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The Lands That Hype Forgot

What kind of New Yorkers would choose to spend their weekends in podunk little country towns, without ocean waves and packed restaurants and Pilates classes and traffic jams and P. Diddy and a legion of publicists?


What kind of New Yorkers would choose to spend their weekends in podunk little country towns, without ocean waves and packed restaurants and Pilates classes and traffic jams and P. Diddy and a legion of publicists?The hikers, representing the East Village, TriBeCa, Chelsea, and the Upper East and West Sides, and including a psychotherapist, a New York Times reporter and her husband, a publisher, a museum curator, a portrait painter and his partner, and an architect, skirted a pond and ascended a vineyard to the top of a hill, the Hudson Valley before us and the Catskills beyond, then plunged back into the sun-dappled forest, crossing several streams and ending at our house for a potluck dinner.

Had the subject of the Hamptons come up -- and rest assured, it didn't -- our hearts would have swelled with pity and we might have observed a moment of silence (interrupted, perhaps, only by the deep-woods cry of a pileated woodpecker) for all those swells caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 27.

In the old days, one could stereotype one's fellow New Yorkers based upon the Manhattan neighborhoods in which they lived: Upper East Siders were Republicans who had their hair done to walk the dog and sent their kids to private school. Upper West Siders were liberal Democrats who didn't. And anybody who lived south of 14th Street probably had an FBI dossier.

But those distinctions started to suffer with the testosterone-crazed real-estate market of the late nineties and the transformation of Manhattan into a Disney-style theme park where it takes a six-figure income to survive and Democrats and Republicans find they have more in common than they once thought -- particularly when it comes to their shared belief that the estate tax is a bad thing.

In such a climate, perhaps a sharper implement to use in drawing social distinctions among Manhattanites is an examination of where they spend their weekends, since so many now seem to have country homes. "If you look at who's buying things where, museum presidents tend to go to the country, not the Hamptons," contends Steven Harris, a professor of architecture at Yale. "Artists that we know are actually going upstate."

"There's a certain sort of obscenity and vulgarity about spending the kind of money some people spend, no matter how much one has," he continues, referring to the Hamptons and ascribing to those who point their sensible Saabs and Subarus north on Friday nights the virtues of modesty and prudence. "Better to give a Turner to the Met than buy yourself a $30 million beach house."

To appreciate the Hamptons' indispensable role as the Antichrist of resort destinations, one need look no farther than Shelter Island, that community that's the briefest of ferry rides across Shelter Island Sound from North Haven. Shelter Island has lately seen a nocturnal invasion of Hamptonites, drawn by André Balazs's Sunset Beach hotel. "They're recognizable as they approach the boat in their BMWs, Porsches, and Range Rovers," observes Cliff Clark, whose family has owned Shelter Island's South Ferry since the mid-1700s. On more than one occasion, Captain Clark's crew has threatened to return to port if his passengers, heading back to the Hamptons on the last ferry, didn't stop dancing on the roofs of their cars.

If one were required to isolate an attribute that differentiates those who choose to spend their weekends anywhere but the Hamptons from those who believe that a Peggy Siegal screening is the crowning glory of Western civilization, it wouldn't be lower net worth (though that may well apply) or a higher degree of comfort with insect life (say what you will about the Hamptons, but those cooling ocean breezes keep those alarmingly large biting flies, indigenous to upstate, at bay) but a sense of self-reliance that allows a person to feel fully alive even if he hasn't been invited over to Ron Perelman's or Puff Daddy's, or rather P. Diddy's, on a Saturday night.

"For me, it's like 'Let's go to Coney Island,' " sniffs interior designer and northeastern Connecticut weekender Mario Buatta, referring to the Hamptons. "I haven't been out there for years; I go out there to do jobs. I'm not a beach person. That's why I have such beautiful skin. I rub it with potatoes and mayonnaise."

Undoubtedly Idaho, not Long Island, potatoes. "I think people have to be in the hot place," he goes on. "I guess they do a lot of their business there, a lot of networking. Thank God I don't need to network. My business is established."

"We seldom have benefits in the Connecticut hills," says Broadway producer (The Tale of the Allergist's Wife) and art collector Douglas Cramer. "People are out gardening, caring for their houses, relaxing. People in the Hamptons have their gardens done. People in Connecticut do their own gardens."

Not that Cramer spends the typical Saturday night weeding by Coleman lantern or curled up in his Barcalounger with a bag of Cheetos watching Seinfeld reruns. His typical dinner party numbers anywhere from 12 to 36 guests and includes such beacons of the cultural Establishment as Steven Sondheim, Anne Bass, Lee Radziwill, Jasper Johns, Aggie Gund, Peter and Brooke Duchin, and the Kissingers.

"I gave them some koi; they saw I had an overflow," Cramer said, referring to the Duchins and a voracious weed-eating fish that'd done the trick on his own pond. "You'd never ask for a koi in the Hamptons."

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