I haven’t written a new post in about three weeks, and I’m like a rusty hinge on a garden gate, willing to open up, but not sure I am able. The last few weeks have been filled with drama, followed by a mid-summer lethargy that is common in the deep South, when the temperature stays in the mid-90’s and the humidity is even worse. I break into a sweat and gasp for breath just walking from the kitchen to the garden. The only gardening I have managed is to harvest the figs, peppers and okra that thrive in this thick stew of heat. I pluck the fruit and swim inside, to the comfort of the air-conditioned cottage.
I escape the heat by flying north to New England, a reverse migration from hot to cool. I have not been home in years, and when the plane lands in Manchester, New Hampshire, I’m not sure that I will feel at home again. New roads, new buildings and exhaustion from a hellish 9-hour layover in Atlanta make me dizzy and disoriented. But after a few days’ work in the city, my best friend from high school, Laura, swoops me up and carries me away to Gloucester, Massachusetts, the oldest seaport in the country. She and her husband, Gary, own the Vista Motel, a retro-chic motel overlooking Good Harbor beach. I have a history with Good Harbor beach—Searching for sea creatures in the warm tidal pools, teenage days laying in the sun and playing in the surf. Prom night. Strolling along the edge of the icy water with my mother. Chasing after my own tiny, toddling daughter as she chases the gulls.
When Laura and I step out of the car, I gulp in the tangy, salty air and inhale the scent of my childhood. It’s the first time I’ve been to the Vista, but I’m instantly comfortable and relaxed. The motel is a step back in time, and families are playing together in the pool, and sitting in front of their rooms on lawn chairs, enjoying the ocean views. Big Band music floats out of the breakfast room door. Daylillies and grasses dance in the cool breeze. The motel is set on a hill, and its lush, green lawn looks like it’s rolling right into the surf.
The three of us head into town for dinner, to Duckworth’s Bistrot, a five-star little gem of a restaurant just a couple of miles down the road. I enjoy the refreshing chilled asparagus soup with sunflower seed pesto and the rich, succulent duck confit with roasted potato, spinach and a tangy cherry port sauce. We take the rest of our wine home and finish it on the balcony, watching the effervescent surf crash on the rocks out on the point and filling each other in on the last few years. When we finally go to bed, I sleep like a rock. On Friday morning, we hike the lush paths of nearby Halibut Point out to the granite quarry, with its stunning waterfront views.
Laura surprises me with a trip to the spa, where I’m pampered with a facial and a body scrub, and a spray tan! I joke that I look like Snookie, but I really just lose my pasty office complexion. We wander through the little shops downtown, greeted by resident pups, local artisans, and friendly shop owners. I buy a new sundress and Laura buys a pretty green linen jacket. A late afternoon snack at Alchemy is next. The grilled asparagus with poached egg, truffle oil, shaved grana, and cracked pepper is perfect. Alchemy is a foodie haven with a great atmosphere and a commitment to serving local, organic products.
After a nap and a long shower, we take a sunset stroll on the beach. Refreshed by the cool, salty air, we’re ready to eat again, and we venture downtown to The Franklin Cafe for a light dinner. Laura has been raving about the Tuna Tartare, and since it’s one of my favorites, I’m excited to taste it. The tendersweet tuna, dressed in a cucumber wasabi sauce, doesn’t disappoint, and the neighborhood cafe oozes New England charm and elegance.
In the morning, it is time for me to leave. We stop off at Cape Ann Coffees, where Laura’s stunning friend, Dorthe, the shop’s owner, serves us steaming hazelnut coffee and packs us oatmeal raisin cookies for the drive to my brother’s house. I buy a freshly-made blueberry pie, with a golden lattice crust and berry juice spilling over the sides. We cruise down the turnpike and meet my brother at the agreed-upon halfway point. I’m so happy to see him, I want to cry. I hug Laura goodbye and promise to come back next summer, for a whole week. I’m already looking forward to it.