Grandmother’s House

19 bridgeLinda Burton posting from Providence, Rhode Island – I went over the river and through the woods, but I wasn’t headed for grandmother’s house. I moved from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island today; capital city #45 on the Journey. The river I crossed was the Charles, on the new wing-cabled bridge that was built as part of the Big Dig. The day was October-perfect, but the heavy traffic prevented me from looking left, or right, to see the Charles, where the Head of the Charles Regatta was underway, the world’s largest two-day rowing event. The road dipped into the Big Dig tunnel, where there was nothing to see but tail lights. Out of the worm-hole and back 19 color treesinto daylight on I-93; the train went by on my right, the T. Remember that Kingston Trio song back in ‘59 about poor old Charlie? Did he ever return? No he never returned and his fate is still unlearn’d. He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston, he’s the man who never returned. Would I ever return? As I hummed the song, trying to remember the gist of it, the outdoor scene transitioned from urban to woodlands. The Massachusetts hills were glowing gold; no need to go to New Hampshire for fall color. Stay home! Signs for Foxboro caught my attention; ah yes, Gillette Stadium is there; home of 19 stadium frontthe New England Patriots; tucked halfway between Boston and Providence. I drove through the community of restaurants and shops built just for sports fans, glad it was a no-game day; the stadium seats 68,756. Twenty miles more to Rhode Island, The Ocean State, according to the welcome sign. “I’m stopping at the capitol,” I said to the cats. And that’s where I met Charlene and Evelyn, and learned some things about Providence.

19 charlene and evelynI spotted Charlene and Evelyn on the capitol lawn. Granddaughter Evelyn was toddler-running on the beautiful green grass. Grandma Charlene chased her, and caught her, and asked about my car. She loved the idea of the Journey; posed for pictures. “Be sure to visit the Brown campus,” she pointed. ”Be sure to visit that hillside over there, the Italian section, you’ll love it. Be sure to visit that hillside” she turned and pointed the other way, “where the historic older houses are. It’s the tops. Be sure to visit inside the capitol. There are so many good restaurants in town, be sure to try several of them. And on Saturday nights, there is WaterFire, oh, be sure to see that!” I was pumped, eager to start exploring this capital city in the smallest of the 50 states. “People ask how far I am from the beach,” Charlene said. “And I answer 45 minutes. People ask how far I am from Boston, and I answer, 45 minutes. I love being so close to everything. I was born in Rhode Island and I am happy to live here. Be sure to visit the Roger Williams visitor’s center,” Charlene continued; advising that they could tell me everything about Roger Williams in this town that credits him for its beginnings.

19 roger and the indiansDo you know that story? Roger Williams basically was “kicked out” of Massachusetts due to his strong beliefs in “separation of church and state;” I guess you could say he was considered a troublemaker by those in power. So Williams headed south, and wonder of wonders, he actually sought permission from the natives to settle on the land he named Providence. It was “God’s merciful Providence,” he believed, that revealed to him such a haven; he even named one of his daughters Providence. I’ll do a separate post about this strong-willed, and strong-purposed man, who believed in “freedom of conscience” when it came to choices concerning religion.

It was just a few miles more from the capitol grounds to my pet-friendly hotel; where I was overwhelmed with friendliness again. Somebody ran to help with each of the three loads as I emptied the Scion; Patty found the perfect room for me and showed me around the premises. Alex Cat and Jack Cat did a few preliminary sniffs, looked out the window, and approved. I had dinner at Gregg’s, one of the local family-owned, community-minded restaurants, where I had the turkey dinner, and hot rolls, and their trademark appetizer, pickles. Home-made pickles. Maybe I was at “grandmother’s house” after all.

19 brown logoI’m settled in now, reading about what Charlene told me to “be sure to visit.” Brown University. It’s one of the Ivy League schools, and the eighth oldest institution of higher education in the country; founded in 1764 even before the United States was the United States. Brown was the first college to accept students regardless of religious affiliation; it’s picky in other ways however, it accepts less than 9% of undergraduate applicants. Out of its small faculty and student population (under 9,000) five professors and two alumni have been honored as Nobel Laureates. The main campus is on College Hill in the East Side, across the Providence River from downtown; 235 buildings and 143 acres there. The school mascot is a bear, brown of course; colors are brown, and red; a recent email poll of college students voted Brown students as “Happiest.”

19 little italyCharlene mentioned Little Italy in Federal Hill; 14% of Providence residents claim Italian ancestry; those with Irish ancestry are close behind. The city is very diverse – 38.1% Hispanic, 37.6% White, 16% Black, 6% Asian (US Census 2010). Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala have a strong influence in the Elmwood neighborhood, the West End, and Lower South Providence. A considerable community of Portuguese-speaking immigrants from Portugal, Brazil and Cape Verde live in Washington Park and Fox Point. Many African Americans live in the Mount Hope neighborhood, and in Upper and Lower South Providence. The Asian population in scattered throughout the city; it represents Cambodia, China, Laos, and Korea. One of the largest Liberian immigrant populations in the country lives in Providence.

That much diversity translates into a great diversity in food choices; Charlene mentioned restaurants too. The Providence Convention & Visitors Bureau publication GoProvidence 19 cavfor Fall/Winter 2013-2014 tells about “grilled pizza,” a Providence staple – at Bacaro it may be topped with classic cheese and tomato, or maybe with seasonal toppings like squash flowers, or pumpkin! For pasta in Little Italy on Federal Hill, there is Siena, where you will find “Tuscan Soul Food;” Chef Anthony Tarro studied Tuscan cuisine in Bologna, Italy. Siena was voted “Best Restaurant in Rhode Island” this year. And last year. And several years before that. Sushi, Burgers, Cupcakes? Some restaurants featured are Luxe Burger Bar (top a burger with fried egg, or pastrami); Jacky’s Waterplace (where sushi is displayed so beautifully you want to frame it); and City Girl Cupcake (100 flavors of cupcakes and cake pops). Jacky’s won the “Best of Asian” award from RI Monthly; Union Station the “Best Place To Go For Beer.” CAV was named a “Top 5 Attraction” in Providence, the only restaurant on the list. “One of the 300 Most Unique Places in the US” says NY’s Detail Magazine; Architectural Digest wrote about its African Ceremonial Art. Bon Appetit said simply of the food at CAV “O taste and see.” Okay, Charlene, I’m on it. (CAV is pictured above.)

Panorama at RISD & Downtown ProvidenceWaterFire? Charlene’s eyes had sparkled as she talked about WaterFire. “There’s nothing like it,” she said, as she told about the lights and music on the river, flowing throughout the town. On WaterFire evenings a hundred bonfires burn above the water’s surface on the three rivers that pass through downtown; the public can stroll the riverfront and enjoy the flickering firelight, the smell of wood smoke, the public art displays, and music from around the world. Free, of course. It started small, back in the 90’s; now it attracts almost two million people a season. It’s a summer thing, and unfortunately the last event was last weekend; I’ll read more about it however, and walk in Waterplace Park; watch for a separate post.

19 providence skylineProvidence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1636 and one of the oldest cities in the country; today it is home to 178,042 people (US Census 2010). It is the 24th most populous capital city (Tallahassee, Florida and Jackson, Mississippi are similar in size). It is part of a greater metro area of over 1.6 million with its reach into Massachusetts and Connecticut. The East Side neighborhood of Providence has the largest contiguous area of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the country – many are from pre-revolutionary times. That’s also where you’ll find the First Baptist Church in America (1638), and the Old State House (capitol from 1762-1904). Today’s impressive State House has the fourth-largest unsupported dome in the world; I got a picture of it today through the trees. That’s where I met Charlene and Evelyn, and began to learn about one grandmother’s home.

City of Providence, Rhode Island

Providence Visitors Bureau