Providence in November

It was warm in Chicago when we made our connection to a small plane. {Photo by Pedro}

We were invited to a wedding in Providence in November. Pedro had never been to Rhode Island, so we extended our visit in order to explore America’s tiniest state.

My beloved friend, EmFish was marrying Ari, and EmFish was the only person in the entire wedding party of around 200 that I had met before. (and Pedro didn’t know a single soul- eep) It was the first time for Pedro and I to experience a Jewish wedding, and this was also our first transgender wedding. Who wouldn’t be excited, and honored? The wedding was beautiful, so specifically thoughtful of the guests, and filled with the most amazingly beautiful people. In the first synagogue I’ve ever been inside, and the first time since school at Brandeis I’ve been surrounded by Jewish people! The families were diverse, as any American family is, and so parts of the ceremony were in Russian, in Ukrainian, Yiddish, and English. My life is a constant adventure. I mean, seriously.

The rainbow kippot were provided for everyone to wear. The surnames of Gofman and Fishman were combined to make a Go Fish theme for the celebrations, which I thought was adorable.

Anyway, we stayed downtown and explored Providence, the capital city of Rhode Island. Since it’s winter, and our circadian clocks were set 3 hours later (so we got up late), we had very few hours of daylight to look around. What we did see was beautiful, albeit cold.

We stayed at the Hotel Dean in downtown, a boutique hotel with individualized rooms in a historic building.
Though it was November, right away we spotted blossoming flowers. I’m not sure what these are, but wow, what a hardy winter plant!

The day, as you can see, was brilliantly blue and sunny. It made the relatively small city of Providence look stunning.

Rhode Islanders call the one on the right the Superman Building, because it is reminiscent of where Clark Kent worked, at the Daily Planet. I critiqued that idea in a blog post in 2019.
The low angle of the sun put a lot of buildings in the shade, even in the afternoon.

Next we decided to walk to the Capitol building. Its position caught the late afternoon rays of sun and was stunning on a hill not too far away. As we got closer, we noticed people running up and down the marble capitol steps. They were members of some sports team, because they hollered up to the man at the top and called him Coach. His Assistant Coach was also there. As Pedro and I walked closer and closer, Coach blew his whistle and they would run as fast as they could up the stairs, then down again. Sometimes he had them do it twice or three times.

By the time we arrived, I was ready to join them. I took off my knee-length down coat and gloves, and scarf and camera and purse and dropped it all in a heap and told the boys I was going to run with them next time. They hollered up, “Hey Coach! This lady says she’s going to run with us!” “Alright then!” Coach hollered back. By that time, Pedro had his gear in a pile too. The whistle went off, and we started running. I got a very late start, trying to step on every single step. I soon learned that the only way to get any speed was to skip a step. Soon I was at the top and far behind the boys who were already halfway back down. Pedro and I turned and ran back down. One of the boys came over and fist-bumped us. It was so much fun! After all the airplanes and being indoors, this was just what we both needed.

Rhode Island State House. See the four boys running down the steps?
On top of the Capitol cupola is The Independent Man. He was placed at the top in 1900.

We chatted with the Coach for a while, who asked us what team we’re on back home to make us so fit (answer: none) and asked where we came from and why were we visiting. Then everyone was done for the day and they went to cars and Pedro and I slowly circled the beautiful building. Out front we saw about ten tents where people were apparently sleeping on the Capitol grounds. Pedro and I had both seen this thing before: street people camped out on administrative property in order to send a political message about the plight of houseless people. There were no signs and no one talked to us, so we do not know what the case was here.

Feeling rather proud of myself for the spontaneity of racing the steps. {Photo by Pedro}

I knew there was a small National Park in Providence that I had never seen, and that is where we set off to next. It is called Roger Willliams National Memorial, run by the US National Park Service.

I liked these colourful trees as we tromped back down the hill from the Capitol building.

On the way, we went through Waterplace Park. There is a famous thing here called Water Fire, in which those braziers in the river are filled with logs and burned at night while the public watches. I’ve seen it and it’s pretty cool. But in the wintertime, it rarely happens.

Providence is one of those cities lucky enough to have a river running through the center of town.
Despite the cold, it was still a beautiful city focal point, around Waterplace Park.
Look at this scene! So pretty.
Pedro took a photo of me after I took a photo.

Roger Williams is the truly hero-worthy founder of the city of Providence. His commitment to humanity of all kinds and his consistent humility and accountability make him, in my opinion, one of the most important leaders that shaped America. Anyone from Rhode Island should be damned proud of their state’s heritage. Here’s a little I wrote about Williams in a post from 2019: “Williams was adamant about separation of church and state and insisted that the local church totally repudiate its ties with the Church of England. He also declared it a “solemn public lie” that the King of England had the right to grant land to colonizers without first buying it from the Indians. His ideas challenged the legality of land uses at that time and stirred up political and religious unrest and threatened to upset the fragile economy. All this had been set up before Williams even got there, and his loudly proclaimed contrary ideas were a major disruption.

“By 1635 the Massachusetts authorities had had enough and tried and convicted Williams. As punishment he was to be banished to England. Instead, Williams hiked through the snow from Salem to Narragansett Bay and lived on the hospitality of the Wampanoag Indians. The following spring, he negotiated for a piece of land from the Indians, and with some friends from Salem, started a community. He named it Providence, after the providence God had shown him. His community was based entirely on religious freedom, welcoming all to come and worship in their own way. Williams became a Baptist and began the Baptist Church in Providence and was its first pastor.”

This is Providence’s first Baptist Church and the oldest Baptist Church in the United States.
Here and there we saw the marine-themed state seal of Rhode Island, like this one on the bridge over Moshassuck River. The state may be only 37 mi by 48 mi (59.5 km by 77 km) but it still has 400 miles of coastline! (644 kilometers of coastline!)
And finally we found the Roger Williams National Memorial

The park is small, but being located in the center of the city allows it to reach and teach a lot of people. We passed the Hahn Memorial. From the official website: “The centerpiece of the memorial is an octagonal limestone wellcurb traditionally held to contain the source of the Roger Williams Spring. The park was given to the city of Providence by Judge Jacob Hahn in memory of his father, Isaac Hahn, the first person of Jewish faith to be elected to public office from Providence.”

The Issac Hahn memorial has a structure meant to evoke a well, since this is the spot that legend says is the location of the original city spring.

In the park we learned that in order to be equitable to all property owners, pieces of land were divided into long, narrow strips that began with waterfront access, then went up the hill, and stretched out across the flat fertile land at the top. This allowed movement and transport via boat, maybe a house and animals on the slope, and land for agriculture at the top. The sign that explained this said if we looked, we would be able to see today’s streets that still reflect the pattern.

Providence streets run perpendicular to the river, and up the hill.
It was fun for me to recognize the pattern of the streets, after having been educated by the signs in the park.

Roger Williams firmly believed that the land they occupied belonged to the Narragansett Indians who lived there first. He met with tribal leaders and negotiated a contract in which the Narragansett would allow the settlers to live on and work the land, and in return, any trade goods that came from England, the tribe would be able to take any of it that they wanted. The point of this was that the land was not “purchased,” and the Natives continued – in Williams’ opinion – the rightful owners. In the park, one of the information signs includes this quote: “Boast not proud English of thy birth and blood thy brother Indian is by birth as good. Of one blood God made him, and thee, and all as wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.” Roger Williams, 1643.

We were hungry and thirsty and began looking for a place to eat near the park. We found a great little spot at Harry’s Bar & Burger where we had several pints. It’s one of those tiny, popular places, that stayed crowded and had people coming in constantly to pick up their food to go. It was warm and friendly and we really enjoyed our stop.

Harry’s Bar & Burger. (The sign on the red wall of 123 N Main St says, “Built by John Updike.” I looked for a long time and could not find any additional information about this building, or John Updike’s relationship to it.)

We began making our way toward Brown University, enjoying the quality of the views in the darkening sky, with lights shining all around. My next post will be all nighttime shots, since it grew pitch dark at 5pm and we still had exploring to do!

As the buildings lit up, the scenes were different and compelling.
Attractive row of homes along Thomas Street.
Mural visible across Providence River is a message about the continuity of the Native people here. In the mural, Lynsea Montanari holds a black and white photo of Princess Redwing, a Rhode Island Native activist and educator. I found a nice interview with Ms. Montanari here.

10 thoughts on “Providence in November

  1. I’m going to read this again on Monday when I can better absorb all this wonderful information on Providence. I loved it. I had a very good friend from Rhode Island and there is a resident here that I spotted her accent immediately. She was quite surprised that I caught it. You have been jet setting all over the place. Running up the stairs is extremely impressive! I’m just walking inside the apt building these days. I unlock the 5 outside doors at 6 and then motor on until I get my heart rate and steps to where I can register a day of exercise. F.B. has me challenging myself. Just a quick Merry Christmas to both of you and the kids too. Hope you are all doing well. Love and hugs. Marlene Herself. 😉

    1. Merry Christmas back to you, Marlene! We had a dreadful freezing rain storm yesterday morning and again in the evening. I meant to go to Pedro’s but he implored me to stay home, so I’ll be off this morning. The weather changed and all the ice is melted now. Today we are driving down to Albany to deliver packages to the kids, plus some furniture and a second hand microwave. The things we do for our kids, huh? It’s all an investment, so that when I need it, they will in turn take care of me, as yours do for you. ❤ I think it's very neat that you recognized the Rhode Island accent! I used to be able to, but not anymore.

      1. I’m glad you didn’t risk life and limb to make the trek. You are more valuable all the other days of the year as a whole human than one damaged by an accident. Good for Pedro to put your safety first. Yes, we do a lot for our children and hopefully, they have learned enough empathy that they will be there when we need them. Like me, you have always had a great relationship with your child. By now, you know all you do will at some point in time be reciprocated. Your weather has been pretty awful. I watch for several reasons. 😉 Ours was cold but perfect. I’m ready to unclutter again. Hugs to all of you.

  2. For such a small state it seems to have a big story; and towering buildings when I expected to see Mayberry. I haven’t spent much time on the right coast, so once again, I get to live vicariously through you. Thanks for the history. My favorite part, of course, is the two of you running up and down the Capitol steps. It’s a little snapshot of who you both are and made me smile*

    1. I thought later that I’m glad Pedro is someone who would see that I was about to run up the steps, and immediately join me. I didn’t ask him to. It made me think that we have more things in common than is readily apparent. I’m glad I was able to take you along to New England with us. I grew up in the PNW and then spent most of my life in the West (incl Alaska), so it is fun that I also spent two major periods of my life in the East. I forecasted the weather for a few years in Vermont, and then at a different time, I went to school in Boston. Because of that, I have connections over there that keep pulling me back.

  3. We were just so honored to have you both with us! Thanks for the glowing write up of the wedding and the inspiration to explore Providence!!

    1. Thanks Fish!! Mostly, thank you for being such a great friend and for inviting us to your wedding. I meant to write about the wedding, but I didn’t end up getting any clear photos. They were all blurry and low quality and in the end I decided not to try. Our time in Providence was a fun little Fall adventure, and I’m happy for all of it (except for the blurry wedding photos, and the absolutely dead streets of Newport, in my future post).

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