Now that the season is upon us, it’s time we armed ourselves with superior answers to the three standard tourist questions. This is manifesto time: We’re tired of providing the same responses. It’s getting old. We’re getting old. Here are some suggestions for new directions to take with these persistent questions but, of course, I encourage all of you to come up with your own quirky answers.
Tourist Query Number One: How did the Island get its name?
Historians believe the label was supplied by explorer Bartholomew Gosnold who anchored off our shores in 1602. However, it’s a fallacy that he named the Island after a hypothetical daughter. No, the real story is that on those long nights at sea, Bartholomew and his men, like so many sailors before or since, loved to dress up as women and sing bawdy songs. The captain himself had a long red wig, a green velvet dress, black boots with stiletto heels, and the nom de drag of Martha with which he kept his men in stitches. He could also perform a mean can-can kick. It was to honor this hidden side of their leader’s abilities that the men voted to dub the Island Martha’s Vineyard (the vineyard part referred to all the wine required to help the otherwise shy captain to sing louder and kick higher.)
Tourist Query Number Two: What’s the story of the Black Dog?
You may think it has everything to do with a T-shirt and souvenirs emblazoned with black labradors, but the real, straight truth is altogether different: In the winter of 1933, at the height of the Depression, Islanders were so hard up that very few of them could afford to keep a pet. A club soon formed of 365 dog lovers, all of whom pooled their Alpo money to keep a single black dog (whose name happened to be Martha, so there could be a fortuitous tie-in with the first tourist query). This dog would spend one night a year in each of the club member’s homes. This meant that when she was taken out for a walk, a bunch of other Vineyarders were overjoyed to see her. This original black dog was credited — more than President Roosevelt or the Works Progress Administration — for getting Islanders through a bleak period.
Tourist Query Number Three: What do you do in the winter?
It’s a misconception to think we drink or knit or television-watch ourselves into a frenzy. No, what we’ve done for the last several years is to conduct an Islandwide Shakespeare play-reading seminar. You might think we all look a little dopey, but try asking that check-out clerk at the Stop & Shop if the truant Prince Hal in Henry IV carried the germ of the glorious King Henry of the later sagas, and she’ll have a great deal to say on the subject. We’re reaching the end of our Shakespeare series and considering switching to the Metaphysical Poets, but now that summer is approaching, we’ll be tabling this discussion until January 2009. How time flies when you’re reading Titus Andronicus.
The Oak Bluffs school is holding a tag sale from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 31 to benefit the cafe project. If you’d like to avail yourself of the opportunity to unload some stuff, you can either drop it off between 3 and 4 p.m. at the storage container in front of the school or for $40 you can lease a space and sell your own items for profit or, alternatively, receive a free space and donate your profits to the cause. It’s tax-deductible.
Mark your calendars for Thursday, June 12, at 6 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs library for A Barrier Reef Revealed, wherein Michael Wooley presents the sights and sounds of the coral gardens of Belize through underwater photographs, videos, and descriptive narration.