week, albeit decorated differently, with gilt-painted banding and flora.  We found the stand with its accompanying teapot in an antiques shop in Hudson, New York, a decade or so ago.  Both stand and teapot are in perfect condition, and appear to have been little used since they were made almost two hundred years ago.

The teapot and stand, united as intended

Having a stand to sit underneath a teapot ensures that any errant drips from said teapot will be contained by the stand, instead of falling unfortunately upon one's linens or polished tables.  It also helps insulate the table's surface from the boiling heat of a freshly filled teapot.

How delightfully clever our ancestors were, and how frustratingly humdrum it is that today such stands are not routinely provided with teapots sold in most retail establishments.

I have been so deeply moved in writing this post that I have decided that it is my duty to mount a campaign for the return of teapot stands.  And I have already come up with a name for it, too: The Society for the Preservation and Reinvigoration of the Teapot Stand, (abbreviated as "SPaRTS").  I urge you, Dear Reader, to join me in my noble pursuit of this vitally important initiative.

Can I count on your support?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick
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