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.

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