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(Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe)
Checking in

Relish the sea at starstruck Provincetown inn

Email|Print| Text size + By Kathleen Burge and Rich Barlow
Globe Correspondent / November 5, 2006

PROVINCETOWN -- It was oddly reassuring to find a copy of "Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment" at The Masthead resort.

We like tradition, and the book by Leslie Kanes Weisman , (University of Illinois , 1994 ) offered a sign that the town's historic solicitousness for the marginalized remains intact.

But it was Provincetown's recently advertised pitch for family tourism that had brought us and our toddler to Cape Cod's fingertip. We were looking forward to enjoying an old town in a new way.

The past is present in many ways at The Masthead. It has long catered to an elite clientele; our two-bedroom cottage -- one of 21 cottages, apartments, and motel rooms -- is named for Helena Rubinstein, who frequented here. At $252 a night, a cosmetic magnate's fortune would still come in handy, and even at that price, we got use of only the first floor, which became clear when we heard someone padding around above our ceiling. But the same digs would have run us $388 before Labor Day; in fairness, more economical rooms are available.

Besides, that price bought us a perch literally atop the ocean, which at high tide rushed under the pier on which our porch rested. Our door opened to an expansive view of the Atlantic, stretched like a gargantuan smile between the dimples of the periphery beaches. The waves slapping the beach and the salt air almost fooled us into believing we'd come for summer's overture rather than its curtain call.

Our cottage's agreeably large living room came with a TV screen almost as wide as the oriental rug on the floor. The TV blocked the fireplace, which was just as well, since fire regulations don't allow for its use. Radiators heat the cottage during the winter .

Nautical accoutrements -- a ship's wheel, a large model schooner in a plastic case over the doorway -- enhanced the alternating white walls and wood paneling. A dining area behind the living room led to a kitchenette, the only space that felt a little cramped, though it's a godsend for the budget-conscious wanting to dine in occasionally. The Masthead is a few blocks from several eating places and a 10-minute walk from Provincetown's restaurant-filled center.

That proximity is a convenience for any tourist and almost a necessity for visitors toting small children. For all the family- friendly intent, those familiar with Provincetown know its narrow streets and skinny sidewalks can be a tight fit for families pushing a stroller. Fortunately, fall thins the traffic, pedestrian and motorized, and an occasional detour into the street to get around other walkers isn't life-threatening. Being able to scoot downtown quickly was nice too when the cool water and cooler temperatures diminished our normal craving for an ocean swim. (Note to fellow swimmers: During morning low tide, the sandbar can accumulate seaweed. Also, sail and motorboats freckled the ocean within swimming distance of shore. These are not the most pristine waters for practicing your breaststroke.)

According to The Masthead's written history, the property was home to an antique s shop that opened in the Roaring Twenties. Its owner willed it to the Anderson family, whose patriarch, Arthur, had apprenticed at the shop after getting off the boat from Sweden. In the 1930s he bought some nearby buildings and opened The Masthead. In 1959, he sold the business to John J. Ciluzzi, who still runs it.

The resort's bio also reports several curios of history connected to the spot.

The Pilgrims arrived Nov. 1, 1620, anchoring the Mayflower halfway across the harbor from the future site of The Masthead. One of The Masthead's cottages was among a group of houses built on the Cape's Long Point in 1818. These houses were later taken apart because of the inhospitable weather and shortage of fresh water and then floated to Provincetown.

Three other historic buildings that help define The Masthead experience stand out at night, when the lights of three Cape lighthouses can be seen across the harbor. One of them, a 200-year-old structure in Truro, is the first light seen by ocean liners making the Atlantic crossing as they approach the East Coast, or so we were told by The Masthead's owners. For us, the three lights enhanced the maritime feel as we sat on the porch after dark.

That's history. And now? On our last morning, standing on the deck with our 1-year-old blissfully slumbering in his father's arms, the cool breeze and brilliant sunshine showering us, we didn't want to leave. We assume other families have stood here, cradling a child at the Atlantic's lip and thinking all was right in the world. That's another Masthead tradition worth experiencing.

Contact Kathleen Burge and Rich Barlow at burge@globe.com.

(Correction: Because of a reporting error, the Checking In column in Sunday's Explore New England section incorrectly characterized the location of The Masthead resort. It lies along Provincetown Harbor.)

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