While doing a postdoc in Sherbrooke, Quebec, I was invited to Rhode Island to give a seminar about my research. Bitte and I drove from Sherbrooke to Rhode Island, a journey of 550 km. Our car was a second-hand Renault 5. It did not have air conditioning, so with temperatures in excess of 30 °C and humidity close to 100 % it was a fairly sweaty journey. At that time, 1987, small cars were only just appearing on the North American market. Most people drove around in fuel consuming monsters.
The seminar was really well received and afterwards we were treated to a barbeque at our hosts, Raymond and Marianne Panzica, with fresh lobster and swordfish as the main attractions. The lobster was so fresh that it was still crawling around in the kitchen when we arrived.
We had taken a few days off for the return journey. Marianne recommended Cape Cod as an absolute must for the trip and suggested a visit to Thompson’s Clam Bar for dinner.
We drove to Cape Cod and found a nice boarding house along the south coast. In the afternoon we took a drive up the east coast and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We even tried a short swim in the Atlantic. It was a very short swim as the sea was very cold. This is because the waters off the east coast come from the Labrador current, which brings cold water from Newfoundland. In the evening we went for a swim off the south coast where the water was much warmer, coming from the north Atlantic current from the Caribbean. All very interesting, if you like that sort of thing.
A consequence of the meeting of these two currents is that there are a lot of nutrients in the water and therefore lots of fish, whales and other wildlife. This is probably why the whaling industry was established around Rhode Island and neighbouring Massachusetts.
Of all whaling stories, Moby Dick is probably the best known. Chapter 15 tells of how Captain Ahab and Queequag go ashore in Nantucket, just off the coast of Cape Cod, and enjoy the local clam chowder. It is for this local delicacy that we were recommended to visit Thompson’s Clam Bar.
Thompson’s Clam Bar had (after suffering serious damage due to hurricane Bob in 1991 and subsequent difficulties, the restaurant is no longer there), seating for over 500 guests, most of whom arrived by car. In order to avoid car-park chaos, the restaurant had a valet parking system. So, we arrived in our little Renault while all of the other guests arrived in Chevrolets, Buicks and other similar beasts. It must have been quite amusing to see our small car together with all of the others.
The food was fantastic as was the service and the general atmosphere. Having written this, I think that I will make a chowder later this week! Any leftovers will be stowed away😊 If you are also tempted to try your own chowder, I can recommend this presentation on Youtube, where the connection between Moby dick and clam chowder.
The book is a bit of a hard slog to get through, as is the 1956 film with Gregory Peck. However, there is a short version also available on youtube. We found this originally on a recording of 10 classics in 10 minutes, which is also worth looking up.
I hope you enjoyed this long and rambling post.
Finally, don’t forget to do as Captain Ahab did and “Stow the chowder!”