Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I'm sorry, but my mind's still on the Shipyard — and on all the different shapes and forces and issues of scale and purpose and work that go on there. Just think of all the geometry (and other sorts of math) represented.

I hadn't thought about geometry in the longest time, but I was struggling with an old desk drawer the other day, trying to reach something way in back, this being an overstuffed and very messy drawer. There were so many papers stored — crammed — within it making things difficult that I started pulling them out, one by one, trying not to tear them in the process, in hopes that the drawer would slide more easily, thus enabling me to find what I was looking for ... what a concept!! Among other things, I pulled out an old report card. One of mine, not one of my kids'. It was from ninth grade (yes, I've had this desk a long time), and it was all crunched up like an accordian by virtue of being stuck — jammed — in a tight spot for so long in those far recesses in the back of the drawer. Here's the point (a pointless one, a surprising one, a circuitous one, but perhaps the reason I was struck by all those shapes at the Shipyard): I got an "A" in geometry.

I actually remember ninth-grade geometry: the location of my desk (right in the middle); shapes and proofs and solving stuff about triangles (so satisfying, logical, purposeful); a few specific classmates (frozen in time); even what I was wearing, because we all wore the same thing every day (straight-leg Levi cords and topsiders) ...

But back to Newport (where topsiders still reign supreme): A friend once told me — when we were walking somewhere within sight of the Newport Bridge, meaning we could have been nearly anywhere in town — that she'd heard the bridge's cables form a perfect parabola. In checking that out, and discovering lots about bridge design but not the precise/concise bit of information I was searching for, meanwhile wondering if there's any such thing as an imperfect parabola, also realizing that parabolas fall under the aegis of trigonometry (11th grade??) rather than geometry, I remembered another loose-end pertaining to shapes that I'd been wondering about a few days ago: What is that golden shape/flag/thing on top of Trinity Church??

The answer has nothing to do with geometry or trigonometry, though it does have a tangentially mathematical sound to it: it's a bishop's mitre, not uncommon as weathervane-shapes go (or went) in the days of the British Empire. When Trinity was built, with its "wedding cake" steeple and its "wine glass" pulpit, and that very weathervane I see every day was affixed on top, Newport was part of the British Empire — an obvious fact that nonetheless blows my mind.

It goes without saying (doesn't it??) that one needs to click on highlighted text to see any extracurricular information to which I refer. There will (not) be a quiz on this material ...