Report from the Cape: Comparatively speaking

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Falmouth High School students are upset that school administrators won’t let them graduate on the football field instead of in the school field house. It seems the Clippers had an undefeated state championship season in 2016 and then, a few weeks after the season ended, two of the players were killed in an automobile accident. The students want to remember the good times and honor the lost lives of their friends. School authorities are worried about reliving the trauma.

If you haven’t heard about the tragedy and the controversy that’s because they happened in Falmouth, Massachusetts, not Falmouth, Maine. We spent last week on Cape Cod and, being a wicked local yokel, I tend to compare every place I go to some place I know. I even figured I’d know my way around Yarmouth, Massachusetts because I lived in Yarmouth, Maine for 32 years, but I somehow got lost in Yarmouth on my way from Hyannis to Provincetown.

Falmouth, Massachusetts is what Falmouth, Maine wants to be. It’s a lovely seaside town with a great downtown that our Falmouth lacks. Hyannis is Rockland times 10, a gritty ferry port with an overlay of culture. A visit to the JFK Museum there is like walking through a book, all words and pictures, very little 3-D.

From Hyannis we took an expensive ($77 round trip each) high-speed ferry ride for a day trip to Nantucket. We spent one of our four hours on that charming chi-chi isle searching unsuccessfully for the grave of humorist Robert Benchley in the Prospect Hill Cemetery. I’m not a great Benchley fan, but two of my best friends are, and one of them asked me to take a picture of Benchley’s grave while on Nantucket. He had to settle for a snapshot of the grave of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halbertstam.

Provincetown was our primary destination. P-town is Ogunquit times 10. It’s an intimate and interesting little end-of-the-road settlement, a popular gay resort destination and an old art colony. Like Ogunquit, Provincetown’s artistic greatness lays in its past with painters such as Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack and Robert Motherwell. These days, the galleries are filled with the works of regional artists mopping up after the 19th and 20th centuries.

Provincetown is a largely adult community, the local high school having closed in 2013 after the last class of eight seniors graduated. Seasonal residents have replaced the large Portuguese fishing families that once populated the town as the next generation.

Being a gay-friendly town means P-town is friendly, period. The inn where we stayed had a wine and cheese happy hour where we got to meet fellow travelers each day. Among them were a couple from Portland, Oregon, who told us that their Portland had become as unaffordable as our Portland, several couples from the UK who commiserated about our sorry excuse for a president, and a young woman who got a text from her sister in the FBI that Director James Comey had just been fired. The good news, we all agreed, is that Comey’s firing makes it all the more likely that this country will finally get the independent investigation of Russiagate it so desperately needs.

The best thing about Cape Cod, of course, are the beaches. The Cape Cod National Seashore encompasses 40 miles and 43,000 acres of beaches and dunes that attract some 4 million visitors a year. (Acadia National Park had a record 3.3 million visitors last year.) We went to the Cape specifically to sit on the long, lonely beaches and gaze out to sea. The fact that the occasional pickup truck drove by on the sand was disconcerting to say the least, not to mention absolutely unnecessary. I’m told it’s a federal regulation that allows surf casters too lazy to walk to drive past sunbathers and piping plovers to get to the stripers, but I prefer to blame Massachusetts, a state so backward you can’t even buy booze in the supermarkets.

The big draw to the Cape beaches come spring is whale watching. In April, 112 of the 524 known North Atlantic right whales left in the world were spotted off Cape Cod. We set up our beach chairs at Herring Cove and Race Point in hopes of sighting one, but just as we were a week too early for many of the galleries we were apparently a week too late for the whales. If they were there at all, the great beasts, superior beings that they are, stayed submerged beneath the green waters, going about their important business oblivious to the human folly ashore.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.