by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling


The car reaches the top of the curve and there, below and beyond, is the bay and Provincetown, like a lost Venice, with its incongruous campanile rising majestically over the low housetops. The shore winds lovingly around the bay, shining blue in the early evening. This first glimpse is a staggering epiphany, like the sudden apparition of Manhattan around a bend of the Belt Parkway or the first sight of Ibiza from the deck of the Barcelona ferry. We race down the road to Beach Point, straight on to Wind and Wave, where my grey-shingled cottage awaits with its faded blue shutters. We pull in smartly and stop; we are here!

Inside, the cottage is a box of heat. We open the windows and the sliding glass door to the deck, unload the car, release the cat from her carrier, dump the bags in the two tiny bedrooms. And then, quick, we get out the ice, open the Stoli, grab the olives and pour. Out onto the splintery wooden deck with its ancient blue Adirondack chairs and breathe! Magic Provincetown glows against the rose-gold sunset, more beautiful than Venice itself.


Coffee and English muffins on the deck as the sun pierces the morning fog. The bay shimmers, pleated by a light breeze. A man is fishing, casting his line gracefully, his arm curved like an ancient discus thrower. Many times he casts and quickly reels in with no result. But, suddenly, he’s got one, a blue, a big one!

Watching me patiently as I eat, is George Seagull, my familiar or, as someone once said, my guardian angel. He’s an old gull with scraggly, pale gray feathers. For the many years I have been coming here, he has been here too. He gobbles up the crusts I throw to him and when other gulls come screeching in, he chases them away, fussing and crying. Sometimes they manage to steal from him anyway. He’s getting weak and sometimes can’t manage to defend his territory.

Now the sun has broken through and the bay turns silver. Diamonds will come later, around noon. WOMR, the local radio station, is playing Bach.


Sarah is my cat. She fights being loaded into the carrier but, once the car begins to move, she settles down patiently for the long trip to the Cape. When we arrive she is the first out of the car, leaps from her box and up to the top of the fridge, then to the roof beam and on to the sleeping loft, her favorite perch. She spends much of her time up there, dozing on the bare mattress. When the air begins to cool she comes down to sit at the deck door watching the gulls, the clouds and the restless bay. If I open the screen she slinks out, belly close to the planks of the deck, ready to retreat in case of danger.

Back in the city at the end of August she searches in vain for her beloved aerie. The apartment bores her. I play a tape of sea sounds and when she hears the gull cries, the plash of water, her ears perk up and her green eyes glow…


The Weather Channel tells us, “Watch out! Edouard is coming!” The wind screams; the skies darken; the bay churns the small boats to frenzied bobbing. We go into town to buy candles and masking tape to cover the windows. I well remember Bob in 1991, how it blew out the glass and left us without electricity for a whole week. How the bay rose up onto the deck, threatening to roll right into the house. How I finally gave up and fled into town.

This time I will be more prepared. It is still calm by evening so we go into town for dinner. Storekeepers are boarding up their windows and most of the restaurants are empty except for the drinkers. At Bubala’s, my friend Beverly, ex-wife of Norman Mailer, is chanting Native American incantations against the storm. We have our clam chowder and wine and leave her to her magic.

The hurricane hits around midnight. The cottage creaks and moans. The wind roars. Luckily, it is coming from the ocean side, leaving the bay relatively calm. But at two AM a terrible banging begins. A giant is pounding the wall with his fist; each blow shakes the cottage. Bill and I throw on plastic ponchos and go outside. Wind and rain fill our mouths and eyes. My poncho blows up over my head. I am naked underneath, nude in a hurricane! Bill laughs but there’s nobody around. All the sane people have gone to shelter in town. We pin back the flapping shutters with rope as best we can.

At daylight the wind has dropped but the bay still boils like the Atlantic seen from the deck of an ocean liner. We still have electricity. Edouard has been merciful.

Next day the sun returns. We sweep the sand and debris off the deck and wipe the big front window with Windex. The gulls are back. Sarah has come down from the loft. We are healed.


Two ladies, “of a certain age” like me, come to visit. We sit on my deck in the sun and they walk carefully down to the water to swim. When they return we drink ice cold Stolichnaya and talk.

Jean is the elder of the two. She is a true grande dame with high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, chalky skin, a cap of short gold hair and long, tobacco-stained fingers. She is a brave swimmer and her skinny bird-like legs carry her wherever she wishes to go. She has had several husbands and two daughters somewhere whom I have never seen. She is an artist, and keeps a blue jay in a giant wicker cage in her tiny apartment. She lives here, alone, all year and seems to like her solitary existence very much, thank you. She is also a Republican.

The other lady, Beverly, the ex-wife of the famous writer, is still beautiful but very unhappy. Her life is a bitter reproach to the husband who left her. She never stops thinking of ways to get back at him. This poison has spoiled the latest part of her life, in spite of her sons and grandchildren. Her long-held anger deprives her of any new joy she might encounter. When she drinks, her rage emerges like a powerful genie.

We three sit on the deck in the glorious late afternoon and talk of sex, children, scandal. Among the three of us, we’ve pretty much done it all: travel, careers, children, affairs, passion, and loss.


Sunsets are a ritual at Beach Point. We rate them, like movies. We photograph them.

We salute them with cocktails. Some evenings the sunsets are bloody and golden. Sometimes the bay becomes a pale blue pond, reflecting greenish clouds. The boats are still. No gulls fly. At its best, the sunset is like a Tiepolo painting—angels’ wings dyed red, gold and royal blue. Neighbors on their decks raise their glasses to each other and pull out their cameras. The French have a name for places like this. They call them lieux privilegies, privileged places.


Harriet Sohmers Zwerling: Ex-expatriate, ex-nude model, ex-school teacher. Forever hedonist, grandmother and of course, writer.