Montauk

Long Island lives up to its name. The peninsula that juts from New York City and takes off for the Atlantic Ocean is freakishly long and narrow, something that leaps at you when you decide to drive to ‘The End’ that is Montauk, at the easternmost tip of the island. The drive appears to spans several eras and that is not a piffling matter if you happen to take a few detours. Such as a Costco with a fuel station in the Long Island town of Amityville. And since your ears perked up at the sound of Amityville, like a dog at the patter of his human’s feet outside the door, you threw in a mile-long diversion to the iconic haunted house in the same town. At the end of it, you found a house that looked awfully different, an alter-ego you had not been prepared for. You left it behind, feeling foolish about this deviation from the original plan especially because it was chased by a flat tire on the highway.

Self-pity being a worthy cultivated art, you would tend to feel sorry for yourself, till you overheard two mustachioed bikers who had parked their superbikes upon the same highway as you. One of them had lost his phone somewhere on the highway.

What are the chances of someone being worse off than you? Misery loves company.

It took us around five hours, including this hairy turn of events, and another diversion to the Long Island airport to exchange the car at the rental agency there.

We had greyed before reaching Montauk.

The day that had started on a liquid sunny, and indeed hot note, suddenly turned upon us. The skies were sullen by the time we chanced upon a quiet beach tucked into a surprisingly unpretentious hamlet called Amangansett. A surprise because the rest of Long Island, for the most part, is sprinkled with these pish-posh towns. Amangansett means ‘the place of good water’, as it was deemed by the Montaukett Indian tribes who founded it. A pair of Dutch brothers and the descendants of English settlers bought the land from the Montauketts in the late 1600s and developed the genteel place that we saw that day.

The ocean breeze was frigid as Adi, his sister, and I, walked past pale teenage boys just returned to their cars with their surfboards. The white sands of Amangansett were pristine and powdery. Sinking my feet into the luxuriously soft sands felt therapeutic as the cold breeze teased the hair into a glorious abandon. Only a handful of people sat around lounging on beach chairs. And a Bernedoodle who sat on his haunches, with his bum to the sea. Rows of low lying houses looked down upon the beach.

The landscape beyond the beach threw up sand dunes, some out-of-place modern estates tucked into wooded quarters, and farmland. We soon left behind this old whaling town where in 1942 four German spies had been dropped off by a submarine to stage a Nazi attack on the US.

We were back on the Old Montauk Highway that is supposed to be a scenic route. Naturally, we expected to cruise along the coast, but that way lay disappointment. Sure we passed through photogenic towns such as Southampton, Bridgehampton and Water Mill but most properties were tucked in behind tall hedgerows and all you got was an eyeful of the buzzing little town centres with their line-up of all the chic bars and restaurants you could be noshing at.

Right at the end of it all was Montauk. Finally. The former home of the Montauketts, and later, the settlers who drove sheep and cattle along the bluffs that crawl into the Atlantic. Then the fishermen. And now, the folks from Manhattan who like to spend their evenings drinking local brews at the intensely alive Gig Shack in town. While the town centre is rife with places to eat, drink, and shop, with some fine boutiques selling quality souvenirs and clothing, the real feel of it was to be had at the tip of the land. An isolated place with its 18th century white and red lighthouse standing guard over the hump of a cliff that sweeps into the ocean – seemingly far from the trample of fashionable people who have adopted the rest of the island for their own.

You could almost find yourself whisked to another time, walking along the edge of that 200-year-old lighthouse, to a Walt Whitman-esque time when according to the native Long Islander, the eastern end of Long Island was a “relief from the trammels of fashion”. It was here at Montauk Point where Whitman had daydreamed and been consumed by the wildness of his surroundings that later spilled into a short poem.

“I stand as on some mighty eagle’s beak,
Eastward the sea absorbing, viewing, (nothing
but sea and sky)
The tossing waves, the foam, the ships in the
distance,
The wild unrest, the snowy, curling caps—that
inbound urge and urge of waves,
Seeking the shores forever.”

Here where the crowds were thin even on the eve of summer, for a brief while, my hair hopelessly tangled in the ocean breeze, I thought I was on Walt Whitman’s Long Island.
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The Amityville House on Ocean Avenue
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Amangansett
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Aforementioned Bernedoodle at Amangansett
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Montauk Point
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Eastern tip of Long Island
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The oldest lighthouse in NY State
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Siblings
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…and us (P.C.: Anuradha Varma).

 

 

 

The River Town of Hope

An old grist mill caught my eyes. I was standing at the edge of the green truss bridge in Lambertville that spans the gentle Delaware and opens up to a twin town which does not however lie in New Jersey. Cross a line on the bridge and you find out that you have left the state of New Jersey behind; that now, my darling, you have entered the state of Pennsylvania.

With just the crossing of a bridge, we were in another town.

New Hope of the Lenni Lenape Indians; of a thousand acres of land gifted by King Charles II to a certain William Penn; of a succession of men who operated ferries and mills; of an industrial past riddled with working mills and the legacy of a small community that worked hard to produce paper, quarry stones and grind grains. That is till a bohemian lot of artists were attracted to the picturesque quality that this town presented with its farrago of farmhouses, mills and barns, creeks, and the river that slips gently by it.

Towards the end of the 1930s, a group of aesthetes bought the grist mill that you see in the lead picture. They transformed it into a summer theatre. The Bucks County Playhouse, where so many famous actors and actresses honed their trade before they tried their luck on Broadway. That is how artists put New Hope on the map for art aficionados. And then, the rest of us followed on a day drenched with sun, filled with hope about this town that called itself New Hope. Note that the mills had their say in deciding its title for there were the Old Hope Mills which burned down, only to be replaced with mint-fresh mills built as the New Hope Mills.

Right from the main street where the bridge disgorged us, we were hard pressed for which direction to take. But there was no chance of leaving any road unexplored here. There was a roll-call of restaurants and cafes, ice cream shops, hippie shops selling harem pants and Buddhas, decor stores where you could step in and complete wooden jigsaw puzzles only to find some pieces broken, gourmet popcorn shops, food markets promising a tantalising mix of world cuisine…and then there were charming old properties, stone houses and mansions. And a stone bridge below which a somnolent creek crawled past the photogenic grist mill of my fancies before it emptied into the Delaware river.

So what did we do? We ambled around as much as one could; had strange conversations with mothers holding onto occupied loos for their sons; scoffed delicious ice creams; bought popcorn; realised that a credit card had gone missing and which therefore an irate husband rushed to retrieve with remarkable scowls and mutterings; and perched ourselves at a quiet bar humming with couples, by the creek.

Weeping willows hanging shyly in veils of green around us, the waters of the creek sliding by in smooth emerald sheets while all along catching the reflection of leafy trees lining its banks and the dappled sunlight, and flights of sparkling wine. We were caught in the moment.

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A man-made waterfall at the former 19th century grist mill. Credit: Adi.
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Besotted by this old mill, so naturally you shall be treated to every possible angle of it. Credit: Adi.
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Baroque Victorian catches the eye on the main street. A man called Charles Crook had the mansion built for his wife who was a fan of scrollwork. Thus its elaborate stage-like front. Additionally, it was the first house in Bucks County to boast of running water. Mansion Inn is an 18th century property, and though the inn itself did not exist then, it is the site where George Washington and his men dined before heading for a battle of the American Revolution. Credit: Adi.
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A town of settlers, New Hope has these rows of picket-fenced historic brick and stone properties sheathed in ivy, that make the heart skip a beat. Historic plaques often tell of a house’s former owner and their importance in the scheme of things. Credit: Adi.
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The Town Hall once served as New Hope’s town hall, school and jail. Credit: Anuradha Varma.
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One of the oldest houses in New Hope is this, Carriage House. You can catch a night’s stay or more here because it is a bolthole for the keen, with exposed wooden beams and hardwood floors. Credit: Adi.
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A capture of my sister-in-law at the bar along the Aquetong Creek. Credit: Anuradha Varma.
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Sparkling wines and green creeks. Credit: Anuradha Varma.
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Crisp pita and divine avocado dips to cool scowls away. Credit: Anuradha Varma.

 

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Before falling upon that plate of grilled octopus with frenzy. Credit: Anuradha Varma.
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The bar by the creek. Credit: Adi.
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Picture perfect. However, that man on the bottom left hand side is not a dummy. For a moment I wondered if he was. Credit: Adi.
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Old grist mills can be grist for your fancy. Credit: Anuradha Varma