I had a dream a few days after I returned from my trip home -- I dreamed I was on Compo Beach with my friend K. and we were fishing. In fact, there were all sorts of people fishing. We were wading in the shallows of the Sound and there was a net that went the length of the shoreline, from the jetty that meets Compo Road all the way to the cannons (if you know Compo Beach, you know the cannons). The net was probably twenty feet off shore and we were not to fish beyond the net, we were only to take what was inside that net, but oh, the bountifulness of things we could choose from! There were crabs larger than my hands, and red snapper, and squid, and lobsters. There were ink blue mussels and oysters and clams of all sizes. K. and I filled our basket with a wonderful variety and then as though we were kids again, we walked back to her parents’ house that was not far from Compo and began to make the most beautiful meal of our catch.
The dream wasn’t complicated in its meaning at all -- it told me two things, one being that after two days back in North Carolina I was already starved for the seafood that I was spoiled with on my visit home and the other being that the tragedy of the Gulf had been heavy on my heart.
K. and I did spend a few hours sitting on Compo Beach during my visit. I had not sat on that beach for close to twenty years. It was and still is the town beach that is most popular and you can go there any day of the year and be taken with its views and its stretches of sand. The marina on the backside of the beach is filled with lovely sailboats and if you sit on the beach near the mouth of the marina, you can be lullabied to sleep in the sun by the ringing of sails, lines and pulleys as they gently touch their masts in the breeze off the Sound. The south-eastern stretch of beach is the land of cookouts -- there are ramparts of picnic tables and concrete fire pits. Go there on any summer night and you will find families or groups of friends and neighbors staking their claim to a table and a grill and as the sun sets and the stars blink on, the red coals glow and children play and the food keeps coming . . . hamburgers and steaks and corn from Wakeman’s farmstand. And then there are the clam bakes. There must be hundreds of us who grew up in Westport and who are now spread far and wide who hold the same memory of a night spent at a cookout on Compo. Of sitting on a beach blanket unaware of the amount of sand in your shoes, stuffing yourself silly on your second or third hamburger and gazing out at Cockenoe Island and wondering what the island was like at night time--were there night animals out there? And then the chill of the evening would come, and you would wrap yourself in a towel or a sweater and stand by the red glow of the grill taking in the little bit of heat it had to give and you yawned and yawned until someone scooped you up and poured you into the back of the car to go home and sleep and dream those summer dreams that kids dream, you know, the ones that always have a soundtrack of cicadas.
K. and I sat in beach chairs and we watched mommies with their little kids and a big group of teenage girls setting up their spot for the day, just like all the girls before them. They had their music and their blanket and their towels and their coolers and their cameras . . . we were like that once. The morning was brilliant and we could see all the way to Long Island -- there just wasn’t any haze. We talked about our lives, the kinds of things that two 45 year old lifelong friends talk about -- a couple of old blond philosophers us. And as we talked the sunburn set in. We lamented the gushing of oil into the Gulf and looked out on our old beach--the salt water that taught us to swim and gave us gifts that perhaps we are not even aware of to this day, and we winced at the thought of something so permanent and awful happening to it.
It was unthinkable on such a beautiful morning and then our attention was quickly redirected to a little girl, a tiny thing, standing at the edge of the water throwing pebbles. She was barely knee high and her blonde curls sent K. and I into a fit. This little girl was the image of K.’s youngest daughter who is in her early twenties now . . . it was little B. all over again. Cycles and cycles and cycles -- two blond philosophers on the beach, with so much to say and then nothing at all to say because that’s what the beach, especially a beach that is so full of personal history, can do to you. K.’s daughters arrived, "Auntie Shannon!" they hollered and we all giggled about nothing and then ate lunch from the snack bar, which is gourmet now, nothing like the grease pit it was when I was a teenager. Then at some point, a point when it was too late, we realized that we were sunburned beyond our wildest dreams of sunburn . . . two old professional sun worshipers had been HAD by the sun. It was time to fold up our chairs, go home and drown ourselves in aloe vera.
That evening we took our burned selves to Tarantino -- a little Italian restaurant that sits across from the Westport train station. It is without a doubt my most favorite place to eat in the world, yes, the whole world. K. and I ordered Risotto al Pescatore. Its not a thick cheesey risotto, no its something of heaven, and for two blond philosophers who have been burned beyond belief by something so silly as sun in Connecticut, it is just what the doctor ordered. Can a bowl of risotto in fish broth strewn with clams, sea scallops, whole violet tinged calamaris, and amber steamed mussels restore you? Completely . . . and if you add a glass or two of prosecco, then you are, well, invincible again. We sat in the window seat and the sun was just dropping somewhere beyond I95, and it was casting shadows on the train station and the last of the commuters coming from the city. Our waiter, a man who charmed me by filleting a fish table-side for me the previous year (who doesn’t want for their very own a man who can perfectly filet a fish and smile at you all at the same time?), well ANYway, he gazed out the window with us at the men carrying their messenger bags overstuffed with laptops and work that would probably keep them up half the night. Their ties were loosed and their sleeves were rolled up. Their suit jackets were thrown over one shoulder. The heat of the city was still on their brows and they walked as though every weight of the world was on their back. “Look at them, those men,” said our waiter, the head man of Tarantino, the master fileter of fish, who must be close to 60, maybe 70, “I see them leave here with the rise of the sun in the morning and then they return late, late, every night, on the last train some of them. They are miserable. What a miserable life. And what for? They never see their families. And then? Then they are dead.” and with that astonishing statement he refilled our glasses with prosecco.