Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Some friends asked if we wanted to go sailing this past Saturday.
Um, gee, lemme think how we responded ... ABSOLUTELY!!

It was aboard a 12-meter — Columbia, who defended the America's Cup in 1958 — making it especially special. Not that all sailing isn't great, regardless of vessel; it is. Unless it's stormy, of course (which it may be by the time next Saturday rolls around, given concerns over Hurricane Earl), but last Saturday was perfect. Light air, meaning we went no faster than a few knots, but perfect. We headed North, under the bridge, and had a really nice time of it: talking, tacking, drinking Fresca (remember Fresca??), soaking up sights in the distance and at close-range. Columbia is pretty cool, as she bridges old and new so nicely. And somehow Mr. Betty and I hadn't been sailing once this summer — not once. The closest I came was tying a few practice knots on a home-made vessel at the Folk Festival, where I saw a guy go so far as to put down his Del's in order to try tying a bowline. When he was done, I tried ... even remembered how to do it (amazing!!).

So then (back to Saturday) I started thinking about knots ... lines ... strings ... thread ... wood ... glue ... rigging ... screws ... basically, all manner of stuff that holds stuff together. And, after sailing, we went to Belle's, at the Shipyard, where it appeared someone had just tied the knot (gotten hitched??), beside which there was a bright-red clove hitch ...

Monday, August 30, 2010


There was a great turnout at the Pickens on Friday night for a special showing of Jaws, this year marking the 35th anniversary of the movie that no doubt changed the way America (and the world??) swims. Or at least what we think about when we swim. Although I think the fact that thirty-five years have passed since Jaws' opening was the most alarming aspect of the evening for me and Mr. Betty, who were sitting in the audience.

Was 1975 really thirty-five years ago??

The cool thing — one of them, anyway — about Friday night's showing was its local sponsorship by the Newport Mercury and the resurgent brand of beer (Narragansett) famously gulped by Quint mid-movie who then crunches the can in his hand, whereupon Hooper promptly crunches his paper cup in his hand. Classic. Unforgettable. That and the duh-duh-duh-duh music and a few lines such as when Cap'n Brody, allegedly afraid of the water, first sees those wide-open jaws off the stern and says calmly to Quint, "You're going to need a bigger boat ..."

The guy behind us in the theater — who had brought his young son along (I wonder if the boy did any swimming later in the weekend and, if so, what he was thinking about) — had a habit of anticipating/reciting the lines before they happened, which made the whole Jaws experience a little less scary. Truly, I appreciated it. That, and the fact that we got to imbibe a couple of Narragansetts while munching our popcorn having successfully resisted all the candy we might have purchased (and subsequently sunk our jaws into) when we were buying our tickets. That took the edge off.

The line about the bigger boat actually reminded me of a boat I'd seen off the rocks near Castle Hill not long ago. And then yesterday, Sunday (what a beauty), I saw a fin. A fin!! In the harbor. Which stopped my heart, if only for a second, as it was a false alarm: two little girls were swimming with a killer whale off the stern of a boat. No biggie, but still ...

Speaking of classics, Jaws may be over (thank goodness), but the Pickens has showings of The Great Gatsby on Sunday mornings (in season) packaged with a tickets to Rosecliff, the "mansion" where the 1974 version of the movie was filmed. Continental breakfast is served ...

Friday, August 27, 2010


At 10:45 yesterday morning, my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Betty asking, "Did you see that clipping I left on the kitchen counter?" I hadn't. If I had (and how did I miss it?), I would have realized there was an event starting at 11 a.m. — in fifteen minutes — at Marble House, one of the most gilded of the Gilded Aged mansions, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women's right to vote. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was quite the suffragette, apparently, hence the venue at her long-time (lovely) home.

Ever accommodating — and quasi-interested himself to see/hear Lisa Starr, Poet Laureate of RI, one of the speakers at the event who also happens to run a B & B on Block Island — Mr. Betty took a break from work, just a few blocks away, and came home to pick me up. I hopped on the back of his scooter (miraculous cure for parking woes) and we zipped out Bellevue (as fast as one can zip on a scooter) to Marble House, where the guard informed us that the gathering was taking place on the rear terrace. There, with a standing-room-only crowd, under marble cornices and carved balustrades and women in various poses (in bas-relief) and a perfectly-practical green awning — reminding me that it was now not then — we heard assorted speakers and introductions. RI boasts an unusual number of women in positions of political (and historical) prominence, and many of them were there: Representative Amy Rice, Former State Senator June Gibbs, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.

Then we heard Amber Rose Johnson. Correction: I heard Amber Rose Johnson. Mr. Betty had received a cell-phone call necessitating that he head back to the office almost as soon as we'd arrived. Poor Mr. Betty (and poor me, who now lacked a ride home).

Anyway, Amber Rose Johnson is a 16-year-old, high-school student from Providence who won this year's national "Poetry Out Loud" project. She was, well, amazing. Lisa Starr, too, was amazing — along with her friend Jim McGrath, who helped close the event with a rousing (fitting) rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, with lyrics by Julia Ward Howe, another noted suffragette. In fact, the whole scene was amazing, maybe even inspiring — not for its opulence (there's that) and stunning location on a stunningly beautiful day (all the more appreciated after several days of rain) but for its meaning. And all that associative history. And for the reminder: One line of Johnson's recitation of a poem by Margaret Walker said something about "the gone years and the now years and the maybe years." I liked that.

I also liked another speaker's take (she's a colonel stationed in Newport with the Navy) on the word "impossible." She said, whenever she hears it, she prefers to break it down into pieces and say it aloud as it appears: "i-am-possible." Yes, I know: that may sound too-cute or too rah-rah or too-perfect (or something like that), but it was perfect given the reason for yesterday's celebration ...

And, looking around me, at women (and men) of all ages sitting on gilded chairs, in assorted hats, with assorted perspectives — including the perspective of the little girl insisting that she walk through the grounds of Marble House rather than ride in her stroller, and the slightly-bigger girl with the pink-princess backpack whom I followed for a bit as I wended my way the mile-or-two back-to-town along the Cliff Walk when the festivities were over (I had no ride, remember) — I was filled with some sort of feeling about the different hats people wear and how it all (in a perfect world) makes some sort of sense in the end, as all those little girls grow up to speak up, each in her own way ...

That's Amber Rose Johnson; click here to see/hear her winning delivery.

And that's Lisa Starr, on the left. She apologized for being slightly late for the gathering at Marble House, but she had to serve breakfast at her Block Island B & B before heading to Newport (did she zip over on a speedboat?). As she said, "Right about now, my guests have run out of decaf and cream cheese ..."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


There are so many ways of saying "old," depending on the context and desired effect. In terms of architecture (and rusty fences), there's "historic." In terms of clothing, there's "vintage." In terms of yachts, there's "classic." All those terms and contexts are common around Newport, of course. Then there's "retro" — whatever that means exactly (and I'm not sure it captures Newport exactly), but somehow it's preferable to "old-fashioned."

When I dropped Darling Daughter at college yesterday — with all her bags (being trash bags) and abashedly-useful plastic bins and mostly-recycled textbooks — she was wearing brand-new retro sneakers: Converse All-Stars. Honestly, it took me back ... to a few of my own back-to-school sets of sneakers (and why are they called sneakers?): from the red Keds I still recall as I headed off to kindergarten (or was it first grade?) to the red-swoosh-on-white-leather Nikes in high school (or was it college?). I never had All-Stars, that I can recall, but there's something classically comforting, despite the blisters associated with any new sneakers, about the idea of still-clean laces and unsullied rubber trim. This/that means absolutely nothing (to anyone but me), I realize. Just thought I'd throw it out there ... along with a quick recollection of an old(er) gentleman in classic black shoes whom I tend to see seated on various benches around town.

The first time I saw him was way back in July (I think) on a hothot day on Long Wharf, where I sat beside him on a harbor-side bench, where he was engrossed in a book. There was no conversation other than my asking, "Mind if I sit here?" To which he nodded without looking up and nudged slightly to the left. I wouldn't have bothered him, except his was the only shady bench in sight, and I was in need of a shady bench due to exhaustion from heat or advancing age myself. But, within minutes, my benchmate got up and left (apparently he did mind and I had bothered him), taking his book but leaving his hat behind in his rush, unless someone else had left it before him. I left it right there, just in case some good sport came looking for his or her favorite old hat ...

And, just the other day, I saw the same old(er) man — hatless, still reading — in Touro Park near the statue of Commodore Perry, not to be confused with the other Commodore Perry, his brother, in Washington Square. Behind the man, across the street (though I can't imagine why it relates), there was/is an old tree (an old beech?) with an unmistakably-clear visage in the craggy trunk that I hadn't noticed before, though I've passed that spot hundreds-if-not-thousands of times in sneakers or flip-flops or loafers or fuzzy boots, even heels (that's rare), depending upon mood and season. I'd never seen it, and now I can't not see it — that face — every time I walk by. It's kinda creepy, as if it were watching ...

Seriously, if you find yourself walking up Mill Street, it's right there, across from the Old Stone Mill, on the left. And there's another face in another old/historic/vintage/classic tree that I had noticed for some reason some time ago, on the left side of Old Beach. Then there was that face in the driftwood ...

P.S. To give credit where it's due, it was a houseguest who pointed out the hard-to-miss face in the tree trunk (above) — thanks, K. And my friend Jed took time to answer and explore "the sneaker question" on his blog, The Penultimate Word (check it out!) — thanks, Jed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I wandered over to the Art Museum on a rainy Sunday afternoon, that being the day before yesterday, to place a bid on a sailboat painting for a friend who couldn't be there. She gave me her limit; we didn't win. It was a wet day for Wet Paint, that cool annual fundraiser for the Art Museum. It was a wet day, too, for the annual reading of George Washington's letter to the congregation of the Touro Synagogue. Oddly enough, last time I was there — standing outside in the now-lush garden in a less-lush season to read a bronzed version of the letter which sits atop a dais beside the Jonathan Barney House (I didn't realize how old it was!) — it was also raining. The rain isn't unwelcome; gotta have rain. And we've had so few rainy days that it feels somehow liberating (to me) not to be thinking "Where can I walk??" or "Where can I ride my bike??" as I've been doing virtually every day, it seems, in all this/that interminably glorious weather. (What a summer!!) And, really, doing inside stuff isn't all bad — it's rather good, actually. I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't visited the synagogue's new visitors' center, where an excerpt from the famous letter is displayed prominently beside a stairway. I'd been inside the Art Museum, many times, where all those varnished details from floor to ceiling to stairway never fail to impress. Then, yesterday (Monday), being another rainy/windy day — two in a row!! — I did end up taking a walk to First Beach, where I derived vicarious pleasure from watching assorted rainy-day-people pursuing assorted rainy-day-activities, such as sailing and surfing (and combinations thereof). And there's always dining by the seaside with friends ...

"To bigotry no sanction ... to persecution no assistance." And, outside, there's that other great line (among so many great lines) about sitting in safety "under one's own vine and figtree."

(Mmmm, flounder ...)