Dom Perignon, baby
Our recent trip to New York culminated with a week in the Hamptons -- the toney string of enclaves on the east end of Long Island where the rich and famous from the Big Apple hang out in the summer. We are lucky enough to know some folks in the former category (at least, mildly so), and so we were invited to head out and enjoy the many pleasures of the place.
First and foremost, it's a stunningly beautiful part of the world. Ocean on one side, sound on the other, and the space in between filled with gorgeous historic towns and rolling countryside. The beaches are fabulous, there is copious lush greenery, and most amazing of all, there is open space, and plenty of it. You talk about land use laws -- in Suffolk County, there must be the most draconian land use laws ever devised. Here they are, just a couple of hours from New York City, sitting in prime resort territory, and yet there are plentiful farms and other open space. People are running horses, growing corn and tomatoes, making wine, and leaving huge expanses undeveloped. Sure, there are a bunch of country clubs, and gobs of mansions (forget the Mc- part), but there is also good old bare land galore.
The history behind this phenomenon is probably not rooted in the environmental movement. Given the locale, there is doubtlessly an exquisite elitism about it. The folks out in the Hamptons have always been determined, I'm sure, not to let their part of the world turn into the Jersey Shore. Surely there are all sorts of folks whom they have worked hard to exclude, and it has worked.
Fish out of water though we may have been, we knew how lucky we were to share such a gorgeous place, and we took full advantage. Our bathing suits got wet in several bodies of water, we battled the sun with sunscreen in several different settings, we explored the towns and rode the ferries and discovered their history as best we could in a short time, and we ate and drank like royalty.
The rap I had always heard on the Hamptons was that it was the epicenter of conspicuous consumption in the summertime, and nothing I saw refuted that. Everyone cavorted as if money was no object -- but on a New York scale, this was just an everyday place to hang out. We ordered from some menus that had numbers on them that you wouldn't even want to look at normally, and we window-shopped in some retail establishments that were utterly out of this world. One member of our party found himself in need of some swim trunks one afternoon. He checked around and found a beach gift shop that was having a 50-percent-off sale. Good for him! But the suit still set him back over a C-note.
Actually, we were told, prices were relatively low and profligate spending was down a bit this year, due to the Bear Stearns debacle and other heartaches currently being felt on Wall Street. I don't doubt it, but I am glad that we didn't have to deal with an even higher level of monetary frenzy.
The Hamptons are noted for their celebrities, and our friends had quite a few stories in that regard. Just before we hit town, one of them had sat next to Mr. and Mrs. Seinfeld in a restaurant. Another fellow's son had had a gig that weekend driving Paris Hilton around. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf had just thrown a little fundraising party to scare up a few hundred thou for some charity or other. The closest we ourselves got to fame was brushing past Lou Reed on the street one day in Sag Harbor. I didn't even notice who he was until we were past him and a buddy told me. When I turned around, from behind he looked like an old guy eating an ice cream cone. Which, come to think of it, was what he was.
Sag Harbor itself has some great scenes, particularly its whaling museum. Whaling was big -- really big -- in those parts until the mid-19th Century, and the museum, on the main street of the quaint town, gives visitors a pretty good sense of what it was like to work on one of those ships. Bottom line: not a good gig. Across the street, there is the home of the customs master of the port from the turn of the century -- 1800, that is -- and it is also an eye-opener, for kids and grownups alike. We had some good times there.
On the beach in Southampton one afternoon, I even ran into a young man who is currently attending my old high school, several hours away in Jersey City. His mom was on the beach wearing a T-shirt proclaiming the name of our alma mater. Small world.
Oh, the beaches. The kite flew, lazily and well. We threw a football around -- can't tell you when I last did that. We got knocked around in the waves. We dodged a few jellyfish, who didn't seem to be looking for trouble. We buried the children up to their necks in the sand and took pictures. We ate the fare from the concession stand, and had some cold drinks. The kids gathered up shells and rocks to take back to science class. In other words, magic.
At heart, this trip was about family, and we got in a great deal of visiting time with the Mrs.'s side out in the Hamptons. To all be together in such a beautiful place was extremely good for the soul.