For awhile, I am living in a rented house in eastern Long Island, not too far from New York city, in a country-chic village called East Hampton. The homes here are owned by movie stars and magnates. Informal sources suggest this is the richest zip code in America: 11937. Forbes.com has East Hampton only at #166. But collectively the towns around here all rate very high on the list, and houses selling for $20 million are fairly common.
Some of you have wondered how these domestic circumstances would befall a Canuck writer from way back in the jackpines, one who would seem to know more about paddling a canoe than about what to wear to brunch in the Hamptons in spring. Here’s how it went down.
A certain windfall of money came my way late last year. My partner Marlene and I put it into General Revenue for awhile and, predictably, it started to evaporate in a prosaic way. Since the money came ultimately from the Canadian taxpayer in support of the arts, we decided we better support some art with it. I write, Marlene paints. Perfect. We decided to fund a sabbatical, retreat, working holiday or call-it-what-you-will in some exotic locale.
We weighed our options and connections, from Costa Rica, to Morocco, to New Orleans, to Newfoundland. New York City is sort of a hobby of ours, but it was impossible to pay for the kind of space there to which we are accustomed, even with the Canada Council padding your bank roll. Then we thought to look upstate, and upon Long Island, and found a cute cottage with the stars and stripes hanging on the front, with easy connections to the big city.
But the Hamptons for god’s sake? First off, the locals rarely call it that. They use the names of the towns — South Hampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton or Hampton Bay. Or they say “the east end” or “the south fork” of Long Island. “The Hamptons” is an outsider’s expression; or, rather, it refers only to the jet-set aspect to this place.
Except for the wealthy, absentee minority (who own the vast minority of real estate) East Hampton is just a pretty Atlantic town, the oldest in the state of New York, with a rich history. The Montaukett nation was here for 3,000 years before the Puritans “founded” the place in 1648. Following colonial expropriation, one thing led to another — farming, witch-trials, whaling, slaving, pirating, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the railroad. At some point Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner famously showed up and threw paint around and the area became an artist’s colony.
East Hampton is a print junkie’s dream. There are half a dozen weekly newspapers. Mostly broadsheets, they run lengthy, utterly parochial stories. The used book collection for sale at the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society, est. 1895, is better than most any second hand bookstore I know.The place is crawling with authors, celebrated and obscure, living and dead. The library is small work of art with red leather chairs in alcoves.
More than that, the place is dead quiet in winter, so there is time to actually read the classics you drag home. Everything closes early, and it is an event at our cottage if a car passes down the street. You just lie on the couch reading The Inferno, then go to bed early like Benjamin Franklin.
And if all the quiet gets too much, you can ride the Long Island Railway or the Hampton Jitney down to New York City and recharge your stress-battery.