Friday, October 31, 2008

Hard Times in Wellfleet this Halloween

Lots of pumpkins on sale at Marketplace this morning, but not many to be seen on the porches and windowsills of Wellfleet! The house beside the Congregational Church was all decked out, as usual, in cobwebs, and even sported a Jack o’lantern tree. While shopping, I overheard a woman ask how much tax there was on a $4.99 sandwich. Candy occupied its own niche beside the front door, temporarily labeled “Halloween Zone,” piles and piles of candy, as yet unsold. Meanwhile, across the street at town hall, the treasurer’s counter wore a cheerful garland of candy corn. Marianne Nickerson felt less cheerful as she prepared to send out tax bills. Apparently, some families are still trying to pay the sums owed from last year. The Lighthouse was offering a $6.99 lunch special. I didn’t see many people eating out though. Hard times in Wellfleet this Halloween ….

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sven & Edmund Wilson At Gull Pond

Mention of Wellfleet has been popping up quite often in the past few months. Two weeks ago, the Homes section of the Boston Globe ran a feature on the 10-acre estate, birthplace of Wellfleet’s Banana King, Lorenzo Baker, and later literary meeting place for intellectuals, up for sale in the National Seashore. This week Wellfleet reaches readers through the pages of the New York Review of Books. When I brought the paper in to Sven, I couldn’t help but notice the large print on the cover: EDMUND WILSON ON GULL POND. So, I set Sven to reading the article, while I did laundry, ironing and other bed & breakfast chores. Apparently the excerpts had been removed from Wilson’s published diary at the request of Mary McCarthy. According to the article, written by their son Reuel, the two lovers were gallivanting around Gull Pond in the nude, shenanigans that took place in the early forties, when there were even fewer people around than today. What I liked about the excerpts was the facility Wilson shows at invoking nature. However, I found some of his descriptions over-wrought and others objectionable: baby pine cones are compared to a woman’s nipples, for instance. I can only wonder of what interest the article can possibly be to New York Review of Books readers, unless it provides insight/proof that the couple made love one day and had violent quarrels the next, surely only of significance to Wilson/McCarthy scholars? It is weird to have the author refer to his parents as “Wilson” and “McCarthy,” and his focus on their lovemaking seems almost prurient, if not “perverse,” Sven’s choice of adjective. And yet, as people skim this week’s Review of Books, they will think of Gull Pond, which can only be good for local tourism …

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wellfleet Votes to Stop McMansions

I have often heard natives lament how much the coast, here in Wellfleet, has changed over the past decade as cottages are torn down and replaced with McMansions. Here is another photo taken from the shore at Duck Harbor yesterday. At town meeting last night, after a painfully slow start, Wellfleet voted a new by-law to limit the size of houses in the National Seashore. For details, go here. I have never seen such lines of people waiting to check in. Apparently, residents really do care about stopping the McMansionization of our town. How wonderful!

Monday, October 27, 2008

An October Day in the Life

Since we had no Main House guests needing breakfast, I was able to sleep in this morning and only got up at 8:30, in time to glimpse our cottage guests from the window as they got into their car and drove away. I did laundry and hung the sheets up to dry outside. Then I placed some phone calls to doctors, read email, and checked our stat counter. No one is visiting the Web site these days, but blog readers do continue to check out the blog and, for that, I am grateful. First on my agenda, the garden. I planted the remaining spring bulbs and filled four barrels with yard waste. Once Sven got up, we had lunch and drove them to the dump. It was turning out to be such a beautiful day, that it seemed criminal not to walk on a beach. Sven wanted to see the huge house, which has focused the town's attention on the rewriting of by-laws to prevent the desecration of our beloved National Seashore landscape, so I took him across the dike where it is possible to view the monstrosity rising on the opposite bank. We continued to Duck Harbor. Waves were lapping gently at the pebble-strewn beach there. We walked towards Truro and sat down on a log. On the way back to town, we noticed an unusual cloud formation over Wellfleet, and I snapped the photo below. (Often autumn clouds like these correspond to mist, over the ocean.) Tonight, town meeting and a possible vote on the new by-laws. What a busy, busy day!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Uncertain Future ...

Gale winds battered Cape Cod during the night, and raindrops still glistened on the windows as our last Liberty Coin guests trooped in for a cozy breakfast: organic brioche made from another great King Arthur Flour mix, fruit salad with organic melon, and my signature organic granola, which they pronounced, “delicious.” It was with mixed feelings that I watched the couple drive off in their Prius as Sven brought in the New York Times, wrapped in not one, but two blue plastic wrappers. The house is now ours again, but last year the season lasted longer, producing more income. We have one booking left: a long weekend for Seagull Cottage. A quick scan of the first page of the Times did not make me feel much better. Economists expect job losses to exceed 200,000 once the election is over. People will always want to go on vacation but will reality allow spending money on one? The hospitality industry is sure to feel the pain, especially during the off-season. Who knows what the future will bring?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

To Fish, or Not to Fish ...

Part of the innkeeper experience is the opportunity to meet interesting people. Our Liberty Coin guests this weekend are dairy farmers from Vermont's Champlain Valley. I have enjoyed sitting with them at breakfast, chatting about this and that. I had no idea how hard it is for dairy farmers to get away on vacation, for example. Our guests had originally hoped to go deep-sea fishing this afternoon but decided to do other things instead once here, having quickly understood how very many options the Outer Cape offers for spectacular contact with nature: Marconi, the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the Provincelands area of the National Seashore. Three days is hardly enough to fit everything in. Over breakfast this morning, I described Ruthie's Boutique in P-town, the ultimate thrift-shop experience, and the composting toilets at Mass Audubon. Yesterday they stood on the platform at Marconi, where it is possible to see both coasts, and noticed the remnants of what may have once been the Marconi Station, uncovered by the tide. Sven and I happened to walk the beach at LeCount Hollow yesterday, and I took a photo of this unusual sight. I love to record the little marvels as well, like bubbles of foam which sparkled in the afternoon sunshine at low tide. So beautiful!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Turning down the Heat

There was an article yesterday in the Cape Cod Times about Cape Codders who signed up for oil heat while the rate was at its zenith late this past summer and now regret that decision. Here at Chez Sven we were fortunate to have avoided being locked into a contract because of a credit, accumulated due to closing down for renovation a year ago. For innkeepers in economic hard times, heating is a definite concern. How much does one heat an inn? Should the temperature reflect personal preferences or be adjusted on a case by case basis? I have discovered that guests have varying temperature preferences, making it impossible to please everyone. This is not a problem for our Seagull Cottage guests, as stated in yesterday’s blog. They can program their own heat, using the thermostat, and do. Our Green Room also has its own thermostat. Sven prefers cooler indoor temperatures, and, over the years, I have learned to turn the heat down. I would like to suggest that in these tough economic times, turning down the heat might be a good idea for everyone, both at home and during holiday. People need to learn to wear sweaters, the new green fashion statement. Designers should stop showing skimpy clothing for fall, winter and spring. I advise guests who like hot rooms not to book Liberty Coin Suite in winter. This magnificent space was once a loft and has no heat, although we did install good insulation a few years back. We provide warm duvets and wool blankets. There is also an electric radiator, which can be turned on if necessary. It is old and sturdy. “The Incredible Heat Machine” by DeLonghi was probably NOT made in China. I make this offhand guess because the newer electric Holmes heaters, which we have had over the years for the cottage bedroom, have all broken, one after the other. Just this weekend we discovered the latest purchase no longer worked and carted it off to the dump. And yes, the radiator was Made in China. I have gotten so I truly dislike goods from China. Unfortunately, almost everything is now imported from that Asian country. The American media needs to turn up the heat on this problem. Shoddy goods mean replacing objects more frequently, bad for the wallet and the environment …

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Inspiration of Nature ...

On a day like today, when the wind is whipping through the trees and rain splatters against the windowpanes, it is comforting to remember how beautiful Wellfleet can be in the sunshine. Last week Sven and I walked to Great Pond, in the National Seashore. How serene it was there, and quiet. With few signs of civilization to clutter the mind, we imagined an earlier time when life was simpler. I couldn't help but wonder how the economic crisis and financial stress would effect the growing movement towards a more eco-conscious society here and abroad. The United States is far behind Germany, Holland, and the United Kingdom, for instance. Our guests over the past year have shown more consideration of the environment than just a few years ago. I hope we will continue to move in that direction, for the world's sake. Simple gestures are easy to incorporate into a lifestyle. Everyone has heard, by now, about changing light bulbs. It is also important to remember to turn off lamps when leaving a room. In the cottage, I have come up with a new protocol for the heating. I allow guests to program their own temperatures during the fall, but recommend turning the heat off at night and off during the day while out exploring the area. We provide a warm comforter so that it is even possible to open the bedroom windows for any Nordic sleepers like Sven who prefer the cold ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Climbing Truro's Bearberry Hill

Today I climbed Bearberry Hill in Truro with my friend Virginia. We parked at the end of North Pamet Road, in the National Seashore. There were a few other hikers about, one who was returning the laminated guide to its stand beside the parking lot prior to departure, and a couple off on a picnic. I was struck by the scenery and wild beauty of the low windswept hills covered with bearberry. From the top of one hill, we read about the 13-acre cranberry farm, which functioned until the 1940s. On a second hill, we stood on a platform and read about the Halloween hurricane in 1991 which broke through the dunes at Ballston Beach. Virginia is familiar with Truro, as I stated in an earlier blog, so we did not need the Seashore guide to the winding trails. Had I been alone, it would have been an entirely different story. How easy to get lost in a landscape with so few landmarks!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Green Travel Merits Attention of Major TV Show ...

Today I received a phone call from the assistant producer of a television show, "World's Greatest," which plans to feature a green travel destination in mid-January and will be shooting November 1-15. Here at Chez Sven, we feel honored to be included in the green businesses under consideration. I congratulated the producer on having decided to feature green travel. Unfortunately, we were not able to accept the offer. November is not the ideal time period to film in Wellfleet with the fall wind whipping sand along the beach and days at their shortest. Nor is our garden at its most spectacular, dressed in seaweed for the winter and dotted here and there with fallen leaves from the maple tree out front. What's more, this opportunity came with a price tag that surpasses the budget of any seasonal bed & breakfast with only three rooms ....$9000! With much regret, I turned him down. But, it is definitely a good sign that green travel has entered the mainstream and now interests major television networks ...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wellfleet Celebrates Oysterfest 2008

I feared the crowds might not come, due to the economic crisis and chilly weather. I was wrong! Throngs of partygoers enjoyed Wellfleet’s eighth annual Oysterfest this afternoon. On Main Street, there were people everywhere, a line moving east and a line moving west. “Wall-to-wall people,” I heard someone mutter as he attempted to break through to buy a hot dog. Cars were sent to the beach parking lots, and shuttle buses came and went like clockwork. As Sven and I strolled past Winslow’s Tavern, we looked up at the folks, watching the action below, Bloody Mary glasses in hand. Photos of Wellfleet, pottery, T-shirts, carved birds, and natural soap were just a few of the more frequent items for sale at sidewalk stands. SPAT had a constant stream of folks in search of Oysterfest T-shirts. And, of course, at several different spots, shellfishermen sold oysters on the half shell. When I tried to buy paella at 4:30, it was all sold out. Our neighbor David Lord reported that the most delicious food under the large tent this year was shrimp tempura, which I will have to get tomorrow. Today the line seemed way too long. Children hung out behind the future Preservation Hall for fun and games. The lucky ones had their faces painted. Some twirled new hula hoops. Of course, there were activities organized all day long. The cooking classes were well attended. Fifteen fortunate people even got to dig their own oysters and then savor them with an appropriate wine. David Wright recounted history at the library. At one booth, I admired woolen goods created out of recycled sweaters. “Our Lady of Perpetual Shucking, Patron Saint of Clean Harbors” showed up on rollerblades, drawing applause. Many festival attendees were intent on Christmas shopping. One very popular stand belonged to Liza Jane Norman, whose designs and bright colors stood out. While I was shopping, a customer danced up in a skirt purchased that morning to have a photo taken with the designer. Although I know new fleece is not good for you, even though it IS made from recycled materials, I let myself be tempted and purchased several items. Our guests spent the whole day at the festival, eating oysters. They returned exhausted but happy. Day One of Oysterfest 2008, a complete success!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wellfleet's Glorious Ponds ...

Lots of folks coming down this weekend for Oysterfest. I cannot help but wonder how many will take the time to walk through the woods to Wellfleet's glorious ponds. Sven and I were at Dyer today, and continued on to Great Pond, with Turtle Pond, above, tucked behind it. All is set for this weekend's celebration of the oyster. David Wright's book on the history of shellfishing in Wellfleet is ready for sale. A full calendar of events can be found here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Searching for Hopper along the Back Roads of Truro

This afternoon I traipsed through South Truro with my friend Virginia, whose grandparents’ house was the subject of one of Edward Hopper’s lesser known paintings. The house, on Old County Road, is now called The Marshall House. Virginia posed out front. There is nothing like touring the countryside with a native guide! Although Virginia spent many years in Nevada, her heart remained in Massachusetts where she moved at retirement. “This used to be the town center,” she told me wistfully, her voice warm with memories of childhood. “The church was hit by lightning and burned down. My grandparents are buried in this cemetery ….” As we roller-coastered up and down the gentle hills, I asked myself what made the landscape so different from our Wellfleet, one town over. I decided that the hills are to blame, smaller and more numerous. Many of the houses are tucked into hollows. The roads twisted and turned as we drove along. Also, bushes and briars have been cut back, hedgerow-like, fencing off what used to be fields and working farms. I noticed a lot of gnarled apple trees. Right before the river, Virginia pointed at a modern house hugging the far bank. “That still makes me sad. There used to be this full Cape on that spot. They took it down.” In the 1930s, the rolling landscape was more visible due to a lack of trees, creating the vistas Hopper made famous. We paused at Pamet Harbor, where Great-grandfather Cobb set out in his schooner to go whaling. Virginia knew the way to Hopper’s house, which has been in the news over the past year due to the construction of a McMansion on a neighboring lot. We were able to view the emerging steel structure and empathize with locals who protested this future monstrosity. We did, however, note that there is already a very large house to the south. After viewing the eastern façade of Hopper’s simple white clapboard dwelling, we journeyed on to a nearby beach where it was possible to see the building from below. What a shame it will soon be framed by ugliness!

Friday, October 10, 2008

More Praise for Seagull Cottage in Fall

What beautiful weather! The air is crisp, the sky bright blue. I bet the leaves at Dyer Pond are a sight to see. Since Wellfleet is deserted, early October has proved an ideal time for an Outer Cape vacation. What's more, the restaurants are discounting lobster, what with the credit crunch and supply exceeding demand. Every once and a while we have guests who leave guestbook messages that truly reveal how much the cottage experience has meant to them, words which provide evidence of their enjoyment, making Sven and me very happy. Our most recent guests, for example. Here is what they had to say:

“Just a few of the things we enjoyed during our stay:
• vine-covered front porch at dusk
• chipmunks scurrying, bunnies hiding under bushes, and birds busy at the feeder
• morning light illuminating a high wooden ceiling
• movies by a warm fire
• steamers prepared in a cozy cottage kitchen
• birds feeding just outside the window as we shower
• sound of rain before sunrise lulling us back to sleep
• music from Outermost Radio on the vintage radio
• cottage garden flowers in a vase
• fresh, crisp, clean, white sheets.
Our stay couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Different Kind Of Fall ...

After walking at the ocean this afternoon, Sven and I started putting the garden to bed. A beautiful garden requires a lot of work in the fall. Sometimes I wish we had started this bed & breakfast when we were ten years younger. There is so much to do!! And, after this week, our reservations are down. People are frozen in front of their TVs, terrified of the future. Some have lost major amounts of money. Taking a holiday is not on anyone’s mind. Restaurants are cutting down on the days they are open. Usually Wellfleet is full of tourists the first half of October. Not this year. Even the beaches are deserted. It will be a different kind of fall, one full of cold breezes ...

Monday, October 06, 2008

Famous Elderblogger Visits Chez Sven

Folks who crave photos of Chez Sven can find a good number at Ronni Bennett’s great blog on aging and ageism TGB. Sven and I were pleased to receive Ronni here last week. TGB is the only blog I read on a regular basis, not only because I hold it in such high esteem but due to the fact that I do not have the time to search out other blogs which are consistently worthwhile. Ronni was the second person I have met through blogging. What interesting conversations we had! Having grown up in Portland, Ronni was delighted by Wellfleet's sweeping vistas of ocean. I also took her to the bay so she could admire the view from Great Island, below. Sven and I really enjoyed Ronni's visit and hope she will come back next fall.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Promotional Opportunities: Tough Choices!

Each fall innkeepers on Cape Cod and elsewhere must decide whether or not to renew membership in various promotional organizations. Time to evaluate which have proved the most effective. Should some be dropped and others added? Is membership in the local Chamber of Commerce really worthwhile? I have made it my policy to try one new option each year. For 2009, we will add two. While the addition of a second does require a greater outlay of funds, these economic times make it desirable to be seen on a variety of Web sites, especially sites which offer links to ours. Soon Chez Sven will reach international folks who visit Green Places to Stay, a site created and maintained by Alastair Sawday, husband of one of our guests last fall. We have also joined the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, which now sends me a great e-newsletter each week with promotional suggestions. Our new listing can be viewed here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


While we still have guests on weekends in October, the season seems to have ground to a halt earlier than usual, due to the dire economical forecast and, perhaps, the upcoming election. Of course, the rainy weather these past few days has not helped. Local restaurant owners are staring at empty tables and limiting their availability. Blackfish is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. The Juice is open Thursday-Sunday. Terra Luna took more drastic measures: Friday and Saturday nights, only. Even Mac's Shack has seen a decline in diners. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the guests who have chosen Chez Sven over the last six months, and also blog-readers, faithful to the blog every week. I will continue reporting what is going on in Wellfleet, and especially here at our green bed & breakfast which remains open. Stay tuned!