Rehearsals for the Long Wharf Theatre transfer of Satchmo at the Waldorf start this morning in New Haven. Since I also have to see two shows in New York and write three pieces between now and Friday, I thought it might be smart for Mrs. T and me to take a little time off from the daily grind and go somewhere quiet and out of the way–though not too far out of the way, since we only had three days to spare.
What to do? Inspiration struck when we saw Mystic Pizza on TV last week. We’d been talking for years about visiting Mystic, a picturesque seaport vilage that’s a bit over forty miles from the front door of our little house in the Connecticut woods. Now, we decided, was the time to go–but could I find a nice place for us to stay on such short notice?
I hit the bull’s-eye on the first try. The Inn at Stonington, located just five miles from the center of Mystic, is the very model of a romantic waterfront retreat: small, cozy, tastefully decorated, and wonderfully well run, with a simple but delicious continental breakfast that includes fresh-baked breads. This being a flawed world, there’s a catch, which is that the inn figures prominently in Hope Springs, meaning that it’s become harder to book a room there. Fortunately, we called a few minutes after somebody else canceled, and two days later we rolled up to the front door. That same night we stood on our tiny balcony, watched the sun set over the harbor, and reveled in our good luck. Henceforth the Inn at Stonington will be on on our very short list of B&Bs and inns to which we return regularly.
The meals we ate in and near Mystic were consistently good. (Yes, we made a point of stopping at Mystic Pizza, and it, too, was excellent.) One of them actually turned out to be spectacular. As we drove through town on Thursday afternoon, we passed by a restaurant called Oyster Club.
“That looks interesting,” I said to Mrs. T. “Why don’t you run in and check it out?”
A few minutes later she trotted back to the car with a menu in her hand and a smile on her face. “You know what the waitress told me?” she said. “I asked her what kind of place it was, and she said, ‘I’m not just saying this because I work here, but this really is the best place in town.'” I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. Mrs. T and I do a fair amount of traveling, and I can’t remember where or when we’ve had a better meal. (The Oyster Club menu changes nightly, but if the handmade tagliatelle with ragout of pork, chicken livers, and chicken hearts happens to be available, order it. Unless you’re a militant vegetarian, you won’t be sorry.)
What I liked best about our mini-vacation, though, was that it really was a vacation. I didn’t write a word or see a show all weekend. Instead, Mrs. T and I happily played tourist. Not only did we go on a schooner cruise, but we visited Mystic Seaport (to which Mrs. T went frequently as a child) and Groton’s Submarine Force Museum, where we toured the U.S.S. Nautilus (about whose cruise to the North Pole I read with wonder when I was a boy). If I gave any thought to Satchmo at the Waldorf or the world of high art, it was strictly in passing.
It helped that we were never very far from the water. I wrote these words seven years ago:
Coming as I do from the middle of America, I find at the age of forty-nine that I can count on the fingers of both hands the number of nights I’ve slept by an ocean. Like everyone who falls in love with the sea in adulthood, I’m incapable of saying anything about it that hasn’t been said a million times before: its ever-changing, self-renewing presence instantly reduces me to clichés. As I sat on the boardwalk and watched the waves that my beloved Fairfield Porter painted so well, I could do no better than to recall the words of Jean de la Ville de Mirmont that Gabriel Fauré set to music with such exquisitely apposite simplicity in L’horizon chimérique, the most perfect of all his song cycles: The sea is infinite and my dreams are wild.
Since then I’ve gone out of my way to spend as much time as possible within sight of the sea, which never fails to soothe my soul. Long Island Sound, being an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, doesn’t quite fill the bill, but it suited me much, much more than well enough.
So yes, we had a great time…and now it’s over. Mrs. T dropped me off at the New London train station on Sunday afternoon. An hour later I arrived in New Haven, and an hour after that I was being interviewed by New Haven Theater Jerk. Later today I’ll report to Long Wharf’s Rehearsal Room B, roll up my sleeves, and go to work. Good or bad, long or short, all vacations must come to an end, and even when they give way to something just as pleasurable, you can’t help but wish you were back where you came from.