Rhode Is­land cap­i­tal beck­ons with his­tory, food – and fire.

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Kathryn Stor­ring Pho­tog­ra­phy Dwight Stor­ring

BEAU­TI­FUL MU­SIC rises from hid­den wa­ter­front speak­ers as a pro­ces­sion of boats glides through the wa­ter, part­ing the re­flec­tion of a shim­mer­ing sun­set. They carry a fire dancer among other per­form­ers, but the main at­trac­tion is the solemn light­ing of the wa­ter­way’s fire­pots — 100 in all — as >> Sev­eral restaurants back on to DePasquale Plaza. Here, in day­time, it is just a pleas­ant city square, but in the evening, it comes to life. (See photo, page 150)

>> the boats go by.

WaterFire could eas­ily be cheesy, like an over­wrought scene in a movie. But some­how Barnaby Evans, the artist who de­signed this per­for­mance-art, fire-sculp­ture in­stal­la­tion 20 years ago in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, car­ries it off.

The mas­sive crowds that gather on foot­bridges and the cob­ble­stone path­ways of Water­place Park are hushed and re­spect­ful as the event be­gins, as if wit­ness­ing some an­cient cer­e­mony. From there, the torch flotilla lights up the Woonasquatucket, Moshas­suck and Prov­i­dence rivers that flow through the cen­tre of the city.

Of course, there are other rea­sons why the crowd is in a co-op­er­a­tive mood. Al­though park­ing can be a chal­lenge, the event, which is run by an in­de­pen­dent non-profit arts or­ga­ni­za­tion, is free. And be­cause it is held a cou­ple of times a month be­tween May and Oc­to­ber, the crowds for each date are not overwhelming. The mu­sic

and nu­ances of the per­for­mances change through­out the sum­mer. When vis­i­tors tire of the fires, they spill into nearby streets and parks where fan­ci­ful art dis­plays, food ven­dors and street per­form­ers cre­ate a night-car­ni­val at­mos­phere that sends ev­ery­one off with a smile.

WaterFire is just one of the rea­sons to visit Prov­i­dence, R.I., a state cap­i­tal that feels man­age­able to first-time vis­i­tors. About a 10-hour drive from Water­loo Re­gion (al­low­ing for stops and the bor­der slow­down), Prov­i­dence makes a won­der­ful side trip as part of a va­ca­tion to his­toric Bos­ton, about 80 kilo­me­tres to the north­east, or the op­u­lent man­sions of New­port, about 60 kilo­me­tres to the south. Like most large ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties, Prov­i­dence is a com­bi­na­tion of wealthy sec­tions, scrap­pier ar­eas and up-and-com­ing neigh­bour­hoods. The cen­tral sec­tions — just south of the State House with its neo­clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture and dra­matic dome — have much to of­fer tourists.

For ex­am­ple, Water­place Park, where the fire fes­ti­val be­gins, is also charm­ing by day, with its net­work of path­ways, bridges and parks invit­ing vis­i­tors to re­lax be­fore head­ing to nearby cafés or to the down­town shops.

It’s hard to be­lieve that at one time large sec­tions of the city’s rivers were cov­ered by road­ways and park­ing lots that be­came known as the “world’s widest bridge.”

Thank good­ness for ur­ban re­newal. In the 1990s, an ex­ten­sive re­de­vel­op­ment project un­cov­ered and rerouted the rivers as well as cre­at­ing ev­ery­thing from park­land and a sum­mer am­phithe­atre to the mam­moth Prov­i­dence Place mall. The mall tow­ers be­hind Water­place Park like a se­duc­tive siren for shop­pers, with to­day’s stores rang­ing from Macy’s and Swarovski to Nord­strom and Abercrombie & Fitch.

And don’t miss the park’s Wall of Hope in the pedes­trian tun­nel un­der­neath Me­mo­rial Boule­vard. This 9/11 me­mo­rial, still in­trigu- ing de­spite an on­go­ing bat­tle with thought­less graf­fiti artists, is com­posed of 10,000 colourful tiles painted by Rhode Is­lan­ders of all ages, races and reli­gions.

It’s about a 20-minute walk from Water­place Park to Col­lege Hill to the east, home of the Ivy League Brown Univer­sity and the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign. Sev­eral bridges, open to ve­hi­cles as well as walk­ers, link the down­town and Col­lege Hill.

With its wealth of his­toric build­ings and tree-lined streets in­ter­min­gling with univer­sity prop­er­ties, the area feels more like a gra­cious neigh­bour­hood than a cam­pus.

Ben­e­fit Street’s “mile of his­tory” is a ma­jor draw, its re­stored homes and other build­ings lined up like a pris­tine his­toric post­card.

Vis­i­tors will ad­mire the stately Nightin­galeBrown House, built in 1792, and home to five gen­er­a­tions of the Ni­cholas Brown fam­ily. Sit­u­ated at Ben­e­fit and Wil­liams streets, it is now part of Brown Univer­sity. A block >>

Crowds pack Water­place Park as the WaterFire fes­ti­val be­gins at sun­set. Be­low, day­time vis­i­tors check out the park’s 9/11 me­mo­rial. At right, on Col­lege Hill, Ben­e­fit Street’s “mile of his­tory” is a per­fect place for a stroll.

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