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Rent a House by the Beach

One of my idols, Rust Hills, the longtime literary editor of Esquire whose credentials as a man of discernment go back to Arnold Gingrich and the original stylish magazine, has a simple rule regarding which wine to drink that even the French would appreciate. White with lunch, red with dinner, he says. A similar formula might be applied to seasons: winter in the mountains, summer by the sea. Summer means sun and for me its great companion, the sea, cool, green, and swelling. To rise and fall in it on a blazing summer day, to feel its huge embrace, to shower the salt from yourself afterward and stand pure, clean, and new is one of the real pleasures of life.

The greatest house by the sea that I know—I have never been close to it—is the one Curzio Malaparte, an Italian writer, primarily a journalist, built on a majestic rock promontory on Capri. A low, powerful building with walls of Tuscan red and a great flight of steps at one end going up to the long slab roof, it brings to mind an Aztec altar, not meant for sacrifice but for worship of the sun. In photographs it's something like the Winged Victory in the Louvre, nearly that thrilling. It seems to defy age and time.

Defying them also, for decades, in an eternal summer it was thought, were the figures of Gerald and Sara Murphy. A lot has been written about them, their life in the twenties, their famous friends. Like insects caught in the glow of amber, they were perfect and would never change. Their house in the south of France, Villa America; their stylish parties and the frequent remark of Gerald's that "anyone can live on his income"; their invention, more or less, of beach life; all this added to their legend.

Sara Murphy was an heiress, a Wiborg, and her father, who was a businessman from Ohio, had invested in land in East Hampton around the turn of the century, before the Long Island Rail Road extended that far. East Hampton at the time was a quiet resort with a main street of clapboard and shingle houses shaded by enormous elms. There was farmland all around and the brilliant summer light that fell on it was already admired by painters, many of whom would come there, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few.

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