Roughing It

  • Barbarella

Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.

-- Frank Lloyd Wright

For every five people who hear me say, "I'm going to Martha's Vineyard for a few weeks," at least three will respond, " Ooooh, Maaahtha's Viiiineyaaahd ," and nudge the end of their nose skyward with the tip of a finger. Martha's Vineyard -- summer playground of the rich and famous -- is an island three miles off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. Unlike Ibiza or St. Tropez, where notable nymphets gather for clubs, raves, and drug binges, the Vineyard is a magnet for ueber wealthy clans (e.g., tribes brandishing the names Kennedy, Forbes, Clinton, and Gates) looking to get away from the hubbub of life and enjoy some good clean family fun. Each summer, they flock by air and sea to the quaint island, where traffic lights and chain stores are forbidden, and time is measured in days rather than hours or minutes. For me, one who has grown accustomed to fast-paced urban life with its 24-hour conveniences, visiting the Vineyard is a test of endurance. To keep things in perspective, I remind myself that it's not as bad as camping. I don't camp well. When I want to gaze admiringly upon nature, I prefer it be from a safe distance -- like through a glass window or in high-def. My friend Stephanie once lured me to the Anza-Borrego Desert with the promise of a four-star experience. Upon arriving at our designated clearing, Stephanie set me up in a canvas chair with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, propped an umbrella over my head, and went about constructing our three-room tent. It wasn't until my friend was puffing away to inflate my air mattress that the full implications of "no plumbing" sunk in, sending a chill down my spine.

The only thing worse than peeing behind a bush is going in a port-o-john. Perhaps my most traumatic encounter with the nasty blue boxes was at Burning Man -- the annual seven-day counterculture party held in a godforsaken desert 100 miles from the nearest running water. The portable outhouses, baking in the sun, would have benefited greatly from an hourly disinfection regimen. Instead, those foul plastic water closets (shared by tens of thousands of mind-altered iconoclasts) were serviced just once a day. Determined not to die of dysentery, I transformed one of my coolers into a chamber pot and my tent-mate into my chambermaid.

I am perplexed when prosperous people pay a premium to be inconvenienced. After watching the DVD our friends Paul and Sarah created to document their stay at the Ice Hotel in Canada, I made it clear to David that I did not want to follow in our friends' snowshoe-steps. "If you want to visit one day and check it out, that's fine," I said. "But sleeping there is out of the question. Did you see how many layers they had to put on before they went to bed? That's just ridiculous." The hotel wasn't cheap, but our friends weren't paying for comfort; they were purchasing a new experience. Like braving the subzero winds of Antarctica, fighting off creepy crawlies in whatever rainforests are left, or getting stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver, there are certain experiences in life I am quite content to live without.

In the weeks leading up to our summer trek to David's annual show at the Granary Gallery (known as the "Red Barn" to islanders), I switch my maintenance setting from its usual "high" position to "low." While packing, I tell myself I do not need Arizona Diet Green Tea (or the hundred other brands I will not find in the island's tiny grocery stores) and that the world won't stop on its axis if I limit myself to only four pairs of shoes. Upon arriving at David's parents' house, we are surrounded by a verdant landscape lush with trees. Sure, they're nice to look at, and I suppose they do their share in creating the remarkably pure, fresh air for which the Vineyard is famous, but for me, they're a glaring green reminder to pop a Claritin for my allergies. I don't even want to begin thinking about the bugs.

Everyone seems to adjust to the pace more easily than me. After attending receptions for David's work in Zurich, New York, and Tokyo, I had forgotten that on the Vineyard, "formal" is casual. "Preppy" is not a part of David's and my vernacular. For the opening of his show, David wore a black, stylishly crumpled linen/viscose blend jacket by Theory over a black Banana Republic tee and beige linen pants. I went for a '50s pin-up girl look with a red floral dress, black patent leather peek-a-toe shoes, and ruby lips.

The first moment my four-inch heels touched down on the Red Barn's wooden floor, it was apparent I'd painstakingly primped for naught. Making a quick survey of the room, I counted five Ralph Lauren ponies, three Izod alligators, a pair of pants festooned with the silhouettes of whales, and a plethora of sweaters tied around necks. Well over a hundred people attended the two-hour opening, maybe three who wore makeup. A few girls, with matted hair and mesh shirts over tanks and shorts, seemed to have come directly from the beach. I'd glammed it up for the art gala, just to find everyone else suited up for a sunny day on the yacht.

Back in the city, I walk barefoot along the plush carpet outside my door and down the hallway to chuck my trash into the chute, after which it disappears forever. Strolling just a few blocks from the front door of my building I can find numerous restaurants serving a wide variety of exotic cuisines, two coffee shops, two supermarkets, a wine bar, a cheese shop, and so on. It takes me ten minutes to get to any one of three shopping malls, and an extra five to reach Fry's Electronics.

Things are different on the Vineyard. Life is supposed to be easy on the island -- slow-paced and simple. That's what they say. What they fail to mention is that "simplify" in this context means, "do it yourself." David's parents have to put their trash in their car and drive it to the dump. Five of the seven towns on the island are "dry," so we must remember to bring our own bottles of beer and wine when dining out. Restaurants are few and far between, and none of them deliver; movie theaters do not have stadium seating or DLP projectors. There's no Whole Foods, no Trader Joe's, no Nordstrom's or Ann Taylor. No streetlights line the long, winding dirt roads. My cell phone gets no reception. Sure, the eggs are fresh, the water is clean, and the air is thick with oxygen; the neighbors are friendly, and people stop their cars to let you pull yours out into what traffic there is; but what if I have a middle-of-the-night craving for sushi? How did Jackie do it? Perhaps most distressing of all is the fact that if I needed to replenish my black liquid Lancome eyeliner or SPF 30 facial lotion, the nearest department store is a 20-minute drive, a 45-minute ferry ride, and at an 90-minute bus ride away. If that's not roughing it, I don't know what is.

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