“The more often we see the things around us - even the beautiful and wonderful things - the more they become invisible to us.” -Joseph B. Wirthlin
The other day, as I walked along Commercial Street around noon, a person covered in gold body paint and not much else rode past me on a bicycle. It all happened so quickly, I’m not exactly sure what he was actually wearing. I think it might have been some sort of gold Speedo to match the gold body paint and what appeared to be black turban-y thing on his head. It looked like he was going for some kind of genie or Ali Baba type of look. The fact that there was someone riding a bicycle on Commercial Street at noon wearing gold body paint and an Ali Baba turban isn’t what’s remarkable about that day. What’s remarkable is the fact that I hardly noticed.
It wasn’t until a few moments later, when I realized that people around me were stopping dead in their tracks, snapping photographs and struggling to answer their kids’ questions that I realized that for someone who has lived in Provincetown as long as I have, a gold genie on a bike is just another part of the scenery, as everyday as a beige Toyota Camry. It got me thinking about all the things we walk past, or which walk past us every day, which to outside eyes would certainly be memorable but to us have become just another part of life at the tip of the Cape, like the Eiffel Tower for a Parisian or the Chrysler Building to a New Yorker.
Of course the most obvious thing would be the people. Gay couples holding hands, same-sex parents, heterosexual cross-dressers strolling down the sidewalk and wearing matching outfits with their wives- these things have long been commonplace here, while in many places they might raise a few eyebrows, not to mention a few fists. Drag queens, in particular, are as commonplace as squirrels around here and certainly nothing scandalous. Many locals like to joke about the small crowds that can gather in the evening as various “illusionists” hit the streets and sidewalks to bark for their shows. Straight tourists, fresh off the bus from Branson or Iowa City, react in ways varying from stunned fascination to complete bafflement; youngsters tug at their mom’s hands and ask things like, “Mommy, why is that lady so tall?” And all the while townies stroll by hardly noticing. It’s just another day in Provincetown.
What some people don’t realize is that this sort of thing is hardly limited to Commercial Street, hardly constrained by the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You are just as likely to spot a larger-than-life, bangled and sparkly drag queen walking the aisles of the Stop & Shop during the long cold weeks of winter, because, well, just because. And the best part is, the little old Portuguese lady shopping next to her would barely look twice, indeed would probably ask her to take advantage of those six-inch heels and grab a can of stewed tomatoes from the top shelf.
But the unique sights of Provincetown are hardly limited to men in dresses, or men in leather, boys in heels or girls in combat boots. One sight that people in Provincetown walk by every single day, often with hardly a glance is art, really good art. There are amazing galleries and museums peppered all over Provincetown, particularly on the east end of Commercial Street. Anyone who chooses to see it can take in incredible art of all types, by important and talented artists, for free, 24 hours a day. All you have to do is walk the streets, stop and look in the windows of the galleries along the way. Sculpture, painting, installation art; Impressionists, Cubists, Realists- they’re all there. Those of us who live here get to drink from this fountain whenever we want. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves about that.
Then there is the stunning beauty to which we in Provincetown are treated every day. From picturesque vignettes of fairytale cottages and gardens spilling over with color, to the breathtaking natural beauty of the sun rising over the horizon in the east, I would say that this is one aspect of Provincetown which those of us who live here mostly resist taking for granted. It’s not always easy to live in P’Town: it’s expensive, exhausting and unpredictable, but when we catch that magical moment when the setting sun, low in the sky, paints every boat in the harbor a blazing white against a sea of silver and a sky the color of perfectly faded jeans, we remind ourselves that it’s all worth it.
Paul Halley is a local writer, restaurant worker and dog-walker who washed ashore in Provincetown over 30 years ago.
Photo by Izzy Berdan featuring Jinkx Monsoon
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