Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RISD Museum for Reeleef

Relief from the heat, relief from the day-to-day tedium of our lives:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boules, pastries, motorcycle training, and the Perry Brothers

Sometimes it seems our days are filled only with the humdrum moments of life: sleep, work, eat, sleep, that sort of thing. Yet, when I sit down to collect my thoughts, I'm struck at how really full our lives are here in the Ocean State (motto: "making a bad situation worse since 1636").

A week ago last Friday Susie and I drove down to Colt State Park -- one of the true gems here in Gritworld -- where we met up with our friend Magali and Cheryl, a flutist and one of Susie's comrades in French class at Alliance. The four of us rendezvoused at the entrance and then drove to the boules court overlooking the bay where we played a couple of rousing games before setting up at a nearby picnic table. We savored the setting (overcast) sun while feasting on homemade salads and sandwiches, topped off by fruit and Susie's brownies.

Most of last week found us gliding quietly through work: Susie with her incredible pastries and hands-on classes. In fact, this week both Wednesday and Saturday classes have sold out and she's had to turn people away. What a tarte!

As for me, well I keep archiving photos for the university even as our team is packing up to move the 2nd of August. We're staying in Providence but moving a little further south of downtown. With the new move, however, I won't be able to walk to work so we going to need a second form of urban transportation and I found just the thing: the Honda PCX150.

But, because we also live in the state of confusion (AKA Rhode Island) I needed a special "motorcycle endorsement" to my driver's license. And in order to get the endorsement, the state requires that I take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course offered at the Community College of Rhode Island. Mind you, this is a good idea, and was certainly a healthy refresher for me. So, a week ago last Saturday I spent 8 hours in a classroom followed by two days (Monday and Friday), from 5-10pm each, for the practical, or riding portion the program.

So, as of yesterday (Monday), I am now legally permitted to operate a two-wheeled motor vehicle in the state -- as long as I'm accompanied by a driver 18 years or older for the next 30 days and then I return to the DMV for the official license. (No, I don't know why either.)

This past Sunday promised to be a beautiful day so Susie and I climbed into the gray ghost with the objective of cruising the backroads of western Rhode Island. We left home about 8:30am, pointed south to I-95 and then Route 4 south as far as Route 138 where we turned east. Crossing Jamestown Island our first stop was Island Cemetery in Newport.

Located just north of the city itself, the cemetery is the final home to August Belmont, financial agent for the Rothschilds, and his son August Junior who founded and financed the New York City subway system.

It is also the resting place of Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812:

But on this particular day we had come for Matthew Perry, Oliver's younger brother. Commodore Matthew Perry is today credited with gently but firmly forcing Japan to open its cultural and economic doors to the west in 1853; he was also a signatory to the Convention of Kanagawa, which effectively brought about the rise of modern Japan. As part of the Newport "Black ships festival" (the Japanese allusion to the black hulls of the American warships) the America-Japan society held a special wreath-laying ceremony at Matthew Perry's grave, and we were there to witness the event.

At a little after 9am we joined a healthy throng of society members, as well as the mayor of Shimoda, Japan, sister city of Newport, whose mayor was also there, and of course the curious like ourselves.

Several speeches, short but touching, laying of the wreath, Amazing Grace, followed by taps to rekindle the memory of this man long-dead, but whose impact still resonates down the years.

After taps had blown and the groups drifted away from the grave site, Susie and I strolled about this wonderful sleeping place, finding our way along the path to Oliver Hazard Perry's grave -- and no surprise but we saw a number of families who had chosen to name their son Oliver Hazard Perry, a local man whose accomplishments were grand indeed. We stopped and paid our respects to the (other) Commodore Perry and his family before heading back to the car.

From Newport we headed back north to Bristol, crossing the Mount Hope Bridge, and shortly afterwards, turned into the green pastures of the Mount Hope farm. After parking we walked about the grounds, strolling from craft tent to tent.

We couldn't resist the location, with live music and cool ocean breezes wafting all about us -- so we stayed and ate lunch at one of the two food trucks, PloufPlouf, for "rustic" French cuisine.

Susie had a croque monsieur (the delightful and delicious Parisian take on grilled cheese) accompanied by a small salad and I had the merguez sausage on baguette with hand-cut Belgian fries. Incredible!

From Mount Hope farm we headed back south just a few miles to the 19th century mansion Blithewold. pOverlooking and etched back from the bay just south of Bristol proper, this was originally the home of the Van Wickles family who made their fortune off the coal miners of Pennsylvania.

While the family is long gone, the place seemed a bit haunted to me - perhaps it was just the way things were laid out as if the entire family had just stepped out for a sail aboard the "Marjorie" and would return any minute.

After wandering around the rooms inside -- feeling slightly ill at ease staring at beds where people were at their most intimate, most vulnerable, we moved outside.

The gardens were lovely -- a giant sequoia reported to be the tallest tree in New England -- and the pleasure of strolling along the path down by the water was equalled only by the opportunity to sit and relax at one end of the flower garden sipping ice water. It was hard to imagine anything better to do on such a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

We were a bit curious about the skywriting over the bay, though.

But, like the old Jimmy Durante song, even though we really wanted to stay we really had to go and go we did. It was still early so we thought why not a trip to Westport Rivers to sip a little sparkling wine?

And off we went. With Susie navigating we soon found ourselves in the wilds of Massachusetts heading in the direction of Horseneck Beach. We found the entrain to the vineyard -- it wasn't anything like we remembered when we were firs there with Dick and dorothy so many years ago. We parked and walked inside the tasting room gazing across the vineyards in the distance. Impressive, I thought. We quickly found a spot at the bar and opted for the tasting menu (6 sips for 8 bucks -- steep we thought.). Anyway, the location was nice, the staff friendly and the wines as overpriced as they were mediocre. ($45 for a bottle of Massachusetts sparkling wine!?)

After sipping our six wines (all of which suffered from a serious overabundance of yeast) we ambled upstairs to the art gallery, where we were confronted with incredibly overpriced artwork. Colorful to be sure but $625 for some lively smears of oil. I don't think so.

After returning to the car we found our way back to Route 88 and headed due north to I-195 and then west to Providence, and home.

It had been a grand day, good to be alive, savoring the cool breezes, nice people and tasty food.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Peoplewatching while waiting for whales

While waiting for the whales to make an appearance this past Sunday, I took the opportunity to photograph some incredible faces scanning the horizon looking for tell-tale whale sign -- they may not have been as colorful as the characters that seemed to haunt Melville's imagination but they were interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Whale watching on a Sunday

This past Sunday Susie and made our third attempt to see whales off the coast of Boston. Tthe first time we headed out to sea was last fall and we saw nary a whale or any other marine life for that matter. But the folks who operate the cruises guarantee whales and so they gave us a raincheck to come back anytime within the next year. We tried several weeks ago but the weather was so bad they cancelled the trip.

So here we are, one more time -- and this time we saw whales!

Not sure what the problem was here. . . 

Thar she blows!

Heading back

Back ashore

If you decide to go whalewatching a couple of tips: pick your spot early, preferably near the front of the boat along the railing for the best view -- up top works well also; but near the rail is key. Oh and bring a lunch and plenty of water. . .

Monday, July 02, 2012

June in Gritworld - an update from Providence

Needless to say it's been hot here in Gritworld (aka Providence, RI); but thank the gods not as hot or as fiery as other parts of the lower half of North America. The one thing Rhode Island can be assured of, according to the New York Times, is an increase in serious flooding along the northeast in coming years -- global warming! gotta love it!

On to more immediate matters: Susie and I are both well; life continues to treat us with a kind look and gentle touch. Susie's business continues to flourish at her own pace and on her terms; she's done eight classes already and is now open two mornings a week for retail. She's one lucky tarte to be sure.

My work is good and steady -- although I continue to be amazed at how many people take photos wanting to share them with a seemingly boundless immediacy and yet with little notion of preserving them. Odd.

Food continues to be one of our lifesavers here in Rubetown -- and we find ourselves occasionally haunting (and re-haunting) the same favorites again and again.

Tini's on Washington Street Downcity:

Rabbit and gnocchi

Zucchini fries

Homemade pasta with fresh peas and mushrooms

And Broadway Bistro on Broadway (duh) on the West Side:

Ribs n grits

Sweet potato croquettes

Hope Artiste Village, where Susie has her shop, sponsored an outing for its tenants to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket to see the Pawsox play the farm club for the Atlanta Braves. It was a beautiful day, sitting under the bleachers in the shade watching the Red Sox farm club go to town.

As you know we had to cancel our barge trip to the Canal du Midi scheduled for this fall. The good news is that an acquaintance of ours and her partner will be barging in nearly the same locale (Le Somail in the Languedoc) in early September.

Their plan is to fly into Toulouse, train to Carcassonne, spend a couple of nights, pick up the boat -- a Nicols 36 -- at Le Somail, cruise for a week and then spend a couple of nights in Toulouse before flying back to the US. I hope to have glowing reports to post here later this year -- as for us, well we're still hoping and planning on a self-drive barge trip next year so stay tuned!

Siena, mia paese
Ever since our first trip to Italy in 1994 when we discovered an incredible peace of mind inside the walls of Siena, Italy, we couldn't get enough of that wondrous place -- and so, we returned again and again during subsequent years. In the late 1990s I  created an information website to document our trips there and to help others find their way to our special place.

The news, good or bad I cannot say, is that I have sold the www.sienaitaly.com name and website to a couple in Florence. They will continue to use my photos and some of my content until such time they see the need to move on. The reason for selling was simple: I just couldn't keep up with the fast changing information -- and that, I felt, was unfair to visitors seeking reliable, accurate information. So it's gone from me but not from my heart. Non mai!

Over the past three years or so we've made the East Bay Bike path our place of serious exercise -- walking, scootering and biking.  After being closed since last year, the northern section of the East Bay Bike path reopened at last, with freshly paved surface and new fencing.

Life is good -- but life is also short. Make the most of it.

Ciao for now.