Cape Cod: sea, sun, sand and policy studies

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown's holiday destination has little of the filmic glamour of Tuscany. The only dons he is likely to meet on Cape Cod are from the senior common rooms of the better universities, slurping clam chowder and sipping Sam Adams while perusing the book pages of the Boston Globe.

Gordon Brown's holiday destination has little of the filmic glamour of Tuscany. The only dons he is likely to meet on Cape Cod are from the senior common rooms of the better universities, slurping clam chowder and sipping Sam Adams while perusing the book pages of the Boston Globe.

His honeymoon destination is, like Tuscany, a favourite of the European and American middle classes. It combines the pleasures of a seaside holiday with the virtues of nature trails and long bicycle rides along duneside paths.

The landscape is a reassuring blend of Devon and Norfolk with windswept beaches, "fishing villages" with cute little shops and stretches of thick woods; the place names are comfortably familiar - Yarmouth, Falmouth, Plymouth and Chatham.

Most of the journalists who followed the Browns there will know it well: like Tuscany, Cape Cod is a favoured holiday destination of the British press corps, so it is obviously far from socially exclusive. Nor is it especially expensive. But it is the home from home for the centre-left of American politics, drawn by the proximity of Harvard and Boston and the fact that the Kennedy family has long kept a holiday compound at Hyannisport.

Indeed, Mr Brown plans to travel around the area meeting the bright and powerful, making his holiday more of a study tour than a summer break. It will be sun, sea, sand and policy studies.

Shirley Williams and her husband, Richard Neustadt, an academic and adviser to Al Gore, are just up the road; Mr Brown could pop down to see Ted Kennedy, and he may meet the Clintons: they are just over the water at Martha's Vineyard.

Mr Brown's first stop was the Wequassett Inn, Resort and Golf Club, near Chatham on the elbow of the Cape. It is "a place where the landscaped perfection of our cottage gardens harmonizes with the untouched splendor of our shoreline, marshes and woodlands," it tells us. "Where the riotous colors of the wildflowers set off the more subtle hues of that first morning light through the pines." Those "riotous colors" may have been slightly mitigated by the insistent rain. Yesterday, it was cloudy and cool with a spot of rain in the morning; tomorrow, the weathermen can offer only spotty drizzle.

The tabloid coverage of Mr Brown's holiday has made note of his canny approach to costs and his refusal to splurge, despite the fact that it is his honeymoon.

Mr Brown apparently disdained the luxuries of a sea view, taking a room which cost a few hundred dollars less, we have been told; he rented a Ford saloon, not a vast sports utility vehicle. But the point of Cape Cod is to eschew obvious luxury and go for simplicity, not splendour. This is not Florida, after all.

Mr Brown seems to have spent his time indulging in low-key pleasures, leafing through the local paper and going for walks, something that the newspapers again seem to find risible despite the fact that this is how some of these journalists have spent their summer hols, sometimes in the same place.

Again, these are the delights of Cape Cod. Its staunch Yankee values obviously resonate with Mr Brown's own Protestant sense of decency and proportion.

Chatham has some of the cosy pleasures of the British summer holiday. Every Friday evening in July and August, the town holds band concerts at Kate Gould Park on Main Street. There are buckets and spades on the beach, wistful lighthouses straight from an Andrew Wyeth painting, and ice creams dripping down Oshkosh dungarees.

A slightly gaudier sense of hedonism arrives in the summer, it is true. Mr Brown will have noticed the sometimes odd combination from two of the most prominent stories in the Provincetown Banner. "Tuna pen plans on hold for now," it screams (well, notes). And then: "'Queer Studies' nudity deemed legal", a story about the latest outrage at the Provincetown Repertory Theatre.

While hardly sybaritic, the Cape is certainly a place where one can live well. The menu at the Wequassett Inn promises (along with the inevitable chowder) pepper-rubbed rack of lamb with sautéed spinach and a red pepper infused jus for $31.00.

It is all a little pricier than Tuscany; the food will sometimes lack that famous Tuscan combination of simplicity and verve; and for God's sake, Mr Brown, don't drink the local wine. But at least there is one common factor between these two holidays: that rack of lamb comes with polenta.

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