Thursday, October 31, 2013

A breath of fresh air blew in from Louisiana

Last weekend a fair southern wind blew through Providence, bringing two old friends with it. Coming in by way of northern Vermont, Ed and Chris had started their road trip from home in Natchitoches (pronounced "Nackatish), Loosiana and spent a very short night here with us. But, over a leisurely dinner we had plenty of time to visit, catching up on some nine years of things, people, places, all the changes in  our lives before letting them get a much needed rest.

Monday morning everybody awoke at a leisurely pace. After devouring with all due elegance, pastries by the French Tarte, the four of us piled into their car for a quick tour of Providence -- skipping the chance for Ed and Chris to experience  riding in the backseat of a Mini.

We spent the better part of the morning showing them a bit of the city we call home (for the moment), and naturally the tour started at  the French Tarte's pastry studio.

Susie tries to explain something to Chris
no one keeps a straight face for long around Ed and Chris

From Pawtucket we scooted back across the city line into Providence, parked near Brown University and strolled along the waterfront, giving them, an idea of what this tired New England burg is really like.

After returning to our condo, we parked and walked the block or so over to the new Westside Diner, where the four of us got a real taste of 1956 Providence (both ambiance and food).

We strolled back to the condo.  Ed and Chris packed up their things, loaded the car and after a round of hugs we said goodbye, again. In the blink of an eye they had pulled out of the drive and turned onto Westminster Street heading first west to West Point, NY and then south to Georgia and home to Louisiana.

It had been 40 years since Ed and I shared a house together in Bethesda, along with five other young hospital corpsmen. And it's been 9 years since the four of us spent a handful of days enjoying the sights, tastes and sounds of the New Orleans Jazz Festival -- just months before Katrina hit that wonderufl city and my Dad passed away.

Let's hope it's not another 9 before we see those two again. . . and next time it will be down their way.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Breakfast at Nick's on Broadway

Between Sunday brunch and evening dinner I've eaten quite a few times at Nick's but even though I live just four blocks away, I've never gone there just for breakfast in the middle of the week. Until now.

This morning I met up with three colleagues from work to sit, chat and have a delicious breakfast. 

Not bad for about 9 bucks a person; definitely worth the walk and the time.

Ed had the frittata

I had an omelet (bacon, sausage and provolone)

Jeff and Andrea had Eggs Benedict

England in April and the Grand Canyon in August but no Italy

Two thousand fourteen was going to be our 20th anniversary trip back to Italy. In June of 1994 we took our first trip abroad together and spent four weeks cruising the backroads of that incredible peninsula, spending a couple of nights outside of Merano before heading south for  a week in a house in Umbertide in Umbria, followed by two weeks in a house in Vagliagli just north of Siena ending up at the Hotel Florence in Bellagio (how prescient the name of that hotel!). It was a defining time for the both of us to be sure.

So, we planned to return to Italy in celebration of that very special time in our lives. But just as that first trip represented an entirely new experience for us and taught us the joys of independent, self-catering holidays, setting the standards for nearly all of our subsequent travels together, next year we plan to try two new things instead of returning to Italy.

First up, we head to the United Kingdom in late April when we'll spend a week traveling the countryside with friends Richard and Pauline. Aside from a couple of short jaunts we usually pass through London on our way to somewhere else. Even the month I spent there in 2005 hardly counts: I was either in class at International House or out in the suburbs (where I lived with a family) doing homework, although you couldn't prove that by my final grade.

Hadrian's Wall

So, we've got our tickets (burning up the British Airways air miles thank you very much) and the plan now is to recoup from jet lag while Richard and Pauline show us around St. Albans, where they call home.  The four of us then climb into their car with packed bags and head north to Northumberland where we plan to explore the Hadrian's Wall National Trail while enjoying the rural English countryside.

The four of us are booked in Fairshaw Rigg Bed & Breakfast in Hexham, not far from the National Trail.

After returning to St. Albans, and depending on weather, we hope to visit Kew Gardens, Highgate Cemetery, and/or the Imperial War Museum, depending on time and weather.

So, right now we're set to spend a week in April in the United Kingdom (the English part).

Our second new adventure is still in the rough planning stage so if anyone has any suggestions or recommendations by all means pass them along. Later in the summer we hope to spend a week circumnavigating the Grand Canyon: South Rim, North Rim, mule trip; the one thing we'll probably skip will be rafting down the river. I'll have more details as we work out the specifics.

Life is short -- and if you can't go to Paris, go somewhere new, somewhere anywhere to let your mind drift, soaking up new experiences and new faces.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rasoi on the east side and and the new West Side Diner

After living more than six years in Providence, we finally got to Rasoi, arguably one of Rhode Island's better restaurants and perhaps THE best Indian restaurant in greater Providence. It was last Friday evening, we had no reservations and the place was packed when we walked in the door. The hostess said there was a short wait or we could sit at the bar -- we chose the bar and it couldn't have been more perfect.

Although swamped with drinks and food the bartender was not only attentive but helpful in the extreme: He suggested cocktail specials for the evening and we give both two very big thumbs up -- I loath martinis as a rule but the special had (among other things) caramel vodka and apple cider. . . delicious!

When we asked about the nan bread for an app -- they have a variety of flavors - the bartender asked us what we were going to have with dinner (chicken). He suggested pairing the bread just like wine and he was right, of course: we ended up going with rosemary nan for our chicken dishes. Perfect!

We also tasted a couple of whites -- again at the bartender's suggestion -- to see which we would prefer with the meal and opted for a crisp, slightly tart sauvignon blank.

Cauliflower 65

chicken kebabs with mashed potatoes and lentils

Westside Diner

Located just a block from our house on Westminster the Westside Diner is only open for breakfast and lunch and that hasn't really fit in with our schedules. But when a pair of friends blew through Providence on their way from Vermont to Louisiana we took the opportunity to check the place out.

OK, the basics first: the diner itself is very 1950ish and, we thought, so was the food. But more of that in a moment.

Seating is a bit awkward for the newcomer: no sign to wait or seat yourselves and the staff didn't make things any clearer, at first. Anyway, after a few minutes a booth opened up and the four of us grabbed it.

The booths, tables and seats all moved, allowing flexibility I suppose. The seats we thought quite uncomfortable -- and I know I was sitting directly on springs. I noticed that while the diner was completely refurbished, from a total mess last year, there wee hints of scrimping: the top of the long counter appeared to have an old piece of linoleum (?) instead of new. The edges were curling and there were areas where the top was nearly gone, exposing the brown under layer.

The service was friendly and attentive.

The lunch menu was fairly limited: a few sandwiches, soup of the day and a few hot plate specials. It's the breakfast menu that take sup nearly two pages but they had stopped serving breakfast at 11:30 (they're only open until 2pm).

The four of us opted for sandwiches: I had the classic patty melt on toasted rye bread with 1000 Island dressing. Ed had the burger club (interesting), Chris had a wrap and Susie had a turkey sandwich. I was the only one who opted for the fries, the other 3 went for the homemade cole slaw.

house made cole slaw

turkey club

classic patty melt

house made apple pie -- not good

chocolate pudding -- also house made and also not good
Quality of the food was good; both burgers were prepared as requested and tasty. The slaw, I was informed was quite good and surpassed expectations. The portions were just right as well. Prices ran about $8 per sandwich with sides, which we thought not too bad, particularly in Providence.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Arcade in Providence

The Arcade is back in business.

Opened in 1828, the Arcade, between Weybosset and Westminster streets in downtown Providence is reported to be the first indoor mall in the United States. Owned at one time or another by nearly every major company in Providence, in recent years it had fallen on hard times. Shuttered, sitting waiting to die from neglect, its steps serving as lounging place for local ne'er-do-wells seeking a place to sit and contemplate where their lives went wrong.

 But the human imagination can sometimes be an incredibly powerful force and so the latest owner of the Arcade has turned the top two floors into what they call micro-lofts and the ground floor into shops. The Arcade is back in business and businesses are back in the Arcade.
Weybosset Street entrance

Just another sunset in Providence

There are plenty of reasons to complain about Rhode Island and about Providence in particular: useless government, over-regulation to no purpose, rotten infrastructure, horrible streets.

But one thing you can't complain about is the light in the sky. For much of the year you can see incredible light cast again wonderful cumulus clouds: everything from light pinks to champagne yellows. And occasionally sunsets.

I shot this fantastic sunset from the fourth floor of a building just south of the city -- the sky literally turned to fire by the end:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Block Island in October

For several years now we've been saying, "We have to go to Block Island." We keep telling ourselves, hey it's one of THE major attractions in Rhode Island, it requires a boat trip (a favorite past time) but more than that Block Island is a wholly different side of Rhode Island, physically and figuratively.

Well, we finally got to the island and the short conclusion is: you should too.

We couldn't have asked for a nicer day for a boat trip than yesterday, Sunday: low 60s, full-on sun along with just enough breeze to cool the face and lighten the walk. So off we went, pointing the Mini south in the direction of Narragansett and Galilee and the Point Judith ferry to Block Island.

Besides the glorious weather, tourist traffic was light, both on the highway to the ferry and on board the ferry itself. The summer season is over for much of this part of the country, a fact soon appreciated as we pulled into Galilee, a fishing village that relies heavily on transient tourists en route to somewhere else, tourists who need to leave their car someone safe. Well, the lot we found -- marked in bold "FERRY PARKING" -- was just two blocks from the ferry, half empty and no attendant. When I asked at the ferry ticket office what the story was, the young woman said simply that the lot, like all the others private and not connected with the ferry service, was indeed open and at this time of year was probably free. And so it was.

A beautiful day was already off to a great start.

Since we had plenty of time we strolled the village of Galilee -- but the stench of fish detritus downwind drove us back to the ferry terminal building. Anyway, it was also nice to get out of a brisk wind into the warm comfort of being inside.
waiting for the ferry
It wasn't long before the ferry pulled, or rather backed in. The cars unloaded first and then came wave after wave of humanity streaming off, lines weaving this way and that. The hugs, the goodbyes, the smiles all around reminded me that more than anything else, for most travelers Block Island is a temporary respite from somewhere else. It's a place where families and friends, new and old, share a few fleeting moments of simple pleasures before turning their faces once again to the complexities of life in Manhattan or Boston.

waiting to get off

With everyone and everything off the ferry, it was time to board. The young ticket taker scanned our boarding passes (we had printed them at home) and we walked on board heading up the stairs (topside for you salts) to find a seat.

heading out to sea

leaving the mainland
Since this was the tail end of a weekend at the tail end of tourist season there weren't many travelers heading to the island so we had a choice of seats. With the wind brisk heading south we stayed inside for much of the trip.

As we neared the landing in the "old harbor" we walked outside to take in our first glimpse of Block Island, the bluffs to the west, the breakwater, the small harbor. 

Block Island

From the ferry terminal building we turned up Water Street, past the statue "Rebecca," erected in 1896 by a local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. . . Apparently the consumption of alcohol among the fishing and farming communities on the island  had become a serious enough problem to warrant it's own statue.
Rebecca and the Women's Christian Temperance Uniion
Water street eventually became Spring street, which we followed up, up, up and further up hill until we reached the Southeast lighthouse.

Over the years we've seen quite a few lighthouses along the New England coast and even in the Great Lakes but I couldn't recall when I saw a lighthouse that looked so, well, nice: brick, three stories high, lots of room. Unfortunately it was closed for the season so we couldn't examine the interior -- though a peek through the windows revealed a rather rustic series of rooms, some of which were used for storage.  I guess we didn't miss much.

Down by the water, fronting the lighthouse, was one of those automatic foghorns that kept going off every minute or so while we were there, which must drive the nearby residents quietly insane. . . And as you can see, there was no fog.
Southeast Lighthouse
A favorite view of the French Tarte, contemplating. . . ?

In the shadow of the lighthouse and overlooking the Mohegan Bluffs and the open sea is a small stone bench that seemed oddly comforting if not oddly out of place.

It turns out that the bench is a memorial to Catherine Gorayeb, a single mom living with her daughter in Battery Park City and who happened to be at the World Trade Center attending a conference on the morning of September 11, 2011. Her story reminds us that all those who died that day left behind many more lives to suffer, lives further complicated by that act of terror.

You can read more about the continuing tragedy left in the wake of Catherine's death on

Just outside the entrance to the lighthouse and facing the road, was a small marker commemorating the incident that gave the bluffs their curious name. It also lists the number of ships that had wrecked nearby, which made me wonder just how effective the lighthouse had been. (The list concluded with the word "etc" which we thought a bit insensitive.)

Anyway, in 1590 a war party of 40 Mohegan indians were driven over these bluffs by a group of local Block Island indians, the Manisseans, or so the story goes. I thought that there were probably some locals today who feel like doing the same thing to many of the tourists that flock here.

Just a hundred meters further down the road from the lighthouse was the entrance to the Edward Payne Overlook and the stairs leading down the bluffs to the beach. (We skipped that last part.)

Back on the main coast road we continued a bit further before turning inland on Pilot Hill road. A dirt track off limits to mopeds, the road ran alongside one of the island's numerous ponds. We wondered if swimming or canoeing or even fishing was permitted or prohibited; no signage was noted either way.

We strolled along Pilot Hill road until it became High street which led us right into the Old Harbor and to the ferry dock.  Just in time for the 3pm ferry we found our way to the stairs leading to the upper deck, passing drivers backing their cars onto the ferry loading deck. (One way on and one way off on the Block Island ferry, apparently.)

Coming back to the mainland we spotted the Point Judith Lighthouse off in the distance:

And shortly after we caught sight of the entrance to the harbor.

Some folks miss the whole point of traveling, to experience a new world around them, rather than the old one they carry in their pocket, rather like. . .

this guy:

Back on the mainland we found our way back to the car and headed north to Providence. Recounting our impressions of the day  we both remarked, in the car and again over dinner later that evening, how relaxing Block Island seemed at this time of year.  Traffic was minimal on the main roads and virtually nonexistent on the back roads. There were few others out walking or biking; most of the time it was just the two of us strolling along. Plus it  was so wonderfully quiet. We could only imagine what the sky must look like in the middle of the night with all the stars out. . .