Last month, my family and I went on a week’s vacation in Paris. That’s right, Paris, France, home of the Mona Lisa and birthplace of the croissant. With its’ dramatic wide boulevards, miles of shops and restaurants, triumphant arches and epic churches, it’s fair to say that on the surface of things, Paris does not have much in common with our tiny fishing village on Cape Cod.
But scratch a little deeper and there are similarities, so many that I may start calling Woods Hole the Paris of Cape Cod.
So here we go, countdown style, starting with number five, the things Paris and Woods Hole have in common:
5) IT’S COLD, BUT NOT CROWDED IN MARCH. Both Paris and Woods Hole are damp in March, prone to spring flurries of snow and dominated by people in rubber boots, blown backwards umbrellas and the scowl that comes from winter lasting longer than desired. Endure the chilly weather, and visit both places without the crowds. Here on Cape Cod that means empty beaches, crystal clear waters, open sky and views for miles. In Paris, you can jostle into the Louvre in less than 10 minutes, and see the Mona Lisa with 100 people rather than 1,000. Love it!
4) KILLER PASTRY SHOPS. OK, Paris has thousands of patisseries competing with each other for the finest tarte citron and mousse au chocolat. But, here in Falmouth, we have Pie in the Sky bakery offering sweet treats all year long, and the new Maison Villatte, serving French delicacies like croissant au chocolat and palmiers. Don your bakers hat and let the Parisian bake off begin!
3) SCULPTURE GARDENS. Sure, Paris boasts Rodin, Braque and Brancusi… but here in Woods Hole, we have a pretty cool collection of outdoor sculpture. Check out the placement of simple mill stones in Spohr Gardens, which like the famous Jardin des Tuileries, is not to be missed in spring plus the collection sprinkled around the MBL on Water and MBL Streets. Coming soon? A bronze of Rachel Carson, the famous environmentalist who wrote “Silent Spring,” expected in Waterfront Park. Take that, Gay Paris!
2) BIKES EVERYWHERE. Paris has embraced the bicycle, offering municipal bike rental stations called velib, and creating bike lanes to green up the city. This is also true here in Woods Hole, where the former train tracks into town have been converted to a dedicated bike path running along beaches, past cranberry bogs and though ancient forests. Hear, hear to forward-thinking municipalities everywhere.
Drumroll, please….The number one thing that Paris and Woods Hole have in common is:
1) BATEAU MOUCHES. The River Seine is packed with ferries and transport ships, called bateau mouches, some for tourists but many plying the river for trade as they have for eons. Woods Hole is no different, with a deep water harbor that brought whaling ships here in the 18th century, scientific research vessels in the 19th and 20th. Ferries also run constantly here, connecting Woods Hole like a tether to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The allure of pragmatic boat travel is central to both locales, and ties us to our sister city.
So there you have it people… why Woods Hole is the Paris of Cape Cod. If you are having trouble guessing which photo is which, you are not alone, because that is how similar the two places are!
What do you think?
Yesterday, the Sea Education Association (SEA) opened the hatches to their primary Atlantic sailing vessel, the sturdy clipper ship Corwith Cramer, for an afternoon of guided visits. Students and teachers were on board explaining the ship, their scientific mission, and the logistics of day-to-day life on a floating school.
SEA runs semester and summer learning excursions for high school and college age kids. The group we met yesterday had spent five weeks in Woods Hole training and preparing, then the last six weeks sailing up the East Coast from St. Croix aboard this very ship.
The ship is a floating laboratory, replete with a science library, and lots of gear for water collection, monitoring and analysis. Students had vacated the hold that morning, and will spend the next two weeks preparing research papers on the data collected in the cruise.
Since getting out on the water is one of the great perks of the marine scientist, you can imagine that there is a long list to berth/study on the Corwith Cramer, and I got the sense that the students were very serious in their pursuit of science.
Being in the hospitality business, I was curious about the sleeping arrangements…Let’s just say this is not a pillow top mattress! But students said the narrow berths were very comfortable, especially when exhausted by a long day at sea.
Every young Jacques Cousteau dreams of life on the water, and these students get to live it, literally learning the ropes needed to hoist the full sails of the ship. Students told us that while there is a motor, most of the journey is under sail, including maneuvers to collect water samples that involve jibing and going in irons. Tricky stuff even for experienced sailors!
It was a great afternoon on an incredible clear summer’s day, but I especially loved the school motto, emblazoned in brass on the helm: “Steer a course for others to follow.” Words to live by.