The first time I visited Provincetown, I flew up from my hometown of New Orleans to stay with my good friend Monique. She had extolled the pleasures of Cape Cod as long as I had known her, and each year when the heat rolled into our city, she made her pilgrimage to her parents’ place in North Truro. Monique met me at the ferry, and, after a stop for fried clams, we made straight for her parents’ digs: two charming cottages right on the beach. I was welcomed with a glass of pink wine and the opportunity to put my feet in the Atlantic for the first time.
I took off my shoes and walked into the ocean, then promptly turned around and asked Monique what the hell that was all about. The water certainly was a surprise. Some might call it bracing. I called it absurd.
I’ve lived most of my life in southern Louisiana, and my time at the beach until that day had been spent in the balmy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf’s tepid temperature is due not only to its southerly latitude. The beaches closest to New Orleans are on a shelf that extends so far from shore that you have to walk the length of a football field if you want to immerse more than your tuchus in the brine. This puny depth means there’s not much water for the sun to warm. It’s not exactly refreshing, but it’s what I knew.
I was assured I would get used to the chilly water, and the next morning, after donning my suit, I tried my best to do so, one inch at a time. But after a while, I took Monique’s advice and just dove in. There are no half measures in acclimatizing to the Atlantic, it turns out.
Oh my. So very cold.
All around me were shrieking children and laughing adults who had clearly traveled here on purpose to spend time in that utterly frigid water. “Why,” I wondered, “would anyone want to spend time shivering here?” I thought of the Pilgrims, with their stolid, persevering character. How fitting it was they landed in such icy waters. What would they have made of the debauched water of the Gulf? I channeled my inner Pilgrim and stayed put.
Eventually, Monique was proved right. I did get used to it. But every year when I return, getting in the water is still a startling contrast to what I learned in a land where summer begins in May and lasts until late October. I have since come to understand that, for New Englanders, that first cold, salty mouthful of the Atlantic really is one of the first tastes of summer.
Here is a cocktail to evoke that moment. It features watermelon, that most summery of fruits; rum, the spirit of beaches if ever there was one; plus a hint of the salty Atlantic. Don’t salt the rim of your glass as in making a margarita, as that will overpower the rest of the flavors. A dusting of salt on top provides salinity without overwhelming this tart, refreshing cooler. It’s perfect for batching and letting friends serve themselves. To lower the proof, top it with plain or flavored seltzer. Leave the salt cellar by the glasses so guests can add as much as they like. A sip of summer, a taste of the ocean. Let your vacation begin.
A Day at the Beach
Makes a pitcher to serve 8 or more
2 cups silver rum
2 cups watermelon juice (see directions below)
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice, strained to remove pulp
½ cup simple syrup
Garnish: Fine flaky sea salt and mint leaves
To make the watermelon juice:
Place 4 cups cut watermelon in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer 2 or 3 times until pulp is removed.
For the cocktail:
Place all ingredients in a pitcher. Serve over ice. Sprinkle top with a pinch of sea salt. Garnish with a sprig of mint.