Getting ready for the holidays

Chris and I love Christmas. And we love a house that celebrates the season. I have to admit: I have never lived in a place where I didn’t know even before I moved in exactly where I’d set up the Christmas tree. We start decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and it usually takes several days to do. The division of labor is clear: He does the outside stuff, I do the inside stuff. We both do the Christmas tree. Look carefully at the picture to the right — there’s Chris up in a tree, stringing lights in the large evergreen next to the car park. (Boy, is THAT ever a job. Could we ever use a friend with a “cherry picker” to do that!)

As for me, cookies are baked, shopping is progressing, cards are in the works. I found a cool new site called Pandora.com that designs a music “station” around your personal preferences, and so I’ve created a station called Instrumental Holiday which plays in the background of my computer all day while I work.

So many people think that this time of year is “dead” in the Hamptons. They couldn’t be more wrong. True, the traffic looks nothing like a summer weekend — you can get to East Hampton in twenty minutes, instead of more than double that in August. But each village is decorated for the holidays, with lit Christmas trees flanking the sidewalks of the center of town. And lots to do.

Found some great stuff at last weekend’s Parrish Presents bazaar. This is one must-do event for anyone visiting over Thanksgiving weekend: an annual shopping event comprised of wonderful boutique items, a silent auction for incredible things like Chanel handbags and golf and spa weekends at La Costa, and — our favorite — a huge “tag sale” of gently used furniture and housewares, donated by the community (often by the very wealthy membership that supports the Parrish Art Museum). There is a benefit cocktail party on Friday night, then the event is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday for a modest $5 entrance fee. We scored tickets to the cocktail party, where we saw more of the Meadow Club membership (affluent residents of the Estate District) than we ever see all summer long.

The funniest thing is how this party plays out. In the queue of folks waiting for the doors to open at 5 PM, there is a vague odor of mothballs in the “country winter wear” (even if it’s Prada or Dolce Gabbana) likely unearthed for the first time this year. Few bother to check their coats. Everyone shoots straight past the (wonderful) exhibition in the museum itself, past the open bar and past catering staff proffering hors d’oeuvres, past the boutique and silent auction areas — straight for the tag sale, which occupies all of the old Rogers Memorial Library next door to the museum. The crowds pushing through the tag sale building resemble a queue on a Disney ride. Parrish staff are attaching red “SOLD” tags right and left for buyers who, in many cases, could afford to buy the whole building. Once the initial pass through the offerings is made, everyone seems to adjourn to pick up a drink and a nibble or two, make one more leisurely pass through the tag sale, before heading back into the museum where the boutique and bar are situated. It is a thoroughly enjoyable event. (And we came home with, among other things, a great slubbed silk chair and ottoman…yeah!)

Here in Southampton, a whole series of holiday-inspired events called Southampton: It’s A Wonderful Village are planned. This Saturday, for example, there are guided tours of the Historical Society’s Rogers Mansion, all decked out for the season…horse and buggy rides through the village…a parade of fire trucks, each decorated with lights, at dusk…a tree lighting of the enormous evergreen in Agawam Park (which they DO use a cherry picker to decorate!)…outdoor movies shown on the corner of Main and Job’s Lanes…lots of music, cookies, cider, and goodwill to men throughout. As soon as our guests are settled and concierged, I’ll be in the center of the village, enjoying the holiday spirit!

“The Oldest English Settlement in New York State”

The sign that greets visitors to the village of Southampton, located at the top of our road, states proudly that Southampton was established in 1640 and is the oldest English settlement in New York State. (Chris, of course, takes some proprietary satisfaction in this.) For me, I never pass that sign without a little jolt of amazement.

I make jokes to guests that back in California, if a structure is 50 years old, we knock it down (or an earthquake does the job for us) and build new. So when I first came out to the East End in 1992, I couldn’t get over the sheer volume of history made visible that existed here. One example: Built in 1648, Halsey House on South Main Street is the oldest house in Southampton, and in season, you can tour it. Careful preservation and conservation by the Southampton Historical Society has meant that when shingles, roof, or windows on the house have to be replaced, they are made and installed to period specifications. To a much lesser degree, A Butler’s Manor — built in the relatively recent year of 1860 — is designated a historic structure, which prevents us from altering the exterior of the house in any substantial way. (Fortunately we are free to update interior fixtures such as plumbing and electric!) When we had the house repainted a couple of years back, we had to clear it with the architectural review board.

Though the East End has lost some of its farmland…wealthy Wall Streeters have built some sprawling Mc Mansions where once potatoes grew… I am still pleased to note that others make every effort to preserve and rebuild some of our more historic structures. A case in point is the rebuilding of the old Presbyterian Manse on South Main Street. In Spring, they began demolition down to the studs inside, which apparently precipitates the difficult and costly process of lifting the house. Using massive steel beams and pillars made of stacked railroad ties, they raised the house up about six feet above grade in order to excavate a full basement beneath and pour all new foundations. Seeing a house that is probably 6,000 square feet lifted in one piece, and balanced there for a few weeks while brave souls work beneath it, is an amazing sight! The picture here shows the house, recently set back down and attached to its new foundation. Now they can reframe the interior walls, insulate and reshingle. And when the project is complete, the neighborhood will look…exactly as it always has. I love that. That continuity, that preserving a sense of place, is a special thing about the community that I have come to value.

Quote of the Day: Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever…For indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. —John Ruskin