That Summer: Cape Cod, 1990 - Bowled over by Boston

New England was just a stepping stone between California and England. But it was also a kind of coming home

IN 1990, I was looking for "old" America - Henry James, white clapboard houses, picket fences and steepled churches. I had just spent a year at the University of California, Berkeley, as part of an exchange programme with St Andrews in Scotland, and had decided to stop off on the way home to visit my friend Elizabeth on Cape Cod.

Taking classes with titles like Women and Silence (an unsurprisingly vocal and totally female course) and Shakespeare and Film (the Bard in Technicolor for surfers and frat boys) and lodging with an erratic divorced psychiatrist, her disturbed daughter and their enormous, slobbering St Bernard, Hildie, had left me in a state of irreversible culture shock. I'd survived a major earthquake and fraternity parties and was suffering from daytime soap addiction.

Reeling from a last-ditch tie-dye assault in Berkeley's hippie haven, Telegraph Avenue, the names Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth and Falmouth conjured up images of sleepy coastal villages and lured me away to the Cape.

I felt that I needed to escape to a place where the answer "England" didn't automatically meet with the question: "New England?"

Elizabeth had studied in St Andrews for a year and was now a reporter for Cape Cod Newspapers in East Yarmouth. Her apartment was over a shop, optimistically named Antiques of the Future, in the tiny village of Cotuit. A traditional New England building painted pale grey and white and surrounded by trees, it had a separate entrance up a wooden staircase at the side, leading on to a sunny deck.

While Elizabeth was at work I pottered around the flat with Corretta, her schizophrenic cat, or wandered along the lane to the beach. The good hour it took to walk, shaded by overhanging trees, and passing overgrown hedgerows and the large clapboard holiday homes of wealthy Bostonians, fed my Henry James fantasy.

Stopping off at the grocery store, I would buy ice-cream and listen lethargically to local gossip before continuing on to the beach - small, golden and fringed by swaying grasses and smooth dunes. The water was clear and cool, and the air scented with a strange mixture of sea salt and wild roses.

They were lazy days of soporific solitude only occasionally disturbed by a pack of screeching children in fluorescent swimming-costumes.

In the evenings, Elizabeth cooked pasta with fresh ginger and yoghurt and we drank champagne with strawberries on the deck, as I explained the varying merits of television shows such as The Bold and the Beautiful, The Young and the Restless and, my then favourite, General Hospital.

But one of my most vivid memories is of speeding down country lanes in Elizabeth's dark blue Honda Prelude past salt marshes, long stretches of beach and woodland.

We stopped off to wander around picturesque villages and towns, such as Falmouth with its old sea captains' houses and craft shops, and Sandwich, the oldest settlement on Cape Cod.

Dating back to the Pilgrim traders of the early 17th century, Sandwich has a picture-perfect village green, a white church with steeple and is overflowing with pretty colonial houses, many of which are now B&Bs and antiques shops. Searching through the local art galleries, we bought a watercolour of a Cape Cod seascape for a friend who was getting married in Ohio later that summer.

One grey, blustery day we took a ferry across to Martha's Vineyard. I expected exclusive and was greeted with tacky. As we arrived in Oaks Bluff after a rough crossing, feeling decidedly queasy, a light drizzle fell on the brightly coloured gingerbread houses. The waterfront was a mass of hotels, souvenir shops and bars. We consumed vast quantities of seafood in a mock spit'n'sawdust bar as we sheltered from the rain.

Martha's Vineyard may not have lived up to my expectations, but another day-trip far exceeded them. Catching a Plymouth & Brockton bus to Boston I fell in love.

San Francisco had had an almost surreal magic and New York a frenetic buzz, but Boston felt like coming home. Stumbling upon the sign for the Cheers bar. I crept down the steps and lived another fantasy.

I had gone to the Cape to catch my breath. It was a stepping-stone back to Europe, a whistle-stop on the way. My memories are of a place full of light and water and wood and the greenest greens.

Thinking of all I was leaving behind and all I was going back to, I wrote in my diary that I had even enjoyed the sour cream and onion chips, Haagen Dazs, (I never did get into Ben and Jerry's) and Oprah.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Chelsea are interested in loaning out Romelu Lukaku to Everton again next season
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?