September 25, 2011

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations by Reno MacLeod

I spent the first quarter century of my life living in the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The name seems larger than the whole state. Never heard of it? Wedged between Connecticut and Massachusetts, you might know it better under the more common name Rhode Island, the Ocean State, and Little Rhody. Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen original colonies to declare independence from England and the last to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

Rhode Island is home to the prestigious Brown University, Johnson & Wales Culinary School and RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and has become a popular location for Hollywood with several movies shot there including: Underdog, Dumb and Dumber, Amistad, The Great Gatsby, and Meet Joe Black. Its population is varied, with a large demographic of Italian, Irish, Jewish, Cape Verdean, and Portuguese. A whopping 1,214 square miles, Rhode Island crawls out of the ocean with rocky shorelines and extends to the rolling, forested hills of Foster and Glocester where the early morning "No School" announcements always ring loud and clear on snowy mornings.
After volunteering to write about my birthplace, I hunted down my box of family photos and poured my memories onto the living room rug. Not to date myself, but some of the oldest were in black and white, the square ones with the little ragged edges. As I sat on the floor going through them, I found one image of myself as a toddler at Roger Williams Park. In the picture, I was sitting on a 300-pound bronze statue of a dog called "Black Prince, the Sentinel." Immortalized for saving his family from a burning house, Prince's statue is probably the most recognizable sculpture in Rhode Island because if you lived anywhere nearby, there is a good chance you have a photo like mine of yourself straddled atop it. Prince sits at the center of a very old but now-modernized zoo. Opened in 1872, the park and zoo have made huge strides in conservation efforts. The zoo takes part in the Species Survival Plan for the preservation of dozens of species: the Red Wolf, African Wild Dogs, Golden Lion Tamarins, and Red Pandas just to name a few. Newly renovated, it ranks right up there with the big zoos around the country.

Digging a little deeper in my pile of pictures, I came across several photos of Newport, the summer home for Rhode Islanders. Postcard perfect with its sparkling harbor, Newport hosts some of the best seafood restaurants in New England. If you want clam "chowda," this is the place and in June is home of the Annual Clam Chowder restaurant cook-off. Shops line the cobblestone streets, selling everything from fresh fudge to high fashion. Once you've satisfied your cravings, you can head down to the docks and take a charter cruise on any number of sailing ships. Pay a little more and take the sunset champagne cruise. It's worth it!

Leaving the waterfront, you'll travel down Ocean Drive and see massive stone walls. Look close and you'll catch a glimpse of the Newport Mansions. These are the famed "summer cottages" of the nation's wealthiest founding families including the Vanderbilts, who made their fortune in steamships and railroads, Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs, and cotton broker Isaac Bell. Tours are given daily in the summer at many of these properties; at Christmas, each house museum opens for a month and is decorated in their Victorian holiday best. Fan of the Kennedys? Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and John F. Kennedy were married at St. Mary's church in Newport, RI. Their reception was held at Hammersmith Farm, the Bouvier summer home in Newport.

My trip down memory lane traveled north with the next photo—an image of dancing bonfires set alight down the center of the Providence River. Running straight through the capital city, WaterFire Providence® takes place several times during the year in the heart of the city. Over ninety braziers dot the river and when night falls, they flicker light on the arched bridges of the park while visitors walk the winding paths along the water. Romantic music echoes off the walls of the canal and the crackling of the flames tended by gondola-like boaters make the event magical.

Anyone who is familiar with the genre of books I write with my partner, Jaye Valentine, knows we often write stories of the paranormal. We're in good company in Providence. H.P. Lovecraft, most famous for his Cthulhu Mythos and the Necronomicon, was born, lived and died there. You can visit his headstone, which proclaims, "I AM PROVIDENCE".

The last photo in my collection is of the Gaspée Day parade. Contrary to common belief, the first armed act of rebellion in America against the British Crown was not the tea party in Boston, but the boarding and burning of the revenue schooner HMS Gaspée in Narragansett Bay on June 10, 1772. Every June, the quaint little section known as Pawtuxet Village celebrates the day by closing off the main street, painting the center stripe red, white, and blue, and holding an arts-and-crafts fair. At the culmination of the event, there is a parade where a miniature of the Gaspée is burned.
Though I moved away from Rhode Island about eight years ago, the rest of my family still resides there. I still enjoy nosing around on Thayer Street for retro fashions and vinyl records, seeing a concert at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel nightclub, and then chowing down on an Italian grinder (that's a submarine sandwich or hoagie for you non-residents!) and a chocolate cabinet (milkshake!) on Federal Hill.

* * * * *

Reno MacLeod lives one state over from Rhode Island these days with his partner Jaye Valentine. Together they write not-for-the-faint-of-heart urban fantasy, horror, and sci-fi novels. Reno also paints, rides horses and is working on creating one kick-ass garden. Get to know him and his partner better at:  http://www.macleodvalentine.com 

6 comments:

Nora said...

Reno, I only was introduced to the beauty of Rhode Island a few years ago. Gorgeous place. I don't know how I missed it. You must have felt homesick writing about it. Thanks.

jrlindermuth said...

Small, but definitely not insignificant. Thanks for telling us more about your state.

Debby said...

I love Newport. I plan to visit again in a few months when I visit friends who live there.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Reno MacLeod said...

I want to thank Annette for giving me a chance to share my memories with everyone here. It felt good to visit those places again.

Debby, Newport is quite possibly my favorite spot in RI.

Nora, it's easy to miss. For some reason, RI doesn't do much in the way of advertising for tourism.

Jr, I agree! Thanks!

Fran Orenstein said...

Thank you for a great trip through a lovely state. I traveled through RI many times on the way to Boston, and even spent a long weekend in Newport. Indeed, the chowda is grand.

Pauline B Jones said...

Much enjoyed the word journey through RI! Learned a lot of stuff I did not know. :-)