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      Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 |


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Where the rich and famous love to tread: Martha's Vineyard.

Martha's Vineyard:
Playground of the Rich and Famous

Azizul Jalil

We finally had the opportunity to visit Martha's Vineyard. This famed island is an affluent summer colony situated south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. When a wedding in the family was recently held there, the nearness and convenience of a baggage-free day trip from there to the most-talked about place on earth provided a grand opportunity. It takes a boat journey of only 45 minutes. To be able to say that we spent a good part of our summer vacation in this island would have been of greater snob value but for humble persons like us, a brief visit would suffice.

The island, glacial in origin, was recorded in 1602, having been discovered by two explorers- Bartholomew Gosnold and Gabriel Archer. They named it for its many vines and for Martha, Gosnold's daughter. The island was considered a part of the New York State but in 1692, it was ceded to Massachusetts. The economy is now dependent on summer yachting and tourism. Its present population is about 16000 but in the summer, it can swell to around 100,000. It is 20 miles long and 2-10 miles in width. The cost of living on the island is 60 percent higher than the national average and house prices are 96 percent.

One can take a personal car- the boat to the Vineyard was big enough to carry in its belly a number of cars and SUVs. We had one of our sons and their children with us, and as tourists, we relied on the conducted tour by bus with a guide explaining the various sights, their history and significance. The steamer we took from Woods Hole in the Cape was fast and comfortable and with good dining facilities. The weather was good, the ocean was calm and the distance was short. During the journey over the sea, one does not really lose sight of the greenery at a distance.

On landing at the other side, we quickly obtained tickets from the Steamship Authority's office in the wharf for the next tourist bus. It is a two-hour trip round Martha's Vineyard. Buses ply every 90 minutes till late afternoon but we wished to return to the Cape in daylight hours and did not have any time to lose.

The old lighthouse at Martha's Vineyard.

The driver cum guide pointed at the ginger bread houses, which appeared to be newer town houses and in clusters around a big grassy field. We next passed by a tiny police station, which had a total of three officers. Our guide informed us that there is hardly any crime in the island. If one left his car on the street side with the key hanging, he would still find the car the next day. Because of the absence of crime, the policemen here, though well-trained, remain quite idle. An amusing (possibly untrue) story about the local police force- one night a deer happened to go near the station, creating some noise. The alert officer on duty in an instant reflex fired his gun, killing the poor animal. Disciplinary actions were taken against the officer.

The Wampanoag Indians inhabited this island in the 17th century. We saw some of them near Aquinnah, a small town, where they own a number of souvenir shops for the tourists. Next to the shops is a historic lighthouse (1797). Our children with their little ones climbed up the many steps of the spiral stairs of the old lighthouse, which had a commanding view of many miles of the sea. They enjoyed the lighthouse so much that they lingered on a little while there, making us nervous about the bus leaving them behind. We were informed that the red and clear lights of the lighthouse could be seen from a distance of up to 17 miles away. Aquinnah is one of six resort towns into which the island is divided in the coastal areas of the Vineyard. The others are- Tisbury, West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Chilmark.

The main circular road through which our bus travelled was narrow but smooth. It was lined by a dense set of trees, making it difficult to see much of the interior from the bus. Celebrities like Diane Sawyer, Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, Spike Lee, Vernon Jordan and others have houses in the island for their summer visits. Interestingly, the Vineyard's social life occurs in private in the homes with little publicity and not in the towns. The 300 acre property worth a few million dollars near the shore belonging to the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy is called the Red Gate Farm. We were told that efforts to sell the property have so far been unsuccessful because according the county regulations, land could not be subdivided nor major changes made to the structures. This is strictly followed throughout the island to preserve a pristine and rural ambience.

There is a tragic association with Mrs. Kennedy's estate at Martha's Vineyard. On July 16, 1999, John-John, JFK's 39- year old son, went down in the small Piper Saratoga plane, which he was himself piloting. It finally dived in the sea in the darkness and haze of the late evening in the sea quite close to his mother's property. With all the deaths in the family she had gone through, she was not alive at the time and therefore, was spared the terrible pain from the death of her only living son. His body, along with that of his wife's and sister-in-law's, were recovered from the sea five days later. He was cremated and the ashes were thrown in the sea waters by his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Bill Clinton, with Hilary and Chelsea, visited the island almost every year during his eight years of presidency. He could be seen strolling in the shopping areas and being the voracious reader that he was picking up a large number of books from the book shop. President Barack Obama visited every summer - reportedly renting a large mansion last year at a rent of $35000 for a week. We have not seen him yachting but he loves to play golf and spend time with his family at the beach.

We returned from our visit to the Vineyard, feeling dizzy with all the stories of the rich, famous and the powerful, to our down to earth rental cottage in Cape Cod.

Bird's eye view of the perfect retreat.

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