For anyone who hasn’t yet heard me do my spiel, I’ve embarked on a series of murder mysteries that take place during Provincetown’s theme weeks. 2017 saw Death of a Bear and Murder at Fantasia Fair; next year will be The Deadliest Blessing (Portuguese Festival) and an as-yet-untitled story that will cover Women’s Week.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of research involved. While I do belong to the wider Provincetown community, I don’t belong to the smaller communities I write about, so I need to learn everything I can about them.
And I’m learning—or re-learning—a truth that applies to any location: that everyone’s experience of Provincetown is different. It’s almost as if the town had layers, layers that can be peeled back and revealed, but are perceived only by those who know they’re there. We all walk down the same streets, yet we experience them differently.
This is of course most obvious during the theme weeks. During Bear Week, I might be walking down Commercial Street along with a bear, and he is absolutely seeing things I’m not. He’s receiving signals I don’t know about. There’s a whole communication and memory network that’s functioning there to which I am completely oblivious.
I find that fascinating.
That “different” experience of the town works in less positive ways as well. We’ve all seen tourists who come and “take over,” who behave (one has to assume) in manners—and I use the term advisedly—that they wouldn’t behave at home. This past summer an impatient person in a car from Connecticut yelled at me—I was on my bicycle—to “get off his street.” Yeah: we were definitely experiencing the town differently.
And that leads, naturally, to the question of belonging. Some people only have one or two weeks out of the year to be here. Maybe those weeks are the best weeks of their whole year. Maybe this is truly where their heart is. Do they belong any less than those of us who are fortunate enough to be here year-round? A while ago someone posted a sunset image from Herring Cove on Facebook with the question, “Don’t you wish you lived here?”
It seems to me that she got it wrong. It’s not that we own something that others can merely wish to possess. It’s that we are incredibly blessed to live at Land’s End. We may have made sacrifices to be here; we may be barely making ends meet; but we’re still rich in ways that we probably don’t even realize.
Whose place is Provincetown? As wave after wave of humanity supplants other established residents, it’s worth asking the question. Indigenous tribes saw their place (along with their corn) stolen by white capitalists. Portuguese whalers and fishermen made it their space in turn before having the town “discovered” by the smart creative set from Greenwich Village. Gay tourists started putting down roots in what was originally a resort playground. And now we complain about the town’s gentrification and those who own real estate here without really living inside it. Which group did it belong to? To whom does it belong now? Is it too facile to say, “to all of us”?
Maybe. But at the very least we need to learn to play well with others. Part of the point of my mystery series is to make the people who come here for theme weeks seem less strange, less different, less unapproachable, less to be feared. I was thinking of my audience as people from the outside—people who don’t live here and don’t know about these various cultures, people who might be less afraid if they “met” theme week participants merely as people. And it’s true that in a sense I am writing for people who don’t live here, who don’t have the privilege of seeing the various communities come and go.
But perhaps we need to re-introduce ourselves to each other, too. To recognize our differences and understand that there are these layers of lives and activities and experiences here, some of which are familiar and some of which are obscure but all of which make the town what it is—and all of which belong.
—Jeannette de Beauvoir