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Friday, August 15, 2014

Discovering PROVIDENCE part 1

A Capitol View
I had mixed emotions when I chose to relocate to Providence for the summer.  I made the decision because it was prudent. I am beginning to suspect that I am quite often too prudent.  However, in the interest of saving vast amounts of money, I sublet my daughter’s studio apartment when she moved out -- and prepared to make Providence my home for three months.  As it turned out, it will be closer to four.  I have tried to see this as a positive opportunity to meet new people. I have unrestricted access to theatre and can frequent restaurants that are without compare on the Vineyard. Providence has offered me more adventures, insights and lessons than I could have ever have imagined.  I often recite Robert Frost’s line that “The way out is through.”  It may not be a matter of getting through my “sentence.” I am, quite literally, moving through Providence.  I am getting to know the place and having fantastic experiences. Instead of despairing that I am not on my beloved Island, for the time being, I am reaping all the rewards of life in a small, New England city.
An elaborate gargoyle in the financial district.
I first lived in Providence forty years ago.  I attended the Mary C. Wheeler School for Girls.  It was a decidedly formative aspect in building my character.  I have not set foot on the campus (now co-ed and called the Wheeler School) since my return as the prodigal daughter. For reasons I cannot define, I have been reluctant to do so. I am hoping to have a tour with a former classmate in coming weeks.  As I reacquaint myself with the Providence I see today, it is almost as if another city has been overlaid on the one of my memories.  But not quite!! As I was meandering down one street, high above me, I caught sight of a sign with the words “THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL” etched into a block-size building.  I stopped short and took a photo. In some inexplicable way, I felt reassured. It’s kind of like going to college and coming home and finding, phew, my room is still there.  All is not lost!  It is the same building, and same newspaper that I recall. Last week, I walked by one of many indistinct downtown fortresses that seem to just hunker down as bricks and mortar. I was thrilled to discover a plaque affixed to the outside stating of one of these buildings that it was designed by Daniel Chester French. Daniel Chester French!! In case his work his new to you, he is famous, among other things, for designing the Lincoln Memorial.  I felt a particular kinship with Mr. French because I once had quite a fabulous visit at his home and studio, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge,MA.     
 I have heard many rumors about the budget issues here in Providence.  I do not engage in politics here.  I have grown accustomed to the condition of the side roads, the on- ramps to I-95, the many untended municipal gardens and the incessant work that causes bogged traffic and near traffic accident misses.  Providence is, as is the rest of the state, going through some difficult times.  It is evident they are working hard to restore her to her glory.  The Providence skyline was one of the most recognized in early television; it was made famous by Superman.
Look for it...the Superman Building!
In 1941,  when the nation needed a hero, Superman fit the bill. He “was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful that a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. “Superman appeared to leap over what residents call  the Super Man building; 111 Westminster Street. The Super Man Building was constructed in 1872. Despite housing many tenants over the past 140 years, it is virtually vacant today.  Wikipedia boasts that this 26-story building remains the 28th tallest in New England.  The vision of it on Providence’s skyline has been a beacon reflecting the strength and vitality of the city for as long as anyone can remember. Yet today, rumors have it that the electric service was discontinued service because there were no tenants to pay the bills. Local leaders and businesses took umbrage at the notion that the summit of the Superman Building was not being illuminated. The proverbial hat was passed to to raise enough money to pay for the iconic building to have its evening lights switched “ON.”  The Super Man Building may be more façade than substance in Providence these days, but it still projects an image of strength and steadfast hope.
Since I have moved to Providence, every single time I walk out of the lobby of my building, I find myself stepping into some kind of adventure. Without exception, these adventures, have lifted my spirits and imbued me with renewed interest in this city that I had filed in the back recesses of my memories. For instance, a few weeks ago,  I was among the mall-shoppers who were asked to leave the Providence Place Mall due to a possible bomb threat. That was a new one for me! Actually, I was able to witness just how alarmingly poorly the mall personnel and security guards were prepared if that had been a real emergency.  After a 45 minute wait, people had their wallets at the ready and the doors were reopened. Word on the street was that Nordstrom did not allow their employees to evacuate because there had been an alarm the prior week when a vehicle caught on fire in the parking garage. Personally, I was tired from the commotion and walked home. 
The Seekonk River
I have spent hours walking along the canals, poking sticks and skipping stones on the Seekonk River.  I am mystified how a city this small can have so many unheralded treasures and small troves of pleasure.  Often, I am not looking for them. Just a couple of weeks ago, I hoped to buy a used book from the Providence Library that is next door to my apartment complex.  Instead, I inadvertently wandered into the Rhode Island Independent Expo in Publishing.  When I stepped inside of the vestibule and out of the drizzling rain, I was oddly disoriented.  Four polite young men were seated at a long table on folding chairs, handing out brochures and accepting donations. I was utterly confused why there was a marble lobby  -- from which I could glimpse a large marble room -- filled with people sporting colorfully decorated hair in red, purple, orange, gold and black. Their hair, in fact, seemed to serve as an accessory to their tattoos and expressive clothing.  More than 75 artisans of comics and cartoons and manga hawked their wares. . (Trust me, I had to go to www.mangapanda.com to unearth the meaning and market of manga.
I missed the signage upon entering the Providence Public Library.

Manga is the Japanese comics with a unique story line and style. In Japan, people of all ages read manga; manga does not target younger audiences like american comics”

Apparently I looked sufficiently out of place in my black raincoat, black slacks and red rain boots that I might have needed help.  Eventually, I found an elevator to the first floor.  Somehow, I found myself wending through the stacks. A sense of déjà vu stopped me in my tracks because I had been equally as lost in the Providence Library stacks when I was seventeen.  I was ready to abandon my idea of buying some used books. (My own stack of books continue to suffer the sad effects of being dropped too frequently in bath water as my nighttime muscle spasms subside only when I am immersed in nearly scalding water.  At last, sleep tickles me, my hand drops and dip, there goes another book. That is a topic for another posting.) Back to the Providence Library....
When I located a wide, winding staircase, I descended feeling a bit like Charlotte in Gone with the Wind.  I headed toward a sign for Reference. I thought I saw motion. As in a person?  “Excuse me,” I called out as I kept an eye on the slippery marble floor; it is difficult   to appear graceful though clinging to the hand rail. My cane slid every time I planted it on the marble floor. I was awestruck by what seemed to be a set of helix stairs, but I didn’t dare look up to take it all in.  Falling would not be cool.  I saw a bookish woman, but I didn’t want to frighten her where she stood at the Reference desk.  “Excuse me?” I repeated.
 A bookish woman, my age, jumped slightly. I could see doing that myself.
“I seem to be lost?”
With a perfectly balanced tone of irritation and distrust, she asked, “Where did you come from?” 
That particular question always throws me for a loop.  I was sputtering something about the apartments next door, Martha’s Vineyard, Broad Street, an elevator and my parents’ love for each other.
“I don’t know if you realize it, but we are closed.”  I apologized profusely for disturbing her.  I explained I was simply in search of used books for sale.
Before she could further castigate me for my marked ignorance, we heard the voice of a man as he came from somewhere behind me.
“It’s all right, I will see her out. ”  Feeling a little like I was taking the walk of shame, I followed him to an elevator that took me straight back up to the manga artists.  As I was leaving, the newest crop of volunteers that were installed at the welcome desk wished me a good day and said they hoped I had enjoyed myself.
An unexpected parade with Celtic band.
             Barely having recovered from that diversion, I stepped outside into a parade of about 800 people. The men wore charcoal slacks, white shirts and blue blazers with a tie of their own choice.  Most women were dressed in beautiful salwar kameez; the likes of which I have never seen except in a museum or in a Bollywood movie. An important spiritual leader for the group was being welcomed and his followers were having a parade in his honor.  It took me thirty minutes to figure it out. Sort of.
The flag reads, “Harmony in Oneness.”
I thought it was something of a musical malaprop that a small Celtic bagpipe band led the Eastern practitioners’ parade down the street. (check out a really fun version, thought totally different, on YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eVc2s0_68c ) The people were so kind and harmonious toward me and each other, it felt a little otherworldly.  At one point, I noticed there seemed to be a lot of balloons. Suddenly, the sky was thick with them.  Political correctness, pigeons and jet engines be damned, these balloon were going to take flight. Hundreds of balloons were released. It was only when I was at some distance from the entire parade that I could discern that the balloons were fashioned as doves of peace, rising en masse, over the city of Providence.  Up, up, and over the tallest buildings…..bearing the promise of harmony.

It’s true; hope floats.

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