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Rhode Trip

July 31, 2013

Once in a while these road trips lead the Hamster and I through a place that we love so much that we start thinking about the practicalities of permanently moving there. Montana had us for a while until we remembered that there’s no kosher food. Denver was promising but for the lack of beaches. Tennessee was great but has no major league baseball. St. Louis we still talk about as if we’re really moving there, but then my lovely wife overhears us and puts on the kibosh. Newport, Rhode Island almost got us … almost.

Newport is beautiful beyond description. Gorgeous beaches, colonial houses covered in colorful cedar shakes, mansions that make the mansions near where you live look like bungalows, and a gazillion lighthouses are just the beginning. Much like Savannah, Newport has done a great job of modernizing without losing an ounce of its old-fashioned charm. Most business are local Mom & Pops, but there are national chains sprinkled in without being obtrusive. Parking is atrociously nonexistent and public lots are pricey, but the downtown area is small and walkable, and even the drivers don’t seem to be in any hurry–I don’t think I heard a single honk the whole time we were there. Even the street names contribute to the happy-go-lucky feel: Friendship St. was followed by Pleasant St. and then by Bliss. And if you need a change of pace, just venture 10 minutes outside of town and you’ll find farms–real farms, with cows and crops and stuff, literally a few minutes from downtown Newport. And there’s a even sizeable Jewish community there, anchored by the famous Touro Synagogue, which is the oldest in the country (although we learned today that it was shuttered for about 50 years in the 19th century).

The Touro Synagogue was our first stop Tuesday, and although it was a bit smaller than we both expected, it didn’t disappoint.

Touro Synagogue exterior   Touro Synagogue interior

The building is beautiful inside and out, and the congregation (approximately 115 families today) played an important part in our nation’s history. George Washington stopped by when he was passing through the area to promote ratification of the Constitution. Rhode Island was the last state to sign on, due to concerns that the Constitution didn’t specifically separate church and state (a problem remedied by the First Amendment, of course). The shul president expressed similar concerns to Washington, who wrote a now-famous letter in response that is one of the earliest and one of the clearest pieces of evidence that our Founding Fathers built this country in part on the idea of religious freedom. I had read the letter years ago, but seeing it in Washington’s handwriting and in the very building to which it was addressed added layers of meaning, especially while hearing about the synagogue’s having been founded by Spanish Jews who had relocated after fleeing the Inquisition.

Sam was much more interested in hearing about and seeing the trap door in the middle of the room that leads to a small hidden room just in case persecution followed the Jews to America.

From there we headed just out of town to another old building, but this time we were much more concerned with what was outside. The Green Animals Topiary Garden surrounds a historic mansion, but really, who cares about the house when the backyard is a sculpted garden full of more than 80 life-sized animals sculpted out of hedges?! I don’t even know how to begin choosing which to show you, so here’s a few:

Giraffe

Giraffe

Camel

Camel

Bears

Bears

Horse with rider

Horse with rider

Owl

Owl

Tyrannosaurus (Notice Sam's short arms.)

Tyrannosaurus (Notice Sam’s short arms.)

My favorite was actually the unicorn, but for some reason my photo of it refuses to upload here, so you’ll just have to trust me.

Anyway, by the time we were done with the green animals it was past time for lunch, and we were hungry. Good thing there are lots of kosher food options in Providence, which was where we were headed next. We made a quick stop at the state capitol, which looked pretty much like most other state capitols, and we’ve been to a bunch of them. Then it was finally lunch time.

Only, it didn’t quite work out that way. I had printed up a list of all the kosher places in Providence but once we were actually trying to pick one it was unclear which were restaurants and which were just caterers. So we started calling them to find out. They were ALL caterers. Every single one. Wait, no, there was one place that was an actual café–just not a kosher one. Well, it’s kosher on Thursdays, they said. I don’t even know how that works but a big part of our pretend plan to move to Newport was the availability of kosher food. So, never mind.

We’re well stocked with food so whipping up a substitute lunch was no problem, but we were a bit disappointed about not having hot food. Luckily Providence saved itself from our wrath by providing two completely different types of entertainment. First there were the weird statues we enjoyed seeing as we passed through different parts of the city: a very patriotic chicken standing outside a liquor store, a giant blue termite hovering over I-95, and an eagle that’s, I dunno, yawning?

Patriotic Chicken   Giant Blue Termite   Yawning Eagle

America is so weird! Today it was concentrated to one small city but stuff like this is EVERYWHERE! Giant lumberjacks, human skeletons walking pet dinosaur skeletons, Stonehenge rip-offs made out of discarded cars or refrigerators … as a country, we have some serious public decorating issues.

We weren’t quite done with Rhode Island, however. The Boston Red Sox’ top minor league team is in Pawtucket, just a few minutes north of Providence. I originally bought tickets to The Pawtucket Red Sox’ Wednesday afternoon game, but we were so far ahead of schedule that I figured we could see them Tuesday night instead and then spend all (instead of half) of Wednesday in Cape Cod. The tickets were so cheap that I didn’t mind eating the cost of Wednesday’s, and there were still decent tickets available for Tuesday night’s game when we arrived at the ballpark. Better still, parking was both ample and free, and we were able to grill dinner right in the parking lot before the game. Things did go slightly awry when the car died while we were grilling (I had foolishly run down the battery by leaving the radio on and charging my phone). But it miraculously started up again while I was still on hold with AAA, and we had plenty of time to run the engine for a while for insurance before heading into the stadium.

McCoy Stadium is probably most famous for hosting the longest game in the history of professional baseball, a 33-inning affair that was eventually won by the Paw Sox (as they’re affectionately called) a full day after it began. What the Hamster and I found most interesting about the place, though, was that the dugouts are not actually dug out. They’re at ground level, and then the fans sit a whole level above.

McCoy Stadium Dugout

Strange architecture or not, we had a great night. The weather was perfect, two first pitches were thrown (one by the first pitch was thrown out by a veteran of the women’s pro baseball league depicted in A League of Their Own, and the other by the current Miss Rhode Island), we saw several players we recognized from their stints in the majors, the Paw Sox won a squeaker by scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Hamster kept his minor-league streak going by catching not one but two baseballs tossed to him by players on the visiting Norfolk Tides.

For me, though, the best part was being reminded of how much fun baseball can be. Going back to last season, I’ve gone to roughly 15 consecutive Mets games without seeing them win. And when I’ve gone, the weather has generally been either unbearably cold or unbearably muggy. Tuesday night I watched the home team win in great weather, and I did it with one of my favorite people in the world. The Mets had gotten me to a point where I could barely remember why I even liked baseball, and by the time we left the ballpark Tuesday I had just one thought: How could anyone NOT love baseball?

Paw Sox in the Gloaming

Well, that, and “I hope the car starts.”

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