Saturday 24 October 2009
Dylan Jones: Provincetown was home to Norman Mailer. Now it's the most fashionable resort in North America
Talk Of The Town
Right now Provincetown might just be the most fashionable resort in the world. The former fishing village is certainly the most fashionable resort in North America. Well, at least on the East Coast. Sitting on the very tip of Cape Cod, this is where the Pilgrims first set foot on American soil (not at Plymouth, but here!) before moving inland and making a fuss elsewhere. And in many ways it probably doesn't look so different now from how it did then.
Of course, it wasn't a thriving gay community then, wasn't even an artists' colony, or a manicured weekend destination for over-worked Bostonians. But it was probably just as beautiful.
P-Town hasn't had the Sante Fe treatment, doesn't look like a gift shop in search of a zip code. For a ridiculously successful summer resort (during the winter months the population hovers around 3,500, while in the summer it swells to over 70,000, with 60 per cent of the visitors being gay), it isn't professionally twee, and nor does it have chain stores or fast-foot outlets. Of course, there is a Marc by Marc Jacobs, but doesn't every big gay town have one of those now? The shops sell T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "I love my two dads", the guest houses are called things like Prince Albert, and the cock and bull leather shops are called things like the Cock and Bull Leather Shop.
What Key West was to Hemingway, so Provincetown was to Norman Mailer, and the writer had a home here for more than 30 years. It is now itself a writers' colony, where the lucky few can listen to pearls of wisdom delivered by the likes of Don DeLillo and Toni Morrison. I spent a night there a few months ago, alone, sleeping in Mailer's bed and reading a first edition of Tough Guys Don't Dance, his 1984 thriller set in the town ("Provincetown was as colourful ... as St Tropez, and as dirty by Sunday evening as Coney Island"). I have rarely felt more at peace, or more satiated – especially after spending an hour upstairs in his studio, which is still exactly as Mailer left it before he died.
The town itself was quiet as a mouse. A very nice, rather flamboyant mouse.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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