Monday, 5 October 2009

Last Day in Providence

I'm tinged with a little tourist-lag. You know that hazy feeling that accompanies the late afternoon of a day filled with trailing a new place. I've ensconced myself in the sanctuary of our room while the boys are in the park across the street at bat practice, I left them there when I had had enough tween skater-boy watching. I was starting to feel a little nauseous with all their twisty turny flip flopping jumpy stuff. Least I'm blaming that swirly stomach thing on them poor scapegoats when I think the true culprit was some serious overeating at the Providence's institution which is Old Canteen. Let me transport you to a restaurant at the foot of Little Italy that on entrance overwhelms you in a vision of pink. I'm talking padded fuschia chairs, dusty pink walls, pink tablecloths, even the waiters serving water from plastic pink jugs. I feel like I'm wearing rose tinted spectacles and can't take them off, but isn't that always the case?Everything appeared unchanged since 1972, clearly they had gone for the sublimely unintentional uber-kitsch look. Everyone we have spoken to have urged us to eat there and I have to agree that the food we ate, sat beneath a mega-mural of Venice, was quite delicious. My husband ate his comfort food of chicken parmigiana with spaghetti drenched in a rich tomato sauce. Our son feasted on the beans from my ham and bean soup and garlicky pasta swimming in a white wine, garlic and clam sauce. I inhaled my lemon sole and scallops with sauteed escarole. We finished with tiramisu, spumone (american-Italian for cassata) and jello for the boy - yes Jello not jelly, they are quite different. Sort of. And coffee of course. Served to my delight in a neopolitan coffee maker and two little espresso cups. An aromatic liquid somewhere in between a watery filter and a punchy espresso. Perfect. After I had visited the ladies, lured by a beautifully kitsch pink illuminated 1950s font sign I followed the smell of anisette (one of my top ten) and found myself at the "Vintage Room". It was as dark as the main dining room was luminous. Like a secret cave. Smell of cigar smoke in the air perhaps left over from the owner's sons holy communion party in 1986. At its entrance hung a painted portrait of the owner, his wife, and what I imagined were their grown up children. All proud smiles and brightly coloured late 80s clothes. My godfather has similarly artistically licensed visions of himself and his family hung on his walls in Sardinia. Inside, from what I could see peeking conspicuosly round the corner - there was that sort of no women welcome feel about the place - there were shadows of men in shadowy conversations hunched over the bar with a busy tender filling bottomless glasses of anisette. I make to move out of a man's way as he hurries past me to the telephone booth I see to my right, complete with pink wallpaper, glass door and pay phone (I am in a 1950s movie after alll!) but not before I catch sight of the Vintage Room's pink bulbs in the black ceiling lights. Whoever held the reins in the dining room decor obviously was not about to give up on this space. I reluctantly drag myself away and we digest our lunch with a stroll down the rest of Little Italy's main drag. The sound of a fountain leads us to the main square surrounded by Italian cafes. There are a lot of well-fed men here drinking a lot of coffee. As we help Sammy make a wish or three in the fountain a man strikes up conversation with my husband about the time he met Derek Jeter (big baseball name over here and not bad to look at either - only reason I remember the name) and didn't even realise it was him even after an hours worth of chit chat (our son's yankee hat once again proving the opening spark for conversation in Boston Red Sox land). I half follow the conversation whilst making sure my son does not go for an unplanned swim and take stock of the impeccably ironed shirts he and his "buddies" are wearing, the healthy looking olive oil fed skin and the booming Italian belt (once again voice not accessory) and dynamic hand gestures. I quickly arrive at the assumption that we have met our first Rhode Island mobsters. I catch sight of a priest sitting with his coffee and another ironed shirt olive skinned dancing hands guy. Actually the entire square is populated with these men. I have my mobster's girlfriend's ginormous cheek covering sun glasses on (free with mag) so I reckon I just about to fit in. Therein the sweet paradox of being a traveller. You want to fit in enough to not draw unwanted attention to yourself whilst reveling in viewing local life with the fresh eyes of the outsider. One final stop into the local deli to inhale the nostaligic smells of Italian cheeses and chocolate, just enough to catch the tail end of the conversation between the owner and a customer,in Italian, "put it in a black bag, hide it behind the counter no-one will find it," my imagination is doing epileptic summersaults, and then its back to our hotel on a dollar trolley ride. By that I mean an old fashioned looking street car with the engine and wheels of a coach. Pretty buses I like to call them. I have a sneaky suspicion that that was not the last Little Italy we will pass through on our trip. So now I am sure you will understand my afternoon dip. Still, it means I can, for a few minutes or so, indulge in my vision of being a writer; its a sunny autumn afternoon out of my window, I am sat in an armchair with feet up on matching pouff with a standard lamp lit behind me, battering away at my lap top. It would bring a smile to my husband's face. I had tried you see some years back when we were first married, in vain, to convince him that we needed just such a corner in our small first flat. His argument against, facile as I saw it, was that all the corners were already taken up by a piano and shelves and sofas and books and TV. I battled him down and, eventually he relented for a month or so and I moved everything around to accomodate it only to find that I had sat in it perhaps only once, and that was just for five minutes or so to catch my breath straight after I had finished moving the piano single handedly to the other side of the room to make room for my "reading corner". Amazing what you can achieve on cheap laminate floors. Now, however, I am older and moderately wiser and I am ready for that illusive reading or perhaps more aptly named writing corner. Besides, what better way to recoup after a brush with made-men?

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