Every day is carnival! Drag Queens (major shoe envy on my part), ice cream stores and buskers vie for the attention of the street packing throngs of tourists. Provincetown, P’town for short, is the small village at the very tip of Cape Cod. It is crowded, overpriced and fun. I loved every minute. The pilgrims didn’t.
Unbelievable. They had been at sea for 67 days. The trip on the Mayflower was miserable. The boat was crowded and leaky. The seas were rough. There were none of the perks that makes sailing today so fun. No stabilizers, heads (sailor talk for toilets),water makers, refrigeration, showers or internet. I can’t imagine anything worse. Nor can I imagine turning my nose up at a beautiful protected harbor teaming with fish and a chance to put my feet on solid ground. Ok, there wasn’t much fresh water, but really?
On November 21, 1620 the 100 ft ship anchored in the bay. The 102 passengers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact. It set out the rules of the new community they planned to establish. Then they and the approximately 30 crew took off again, sailing around for five more weeks until they finally settled on Plymouth. How a single marriage survived is beyond me. Provincetown, oblivious to this slight, built a 252-foot granite tower appropriately called Pilgrim’s Monument to commemorate the town’s small role in this particular history. Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in 1907.
Others did recognize the value of this port. It quickly became an important fishing and whaling center. Though it wasn’t until 1727 that it finally became an official town. Business boomed after the American Revolution and the population swelled. Lots of Portuguese sailors from the Azores who were hired to work on US ships settled in Provincetown. Their influence remains. Portuguese dishes are found on many menus and all the bakeries seem to advertise Portuguese bread.
Fishing is a tough profession. The Portland Gale of 1898 wiped out most of the local industry and it never recovered. Artists and writers stepped in to fill the void taking over the abandoned buildings. The town’s life as an artistic haven began. It quickly gained renown for experimental theatre, an avant-garde art scene and tolerance. It was one of the few places where gay people could live relatively openly in safety. By the 1970’s it had become a gay mecca. According to the 2010 Census, Provincetown has the highest percent of same-sex couples of any town in the US.
Tourism is P’town’s biggest industry. 60,000 people are expected each summer. During the winter the population crashes. Officially there are 3000 year-round residents. The locals I talked to said it’s more like 800. Many visitors come to celebrate the various theme weeks. Among the most popular are Bear Week (larger, hairy, traditionally masculine gay men), Girl Splash (women-only events), Tennessee Williams Festival (four days of his plays) and the Great Schooner Regatta (classic yacht racing and events). Straight or gay, everyone is welcome. I’m coming back for Carnival August 2019 in sequins, boas and glitter eyeshadow.
Tip: eat dinner at Victor’s. Great food, off the tourist radar, beautifully designed room
175 Bradford St.