Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Provincetown at Nightfall.

By morning the storm had passed and so we climbed the steeple of the First Congregational Church to have a final birds eye look across the fields. It's a stunning view and I wished we'd got more time to take a bike over to secluded Siasconset on the Eastern side. Sadly though the ferry was waiting to take us back to the mainland and so we wondered down to the quay and said our goodbyes to the island.

As we approached Hyannis I caught a glimpse of the Kennedy compound, shyly protected by a breakwater from the yacht club and beach loving tourists. The houses are still owned and occupied privately by the family and there are no plans to turn it into a national monument, seekers of Camelot are restricted to peering through binoculars from on board the harbour cruise boats.

Back on land Eleanor tucked up in a coffee shop with a book whilst I headed off to the tiny museum on the main street which remembers JFK's summer breaks through a series of photographs and crackly home movies. Outside is a statue of the former President in identical striding pose to the one outside the State House in Boston. Gone though is the suit and tie of the congressman, here he is open necked and barefoot on the sand.

By early afternoon we were back on the road again, motoring east along the peninsula through the pretty villages of the southern shoreline. We stopped for food in picture perfect Chatham, where seals bask on the rocks, and then followed the curving road north towards Provincetown.

I love the shape of Cape Cod. Most tourist guides describe it as an arm, bent at the elbow; but to me it's much more a scrawny, witch like finger beckoning visitors from the old world towards Salem, Boston and the pact of New England. It doesn't surprise me to learn that the Mayflower, contrary to popular understanding first docked here, but failing to find adequate fresh water, set sail again for the short hop across Cape Cod Bay to Plymouth. Perhaps Cape Cod should make more of a fuss about this? It's a pretty big deal to be the first landing site, but as you drive further and further along Route 6, you realise that nobody here needs to shout for attention. Those who come here, come to relax. It's not a place for Puritans anyway.

We pulled off the road and parked overlooking Marconi Beach, where the Italian inventor set up his station and on January 19th, 1903, successfully transmitting a message in Morse code from his President across 3000 miles of ocean via the receiving station at Poldhu in Cornwall and onto the Edward VII, waiting in Sandringham.

In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American People most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and to all the people of the British Empire.

The King, clearly impressed, responded before the day was out.

I thank you most sincerely for the kind message which I have just received from you, through Marconi's trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy. I sincerely reciprocate in the name of the British Empire the cordial greetings and friendly sentiment expressed by you on behalf of the American Nation, I heartily wish you and your country every possible prosperity. EDWARD R. and I.

It was the first two way trans Atlantic wireless communication.  Nine years later the station also picked up the first SOS distress signals from the Titanic, floundering 500 miles to the East - but looking out from the high cliff into the dark North Atlantic night the operator could do little with the information. All that remains now is an overgrown concrete footprint marking the site and a pile of rubble.

Marconi was a genius but he thought radio waves travelling across space was only the start of his exploration. The next frontier for him was time and he believed that given the funding he could find the frequencies by which the living would be able to communicate with the dead. Who knows maybe he's still working on this?

The sun was setting now and so we continued, curving round into Provincetown itself. The night was just beginning and the Commercial Street was beginning to fill with sun kissed revellers. Drag Queens towered above us in bouffant hair and platform soles, handing out flyers for their midnight shows. A quartet of beefcake musicians called, appropriately, Well Strung played a beautiful arrangement of Rhianna's S&M to an appreciative crowd outside the Arthouse.

There was a wonderful sense of good fortune and bonhomie, as though nobody could quite believe that they'd travelled this far from home and whether they'd arrived by land or sea it's clear to all that, for tonight at least, there's nowhere else to go. We found a bar overlooking the sea, bought some drinks and let the night drift around us, happy to rest awhile here at land's end.


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