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RHODE ISLAND
 
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EXPLORING RHODE ISLAND

WATERFIRE -- REASON ENOUGH TO GO
Providence, the capital city of Rhode Island, is home to two of the nation's finest educational institutions -- Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Brown University. There are also a dozen or so nationally recognized educational colleges. For a very small state, Rhode Island has ample educational opportunities for everyone and it shows in the community. The frequent summer celebrations of Waterfire in the night time downtown city are just one demonstration of the impact the state's investment in education has had.

When I lived in Rhode Island many years ago I remember the women's "Take Back the Night" marches. Waterfire seems to me to be a more recent close cousin. As you can see in the photographs below, this event takes place after dark beginning at sunset, ending around 10 or 11:00 pm. Would you want to be walking the streets with your children in the central downtown area of your capital city during those hours?

 

Waterfire is about artists and about community. It is a celebration of the best of humanity. There are jazz musicians and violinists, there are business parties and educational awards events, there are fine arts exhibits and good quality crafts to buy. Foods of all kinds are available with wines and beers and soft drinks. Lovers will find it romantic, the imaginative will find it exciting, Mom, Dad and the kids will enjoy its freedom and diversity, and you will love it in your way too. We always schedule our visit to Rhode Island when there will be a Waterfire celebration. We wouldn't miss it for all the world. For much more information and the current schedule of events please click here Waterfire.

 

Waterfire

Waterfire

 

Lighting up the River at Waterfire

Lighting up the River at Waterfire

 

Food at Waterfire

Beverages at Waterfire

 

Musicians at Waterfire

 

Lights at Waterfire

 

Performers at Waterfire

Performers at Waterfire

 
Rhode Island is the smallest of the fifty US states, but its bountiful and broad cultural expressions belie its size. Prestigious universities and art schools, nationally recognized and award winning restaurants and chefs, high end athletics as in The National Hall of Fame of Tennis and The Americas Cup Yacht Races which were held in Newport for decades, dozens of public clean water ocean beaches, the historic City of Newport with its restored mansions, a nationally recognized fine art museum, musical venues like the Newport Folk and Jazz festivals and Symphony Hall in Providence, unending colonial architecture and charm, cultural influences beginning with British Roger Williams who rejected the rigidity of the Pilgrims flowing forward to African Americans, Southern Italians, Portuguese, Irish, and now Asians and Hispanics who have all made wonderfully vibrant neighborhoods. Rhode Island is someplace very special.
 

It might be helpful to imagine this wonderful little place from the sky. Rhode Island is like an upended "U" facing south with a huge bay separating the two sides so we speak of East Bay and West Bay, but in truth that doesn't really cover it, though it does give you a place to start. The East Bay carries Rt. 95 and all that implies as from Rhode Island the next big attraction is New York City. A lot of it seems more densely populated than the West Bay especially with the outlying areas of Providence and the completely developed towns of Warwick and Cranston. Heading south from there you begin to encounter the colonial charm you have in mind passing through chic towns like East Greenwich and Wickford. Further south you'll find the beaches and beach towns. Narragansett is home to some of the old wealth of New England. The houses are large and beautiful, but credible compared to those in Newport which were extravaganzas of new money. In contrast, wealthy people really lived in Narragansett as these were their summer homes.

Further south you'll encounter Roger W. Wheeler State Beach more commonly known as Sand Hill Cove, the beach neighborhoods of very tiny summer cottages and Pt. Judith with its thriving fishing industry and wealth of seafood restaurants. Right there as well is the ferry to Block Island a summer haven for folks from New York City, but only occasionally visited by Rhode Islanders. It's beautiful, small and pristine. I once worked with a young woman who grew up on Block Island. Her invitation to visit gave me my first incredible experience of the island.

If you continue south on Rt. 95 from Providence heading toward New York City, before leaving Rhode Island you would have encountered many more very isolated beach communities, but one has special glitz -- Watch Hill. It is a conservative small town where tall privacy hedges seem to be perfectly trimmed at all times. Few people from Rhode Island live here. The women are very thin and a little wizened, the men are rich. I don't envy the competition here for "top dog."

 

The West Bay on the whole is more subdued than the East. Right outside of the capital city of Providence is the well managed corporate residential town of Barrington. Beyond that you'll drive through Warren, an engaging mish mash of colonial and kitsch, then arriving in Bristol, with its thoroughly manicured main street colonial town. On the backside of Bristol lie such features as an aging Converse factory.This is the commercial side of Bristol dahling' and we only go there to the supermarket, pharmacy and liquor store.

Continuing from Bristol you'll cross an artfully designed bridge into Portsmouth. From there you can travel south toward Newport or West toward New Bedford, MA, cutting the trip short to head south again while still in RI toward Sakonnet. This is a beautiful ride through some artfully and skillfully developed very small towns and communities. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had a bit more cash and a lot more good taste. If you drive to the end of the road you might find my very favorite in the whole world lobster shop. I have to say the summer vegetable stands along this road sell fruits and vegetables that look as beautiful as anything in California's Marin farmer's market.

 
Of course there are other less touristy areas of the state, most of them you'll encounter when driving from Providence north to Boston and beyond. But there are other delightful non seaside beautiful towns and areas like the combination of Foster/Gloucester and Scituate (home of the state's huge reservoir) and Greenville. These are areas of the state largely forgotten until apple season when weekends require a pick your own trip to an apple farm where freshly made cider and sticky popcorn fill little bellies. Pumpkins abound here along with a wealth of foods and decorations for approaching Halloween celebrations.
 

RHODE ISLAND PLACES

 
PROVIDENCE -- FEDERAL HILL

When we lived for a year or so in RI many years ago Federal Hill was a favorite haunt -- great breads, pastries, imported meats and cheeses and lest I forget, fabulous pizza. The original Federal Hill was a very genuine enclave of immigrants mainly from southern Italy, primarily Naples and Sicily. The State's most authentic pizza restaurant is called Caserta's which is also the name of a town just north of Naples. In those days many small shops were run by older folks who spoke no English, but sold all of the traditional Italian fare from huge bunches of basil to broccoli rabe and fennel. Those little shops have been replaced now by second and third generation Italian Americans who have opened very chic restaurants and bars, many still featuring Italian foods, but with a more international flair.
 

Antonelli's has been around for decades and continues much the same as it always was with a few attempts at chic as befits the changing neighborhood. Here you can identify your live chicken and bring it home for dinner all plucked. Live ducks also live in the back of the shop awaiting selection. One of the newer additions to the options is rabbits. All of this of course makes me want to go completely vegetarian, but I have to say twenty years ago or so he really did have the best chicken in the state and you didn't have to choose unless you wanted to. Fresh chicken was all ready to go. I don't know who is keeping the tradition alive, but the shop looks much as it always did.
 
You cannot possibly visit Federal Hill and miss shopping at the Scialo Bros. Bakery. Their breads are astonishingly good with thick crusts and the pies and pastries are very special treats. Everything is baked in a huge brick oven rebuilt by an artisan who came from Italy to build it after the original was destroyed in a fire. The bakery has been in business since 1919 and with a little luck it will be around at least until 2119. Stop by and try the double crusted Sicilian bread and take home cannolis for dessert.
 

 
PROVIDENCE -- THE EAST SIDE
 

The East Side is often simply called "the hill" as it sits on a rise over looking the now carefully redesigned downtown commercial city as you can see in the photograph on the right. The East Side is home to universities, private colleges and prep schools and it has all of the book stores, pizza shops, delis and art supply stores to go with them. Much of the East Side is colonial construction that has been carefully preserved.

Angell Street

 

Benefit Street Church on the Corner of Chuch Street

Benefit Street Fountain

 

Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Angell Street

 

Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design

 

Rhode Island School of Design

Benefit Steet View of the Centuries

 
PROVIDENCE -- FOX POINT
Fox Point lies to the back and side of the East Side and is different in character. Here you'll find the health food stores, international restaurants, and specialty shops that keep a thriving student and faculty population happy. It was at one time a Portuguese neighborhood where I remember buying freshly made sweet bread and other treats. Now it seems it's easier to find papadums. The city has spent millions over the last few decades on urban renewal projects which have been done with a flair, making the city a very appealing place to live. One of the projects was the creation of this park that runs along side of the Providence river.
 

Fox Point

Fox Point

The Providence River

 
PROVIDENCE -- THE ELMWOOD AREA
 
Beautiful Elmwood went through a downward economic and social spiral for years and many of the turn of the century homes were irreparably damaged. But, renewal is coming to the neighborhood and perhaps investments made in the huge city park are helping to bring in new investors able to rehabilitate the large old homes. Below are two photographs of structures in what is called Roger Williams Park. The park is also home to a completely redesigned zoo and riding stables. It is an impressive place for the capital city of such a small state.
 

Roger Williams Park Boathouse

Roger Williams Park Temple of Music

 
One of the most impressive projects in the park was the creation of the Roger Williams Botanical Center with huge greenhouse displays of exotics and exterior plantings of cold hardy plants, shrubs and trees. As part of this project there is also an impressive old rose garden.
 

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center

 
RHODE ISLAND PLACES -- THE WEST BAY -- WARREN
Warren is very representative of a Providence, work commuting, Rhode Island town. It has a clam chowder factory, there are Portuguese restaurants and bars, American colonial guest houses, stylish pub restaurants and you can buy locally made beer at a very chic place on Main St. The house I dream of owning is in this little town too.
 

Warren Harbor

Warren Harbor

 

Warren Restaurant

Warren Restaurant

 

RHODE ISLAND PLACES -- THE WEST BAY -- BRISTOL

As a young woman I lived on the water in Bristol growing a huge garden and truthfully shivering all winter in one of those dreamed about colonial houses filled with glorious antiques. Facing the water in winter in Rhode Island requires a stiff upper lip at first and later in life creates very stiff bones. At the time there was a Converse sneaker factory there where I worked for one day. It was a dangerous and exhausting place where Portuguese immigrants spent long days with lots of hours of overtime. I had not a clue what to expect when I took the job, but quickly learned. I don't know if it is still operating, but I have never since bought a pair of Converse shoes. In recent years Bristol has been well and truly gentrified. It always was a very pretty town; now it is a postcard. For such a small town, there are many reasons to visit. These three truly wonderful places in the town are my favorites on the long list -- The Herreshoff Museum, Blithewold and of course Pat's corn farm.

 

Blithewold is a beautiful home with all the warmth and character of a family's summer residence. There is even an enclosed pagoda where you can sit and enjoy a half hour video of the family's lifestyle. I especially loved seeing their small plane land on the front lawn. Over time Blithewold was inherited by later generations and one of them had a love of gardens. Thanks to her, the property became what is today, a glorious home surrounded by the exquisite garden she created. To see much more of this extraordinary garden visit my website,

http://www.greengardeningcookingcuring.com/Botanical%20Gardens.html#blithewold

 

Blithewold Residence

 

Blithewold Garden

Blithewold Residence

 
Bristol's harbor is filled with sail boats of all makes, sizes and models, but one name stands out -- Herreshoff. What once was a world renowned name in ship building is now a museum where some of the most beautiful boats you will ever see are on display. On some of them you can even step aboard, if you first remove your shoes.
 

Herreshoff Museum

The "Coqunia" at the Herreshoff Museum

 

"Sadie" at the Herreshoff Museum

A Workshop at the Herreshoff Museum

 

The "Coqunia" at the Herreshoff Museum

 

A Workshop at the Herreshoff Museum

An America's Cup Contender

 

Innovation was a byword at Herreshoff and one that gained infamy were the fin keel boats. They were like lightning on the water. "Wee Win" in 1892 won 21 of the 22 races in her first year. "Jilt" in 1898 was called "Billy Gray's unbeaten Jilly" so you get the idea. I've sailed a "lightning" and thrilled to the speed a 20 ft. drop keel wood boat can attain. I can only imagine sailing one of these treasures.

A Fin Keel Boat in a Workshop at the Herreshoff Museum

 

A Workshop at the Herreshoff Museum

 

Pat Usher's farm is one of those very special unpretentious places that sell the best sweet corn you'll ever eat along with tomatoes and a few other vegetables of equal caliber. Pat can be found by the road in front of a corn field on Metacom Av/Rt. 36, the back road through Bristol. Behind a cornfield is his aging beautiful farm home. Most times these days Pat will be accompanied by a son or daughter when handing over the brown bags of corn. We've had many conversations with Pat who is a very interesting individual along with being a corn connoisseur.

New England Sweet Corn

 

Pat Usher's Farm Sweet Corn and Butternut Squash

 

Pat Usher's Farm with Chrysanthemums

 

Pat Usher's Farm and Residence

 

RHODE ISLAND PLACES -- THE WEST BAY -- NEWPORT

 

The Breakers

Into the 1960's Newport was a navy town. It had all the colonial architecture one could dream of, the harbor, America's Cup races, the folk and jazz festivals and turn of the century palatial homes closed up and in great need of restoration. The US government did Rhode Island a great favor in closing the navy base -- it freed people with great creativity to recreate their town. The tough bars and sleazy tattoo parlors are gone for the most part and the societal problems associated with a military town are gone as well. Newport is now the treasure it always should have been.

On the left stands "The Breakers," just one of the many historical homes you may visit while in Newport. Below are photographs of "The Elms," one more of the carefully restored residences. This one has a very peculiar fountain which speaks to the taste of the owners.

 

The Elms Dining Patio

The Elms Dining Patio

 

One of The Elms' Fountains

 

RHODE ISLAND PLACES -- THE WEST BAY -- SAKONNET

 

I don't honestly believe that the majority of Rhode Islander's even know that Sakonnet is part of the state. Certainly, many don't make it here to see how wonderful it is. This is Rhode Island's wine country and I believe the home of the best lobster shop in the state or in any other state for that matter. I've bought lobsters there for many years and aged along with the owner who is still a wonderful guy selling the world's best cold water lobsters. As a visitor to the state, put this on your list of things to do whether or not you buy lobsters. There is also a little Sakonnet town where you'll find a church, a restaurant and best of all a wonderful little resale shop where high quality bargains abound.

Sakonnet Light House

 

World's Best New England Lobster is Found in Sakonnet

 
Sakonnet Lobster has been a favorite of mine for decades. The owners are low key nice people and they have the liveliest lobsters I've ever seen. Coming out of the pot the lobsters are as delicious as they were lively. The business also seems to best demonstrate the character of Rhode Island. They sell the freshest lobsters and crabs seven days a week, the sell plants and they create and sell unique lobster pot furniture. What else could you want?
 

Sakonnet Lobster Chair

Sakonnet Lobster Plants and Furnishings

 
RHODE ISLAND PLACES -- THE EAST BAY -- WARWICK
 

Morris Farm Stand

I hale from this part of the US and always enjoy the best of what it has to offer in the summer -- locally grown sweet corn. We often make the trip to buy it at the same farm and from the same folks as my parents did every Sunday all summer long when I was a little girl. Maybe this farm was also part of the inspiration for my gardening passion. Who knows? See my website Green Gardening Cooking Curing.

The old scale isn't used anymore, but it still hangs proudly after its many many years of service. The old farm stand building is still there too, but there have been a few changes. I remember my parents parking on the road by the farm with dozens of other cars. We'd pile out of the car and line up for our brown bag dozen and melons and vegetables. It was always a wait, but in a friendly community event sort of way -- kids played, parents gossiped. Some of Rhode Island still feels that way. It's a good feeling.

Morris Farm is a fine example of the commitment to doing it right that runs through all of Rhode Island's cultural melange. Naturally some of that is changing, but authenticity might well be a catch word for the state.

 

Farm Equipment at Morris Farm

Sweet Corn Field at Morris Farm

 

Owner, John Morris with Paul Sullivan, Manager

Corn Field with Sunflowers at Morris Farm

 

Zinnias at Morris Farm

Green Peppers at Morris Farm

 
The farm equipment shed seems to be a place of retirement for once hard working and still highly valued tools.
 

Morris Farm Stand

Farm Equipment at Morris Farm

 

Morris Farm still seems like the real thing. Please click here to visit their website Morris Farm.
Morris Farm 2779 Wawick Ave, Warwick, RI 02889, (401) 738-1036
Open Easter til Christmas for all your seasonal needs
John & Cindy Morris, Owners, Paul Sullivan, Manager
Email: [email protected]

John Morris, Farm Owner

 
RHODE ISLAND PLACES -- THE EAST BAY -- POINT JUDITH
 

Pt. Judith is the "end of the road" in this area. It is the deep sea fishing base for the state and the port for the Block Island Ferry. Nearby is the Sand Hill Cove public beach where all summer long families put down their blankets, put up their umbrellas and partake of the day. Nearby are seafood restaurants specializing in Rhode Island's finest fresh lobster, clams, quahogs and crabs all accompanied by Rhode Island or Long Island clam chowder, Rhode Island clam cakes (not to be found anywhere else), fresh ears of buttered corn and all the other "sides" you can dream of. This is get down and dirty dining that will knock your socks off.

I love fish of all kinds and one of my favorites in this part of the world is bluefish. It is an oily full flavored fish and fried or baked it is wonderful. Shellfish are another passion with scallops topping the list. The very close second is steamers whether long neck or hard shell. I love it all and you may too. Growing up on the sea I learned early on what is good seafood. Good seafood is fresh. If you are looking at a whole fish the eyes should be bright and clear and the skin should be moist and shiny. If the place where you are shopping for fish has an unpleasant smell, leave. Old seafood can make you very very ill. When you take home your steamers, remember if the shell doesn't open discard it. If you are cooking lobster or crabs, make sure they are alive before putting them in the pot. If they aren't, toss them out right away.

 

Coming Home Safely, Catch in the Hold

 

Bluefish, One of my Favorites

Aptly Named for Rhode Island Waters

 

Imagine Being at Sea Managing these Boats

 

New England Lobsters

New England Crabs

 

The Block Island Ferry

 

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