The train that comes from New York nine or ten times a day and also at three in the morning used to, especially on Fridays on the 4 p.m. express, bring husbands who had reserved seats in the parlor cars. Their arrival was the zenith of the fashionable week. Train service is still good, but now it is helicopters or private jets that bring in the privileged, financiers still, as in the old days, lawyers, media giants, film stars. The Murphys are long gone, as is the Dunes. The era when they and their friends ruled summer is forgotten, quaint. The striped matelot shirt that Gerald Murphy wore and that became a virtual uniform for men at the beach, the meals with Léger and his wife or Léger and his mistress, the Dos Passoses, Philip Barrys, Fitzgeralds, Hemingways, MacLeishes, all of it more and more remote. These are new summers, new generations, new houses— well, not all the houses. The best ones, in fact, are often the old ones. They allow one to kick back, to put the days in first gear. For what is summer but ease, and what are the houses of summer but great boxes of pleasure?
The highway may be jammed with cars, the markets with brokers in tennis shorts and maids with whining children; it may be impossible to get a table at any restaurant or even a copy of a newspaper, but at five in the afternoon the beaches have emptied, the sun is still high, the sea invites you, and friends are coming to dinner.
If you're envisioning lazy afternoons in a hammock on the front porch, but you haven't found the porch yet, don't give up. To maximize your odds, check out resortquest.com for 20,000 houses across the United States. Beachhouse (949/863-0050; www.beachhouse.com) offers oceanside bungalows from Belize to New Zealand. If all 50 properties at FineVillas (561/833-3006) are booked, they'll hunt down a lovely Italian farmhouse for you. Indulge in a little schadenfreude—or just keep your fingers crossed—and get on the wait list for one of Abercrombie & Kent's European Concierge Villas (800/323-7308; www.abercrombiekent.com), which come with a maid and gardener. Or, you just may get the deal of your life by bidding on the rental properties on eBay's new travel site (recently Queen Elizabeth put up a cottage at Balmoral for a weeklong stay, with proceeds going to Caring for Kids). Last, Tuscany Now (44-207/272-5469; www.tuscanynow.com) will provide everything from bodyguards to Italian lessons—plus a 10 percent discount on select villas this month and next.