Providence


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Well, last night I went to my first ever Ani DiFranco concert. I must confess I have always been a fan but not a diehard fan. So thanks to my wonderful roomie, I ventured into Ani’s world.

As we walked into the theater (Roxy Theater/Lupos) I was surprised by the very classical architecture of the place. It had a nice and relaxing ambiance. Despite the fact that it was awfully cold in the theater, it was a great venue for Ani. We went upstairs in the Mezzanine level and took our seats. Had a great view of the whole stage.
Once Ani began to play, in a sea of dreads, estrogen and quite the rowdy crowd I began to really fall in love with Ani. She has a great command of the guitar and her voice almost flawlessly travels along the melodies without any effort. She told us that she had been sick and that she had to go to a vocal chord doctor, but despite that, her voice was flawless and relentless.

Oh how sweet is to hear her lyrics. Is as if she says all you feel but you never voice because you are either too afraid or too much of a coward. In a way, I felt sort of liberated. I felt free just by listening to her. I just felt normal that for once all that I feel is not me acting like a psychosomatic delusional nutty woman. And by the looks of it, there were several other women in the crowd that felt the same way. Even men.

So my ode to Ani. Thank you…for making feel a little better about being me. For making me feel a little more comfortable in this age of confusion and desolation. To my roommate…thank you…for taking me…it was a great night indeed…

Roxy Theater /Lupos
79 Washington Street
Providence, RI 02903

Yesterday, I came back from Miami. I woke up at 5am, since my flight was bright and early and I got ready and went to the airport. What a difference from a week ago. Everyone seemed to know where they were going, there weren’t any crazy lines anywhere, and everyone seemed civilized for the most part. I got to my gate on time. I boarded the plane and to my surprise…YES!!! My plane was a 777. I love this plane. I have flown on this plane several times, but I wasn’t aware that American Airlines redid the layout of all the seats. They made Coach Class have similar seats as the ones in First and Business Class. Each seat has their own area and they have three different reclining positions, including one where you lay flat as a bed. Each seat has their own area, so you are never in the way of anybody else. You also have your own TV that allows you to select what you want to watch or listen to on the radio.

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My Super Amazing and a Little Messy Seat

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A view of beautiful Miami from the plane

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Beautiful puffy Florida clouds

It was early, and truly I was not in the mood to watch TV. As soon as we were up in the air, I reclined that baby, laid flat as if I was on my own bed and went to sleep. Truly, truly, I have never seen such a happy flight in my life. I don’t think anybody expected this plane and people were just smiling the whole time. Even the kids were happy because they had ample room to play without bothering their neighbors. It was truly a great experience.

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Thick New England clouds

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White Boston

Once I woke up and we landed in powdery white Boston, I quickly got off the plane and went over to my car. To find it buried in snow. My car is black, but at that given point it was white. Thankfully, I carry a scraper, took the snow of my windows, turned it on and let it warm up and started on my way.

Driving to Providence was funny. As I was driving, chunks of ice were flying off and hitting other cars. In response to the flying chunks there was a car free zone around my car. Truly they were evading me. I can’t blame them a lot of ice flew off. Then when I arrived at my work’s parking lot, the ice was almost all gone, and I had to brace the cold one more time…ahhhh…New England…thank you for the cold homecoming…hahahahaha

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Driving to Providence

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Ice on the hood of my car flying off

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My street during the first strom

Well, Rhode Island has gotten slammed this past week with two storms and one on its way. Given that I am a Miami girl, it has been an interesting experience to say the least. Let’s just say I have never been this cold in my entire life. I have concluded I not only like but really loveeeeeeee hot weather. And I will take any hot humid super sticky Miami day over any cold freezing RI day.

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My Neighbor’s house

So 10 Things I have learned and done this past week are:

1. Snow Angels…there is a whole technique to it…and they are lots of fun
2. Shoveling snow…not fun…and my back is sore
3. When snow falls is called “dumping”…
4. If it snows, and then it rains and then the temperature drops again…everything will freeze. So make sure you dig your car out and take all the snow off before it freezes or you will be stuck.
5. Driving on ice is like skating in ice but in your car
6. If it snows leave your wipers up, so they don’t freeze
7. Shoveling ice is not fun…at all…except when you are picking at it with your roommate…I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time
8. If you are going to make Christmas cookies make sure you get enough ingredients for 3 batches just in case you mess them up. That way you don’t have to run to the supermarket again…cause you might not be able to leave the house and also don’t forget to have enough milk in the fridge.
9. Pick and shovel the ice off the driveway, if not your car will get damaged
10. Do not wear heels on the ice…cause you WILL fall.

So my winter discoveries are continuing. I tell ya, it is funny just to even get dressed in the morning. But hopefully, (I am praying) this Sunday I will be able to leave New England and head south to beautiful and really warm Miami…because I far as I am concerned, I like Santa in a bathing suit better…

PS. Playing soccer in the snow is fun and also drinking is highly encouraged during winter storms…. 🙂

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Picture courtesy of the Richard Benjamin Providence Collection

As I have stated in previous post, I am currently residing in the lovely city of Providence, Rhode Island. Even thought it is small in size, it is very quaint and has a lot to offer. In trying to discover the city a little more, I found this article from the September 2007 issue of Travel + Leisure magazine.

Enjoy and come visit!!!

Divine Providence

On a return visit to Rhode Island’s quiet capital, Amy Larocca finds the city transformed.

From September 2007
By Amy Larocca

The first time I saw Providence was September 1992. I was a nervous high-school senior with a desperate crush on Brown, the college on the hill. My mother and I checked into the rickety old Providence Biltmore Hotel, on Kennedy Plaza, smack in the middle of the city’s desolate downtown. Here I must remind myself that, contrary to my imaginative memory, tumbleweeds are not part of the flora in southern New England.

For the next four years, as a student at Brown, I lived just a short walk (but a world) away from this urban desert, in the dappled sunlight of College Hill, moving happily among the colorful clapboard houses and leafy streets as their trees, so catalogue-perfectly, changed from green to orange to a soft, downy pink. I rarely wandered off the hill. It was Gotham City down there, a place of howling alleys and spooky vibes. Downtown Providence always looked more like a film set than a proper city.

But on a balmy night 14 years later, in the formerly bleak DMZ of downtown, I found myself immersed in a street fair where the atmosphere could only be described as lively. The city’s fantastic restaurants had all brought their shows on the road, lining the once derelict banks of the Providence River with luxury food carts dispensing curries, pastas, and frozen lemonade. On the river itself, which for years was shielded by a concrete parking lot, couples snuggled in gondolas, sipping wine. There were parents tangoing in front of an imposing granite bank, which was dressed in billowy red veils for the occasion. I could imagine coming upon this scene in Europe and writing home happily, “I’ve found the most marvelous place! It’s a university town, and they’re dancing in the streets!” while lamenting the lack of such communal, delightful public life anywhere in the States.

To be fair, Providence has always had its charms. Beyond the Yankee appeal of College Hill, with its houses that date from the Revolution, there are the generations-old Portuguese communities in Fox Point up above the river and, to the east, the predominantly Italian Federal Hill, where the streets feel like the Brooklyn my Italian grandparents describe. Downtown, however, was different. As with many small, formerly industrial cities along the eastern seaboard, increasing suburbanization had left the center lifeless. No longer. I was witnessing the new Providence—a place with historic charm on the periphery and modern, creative energy at the core. The patchwork city that I once knew had finally filled in.

Providence’s revival is the stuff of legend: the talk of midsize mayors all over the country. Driven by the colorful, notorious now ex-mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. (otherwise known as Buddy), who has just finished serving five years in federal prison on corruption charges, the renewal began in the early eighties (during Buddy’s first term) and culminated (in his second) with the restoration of the city’s riverfront in the early 1990’s. Aided by a coalition of public and private partners, Cianci removed the parking lot that covered the two rivers that run through downtown, dredged their muddy depths, and dressed their banks with small bridges and wide, tree-lined pedestrian walkways. With a little help from a burgeoning local economy, this remarkable act of urban revitalization laid the foundation for Providence’s renaissance and set mayors across the country scrambling to begin their own waterfront initiatives.

This tale, however, has always been tainted by corruption. Cianci’s first bout as mayor, which lasted from 1974 to 1984, ended when he pleaded no contest to charges of assaulting his wife’s (alleged) lover with a lit cigarette. His comeback in 1991 was epic, and lasted until 2002, when he was found guilty of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall. Sordid, sure, but he remained beloved, and it all somehow added intrigue and sexiness to the whole operation. The prevailing attitude in town was that Buddy may not have done things by the book, but he certainly got things done—and his Mayor’s Own pasta sauce occupied shelf space in every market in town.

Providence’s momentum has hardly slowed in the years since David Cicilline, the first openly gay mayor of a major city, replaced Buddy. Perhaps the most important bit of Buddy-era legislation Cicilline has kept alive is the tax incentives provided to artists living and working in downtown’s abandoned buildings. With a triumvirate of artistic student bodies (Brown: writers, theorists; Rhode Island School of Design: painters, sculptors; Johnson & Wales University: chefs, hoteliers) living in close proximity, Buddy and his successor have been keen to court the creative class. The result: vibrant cultural institutions such as the Tony Award-winning Trinity Repertory Company; the 84,000-work RISD Museum of Art, which contains works from ancient Egypt to the present; and the legendary restaurant Al Forno, on South Main Street, which serves as a training ground for chefs both here and throughout the eastern seaboard.

Today, Brown and RISD graduates are forgoing Brooklyn and Silver Lake in favor of inexpensive lofts and studios in the onetime industrial neighborhoods of Olneyville and West Side. With this habitation have come other signs of life. Witness the scene at Olga’s Cup + Saucer, a laid-back neighborhood café tucked among the converted mills in the city’s Jewelry District. Here, bed-headed artists munch on avocado-and-sprout sandwiches in a shady front-yard garden while discussing which New York gallerists have lately trolled their studios.

But it’s not all artist collectives and organic cheese. Some of those sturdy New England factory buildings, with their high ceilings and dazzling windows, have been converted to luxury lofts that appeal to people who work outside the city. (Providence is less than an hour from Boston and the high-tech companies of southern Massachusetts.) Naturally, these loft dwellers like to eat well, and Providence’s small dining scene is expanding. On North Main Street is Mill’s Tavern, with a raw bar, a wood-burning oven, and a menu (oven-roasted duck breast with spearmint-infused tabbouleh; Madeira-braised short rib with truffled cauliflower purée) as sophisticated as anything in London or New York. This summer, Local 121 opened up beside the AS220 art gallery in the Dreyfus Building, a 19th-century former hotel that will soon house—what else?—14 live-and-work artists’ studios. The restaurant, all dark carved wood and plush banquettes, serves organic and sustainable produce scouted by its staff “forager,” a recent Brown grad. Rumor has it that Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is planning a restaurant downtown as well, though the jury’s still out on what this means in a city where the talent has always been homegrown.

Providence’s hotels also have a new shine. The creaky old Biltmore just underwent a $14 million spruce-up, and the gigantic Westin is opening a wing of luxury condominiums this year. (Donatella Versace, it should be noted, chose the Westin when visiting her daughter at Brown—the presidential suite, naturally.) Just around the corner, there’s a new hotel called, simply, Hotel Providence. With its stock New England-y décor, it’s unlikely the property will win any design awards, but its arrival is a watershed in a city known more for B&B’s than for boutique lodgings.

Even during the years when its downtown languished, Providence as a whole remained vital. This is, after all, a city steeped in American history, with a past that I’ve always found helpful to navigate by appetite: from the Portuguese bolos (muffins) at the corner delis in Fox Point to the bakeries stacked with cannoli, zeppole, and impossibly green pistachio biscuits and the thin-crust pizza (try Bob & Timmy’s) on Federal Hill. College Hill, in turn, provides the walks to burn the calories off. Begin with Benefit and North Main Streets, skirting the bottom of the hill, for Colonial landmarks and crooked brick sidewalks. Here, old and new Providence coexist beautifully. Mill’s Tavern is right down the block from the elegant First Baptist Meeting House (founded in 1638, it was— literally—the first Baptist Church in America) and moments away from the Providence Athenaeum, one of America’s original lending libraries and the place where Edgar Allen Poe wooed Sarah Whitman.

College Hill is also where the best of the city’s shopping remains, in defiance of the ungainly Providence Place Mall, home to a predictable assemblage of stores. (The mall, to some Providence purists, is a blot on Cianci’s revitalization plan.) Along Benefit Street, antiques shops sell nautical pieces (Rhode Island is the Ocean State) and good Yankee linens. At the somewhat fusty Benefit Street Antiques, owner Marian Clark is the homey, Waspy aunt—with heirlooms for sale—that you never had. There are good bargains to be found: a sketch of the Musée Marmottan in Paris, for example, in this spare and dusty storefront. Double back along South Main, where you’ll find L’Elizabeth, a tea shop specializing in hot toddies—for real—and trendy but lovely one-off shops, such as Capucine, for hip women’s clothing, and Bambini Infant Interiors. But the real jewel in Providence shopping is risd/works, on Westminster Street, which sells only work by the school’s faculty and alumni. After browsing the ceramics and glassware, the Roz Chast books, and Gus Van Sant DVD’s, one realizes how many contemporary design favorites originated at this art school. (The street-art collective, Andre the Giant Has a Posse, slapped their trademark tribute stickers all over College Hill in the early 1990’s.)

Risd may be the feeder school for the country’s art-world elite, but it was a Brown grad, Barnaby Evans, who started “WaterFire Providence,” the installation that drew crowds on that clear summer evening when my old college friend and I stumbled, mystified, through the crowded streets of this “new” Providence.

The appeal of WaterFire, a sunset event held throughout the summer and into early fall, is somewhat dubious: a number of torches are set aflame on the Providence River while eerie techno music is pumped from a colossal sound system. But what it has done for Providence is remarkable: it’s brought people out and together to wander around the gorgeous set of the city, admire its progress, and even, if so inclined, gloat a bit, which I do now when people ask me about my college town. Unlike the somewhat regrettable tattoo (in a hidden spot) that I got on Atwells Avenue on Federal Hill during my freshman year, Providence has definitely gotten better with age.

Amy Larocca is a contributing editor for New York magazine and author of The New York Look Book (Melcher Media).

Guide to Providence

Where to Stay

Historic Jacob Hill Inn Built in 1722, the property was once a hunt club whose members included the Vanderbilt family. 120 Jacob St.; 888/336-9165; inn-providence-ri.com; doubles from $179.

Hotel Providence 311 Westminster St.; 401/861-8000; thehotelprovidence.com; doubles from $249.

Providence Biltmore 11 Dorrance St.; 401/421-0700; providencebiltmore.com; doubles from $229.

Westin Providence 1 W. Exchange St.; 401/598-8000; westin.com; doubles from $269.

Where to Eat

Al Forno 577 S. Main St.; 401/273-9760; dinner for two $92.

Bob & Timmy’s Grilled Pizza 32 Spruce St.; 401/453-2221; dinner for two $25.

Local 121 121 Washington St.; 401/274-2121; dinner for two $70.

Mill’s Tavern 101 N. Main St.; 401/272-3331; dinner for two $88.

Olga’s Cup + Saucer 103 Point St.; 401/831-6666; lunch for two $16.

Scialo Bros. Bakery One of the best on Federal Hill. 257 Atwells Ave.; 401/421-0986.

Where to Shop

Bambini Infant Interiors 251 S. Main St.; 401/490-6952.

Benefit Street Antiques 140 Wickenden St.; 401/751-9109.

Capucine 359 S. Main St.; 401/273-6622.

risd/works 10 Westminster St.; 401/277-4949.

L’Elizabeth 285 S. Main St.; 401/466-5805.

What to Do

First Baptist Meeting House 75 N. Main St.; 401/454-3418; fbcia.org.

Providence Athenaeum 251 Benefit St.; 401/421-6970; providenceathenaeum.org.

RISD Museum 224 Benefit St.; 401/454-6500; risd.edu.

Trinity Repertory Company Lederer Theater Center, 201 Washington St; 401/351-4242; trinityrep.com.

WaterFire 1 Providence Place; 401/273-9727; waterfire.com; every other weekend through October.

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In continuing with my Rhode Island anecdotes, I have a story about RIPTA. RIPTA stands for Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and hence the name, they are the state’s transportation agency. Rhode Island has several ways of transportation including the Trolley. The Trolley bus is a trackless wooden bus fashioned after the older and original trolleys of the 1900s. I take the Trolley to work, first because the stop is half a block away from my house and second because I refuse to pay $200 a month on parking.

This morning was just like any other morning, until I got to the Trolley stop. First, I finally was able to meet one of my neighbors. She is a very pleasant girl from Houston (most neighbors here do not talk to others). Then as we started talking, we noticed the Trolley was running late. Really late by about 10 minutes—this in Trolley terms is significant given that they go by every 20 minutes. Once we got on the Trolley, I noticed we had a new lady driver who was driving a bit—shall we say hurried. To put it in plain terms, the seats on the Trolley are made out of wood and I almost went flying to the back of the bus when she took the first turn.

On the next stop, a fellow Trolley rider got on with his iced latte (which he does every morning), and our lady driver began, on a very loud tone of voice, to lecture and reprimand him for bringing on a drink on the Trolley. She proceeded to say how that was her home for the next 8 hours and how we wouldn’t like it if she came to our houses and spilled coffee all over the floor. After 5 minutes of lecturing, I think we got the point—no drinks on the Trolley. She then continued to say how she was “doing her job”, which our collective answer which was voiced by another Trolley rider was “why are you late?” Her answer was that she had a fellow rider on a wheel chair.

As soon as she answered that, we turned on Thayer Street and voila—a wheelchair rider was waiting at the next stop. Oh boy. Do not get me wrong, I do not mind the wheel chair rider at all, it was the way the driver addressed it. First she pretty much hopped over to where the on-ramp controls were located, then she started talking to the rider (I guess she knew him because she addressed him by his first name). She started lecturing the poor man about how he needed cruise control on his wheel chair and how he almost gave her a heart attack the last time. As he was getting on the ramp to get on the Trolley, she began to scream at the poor man—“Stop, stop…don’t move so fast!!!” The man was not moving fast he was just advancing the wheel chair enough so it will be securely placed on the ramp. Once he got on the bus, she kept on reprimanding the poor man about his wheel chair.

As we continued on our journey, the lady driver almost got into a head-on collision with a Lexus SUV. She was honking at every other car and then it was time for her next stop. Only, she claimed not to see the Trolley stop sign so she didn’t let the people out until way later at a non-Trolley stop. She began to argue “than since she didn’t see the Trolley sign, she will not stop except this one time”, but since she works at RIPTA shouldn’t she know if any stops have been changed??? In any event, the wheel chair driver at this point, I think got fed up and wanted to get off. Coincidentally, a car pulled up next to the Trolley impeding the on-ramp to be lowered. The reaction of the driver was to start honking at the poor car. When the car didn’t acknowledge her boisterous response, the driver got off the Trolley and started to scream at the poor car. Once the wheel chair rider was off, we were off to my stop. I thought I was almost home free.

But no, she then went ahead and started honking some more to the surrounding cars. Cut off another SUV and almost crashed into him, then started to verbally insult the fellow drivers including another bus driver (usually they are friendly to their co-workers). Then finally, some of the most dreadful 20 minutes in my life in Providence came to an end…

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As I have mentioned before, I currently am a Rhode Island resident. It has been an interesting experience living in the smallest state of the union to say the least. My latest discovery—VJ Day!!!

You might ask, what is VJ Day??? It is Victory-Over-Japan Day. Yes, yes, Rhode Island is the one state of the union that still celebrates the drop of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, yes, indeed, Rhode Island celebrates the killing of hundreds of innocent people in Japan. Today, there are no banks open, all governmental offices are closed and public transport is running on a holiday schedule.

Before I get into this, here is a brief timeline that outlines the historic events leading up to V-J Day:

July 26, 1945: Potsdam Declaration is issued. Truman tells Japan, “Surrender or suffer prompt and utter destruction.”
July 29: Japan rejects the Potsdam Declaration.
August 2: Potsdam conference ends.
August 6: An atomic bomb, “Little Boy” is dropped on Hiroshima.
August 8: USSR declares war on Japan.
August 9: Another atomic bomb, “Fat Man” is dropped on Nagasaki.
August 15: Japan surrenders.

One can argue either in favor or against the atomic bomb. I do not plan to get into that argument. Evidently, the drop of both bombs forced Japan to surrender and consequently it stopped the killing of so many young boys in the Pacific Rim. But what about the thousands of innocent Japanese people killed as a result such as women and children. I am sorry, I cannot celebrate that. And for that, I find this holiday sort of appalling. War is atrocious, it should never be celebrated, not even a little bit, not even a lot.