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Bruno, Chief of Police

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I explained two weekends ago how I was led to download Lee Child’s third Jack Reacher novel, Tripwire, on the eve of our New York-Nantucket trip, so I would be prepared with a thriller on the Kindle when we arrived in Nantucket. As I further explained, I couldn’t wait that long. I began reading it the moment we took our seats on the Seattle-JFK flight, finishing it a week ago this morning. The other book I planned to read on the trip was 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I was already some ways into it, and with Tripwire finished, I picked up reading where I had left off.

However, by the end of the day, I decided I wanted to read another thriller or mystery instead. Just the previous Sunday, in her weekly NYT roundup of mystery novels, Marilyn Stasio had mentioned several of possible interest. She led off with George Pelecanos’s newest. There was a time when I would leap at his new books, but no longer. He wore me down with his emphasis on father-son tales in DC, less mystery and more morality tale about the importance of families. I was intrigued, though, by Stasio’s description of Martin Walker’s Black Diamond:

The residents of the quiet town where Martin Walker sets his enchanting village mysteries relish all the good things about life in the Périgord region of France: the food, the wine, the friendships and the black truffles that grow among the white oaks in its dense forests. But all it takes is a murder to stir up the animosities of people who, while still fighting old wars, are quick to take up new ones. … There are truffles to gather and market days to attend, as well as a sumptuous funeral banquet for a murdered truffle master that surpasses any meal cooked up thus far in a series that always makes your mouth water.

I looked through some of the reader comments about the book at Amazon, noting one reader’s observation that although the book was the third in the series and he hadn’t read the first two, he felt under no disadvantage. Okay, I thought, I don’t need to start with book one. But I wasn’t sure this series was for me.

The next night, after more of 1493, I was ready. And even if I didn’t need to start with book one, why not do so? I downloaded Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside from Amazon and began.

Pretty slow going for a while. Way too much setting up of the characters. Finally, the murder victim is discovered, an eighth of the way in. Not that that speeds things up much. But soon I realize the book is heading in directions I hadn’t imagined, as it delves into issues revolving around Arab immigrants and their integration into French society as well as divisions among families going back to Vichy France, with the resistance and Nazi collaborators. There’s lots of food along the way, and a pretty good mystery, but much more than that, there’s the serious treatment of French society and culture. As for the food, even the treatment of that connects to broader issues, namely the conflicts between European Union regulations and French food-making traditions.

I had planned to finish the book on the plane flight back here Monday night, but I couldn’t do it all. Thanks to JetBlue, TV was available on board, and that meant there was the end of the Djokovic-Nadal US Open final to watch, followed by the final episode of TNT’s series The Closer. By the time I got to the book, it was getting late, and soon I fell asleep. At home, nearing 2:00 AM New York time, I read to the point where the final pieces of the mystery were falling into place, leaving the wrap-up for morning.

I’ve since had to resist jumping right into The Dark Vineyard, the next volume in the series. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to wait, but now that I’m home, there’s too much else I should be doing. Meanwhile, if you haven’t made Bruno’s acquaintance, I recommend him. As you might expect, he’s not just a simple rural cop. Outsiders may under-estimate him, but he’s sharp guy, with an interesting past, and well worth getting to know.

Categories: Books

Nantucket 4: Sconset and More

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Sconset Post Office

We left Nantucket last Sunday afternoon. It’s over four days later and I still haven’t wrapped up my Nantucket series. I’ll take care of that here.

When I wrote Nantucket 3 last Friday night, we had just come back from dinner at Ventuno, the Italian restaurant that had replaced one of our favorites, 21 Federal. The food was great and we had the delightful surprise of being joined, shortly after we got there, by local residents John Kerry and Teresa Heinz. Our plan for Saturday was to reprise our Wauwinet-Sconset bicycle ride of two years ago.

It’s about 6.7 miles from Wauwinet, in the northeast part of the island, to Sconset, in the southeast corner. Not far, and the island is flat for the most part. But what we learned two years ago was that it’s not that flat. Indeed, although the variation in elevation is minor, it’s non-stop. Up and down and up and down, shifting constantly to find the right gear. We hadn’t been on bikes since that last ride, and the bikes the Wauwinet provides aren’t the best fit. My seat was too low last time, and no matter what effort I made to adjust it, it kept returning to its lowest position, with the result that my thigh were killing me.

This time Gail was the one with too low a seat. I didn’t fare so badly. Or maybe I’m just in better shape than I was last time. We headed out a little before 11:00 in the morning, intending to get to Sconset for lunch and then return. I found the ride down a pleasure. No doubt it helped that I knew the landmarks along the way and therefore had a better sense of where I was. One of those landmarks is the Sankaty Head Lighthouse. Two years ago, I mistakenly thought it was in Sconset itself. When I reached it and the town was nowhere insight, I despaired. Now I knew better. And what a beautiful sight the lighthouse is when one draws even with it on the far side of Sankaty Head Golf Club‘s famed course, home to the country’s last summer caddy camp.

We arrived in Sconset, parked our bikes by the Sconset Market, and headed around the corner to the Sconset Cafe, entering just moments before the noon rush.

Sconset is the second largest settlement on the island, a good deal smaller than the main town, but larger than anything else. It has the market, its own post office, and several restaurants, the most notable of which is Chanticleer, where we have yet to eat. Next year for sure. (Sconset also happens to be where my parents stayed during a short vacation a few months after I was born. My mother believes it is where she was infected with polio, by which she was beset soon thereafter. Jonas Salk had begun testing his vaccine that very year, but it would not be available for general use for another three years.)

The Sconset cafe was perfect for lunch. Gail had a salad while I ate a chicken sandwich. Then we took a walk, down to the beach, then back up to a road that runs south parallel to the beach and south a few blocks along the road, looking out over the beach and ocean. As we began to head south, there was an odd assemblage of people, one guy talking in a booming voice while another seven or eight gathered around. It almost looked like a tour group. As we drew near, I realized it was indeed a tour group, led by the booming voice guy, who was talking about the northernmost house on the street. I eavesdropped for a few seconds, learning that some movie actor a few decades earlier who was just making it big had spent a few weeks in that house each summer. The guide drew out the story for dramatic effect, listing those movies that first made him a superstar, by which point we all knew the mystery actor was Robert Redford. Did Redford really stay in that house? I’m not convinced that he did. Nor can I imagine why one would want to head all the way out to Sconset just to see Redford’s house. Whatever.

We continued our walk, reaching another restaurant, The Summer House, which has a building on the road and space down below along the beach that was being prepared for a wedding. Yet another place we’ll need to try. Then we returned to the center of Sconset, wandered around the market, which in its small space manages to stock just about every food and paper supply one might need as well as a full line of Sconset souvenir sweatshirts, t-shirts, bags, and hats. Another two blocks and we were able to check out the Chanticleer menu as well as wandering into the house that has the galleries of artists William Welch and Frederick Charlton.

No visit to Sconset is complete without peaking in at the tennis courts of the Sconset Casino. Usually at least one or two are in use, but not last Friday. It was a quiet day. We returned to our bikes, mounted, and made the ride back to Wauwinet.

In late afternoon, we headed out onto the Wauwinet’s lawn (I’m using “Wauwinet”, I should explain, as the name of both our inn and the region of the island) to sit on the chaises. After five consecutive evenings of dinner at restaurants in town, this was to be a more relaxed evening. We would read, then head to Topper’s bar in the inn for a light dinner.

That’s before we realized that the inn was about to be taken over by a wedding. Between the lawn and the harbor is a wooden deck built over the sand on which about 40 folding chairs were set up. Two afternoons earlier, I had seen what I now understood was the rehearsal for the wedding that was about to happen. The inn’s small lobby and back porch were overrun by people in suits and dresses. A guitarist was setting up on the deck. The minister, it emerged, was about 40 minutes late, the result being a steady stream of fancily dressed people milling about between the inn, the lawn, and the deck. After a while, everyone was seated or standing on the deck except the wedding party. Then, around 5:30, the party headed through the lawn to the deck. We watched it all. In fact, I filmed some of it with my iPhone. I haven’t bothered transferring it to the computer yet to watch. I’ll spare you here.

The wedding was entertaining, but the one downside was that they were going to stick around. We headed up to our room as the wedding ended and discovered that next up for the wedding guests was cocktails on the patio below our window, with saxophonist and guitarist. I suggested to Gail that we discuss in-town options with the concierge at the front desk, who was able to confirm that the party would move into Topper’s at 7:00. Private room and all, away from the bar, but I wanted out. The concierge got us a table at the bar at Boarding House and we took the shuttle into town.

Boarding House

The bar at Boarding House is never quiet, especially on a Saturday night. We squeezed into a two-top right by one end of the bar, with a TV near us on which we watched the Nadal-Murray semi-final at the US Open tennis championships.

The bar, with our table in center back of photo

I suppose Topper’s might even have been quieter, but we had had plenty of meals there already, and hadn’t been to Boarding House in a couple of years, so we were happy to be there again. We both had their soup of the night, tomato and eggplant with some fried cheese thing floating around in it — better than I’m making it sound. And we both had one of their specialties, their Chicken Under a Brick, served that night with chick peas, red pepper, and some grain I can’t remember, farro perhaps. We then shared their incredible chocolate chocolate chip cookie dessert with small glasses of malted milk shakes on the side. Our last walk around town followed, and then the shuttle back to the inn.

Chicken Under a Brick

That’s pretty much it. Sunday we had breakfast at Topper’s, packed, checked out, made a request for our favorite room for next year, then spent another couple of hours on the lawn, reading and having lunch, before taking the taxi to the airport. Our JetBlue flight to JFK was delayed a little. Once it got in from JFK, they got us on pretty quickly, only to have us taxi out and learn that we wouldn’t be allowed a landing slot at JFK for another half hour. It was 9/11, and the pilot explained that there were air traffic delays in New York, in part due to the president’s earlier arrival. The demand for landing slots was over-subscribed and we would have to wait our turn, which we did.

Once in the air heading west, we encountered clouds. Our day and a half of perfect weather was at an end. New York was completely clouded over, as we soon discovered. We landed, collected our bags, took the AirTrain to Hertz, got in our rental car, and began the last 24 hours of our trip, some family time in New York.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel