Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rhode Island - May 29, 1790

 When we moved to Massachusetts, we could see about 5 fuzzy channels on our television with the rabbit ears. One of them was channel 10 out of Providence. (We can't watch any, now). We actually watched a lot of television back then. Our newborn daughter almost never slept, and we could not afford to go out in any case. TV was cheap entertainment. One night when we were watching the late news on channel 10 we saw a story about Barnaby Evans, the artist who created Waterfire. We immediately made plans to see this fabulous display. Seeing Waterfire is worth a trip to Providence in and of itself. It is set up about a dozen times a year. Pyres are set in metal holders in the river and the fire reflects on the water, this is combined with beautiful music and a festival atmosphere to create a magical feeling.The wood is regularly replenished by some lucky folks who get to ride in boats throughout the evening. (I want that job). There are also gondola rides to be had for a price. I have not yet taken one, though. From Bridgewater, Providence is easier to get to than Boston, and in some ways more interesting. I love the Cable Car movie theater to see independent films; and Paloma and I got to see Wicked at the Providence Performing Arts Center last Christmas. I also enjoy going to Newport, Rhode Island for its  fabulous Cliff Walk past some elaborate mansions and Salve Regina College. T.F. Green airport is generally easier to fly in and out of than Logan. Green airport, is actually located in Warwick, Rhode Island
although it is called the Providence airport - go figure.

One night when we were at Waterfire James saw Providence's ex-mayor, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci through a restaurant window and pointed him out to me. He had actually net Cianci a few years earlier when NESTVAL (The New England and St. Lawrence Valley regional conference of the Association of American Geographers) met in Providence. After reading Mike Stanton's The Prince of Providence I am not at all surprised that the mayor made an appearance at this rather small meeting. The running joke about Cianci at City Hall was that he would "go to the opening of an envelope". His ego was both fragile and gigantic, a dangerous combination, which lead to his demise as mayor on two different occasions. The book was over 400 pages long and seemingly covered every underhanded manuver that Cianci pulled. Minor stunts, even those that were ethical or illegal, were just filler on the way to reading about the big stories, including beating up a romantic rival, which caused his first departure from office of the mayor, and bribe-taking, which caused the second. Although Ciani had plenty of money, and created a charity spaghetti sauce business (a la Newman's Own) in order to provide college scholarships, he was always on the take otherwise. No one could get a City contract without slipping something his way, and even a job at City Hall would cost the prospective employee several thousands of dollars. What was so fascinating about this book was that for many citizens of Providence, none of this mattered. They still loved "Buddy". He was affable in public, could talk as easily to the art students at RISD as he could to the ladies from the historical society, and he pulled off a Renaissance of downtown Providence that is akin to what I remember William Donald Shaeffer doing for Baltimore's Inner Harbor once upon a time. Quite a feat. Providence has become a destination.

James and colleague with "Buddy" c 2000

"All families suck" says the bartender to Italian-American brothers Anthony and Frankie in the romantic comedy A Wake in Providence. Anthony is humiliated in front of Alissa, his African-American girlfriend, whom he has brought to to meet his family for the first time to his grandfather's funeral, and Frankie reveals that he enjoys wearing women's undergarments to his extended family during dinner. This movie really could have just been a goofball comedy, and it did include the requisite "mob" jokes and some of the usual family jabs, but the story is more complex than that. I don't take complete stock in the bartender's philosophy, but I think his point, that if you don't expect anything from your family, you won't be disappointed is something to keep in mind.  Although Anthony gets the girl in the end, this is not your typical "boy loses girl movie". It is filmed in Providence, so those familiar with the city will get a charge out of seeing familiar landmarks.

Several weeks ago one of our colleagues told James about the Pawtucket, Rhode Island Winter Farmer's Market which takes place every Saturday from November to May. Since today was the last day of the market, and Rhode Island day, it seemed like a perfect day to visit. We arrived in Pawtucket an hour before the market opened so that we could have breakfast at the Classic Cafe, which James found online. At the market we picked up some local rhubarb, strawberries, cheese, herbs, and greens. I also learned, from Stanton's book, that Del's Frozen lemonade got its start in Cranston, Rhode Island, so a stop at a Del's stand was also in order while we were in town. I know I've bought Del's for my daughter before, but I don't actually think I had tried one before myself. I had a bit of a sore throat and the cirtrus-y coolness felt really good. Stanton also mentions that autocrat coffee syrup is a Rhode Island original. One of James' students told him about it when we first moved here, and we did try it then. Coffee syrup in milk is a treat enjoyed by many, but as much as the Hayes-Bohanan's are a coffee drinking people, we are not crazy about coffee milk ourselves. 

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