I have seen Provincetown this crowded, but never in July, in fact maybe never outside of Carnival week. It is madness out there, cars from Missouri and Maryland queued up to get into the Monument Museum, lines snaking up and down the streets as people wait to buy lunch, or buy tickets, or buy....well, practically anything. Some shops report over $1000 an hour in sales these past few days, everyone is working extra shifts, exhausted, overwhelmed, and still, making hay while the sun shines. There's a long winter ahead.
My daughter called up, in the break between her jobs. She was lying in the alley behind the theater where she works--the best place she could find to grab some peace and quiet. Faith Prince, who was performing that night, just stepped around as she walked from her dressing room to the stage door. It made me think of Colette's music hall stories -- the bustle and excitement behind the scenes of a typical Provincetown night.
Tawdry, that is, cheap, gaudy and gloriously romantic. The performers work like footsoldiers day after day after day. Any glance takes in a hundred quick stories: a man in a luxuriant blond wig and heels that give him a height advantage over Kobe Bryant confers worriedly with his barker, then returns to his cocky pose; a young woman from Bulgaria has a tense word with her boyfriend as she heads to her third job...a burst of laughter erupts as a couple of waiters exchange stories.
So much life is packed into this street! At then end of an alley a building tilts precariously, most of its windows boarded. The last bits of an old wharf jut out there, on pilings that still look solid-- I think this was The Old Reliable Fish House when I came to town. It felt like the forties back there: picnic tables, windowboxes full of geraniums, the bay full of sails and the kitchen full of rodents, or that was the word on the street. Now, I suppose it's waiting for some developer to raze it and put up condominiums. In the meantime, I noticed that one window was dimly lit, and a shadow moved across the opposite wall. Who lives here and how do they manage? A hundred years ago, between fishing and odd jobs, plenty of people could do just fine in a simple way. Now...not so much.
Down another alley, the Julie Heller Gallery (pictured here), in another building that has seen centuries of Provincetown history, shows paintings from the whole life of the town as an art colony. So much has changed, but standing here looking out to Long Point light in the evening, all of history is right there in the feeling.