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Kimberly, me, Will, Romain

Paul Harvey (radio host from 1952-2008) used to have this radio bit titled “The Rest of the Story.” I am reminded of that title when I think of how some people and places in my life have a story for me that lasts decades, and I expect future decades of story to be added. There is an added richness to my experience when I consider not only today, but also the rest of the story.

My trip to Rhode Island was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends. States are tiny on the northeast coast, so visiting state to state is like driving to another town.

Kim, Will, and I used to work together at the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont in 1995-1998. They knew me when I was pregnant with Tara, and got to meet baby Tara in the first weeks of their life. Tara and I went to Kimberly’s wedding. Kim still works for the National Weather Service in Massachusetts. Will still forecasts for Vermont, though he lives in Rhode Island. Romain is a Catholic priest, and was a classmate at Brandeis University and became one of my best friends at school in 2005-07. Tara and I last saw Romain when he gave us a tour of the Harvard College campus back when Tara was deciding what college to attend. These friends weave through my life.

Romain’s birthday gift.

The Superman Building

We met for lunch at a place in between all three of us, in Taunton, MA. We chatted for two and a half hours, but finally Kim had to go to work. It was so easy to get comfortable with them all despite not having seen any of them for years, and I was happy that Will and Kim and Romain easily enjoyed each others’ company though meeting for the first time. Before Romain left he gave me a stunning birthday gift of a glass dragon for the Dragon Lady.

The next morning I had to leave Rhode Island. It dawned that spectacular blue that only happens in New England winter skies, and I had Will hold the car while I finally got a great shot of the Superman Building, Providence’s tallest skyscraper. Will told me that locals call it that because it reminds them of the Daily Planet building in Superman comics. You know, the newspaper where Clark Kent worked.

Being a nerdy girl myself, the idea of a comic book connection was intriguing and I looked up images of the Daily Planet. I think the residents of Providence are generous in their memories, because the building really doesn’t look anything like what I found online. However!! I’m not a connoisseur of comics, particularly not DC, so there might have been a series or an artist that drew the building more like the Providence building. You be the judge.

Now THIS image of the Daily Star building (from an early version of the comic in 1938 before the name was changed to Daily Planet), looks a lot like the Providence building.

An image of the Daily Planet building from 1943.

There is no denying that it’s a stunning building. It’s gorgeous and I love it. The 26-story building opened in 1928. I was dismayed to find out that it has been empty for over 5 years and has such a low real estate value placed on it that there are calls for it to be demolished. There have been a couple of plans to put a new tenant in there, but a lot of rennovation work is required, and the maintenance on that place would be enormous, so the Mayor has not been able to find a new company to occupy the building. Thank goodness someone is trying to save Superman in the meantime.

Superman Building and the Biltmore – two historic and iconic Providence buildings.

Will and me inside the beautiful Biltmore Hotel, our winter weather gear heaped on a chair.

Elevator in Biltmore says “Built in 1978. It’s a Biltmore Classic. Use for Time Travel only.”

I’ve mentioned the Biltmore Hotel in earlier posts and haven’t talked much more about it because I managed to forget to take photos inside. We were usually on our way to do something fun and I didn’t want to stop for photos in the hotel, or on our way back from something fun and I was too tired. I managed to get two pictures that help you get a sense of how wonderful it is inside. At the top of the staircase is a neat old glass elevator that is no longer in use by guests, but Will recalls from his younger days that it was fun to try and sneak onto the elevator for a ride and a view of the city.

Providence downtown, the morning that I left.

Then we went to the airport and I remembered to thank the TSA personnel for working with no pay because of the government shut down. Providence has a small airport like Portland’s, and checking in was a breeze. Soon I was in my seat. I always want a window seat. I was in my first airplane at about age 8 and I’ve been flying commercial since age 16, and yet I still get a thrill when I’m in the air. With a background in meteorology, I marvel at the up-close look at clouds. With an unquenchable yearning for new sights, I spend all the time I can with my face pressed up against the safety plexiglass, peering through the frost patterns, in speechless awe at the planet below.

My flight at the beginning of the trip from Portland to Newark. We took off in darkness, then flew into the sunrise. It was so wonderful. See the star? Although, it’s so big and bright it might be a planet.

Bumping along the updrafts above the clouds.

Orange morning illuminates snowy peaks.

The day I left, our tiny plane flew low from Providence to Newark, so it was easier to watch life on the ground.

On approach, I realized Newark must be close to a larger city.

Yep. “THE” larger city. I had fun looking down onto New York City as my plane landed.

After a long layover in Newark, we left for home in the dark. Goobye New England. I’ll be back!

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of Providence City Hall, with the Biltmore in red brick next to it.

With the fabulous Providence Biltmore as a home base, it made sense that one day’s exploration should be just out the front door. As it had been all week, it was very cold and windy. Despite wind chills in the teens, we bundled up and left the hotel lobby to start walking and see where our feet would take us. They took us to some wonderful sights.

Right next door is the Providence City Hall, a beautiful building on the outside, and simply gorgeous on the inside. It was built in the 1870s, and continues in use today as the City Hall. The five-story building is built of iron and brick, and at the time of construction employed some fascinating technology. There was a water-powered elevator that could carry 50 people, but is no longer in operation. Prior to electricity, a central control clock was used, wound up each morning by the janitor like a grandfather clock. The clock sent a signal to all the other clocks in the building. The City Messenger’s office was equipped with bells and speaking tubes that connected to all the other offices in the building. Remnants of these features are still visible today.

Stairs from the main floor up into the heart of the building.

Beautiful at every level.

Clock on the fifth floor.

Old elevators still gorgeous, but no longer in use.

The Hiker

We crossed the street to gaze at a few monuments. The first was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, shown in the image at the top of this post. Dedicated in 1871, the 40-foot monument recognizes 1,727 Rhode Islanders that died during the Civil War. The figure at the top represents America, and the four smaller figures represent four branches of the military. The bronze reliefs are allegorical representations of War, Victory, Peace, and Freedom.

A short walk away is The Hiker,  installed in 1911 to commemorate those who fought in Spain, the Philippines, and China from 1898-1902. It is a replica of the original The Hiker, installed at the University of Minnesota in 1906. The name comes from a term soldiers in both the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War gave themselves.

Providence has a lot of hills, and since we began in a valley, it was inevitable that we would eventually hit an incline. We began walking uphill and a lovely white church caught our attention. It is the oldest Baptist church in America, aptly named the First Baptist Church, and holds a central role in the founding of the state of Rhode Island.

Plaque on the church wall

The church was founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The present building was erected in 1774-5. Roger Williams was a Puritan who left England to escape religious and political persecution. He did not come to America in the first wave however, but a few years later in 1631, and brought non-conformist ideas of what the colonies should be all about. 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. The 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 local 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 purchased 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.

First Baptist Church in Providence. The oldest Baptist Church in the country.

Eye-catching buildings line the street beside the First Baptist Church. That colourful one in the center is the Providence Art Club.

Interior of the church. There is stained glass behind that wall, only viewable from the outside. Not sure what that’s all about. Will guessed it could have been to maintain the humility and simplicity espoused by Roger Williams, who never would have approved an extravagance like coloured glass in his lifetime.

In the early days, patrons would rent their box, and would have a say regarding who was allowed to sit in it.

At the back of the church on the balcony, is an enormous organ. I don’t know if it still works, but the sound must be outstanding! {photo by Will}

We left the church and started uphill once more, coming across Brown University, another institution woven into the fabric of Providence’s early days. Dr. James Manning had been dispatched from Philadelphia to oversee some reforms in the Baptist church in the area, to include starting a Baptist college. (Dr. Manning was pastor when the church in the photos above was built) Originally called Rhode Island College, Manning was its first President. When the school charter was approved in 1764 it was the 7th college in America. Now called Brown University, it remains a premier American University.

Clock tower on a cold Winter’s day at Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

We stopped for lunch and I had Indian curry & Jasmine tea because isn’t that just the thing on a fiercely cold day? (This time I mean Asian Indian, not North American Indian. So confusing. Chris Columbus you goofball.) Then we walked uphill some more and I was excited when it began to snow! We came to a park very high up that Will calls “The other Roger Williams Park,” but it’s actually called Prospect Terrace Park. I didn’t get photos of it but there is a curious larger than life statue of Roger Williams looking out over the city. So we looked out over the city too:

The State House dominates the horizon here.

Downtown Providence

The State House looked so impressive from a distance that I really wanted to go there. Will double-checked with me about that, since it was so cold I could barely feel my face or hands. Like those early settlers here, I didn’t let a nasty winter day get me down. Onward ho! At the bottom of the hill we stopped in the beautiful train station to chat and get warm before continuing the long walk to the State House. As my reward for tenacity, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. It wasn’t any warmer, but it was prettier.

A lovely New England neighborhood on a hill.

The Independent Man atop the State House

Gettysburg Gun with charge in the muzzle.

Sun came out in time to illuminate the Rhode Island State House

Atop the State House stands the Independent Man, deemed to represent the character of a Rhode Islander. The statue of a muscular man clad in a loincloth and carrying a spear is made of gold and bronze, and was melted down from a donated statue. Previously a statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park that the city of New York considered an eyesore, the gift from Venezuela was sacrificed. The Independent Man was placed atop the cupola in 1899, and has survived lightning strikes and many many Rhode Island winter storms.

To get into the State House we had to have ID checked and pass through a metal detector. Once inside, I was doubly impressed by the grandeur here than I had been by City Hall. The foyer holds a Civil War gun that was last fired on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The gun was struck by a Confederate shell, damaging the muzzle of the gun and killing two soldiers. An attempt was made to reload the gun. Try as they might, members of the Rhode Island Light Artillery could not force the charge into the gun. When another shell hit and blew a wheel off, they gave up. The gun was allowed to cool, sealing the charge in place.

The House of Representatives were going into session soon, and the foyer was packed with people: participants, students, tourists, and the media with their cameras and lights. Will and I ducked the crowd into a quiet hallway and found the original Charter for the state of Rhode Island!

The original charter from the King of England granting religious and political rights to the people of Rhode Island.

In the Royal Charter Museum, three pages that make up the original document are held. In the 1663 document, King Charles II allowed settlers in Rhode Island to govern their own colony and guaranteed their individual freedom of religion. It was the kind of action Roger Williams dreamed of, and was in fact the first time in history that a monarch had agreed to this level of religious freedom. The event is remarkable, and the documents themselves were extraordinary works of art with such elaborate calligraphy that I could not read them.

The first page with calligraphy and illustration.

Close up of the magnificent ink work.

We then wandered the halls of the majestic building. We had been warned by the docent in the gift shop that we would hear bells notifying Representatives to take their seat. She told us the bells would continue till the gavel was sounded. When the bell rang as predicted, it was very loud and sounded like the ring in a high school to notify students to head to their next class. Unlike high school bells, this one continued to ring.

I thought the children we call politicians only pulled their stunts in Washington, D.C. Oh no, their lack of discipline, lack of respect for their office, lack of concern for the pressures that the rest of the world is forced to work under, became quickly evident here at the state level too. The bells rang and rang. Will and I sat in the gallery and watched. Hardly anyone acted as though they had noticed the incessant clanging. People chatted happily and unconcernedly. Pages were summoned and dispatched, returning with requested cans of soda. About 5% of Representatives took their seats, and I seriously wish I could name the ones who were seated, logged in to their desk computers, notes in a neat pile, and patiently waiting. Those people deserve your votes.

And rang. And rang. Every few minutes, another elected official wandered in, chatted awhile, set down some papers and wandered off. The bells kept ringing. I timed them: for TWELVE MINUTES before finally the Speaker banged the gavel. It was ridiculous. These people are treating the job with the gravity of preschoolers who have been told it’s time to move from story mats to the play bins. It felt even more insulting since the federal government is shut down. If this is how they do it in D.C., well no wonder nothing gets done.

Entrance into the State House (I took this photo as we were leaving, when everyone was seated quietly in the House).

Sunlight adds depth and warmth to the arches and domes.

Looking directly up into the dome.

The much smaller Senate room was quiet.

We sat in the gallery and listened to the bell calling Representatives to work for a full 12 minutes.

…and FINALLY they went to work.

Please please do not infer that I mean to disparage only Rhode Island politicians. What I believe we witnessed is a culture that must certainly have its roots in D.C. My best guess is that every single state in the Union takes the job of politician equally (un)seriously. I was disgusted.

But it had been a beautiful day and I anticipated more! Outside the sun was dropping and we saw a pretty sunset.

Sunset over Providence.

I charged Will with finding cake. The day before had been my birthday and I had not eaten any cake for my birthday, which was a grave oversight. I demanded cupcakes. Will said he knew the perfect place.

We walked back to the Biltmore to get the car and went off to have many many cupcakes at Duck & Bunny. This restaurant calls itself “a snuggery,” which their website insists is a word. It is delightful inside, and the tables are scattered throughout the rooms of the former house. We sat next to the fireplace, that was filled with burning candles instead of of logs.

It was an incredibly fun day, the birthday cupcakes were extraordinary, and it still wasn’t over! Next we walked to The Trinity Repertory Company to see a play, which was so good I already did a blog post on it because I was excited to tell you!

Three of the six cupcakes I ate from their filled pastry case.

Entrance of Duck & Bunny is very New England

Inside this classy restaurant is artwork that seems familiar at first, but is distinctly rabbit- and duck- themed.

Plane banks as we head toward the Boston bay. Crepuscular rays light up the shoreline like an invitation.

Plane banks as we head toward the Boston bay. Crepuscular rays light up the shoreline like an invitation.

This kind of scene would warm a teacher's heart.

This scene would warm a teacher’s heart.

I graduated from Brandeis University in 2007. I attended in my thirties, and clearly stood out from most of my classmates because of it. Despite the differences, I made some pretty tight friendships with other students, and the people whose lives intersected with mine. Interestingly (or perhaps predictably) the people I connected with were others who stood out from the crowd. They’ve been begging Tara and me for visits since my last trip to Massachusetts in 2008.

Finally! We made it back for one whirlwind friendship weekend.

R picked us up from the airport and took us to the UMass Boston campus to get our friend M.

Looking across the bay from University of Massachusetts Boston, while we waited for Mads to get off work.

Looking across the bay from University of Massachusetts Boston, while we waited for M to get off work.

New England homes and foliage across the bay.

New England homes and foliage across the bay.

Snapping photos from the back seat as we leave the airport.

Snapping photos from the back seat as we leave the airport.

This city looks beautiful even when photographed from a moving vehicle.

This city looks beautiful even when photographed from a moving vehicle.

Illuminated white tower at sunset and brilliant foliage reflected in the water. Some scenes are inescapably New England.

Illuminated white tower at sunset and brilliant foliage reflected in the water. Some scenes are inescapably New England.

Since the three of us were Brandeis graduates, and since there were a couple of hours left in Thursday, we hit the campus next. Tara is a senior and we are all about colleges these days. Applications, scholarships, and of course: pleading Mom for visits to campuses. Though T is not interested in East Coast schools, I assumed it couldn’t hurt to explore a few of them. We hit the bookstore before they closed and updated our Brandeis gear. I’m sure after everything we spent, the school was very glad they were still open that night.

Tara, R, and me in the Brandeis Admissions parking lot

Tara, R, and me in the Brandeis Admissions parking lot

The school's namesake: Justice Louis Brandeis

The school’s namesake: Justice Louis Brandeis on our photogenic campus.

We walked around, pointing out different things we all remembered. Tara, too, had childhood memories of it, like watching movies at the library while I was in class. What a trip down memory lane. To my delight, we caught the Brandeis Quidditch team at practice. You know, from the Harry Potter books? Well apparently it’s caught on in our world as well. The sticks between their legs are the brooms. Because of the angle, you can’t see it, but the “posts” on the end are three hoops at different heights through which the team is trying to lob the quaffle.

We walked through a great display in front of the Rose Art Museum from artist Chris Burden, called Light Of Reason. The work’s title borrows a quote by the university’s namesake, Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis: “If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.”

Light of Reason

Light of Reason

The lampposts are recycled antiques.

The lampposts are recycled antiques.

Best of all was when we decided to walk inside and down the stairs of the Mandel Center, the place where it all began. Where eight years ago I wandered into a classroom for International Peace and Conflict studies, and I think I was the only student who claimed to be from the United States. To you, it will look like a classroom that is remarkable only in its total lack of interesting qualities. M, R, and I stepped through the door and were hit with memories like an almost physical force. We sat in our old seats and remembered who sat where, and what countries they were from. We talked about our professors, our assignments, and how M’s final project regarding Sri Lankan conflict for Professor Johnson’s class is now cited in publications around the globe. We mentioned how small the classroom was in comparison to our memories of it (why do places always seem smaller when you go back?).

How did we all fit into this small space?

How did we all fit into this small space?

Reliving the old days.

Reliving the old days.

Finally we went for dinner and the guys became fans of my Tara. All that kid has to do is loosen up and start talking, and the fan base grows. I am so proud to be the parent of this awesome human being. We said goodbye to R, then M slept on the floor and gave us his bed. There is something pretty great about being spoiled by a friend. Maybe it’s the knowledge that one day I’ll get a chance to pay it back.

M and R at dinner. I love them so very much.

M and R at dinner. I love them so very much.

 

One of my many guises

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