One of many New England cities, Providence is often forgotten. Both P and I had never visited Providence aside from passing through it on the way to New York City, and the city never struck us as worth visiting. But, a co-worker suggested we go to experience the “Waterfire spectacle” in Providence. This little city, which lacked in size and profile, made up for it in artistic spirit and charm and was full of surprises!
First impression. The city was empty. It lacked the hustle and bustle of Boston and New York City. There was no one in sight. After walking towards downtown, we started to hear garbage trucks roaring and see people walking about. Once we entered College Hill, students were laying out on the grass or under a tree with their summer reads. Locals were sipping their coffees and flipping through their newspapers and magazine. We wandered around the quaint neighborhood, strolled around Brown University, and admired the colonial architecture that lined Benefit Street.
One of the city’s little surprises was the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which was located right in the heart of Providence. Though P and I are not big museum people, with the weather being unbearably hot, we decided to check out RISD’s Museum. Our expectations weren’t very high considering how small the museum seemed when we first entered. The first floor exhibit displaying RISD graduate artwork was a bit disappointing. But, what do I know? I am certainly not an art connoisseur. All I know is that the artwork didn’t really speak to me, but I tried to be open-minded. P had already moved on to the next floor.
As we went up the floors to the different exhibition rooms, we realized that the museum, in fact, had an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures by modern and classical artists, equivalent to that of Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. My favorite of the day was the mesmerizing canvas by Rothko. The colors! It was beautiful.
Our stomachs were growling after the museum, so we ventured over the river to Federal Hill, which had charming streets lined with clothing boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.
Providence continued to surprise us. On our way to dinner, we passed by a pop up shop with an amazing collection of Polaroid cameras. Initially intending only to check out the cameras, we ended up staying and participating in the Providence Polaroid Project. “Guests are encouraged to capture photographs of their friends, their city and themselves for instant development, display, and celebration on the gallery walls. Functioning as a participant driven exhibition, the gallery space is created by the community of Providence for the community of Providence.” What a fun way to get the Providence community together through art!
P and I had our portrait taken with a 1970’s Polaroid camera. I couldn’t believe how excited I was to see how our photo turned out. In a matter of seconds, P peeled the photo off from the film, and we saw both of our faces beaming behind a retro background. Instant gratification. Instant laughter. Instant fun. We pinned our polaroid on the gallery wall along with others from the community. So happy that we were able to participate in this project!
Without doing much research before visiting, we depended on Yelp to lend us hand in choosing a reasonably priced and tasty restaurant for dinner. Craving Italian, we decided to check out Rosalina in the Federal Hill neighborhood on 50 Aborn Street. The restaurant was Greecian Italian fusion with great meat and seafood selections. We shared a light colorful spring salad with summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, red peppers, and celery topped with an apple cider vinaigrette. For our entrees, P had the white wine cream spaghetti with clams, and I had the papperdelle bolgnese. The pasta, itself, was cooked to perfection, and sauces were light but flavorful. Our favorite part of the meal was the pre-dinner tasting of Rosalina’s homemade olive oil and ricotta cheese with bread, which we devoured in seconds.
In Providence, it seemed that everywhere we turned there was some type of art, music, or cultural gathering and event. After dinner, we followed the sounds of hypnotic electronic music to a stage where two girls, channeling Sia’s Chandelier music video, were performing sexual contortions and acrobatic tricks partly nude with about 100 spectators, gawking unabashedly. We walked three more blocks, passing a colorful Día de Muertos themed food truck and a singing hippy, and came upon a Bolivian food and arts festival. Too bad we had already eaten because the barbequed meats and sugared desserts looked so amazing. In a plaza below, a large group of costumed girls were performing a Bolivian dance with the audience singing and clapping along. Everyone looked like they were having a great time! I only wished I could prance alongside the dancers and wear an amazing feathered headband…
As we wandered further, we approached a large outdoor ballroom where people were following along with a swing dance instructor, who was teaching everyone how to rock step. Being a dancer, I wanted to participate, but P was not one for doing any sort of technical dancing, claiming he had two left feet. What a debby downer… so we just watched the swing dancing for a few minutes before heading to the river walk to claim a spot for the Waterfire lighting. For what seemed initially to be a dead city, there was suddenly so much to do in Providence!
Waterfire is an event that involves a lighting of a seemingly endless line of bonfires within an art installation along the river in downtown Providence, from Waterplace Park to South Main Street Park. We grabbed a spot right on the edge of the river. As the sun began to set, loud, ominous, tribal music began to play, signaling the beginning of the lighting ceremony. A man with a long braid and a tribal uniform stood on a platform in the middle of the river and began to perform a fire dance, swinging chains of fireballs in circles above his head. I kind of felt like I was in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Now only if I had funnel cake… Then he jumped into the river and proceeded to slowly light the line of bonfires. The smell of the burning wood permeated the air, and everyone was entranced by the jumping flames.
After the lighting ceremony, P and I decided to check out the Waterfire food and art stands along the streets nearby. Kettle corn. Yoga shirts. Wood art. Ice cream. Hand-crafted jewelry. The usual. Nothing really stood out to us, so we moved on.
Two blocks later, we came upon a small side street where a six person band was playing Latin music on a small elevated stage set against a classic New England brownstone. A small group of people were dancing up front near the band. Some of them were working their salsa moves, while others were just swaying to the music. All of them looked like they were having the time of their life, and I wanted to join them. This time, I wasn’t going to let P get away with any excuses. Without much convincing, P agreed to dance with me, and we swayed all night to the Latin beats! An amazing day in a city full of surprises! We’ll be back!
Find out more about the Waterfire schedule and events here. It occurs about every other weekend until November 28th, so check it out!