In September 2020, I got a phone call from an internationally known publisher asking if I would be willing to write 6,000 or 7,000 words of commentary for Hamptons Private, a book about the Hamptons. This is sort of a writer’s dream. Usually writers have to shop for publishers. This was the other way around and I felt quite flattered.
I would be paid a good hunk of money for my efforts. I could write and properly rewrite 6,000 words in a couple of weeks. If I’d known how successful this book was going to be, I would have said, “Wait a minute. I’d like to consult my agent.” Instead, I just said, “Sure, tell me more.”
Assouline is a French international publishing house based in Manhattan which produces giant hardcover books about resorts around the world. These books weigh 7 pounds. Filled with wonderful photographs of beautiful homes and smiling people from the years gone by and the present day, they are the sort of thing you set on a coffee table in your living room and browse through when you have a free moment.
Turn a page and see fashionable people in sports cars, at clubs, on tennis courts. Turn more pages and see locals, including fishermen on boats and farmers in the fields. The commentary is in large print and begins alongside the first of these beautiful photographs. It continues along with the photos for a while and then tails off until it’s just photographs.
What should I write? They sent me some of the photographs. There were pictures of a wedding at a grand mansion from the 1940s, photos of movie stars on the set of a film being made here, people checking the vegetables at a farm stand, a local fisherman in rubber waders on the deck of his dragger. Elsewhere, you see people riding horseback, workmen trimming the hedgerows.
Assouline sent me four heavy oversized books about other resorts. I got Athens Riviera and Amalfi Coast.
Here’s how author Stephanie Artarit began her commentary in Athens Riviera.
“The Athenian Riviera is magic: it’s no wonder that it has produced so many notable artists, authors, scientists and Olympians. Thucydides was born in Alimos, a locale where today…”
And the full-page photograph shows Greek actress Melina Mercouri smiling happily in a low-cut, black-and-white striped blouse in the film Never on Sunday (1960), set in Piraceus on the Athens Riviera. I am not in the social set. I am the son of a man who ran White’s Drug and Department Store in Montauk for 30 years.
The agents who called to offer me this job told me that having founded Dan’s Papers and run it for 60 years, I probably knew more about the Hamptons than anybody. I found myself saying, “Well, yes, I probably do.”
I also got a call from the publishing house’s cofounder Martine Assouline in Paris, who told me I could do it.
“Just tell us what you love about the Hamptons,” she said. “The sights, the sounds, the feelings you get when you are there …”
And so, here is how my commentary for Hamptons Private started:
“During a cold spell about 2.6 million years ago, an enormous glacier slid down from the North Pole pushing along boulders, sand and unimaginable tons of other loose debris to finally come to a place where the sun warmed this effluvia enough to bring the slide to a halt.
About 18,000 years ago, a further warming spell caused the glacier to melt and retreat, leaving behind it a place we now call the Hamptons—part Greenland, part Canada, part upstate New York and part Connecticut. Along the edge, it meets the sea with a stunning strip of white-sand beach, extending an astonishing 40 miles. Because of this beach, the Hamptons is considered one of the most beautiful summer resorts in the world, and it’s one of the main reasons why, when I first came here as an eager 16-year-old, I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life here.
As my father said at the time, noting the cliffs, the salty sea air, the lakes and ponds, and the rolling moors that populated the long peninsula with a lighthouse at the end, “Nobody just winds up here by accident while drifting through to someplace else. We stick out into the sea. You have to decide to come to the Hamptons. It’s a decision.
Dad moved our family to the Hamptons because of his love for deep-sea fishing. Meanwhile, it was love at first sight for me as well; and to this day, I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
It is a truly beautiful peninsula. Although it’s just about 100 miles from New York City, eagles still swoop and soar overhead, and whales roll up to the ocean surface to spout. The sea thunders, and the wind whistles. As for the people here, though, it seemed to me that nearly all of them had decided to settle in the Hamptons for the very same reason that I did: They had fallen in love, and they had then gone back to the city to tell friends in their social group about their find, thus triggering others to follow suit.
With that said, a parade of particularly identifiable groups have called the Hamptons home over the years. I’ve come to think of the arrival of these groups, one after another, somewhat as waves—similar to those of the sea. These waves would sweep over the landscape during several distinct decades. Almost all these new arrivals would stay, overlapping one another, each unique, but settling as a unit, occupying one part of the Hamptons or another, much as the mix of dirt, foliage, sand, boulders, and cliffs occupy the different parts of the Hamptons, while still remaining separate.
Thus, they almost all still remain here today—a great and fascinating patchwork of people and landscapes, coming together as a crazy quilt. Some say it’s a match to the patchwork of New York City. But with cows mooing. The city’s sixth borough …”
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The official release of Hamptons Private was April 27, 2021. The book has been flying off the shelves in the Hamptons and, I think, at resorts and in other upscale locations around the world. It’s showcased in bookstore windows. The first printing sold out in three weeks. Now there’s a second printing and I suppose they are gearing up for a third. It’s having an amazing run.