Friday, January 29, 2010

sound effects

Wow, it's cold (in the teens). And, as everyone knows, the wind chill makes it colder. Even in the house, even with the radio on, I hear the whoosh outside in all those leafless trees. What is that whoosh?? The wind, the air itself, isn't the sound — isn't it?? Is the "windy sound" actually the sound of branches bending, hitting, rubbing up against one another?? I'm not proposing, just supposing. The trees are moving/dancing rather wildly this morning. I was watching them as I raced home moments ago after venturing two quick blocks and across Touro Park for a coffee fix thinking it's so windy and cold (although beautiful and blue) that it'd be cozy to climb right back into my big, warm bed ... but I won't do that.

Last Sunday, however, I did stay in bed longer than usual. It was 9 a.m. (oh, my) when I finally rolled over in response to sharp streaks of sun sneaking around the edges of the window shades and the sound of our sole-remaining parakeet, Pixie, rustling around getting ready to chirp from under the blanket covering her cage. At the same time, I heard a new sound, or a relatively new sound, or — I'll get it right eventually — a sound that was heard, or had been heard, but hasn't been heard for quite a while in this old Newport neighborhood: church bells ringing out from Channing steeple.

First a few scales, three or four repetitions, eight notes, top to bottom, as if a child were practicing on the piano, or a choir were warming up voices. Then nine bongs, or dongs (not ding-dongs) — that's how I knew it was 9 a.m. — and that was it. How nice. And how nice that the bells are back, after an eight-year vacation of sorts. And that the steeple is back, after being taken down (yes, down) and reconstructed over the past year or so.

But, wait, the music continued (!!), in halting fashion, or so it seemed, although it might have been that odd delay/echo that makes tempo tricky and tunes hard to recognize when played on church bells that melt distinct tones all together somehow as they reverberate through a neighborhood (and through one's very bones). The first hymn — or I assume it was a hymn — I didn't recognize, but the second was "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens. Remember it, and him (whatever he calls himself these days)?? Whoa, childhood ... it took me there, or somewhere. Somewhere else. And more songs/hymns followed. Lovely hymns. I'm not sure how many. One slow warm bell after another. I never moved.

Even Pixie listened; never chirped.

The concert concluded as it began: with scales, eight notes, several repetitions, going upward this time, then ten last bongs. Ten o'clock. Really?? Time to get up (!!). And, all that time, people were going and coming — I didn't see them (being in bed), but I'm sure of it. They'd come and gone, into the church, out of the church, stood outside, listened, heard. It's impossible to capture it ... not just the bells but the whole scene, or any scene, let alone to isolate one element: the steeple, the lesser steeples, the statue, the inescapable power lines (for which we must be grateful, but why orange??), people walking dogs through Touro Park ...

I tried different angles — later in the day — then accepted it ...

FYI — That last one (right there ^^) isn't Channing, but St. Mary's.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

gone fishin'

Not really ... I'm not much of a fisherwoman. And that's not a fishing boat, or it's not employed as a fishing boat. It's the vessel "Starfish" (I think), which ferries folks back and forth to/from Rose Island, where you can do a stint as a lighthouse keeper, with all manner of related chores, at any time of year, if that sounds like fun, although the reality of being a lighthouse keeper can't possibly live up to storybook notions — can it?? Important, certainly. Heroic, occasionally. Romantic, maybe, if you're not alone or when the seals stop by to pay their accustomed visits in winter. Deafeningly quiet, definitely. But, more than anything else, the idea of being a lighthouse keeper sounds cold to me right about now ...

Boy — or girl, as you could be either, and I have one of each, neither of whom is at home these days — I do get off-track, sidetracked, distracted, whatever the preferred word. Simply put: I'm taking a day off (today, starting now) ... to do chores, housekeeping, light housekeeping, not to be confused with lighthouse keeping. Egad.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

slippery slope

In fact, it's not slippery, as the snow has melted and the brick sidewalks are dry (if uneven), but Pelham Street is still a slope ... perhaps my favorite slope. There's just something about the way the hyper-blue harbor spreads itself out at the bottom, especially at sunset, especially in autumn, when monstrous cruise ships loom larger than Goat Island (or so it seems) in the bay.

Pelham also happens to be the first gas-lit street in the United States, if we believe what the sign says (and why wouldn't we??) on the side of the building and bar at the bottom of the hill called "One Pelham East," lest anyone forget the address.

And, gee, I'd never noticed that the sign/plaque itself is lit (or lighted), too ... with electricity??

So, with all those extra-special gas lights that glow so nicely if not so brightly day and night (except the ones that aren't working), isn't it a shame that Pelham is also lined with teetering towering telephone poles and lines criss-crossing like so much electric spaghetti?? Yes and no. There's beauty in function — isn't there?? Folks do live here, we all need power (and parking), the lines do connect us, and it'd surely be difficult and unimaginably expensive to bury everything at this point.

Ah, hindsight ...

I can't help but mention a local artist — I don't know her, but I assume she won't mind — who frequently incorporates telephone poles, lines and the like in her work. Far from including them as minor or unfortunate bits of reality (or ignoring them altogether, as artistic license would allow), she features the lines and fills the resulting patchwork of divided sky with various tones to create a subtle mosaic. But wait, stop, enough ... as I have neither knowledge nor right to describe Dora Atwater Millikin's work, presented not so long ago at a gallery down the hill, bottom of Pelham, take a right, along the cobblestones for a few blocks, unless you're in a car, in which case it's a mite more complicated. She also exhibits up the hill, top of Pelham, beware of tricky bricks and/or parking instructions, left on Bellevue to Spring Bull ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Equality and park(ing) ... two big issues, here as anywhere. There's no point whatsoever to my saying that; I just thought I'd point it out. And, while I'm at it, I'd like to point (or direct your attention, as that sounds better) to the Colony House, where it's so cool to look up and imagine the reading of the Declaration of Independence, although the reading on July 20, 1776, took place on the front steps, actually, while the announcement of King George II's death and the ascension of King George III in 1761 truly did take place on the balcony (that fact courtesy of the Newport Historical Society). And, while I'm

at it, here's another pointless point and/or questionable query: "It's a free country." What does that mean, exactly?? Usually, I think — as I play the soundtrack of people issuing the retort in my head — it suggests defense of a position. Someone says or does something surprising or controversial or just plain stupid, then says, "Hey, it's a free country." In fact, it's not a free country — or a free town, for that matter. It's rather expensive, or it has that reputation. But I still go out for coffee in the morning. Just coffee, no muffin. Times are tight. And I know, I know: I've mentioned this time and time and time again, and now I'm mentioning it again, and I'm no doubt boring you to tears at this point — does anyone really shed tears of boredom?? — but when I headed out yesterday morning amid rain and considerable wind in pursuit of happiness in the guise of a cup of coffee, the woman behind the counter smiled and said with great enthusiasm, "Nice day out there!" I smiled in return at her cheerfulness (which was a bit much, honestly), but she wasn't joking. "Really, I love the rain, " she said, as she looked longingly toward the water-streaked windows to the cars with swishing windshield-wipers and head-bent people (a few) bustling by on wet bricks, so treacherously slippery. I didn't pursue the matter further. But today, this morning, another wet one, I headed back, cup in hand, to the same coffee shop to ask this woman why she's so clearly sincerely fond of rainy days ... only to find her little shop was closed — horrors! — and I had to go elsewhere. Perhaps the proprietress is/was out singin' in the rain, doing what she longed to do yesterday. Hey, it's a free country ... and the good news (for you, too, as I'm about to stop) is that in the time it took me to get my coffee, drink my coffee, pour my cereal, eat my cereal, and ponder the true, obvious, underlying, potential goodness in rainy days ... the sun came out. Now what??

Monday, January 25, 2010

hairy legs

I had every intention of "tying up loose ends" and "organizing my life" over the weekend. With such well-defined and attainable goals (kidding), it's a wonder I get anywhere at all ...

Mr. Betty and I did get to Sachuest Point on Saturday. It was a warmish blue-sky day, the kind of day that draws you/me/us outside no matter what we really should be doing. And we really should have ridden our bicycles — it's only a few miles away, and it was almost that warm — but didn't. Good thing, too, because we would have missed it.

Missed what?? (You know where this is headed ...)

Before we even hit the parking lot, cars were pulling over every which way and people were scrambling out to look at ... what was that on top of the flagpole??

We're not birders, but there were birders aplenty, with long lenses (optics??) and fancy cameras. And considerable excitement. The consensus seemed to be that it was not a Red-tailed or a Rough-legged; it was an Immature.

I asked the obvious question of the guy standing next to me: "An immature what??"

An immature Red-tailed who hadn't developed his red tail — maybe. But I was equally fascinated by the use of "immature" as a noun ...

So while people gawked and squawked, the hawk just sat/stood there, on top of the flagpole, with nary a twitch. He was gawking at something else, as became apparent, as he suddenly nosedived (nosedove??) into the adjacent grass where he stood more-or-less motionless for another long while in order to strangle — patiently — some small furry creature under his death-grip feet. I never saw the creature, if I'm being honest (I do try), but his doom was the crowd's assumption. Poor thing.

The bird had not the slightest concern that he had an audience ...

Nor did the deer, a whole pack/herd/family of them, calmly munching across the way.

And it got me thinking about the beauty of modest goals — as long as there's food on the table, or in the field, or wherever. And the bizarre concurrence of the natural (free??) and so-called "civilized" worlds in one world. And the general absurdity of giving a hoot about what people think, even if one's legs are hairy or "rough," as the case may be ...

Immaturity aside, if it were up to me, I'd call those legs "fluffy" ...

Friday, January 22, 2010

selective focus

Confession: I have no idea what I'm doing, at this precise moment or in general, but I read this/that term selective focus yesterday, and it made sense — big-time — as if someone had hit me over the head with a diagnosis of sorts, for all sorts of things. And a diagnosis is a beginning, somewhere to start ...

The phrase applies to photography (not to be confused with picture-taking), although it could apply to so many things. It's that effect, but I never knew what to call it (being a picture-taker), whereby the background is all fuzzy yet recognizable, while the foreground or some single element in the foreground is captured in crisp detail. I read it — selective focus, my latest mantra — in the winter issue of Newport Life Magazine, wherein lie the twenty-one winning entries to the annual Readers' Photo Challenge.

A photo by one of my neighbors appeared with this caption: "A slow match smolders while the Newport Artillery Company prepares their Fourth of July gun salute."

This comment by the judge followed: "Nice use of selective focus. You've got the active part of firing the cannon, but enough background to set the scene without distracting from this fun subject."

Now despite the fact that I spy two tiny grammatical errors (that make no difference whatsoever to the meaning, and how obnoxious of me to point them out, as if I don't make make mistakes or break rules myself on occasion, inadvertently or otherwise), I was very glad to learn the term. And I really like the photograph, to which I have no access, therefore you have no access — sorry — but if/when I see my neighbor, I'll ask him if perhaps I could add it right here:

Meanwhile, I'll plow on with no particular focus, or with trying to keep too much in focus, which is just plain exhausting and overwhelming, if satisfying in a haphazard kind of way, because — really — selective focus may be beyond my (and my camera's) capability. Besides, there's something comforting about clarity of the background, however distracting — isn't there?? And trying to keep the whole huge picture of competing elements all in focus and more-or-less aligned at the same time is the way life really is anyway. Either way ...

But what about that pesky issue of backlighting (if that's the word for it)??

Thursday, January 21, 2010

kid stuff

I may miss my kids, but I don't miss the playground. Whenever I pass through on my way to/from the library, to return an overdue book in many cases (oops), I remember: the pushing of swings, the settling of skirmishes, that kid — you know the one — who doesn't want to give someone else a turn, the neverever wanting to leave and go home ...

I also remember playgrounds when I was a kid; we did such stupid stuff, had way too much fun. Swinging as high as we possibly could — pumping, remember pumping?? — with hands on chains and butts on wood, then jumping off at the highest point. Wheeeee. How did we escape breaking ankles upon landing??

And twirling on swings — or having a friend twirl us — until twisted chains pinched fragile fingers and our feet were several feet off the ground, then letting go, letting ourselves untwirl, getting sooooo dizzy, and stumbling around pretending to be even dizzier than we were, and loving that feeling. Was it a precursor to getting drunk??

And where were the parents?? Nowhere in sight ...

The slides were my favorite, for whatever reason, except when they were hot; those metal ones could get so hot. Sliding is the only thing that works for me now, somehow. Swinging makes me sick. And twirling, on anything?? Forget about it. I'm just no fun at all. What happened to fun?? And play ...

Anyway, yesterday, late afternoon, as I was walking the few blocks from home to the Newport Public Library — such a welcoming place in this town for which the pineapple (the mark of hospitality) is the symbol, and telling myself that the late fee for the book I was returning was actually a tiny philanthropic gesture to this ultra-important and wonderfully-welcoming establishment — I approached two boys from behind. They were scuffling along the sidewalk on their way home from school, I guessed, judging by backpacks. Perhaps they, too, were headed to the library ...

Again, when I was kid (and when exactly did I get old enough to say that??), I'd have been kicking a stone and wearing really wide bell-bottoms. If there were boys in the bunch, they'd have been practicing belching ... can't say I ever understood the appeal. But these boys, in present-day Newport, though it/they could be anywhere, were wearing those huge-pocketed droopy jeans that look like they're going to fall off at any second — as if bell-bottoms weren't equally ridiculous — and swearing up a storm. "I'm f—in' this." "You're f—in' that."

One more detail: These were little boys, no older than ten.

So, at precisely the moment I passed them on the sidewalk, and "f—in' something-or-other" happened to emit from one of those sweet little mouths, I said, "Oooooo, watch your language."

I couldn't help it; it just came out.

Well, the look I got ... and the response. "Who the f— are you," asked one of those little/big boys. He had a point.

And then, on my way home from this typically circuitous walk that took me from the library down to Lower Thames — as it's hard to resist soaking up a bit of that glorious late-afternoon sun on the harbor, especially after such a mind-blowing trip to the library — some bigger boys passed me in a car, windows down, music pumping. This was broad (broad??) daylight on a Wednesday, mind you, and it was thirty-something degrees outside. These guys were cruisin' as if it were a f—in' Friday night in July ...

And, just as they passed me, one of them barked. Yes, barked. "Woof."

Wait — did he just call me a dog?? I may be old(er) and out-of-it, linguistically and otherwise, but one wouldn't woof at a hot chick. Perhaps it was some sort of karmic (if that's a word) payback for my unsolicited comment to the younger boys earlier, not that the big boys had anything to do with the little boys, although it's conceivable that they did.

It's just that bad language (unnecessary bad language) bugs me. And those boys (boys will be boys??) crossed the line ...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

old news

That last storm really was a big one. And the embankment along Easton's Pond is one of the few places to see the sculpted remains and melting process. There'll be more snow, more storms, soon, I'm guessing ... but for the moment we're "back to normal." Things have thawed. Sidewalks are walkable, Newport is in sleep mode, I'm in sleep mode — no longer having to set an alarm for 5:50 each morning to get my daughter off to school. She sets her own alarm (or she'd better) in her dorm room at college, where patio umbrellas line the sidewalk outside the dining hall, snow or not. And my son sets his own alarm for work, where he tromps off from his apartment to the subway, snow or not. Mr. Betty sets an alarm (sometimes), although for the most part, and here's the strange part, alarms aren't required after a certain age — are they?? Not only do I/we get up on our own, ideally, usually — and that's looking at the bright side of tireworn habits and occasional sleeplessness — but there's the question of why we're getting up, where we're going, or where I'm going anyway ... the immediate answer being to Broadway, another town's Broadway (does every town have a Broadway??) for a coffee date ... hardly alarming.

Afterthought about tireworn habits: Would those be ruts?? And "tireworn" isn't even a word, I now realize — I looked. The only listings that pop up for "tireworn" or "tire-worn" pertain to actual wear on tires. Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places (not only possible, but typical). Or perhaps "tireworn" is an unwitting combination of other words — tired, worn, timeworn— all of which do appear in actual dictionaries, or virtual dictionaries, thus I'm sticking with it. I feel I've heard it, or felt it — is it just me?? "Tireworn" applies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

bar scene

It takes all kinds — in Newport (this rather old port), as anywhere. Contrary to gilded images and assumptions, the city (yes, it's a city) is rich with diversity. Landscape, history, residents, residences and wildlife all offer a wealth of variety, some of it unexpected and even unfortunate. Chapters of ugly history, for example. And, in mid-January, I will go so far as to say the party scene does not afford much of a wild life.

Still, there's variety beyond what one might think — among lobster, for one thing. The harbor floor must be teeming with them, judging by the abundance of pots bobbing cheerfully if annoyingly in the way of passing boats (who hope not to snag one) in summer, and piled high on docks around and about the Jagschitz Pier at the far end of Long Wharf in winter.

Strolling through Aquidneck Lobster at the end of Bowen's Wharf provides further evidence, in any season. It's such a pleasure, a treasure, a hit with the kids (and kids in spirit) of all ages: bubbling tanks hosting critters, including the occasional crab, of all shapes and sizes with their rainbow of rubber bands holding clenched claws together as they climb all over each other in
general clamour and pursuit of ... escape?? Rather like the bar scene on a Saturday night, yes?? Truly, the lobster dock and fishing pier are two of the most happening spots in town in mid-January. And fine places to pick up dinner.

One more needless thought: I wonder if the folks/friends down at Oldport Marine — on Sayer's Wharf this time — who run the launch service throughout the harbor, and have such wonderfully named vessels as Can-Do and Zoom, were making a joke decades ago when they named their Newport-based company Oldport. Of course they were — don't you think?? I'd just never "gotten" the joke 'til now, suffering as I do from blindness to the lovely ironies of home and the familiar.

And — honestly, I'll stop after this — doesn't that make the founders of this or any other town/city/port named Newport (there are many Newports) rather short-sighted, unoriginal and unduly optimistic when it comes right down to it?? I mean, we — you, me, Newport — can't be "new" forever. Furthermore, any wealth or image we're fortunate enough to possess in this undeniably old port of Newport all basically stems in one way or another from, um, I hate to say oldness or age, so I'll go with "maturity."

But it's certainly not Maturityport ...

Monday, January 18, 2010

good morning

It's windy this morning — really windy. Wet, too. Thus my first decision of the day (where to get coffee) was hampered by considerations of weather, as I tend to set off on foot. Making coffee at home, for myself, by myself, is just too darn bleak ... not a great way to kick off the week. And there are at least six spots within six blocks where someone will take my two dollars — gladly — and say "good morning" in a cheerful or faux-cheerful voice. I'm not picky. About coffee either; any cup will do.

Just for the record: Mr. Betty probably said "good morning" (in a sleepy voice) when he left in pre-dawn darkness for a business trip ... but I didn't hear him, or don't remember, still asleep, or trying. And the kids said "good night" last night, via cell phones, from various remote locations, but I can hardly bother them again this morning for a "good morning" — even though on thousands of mornings I got them up and out to school or summer jobs or babysitting gigs or wherever-they-needed-to-go in the morning. Good mornings ... even if I/we didn't always think so at the time.

So, hmmm, that begs the question: Do I habitually rush out the door for a cup of coffee, that rush ... or for the rush of someone/anyone saying "good morning"?? Both, I guess. And/or more. For whatever reason, heading out the door — this morning, most mornings — with my favorite, ergodynamic, burnt-orange-and-stainless-steel coffee cup in hand is a great pleasure. And thinking "Where shall I go today?" is another pleasure. It may be the neighborhood; I do love the neighborhood. It may be the cute dog I may meet (did meet) and pat along the way, who may even (did even) give me a lick. It may be the luxury of someone filling my cup as some sort of reward for filling all those sippy cups and glasses of milk over the years. And I don't frequent any one place; I just go (need to go). Anywhere. To get myself out the door. Goodness, I'm way off track here ... going/blowing nowhere ...

But since I started with wind, which connotes waves, which connote storms, I will say that Newport — particularly the roads, particularly Ocean Drive — takes a beating in winter. It's not unusual for water and rocks (surprisingly large rocks) and seaweed, and whatever else comes ashore, to wash over that exposed stretch beyond Brenton Point. It's not a gentle process, as evidenced by trashed sea walls, not to mention the crashes continually carving the shore. It's a wonder some of those impressive, set-on-stone homes withstand the forces.

Yet, even in winter — on calmer mornings, when the wind dies/lies down — those soft, weirdly-floating (strangely-encouraging??) mirages appear, to the south but too far east to be Block Island. I suppose they're boats or tankers steaming purposefully west-to-east across the Atlantic ... or to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket (in winter??) ... or to the Cape Cod Canal and points north ... or perhaps east-to-west toward Connecticut or New York. Who knows??

All I know — for the moment — is that coffee is good. Mmmm ... a fine partner to "hmmm." It propels me as an event, on this and other bluer-sky mornings, wherever I sit with my cup, for whatever reason, in whichever direction from home, no matter who says "good morning" ...

Friday, January 15, 2010


When my little family of four (five, counting the dog) moved to Newport, not so long ago in Newport terms, we found a house we liked that was built in 1750. The kids — then actual kids — were horrified.

"Does that mean it'll be all creaky and crooked?" asked the son.

"How do you know it won't fall down?" asked the daughter.

Perfectly good questions ... but Mr. Betty and I paid little attention. We considered the house, in the Point section (the oldest part of town), charming. And we loved the idea that it was built before the American Revolution — how cool is that? Just think. And, on top of all that "charm" that comes with history (old age??), the house had been moved down the street or across town to sit on a new lot/plot at some point. It must be sturdy ... right??

Well, for assorted reasons, that house/home didn't work out — for us, though it is still standing — but it came to mind along with the horror of Haiti this week. The fact is that homes (and hospitals and Parliament buildings and U.N. headquarters) can and do fall down. Terrible things happen. Even to kids. Even on a local scale, even without natural disaster, even without immediate threats of injury and death. Tragedy and homelessness exist ... of course they do. And need. And the need for help. And, occasionally, pieces of Newport's abundant architecture are put to new purpose, such as providing homes for those who don't have one or need help affording one.

I should (but don't) know the history of the apartment facility on the corner of Farewell and Washington Square, but I'm always struck by its detail — so painstakingly complex and beautiful — especially when considered or contrasted with the problems and stories (no less complex or beautiful) of those who live there. The scene in Haiti bears no relation to all this/that ... but I don't know what to do or how to process what's happened/happening other than to contemplate the idea of home, any home, and how complex and beautiful (and basic??) the notion of "home" really is. And to hope that someone/something is looking over us ...