Taking Shelter by Storm

Shelter Island—Nestled in the Long Island Sound, ten minutes by ferryboat from Sag Harbor and a good thirty from the horrible Hamptons, their Porches, their mega-mansions, and their celebrity trash, lies the island that in my last week in the Big Bagel took me back to the ’40s and ’50s for a weekend. Shelter Island is what the Hamptons used to be: tranquil, beautiful, rustic, unspoiled, with lovely ponds bordered by shady oaks and maples. The pace slows the minute you get off the ferry and step into the peaceful enclave. There are forested hills, secluded coves, and quiet beaches. The sea is hardly Mediterranean, but nor are there migrant bodies floating around, and not a single mega-yacht spoiling the surroundings.

The island is not about to join the Hamptons circus anytime soon. More than a third is set aside as a nature preserve, hence developers are as eager to put up their horrible houses as Hasidic Jews are to build synagogues in Saudi. The unacceptable rich are staying away because “it’s inconvenient,” referring to the ferry ride, but seaplanes land regularly and the fare from Manhattan is the same as dinner for two at a medium-priced restaurant.

The excesses of the summer season on the tip of Long Island keep the gossip columns busy but have driven yours truly back to his birthplace, migrants and all, not to mention austerity measures. The Hamptons went down due to the invasion of the hedgie fungus, a disease worse than Lyme, one that compels the sufferer to outdo his neighbor in size. The scene was also stoked by an invasion of club promoters with sensibilities such as those of the Kardashian clan and similar illnesses. In ten short years, the potato fields were gone, the mega-mansions were up, the slime of the city had come up to breathe the Atlantic Ocean’s air, and I had sold my house and retreated to Gstaad in order to look at cows.

Not, however, in Shelter Island. Blue-collar fishermen are still holding forth, families bike around the winding roads, not a single Ferrari noise bruised my eardrums, and the only things missing were the human chains we children used to form in the old days on Faliron Bay. Never mind. Michael Mailer and I drove out to the island where our host, André Balazs, owns a house that seems untouched since the Revolutionary War. All that was missing were the redcoats, but a beautiful young girl by the name of Cosima made up for the lack of Brits. My host is a hell of a fellow. He owns countless properties and hotels in New York, and the Firehouse in London, a place so popular I have trouble getting inside even on a rainy Sunday night in August.

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