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