Pottering About Long Island

On Veterans Day, November 11th, we drove to the Hamptons and passed beneath Old Glory, the humongous American free-flying flag — it happens to be the largest in the world — unfurled from the arch top of George Washington Bridge which happens to be the busiest bridge in the world connecting New York with New Jersey. It was an impressive sight – the flag that is unfurled on special occasions like Veterans Day when countrymen honour their military personnel in the US. In the UK on this day everyone wears red poppies to remember the sacrifices made by a few for the many. Remembrance Day. It is a special thing when a nation remembers for not every nation does.

Beds of rust & golden leaves lay thick upon woods that marked the way to The Hamptons, the exclusive playground of the upper echelons of society, where during summer the Serenas and Nates (ref: Gossip Girl) take a break from the hectic pace of the city, where rosé flows like water, and where an Emily Thorne stands upon quiet beaches contemplating the machinations of destruction (ref: Revenge). There is irony in equating Revenge with the Hamptons. For most of the estates were shot in North Carolina except for the exterior of the Graysons’ manor which is situated in the heart of East Hampton.

Now the Hamptons are a cluster of villages and towns. The names keep popping up as you keep upon one straight road, passing by orange fields of pumpkins, houses tucked into woods and a profusion of old churches. Hampton Bays, Southampton, Quogue, North Sea, Bridgehampton, Shinnecock Hills, Sagaponack, Sag Harbor are a roll-call of names that you come upon, some of them obviously Native American in origin. Here there are waterfront properties that start well above a few million dollars, boasting of gently aged modernism. Bakeries which sell loaves of bread that might cost 12 bucks but hey they are organic and conscious about what they put on the shelves. And here they do not encourage Uber. Instead there is a Hampton Hopper, mint green school buses that operate between Montauk and Sag Harbor.

It was frightfully cold when we came upon Sag Harbor, a tiny 18th-century village with a whaling tradition. It was home to John Steinbeck, at least two artists chose to end their life within its beautiful environs — one succeeded, the other did not — and then there are Moby Dick references. Queequeg had arrived in Sag Harbor to acquaint himself with the sailor’s life in the village. There are old whaling churches and broken mast tokens to remember the whalers lost to the sea. It reminded me a wee bit of Synge’s Riders to the Sea though the geographical location in that play ridden with overtones of fatalism was Inishmaan in the Aran Islands of Ireland. We shivered upon the pier of Sag Harbor with its lovely old windmill with plaques to recall the names associated with the village and then carried on to Southampton which was deserted on that phenomenally cold evening.

The oldest English settlement in Long Island, Southampton, had English folk arrive there from Massachusetts in the 1640s. They took over a few square miles in town from the Shinnecock Indian Nation, an Algonquin-speaking tribe, which received corn, coats, areas reserved for their use and the assurance that the English would defend them, ‘the sayed Indians from the unjust violence of whatever Indians shall illegally assaile us’.

We had a taste of Southampton’s old English vibes with the department store of Hildreth’s (the name says it all) which was started by one of the settler families from Massachusetts in the 1800s. Treading the old wooden floors of the store, we scanned the walls with their rows of old deeds and documents, sepia photos of men with sideburns and beards, chunks peeling off from the photos in ghostly whites, and images of horse driven wagons carrying goods from ships that docked at neighbouring Sag Harbor. A long time ago we might have come upon old whaling harpoons and buffalo hides, but today the oldest piece you would chance upon is a 5′ tall coffee grinder that is unlike any you have seen.

The other aspect of its past showed up on the two-lane Montauk Highway with a procession of cigarette shops glinting in the gathering dark, a sudden change of mood from the glamorous to a ramshackle existence. The Indian Reservation in Long Island. And then again the quiet poshness of the Hampton Bays. A runner pounding the pavements on a dark stretch braving the fierce bite of the evening. The contrast never more pronounced upon the eyes of the curious traveller – that life is but about living the gap between the promise and the reality.

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46 thoughts on “Pottering About Long Island

  1. Some really lovely shots. And an idyllic setting, perfect for this time of year. But I cannot think of Long Island without returning to thoughts of Gatsby. My mind will always drift somewhere between East and West Egg. 😉

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  2. A lovely description of your trip! Sag Harbor sounds like a wonderful place to visit and “potter around”. The photos are beautiful and makes me wish for falling amber leaves and briny sea air. A great blogpost as always!- Neek

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  3. Wish I could have joined you on this little tour – your words and photographs make everything sound so magical, like sights you have to see as part of your bucket list. It’s always so interesting to see aspects of Englishness in America! And of course, I loved the little Gossip Girl reference :’) xox

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    1. Thank you dearest Maria. It is interesting to see the old settlers and their English influences on these towns, as you express so well. It is amazing how the world is such a potpourri of cultures, somehow or the other. You did join me on this tour by reading though in person it would have been way more fun. I can see you in the Hamptons totally loving its organic, wholesome vibe.
      GG is one of my abiding loves 🙂 xx

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  4. There are some places that were always destined to be taken to the bosom of the rich because they have a magic. The Hamptons is such a place. Your evocative post really gilds it’s delight – the photos, of course but your prose referencing both the modern and the historic literary, filmic, artistic gems that stem from it. And your comparisons also – you are one in a million which is fitting since you were imbibing a place in a million 🙂 xx

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    1. Osyth, now how do you make such magic with your words?! The first few lines get me in a snap. You do know that I look forward to your comments because I know I am going to feel enriched. Thank you my wonderful lady! How is it going at your end? Is the season’s cheer at your doorstep? xx

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      1. I’m heading to Barcelona for 24 hours at 4 a.m tomorrow and haven’t a CLUE what to take for a whirlwind mini-break which will doubtless be mostly taken up with scoffing, quaffing and gluttonous Gaudi and Picasso site-seeing. My husband is here, he is dog-sitting whilst I indulge in seeing my daughter for the first time since Christmas and he will head back to Boston (or more accurately Cambridge MA) on Monday and then I have promised myself that I must I must I must write some pieces for my blog. IN truth, dear Dotty I have been a little wan these last few months but I feel the malaise lifting and comments like yours lift my heart. Thank you. For being a very special gal and one that I value at a giddying height! Xx

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      2. I am sorry you have been feeling wan…*hugs. But chin up Osyth, you are on the way to soak up some fantastic Spanish adventures. Barcelona will only be the perfect pick-me-up. Chorizos and churros, Gaudi and Picasso, … you are bound to be grinning ear to ear. And you are meeting your daughter after a long time, so I bet the reunion will be something that will require a post by itself.
        I have been missing your posts. I hop over often to yours but I do realise that blogging is something that has to come out of the moment when you want to put it all out there. So till the time that you do feel like writing, please don’t let the blues get their way. I shall be armed with a big baton waiting to whop ’em away.
        Your husband is a gem for dog-sitting 🙂 Hope you and your daughter make some giddy memories in Barcelona and do pass my love to the city, particularly Gaudi. He makes me swoon.
        I am holding those words to my heart and adding it to the warm, fuzzy feeling of the season. It goes spectacularly well. Like mature cheddar and a savoury scone. xx

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  5. As always, absolutely beautiful shots…I love all the television references (although I am most definitely more a Revenge person than a Gossip Girl) and you are entirely correct – the name Hildreths really does say at all!xxx

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    1. Hildreth. I have possibly only read it in books and that too so bloody rarely. Makes you think of a stodgy marm.
      Ah you are more of an Emily Thorne than a Serena van der Woodsen. Hmm…I could go for a Blair or a Victoria 🙂 xx

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  6. I was reading few lines time and again to clearly absorb the details. You captured me imagining the place, I like to immerse in good content while reading it..not because it’s informational but elaborate and can pull the reader into a different world for a brief period.

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  7. Love your photos and narrative. We spent a few relaxing days in Sag Harbor in September 2015 and loved pottering around the Hamptons drooling over the property porn. I was disappointed not to bump into Ina Garten – that would have really made my trip – whose cookery shows I watch primarily for glimpses of The Hamptons.

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    1. Does she live in the Hamptons? I would not be surprised. I shall check out her shows, now that you mention it. Thanks for the tip. It is always to see places that you have been to through another’s eyes.
      And thank you for appreciating the post, Sheree. The properties are indeed something to drool over till you leave a little puddle at the door. They are mind bogglingly stunning! *sighs heavily

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    1. Thank you Sophie, it was charming but Southampton was too deserted. A ghost town prettily lit up with fairy lights twirled around its trees. Even though I hate the bustling crowds, I do like a smattering of people around – it feels cheerful 🙂 The first settlers would have been bogged down by the vast distances? That always overwhelms me here…the fact that distance can be intimidating. xx

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    1. Thank you Tracey. The legs were coincidental. Isn’t it lovely when a frame comes together as if by magic? Sag Harbor was really quite beautiful and perfect. I could easily spend a day loitering there and the houses on the waterfront …sigh. xx

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  8. You’re getting to see more of America than I am! All I know of the Hamptons is from Sex and the City references. I’ve learned quite a bit in this post though. The area looks very idyllic. I love buildings covered in vines, so that photo is my favorite. I imagine that the first settlers were freezing their butts off but entranced by the wild beauty of the place. It’s so saddening to hear of another tribe that is struggling on a reservation while surrounded by such abundance.

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    1. It helps that it is nearby Lyz. Overcoming distances here is a challenge. Yes yes Sex and the City too had episodes in the Hamptons. Again something that slipped my mind while writing this post.
      I loved that building too. It was eye-catching. There would have been struggles as the first settlers came into the area and I am sure the tribes feel shortchanged today. It is a startling difference that stays with you. xx

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      1. Interesting. I think “old money” worldwide is that way, “not-in-your-face”. At least in many cases. Only the “nouveaux riches” flaunt it. (Hmmm. I may have been a tad stereotypical here?)

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  9. “They took over a few square miles in town from the Shinnecock Indian Nation,” – thank you for saying this. A nicely respectful way of acknowledging the displacement of the native inhabitants’ all over the east coast and elsewhere. 🙂

    I really liked hearing it was cold, so cold. It gave me more of a sense of being there! And it was fun to read the references to Moby Dick, which I just perused last year for the first time. I could imagine what it might have been like for whalers in a cold night like that back in the 1800s in Sag Harbor! Thanks!

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    1. In their own land, the tribes are allowed a bit as reservation and they have been left way behind. Irony.

      Adi was miserable in the cold and not too excited about his wife’s chirpiness. But a bit too late about that 😉 Moby Dick is the great American novel, is it not? I confess that I have to revive my memories of it again. I forget easily. Sag Harbor is so atmospheric, Theresa! xx

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      1. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear Adi was miserable! I love that you made the best of it. – About Moby Dick, I confess I made it through the first 1/3 of the book and then mostly skimmed the rest, as it got kind of strange with the experimental structure he used. But the whaling part was the most concrete aspect of the novel, was great to read your connecting comments! 🙂 Last Spring Jim came with me to a writing retreat in Lahaina (Maui) – first time we’d been in Hawaii in about 15 years, and in Lahaina I read that the harbor used to be packed with whaling vessels back in the day. Now it’s a different sort of commerce – enormous cruise ships! I thought that was ironic!

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