This weekend I had the opportunity to experience the Mansions and majesty of Newport, Rhode Island.
On Saturday morning Malli (which means younger brother in Sinhalese) woke up and said, “What shall we do today?” Spring was finally upon us, and the cool air and warm sun was beckoning. We first thought about Kayaking but it was just a tad too nippy to be on the water just yet.
Then I said, “Let’s go to Rhode Island.”
Immediately on board for an adventure, we thought about the very first town we knew of -Providence. My first instinct always is to do 3 million tons of research and know exactly what we’re doing and where we’re going- but I decided to break away from my own controlling nature and just let life happen.
As it happens my cousin and her husband were also in an adventurous mood that Saturday and asked to join us. Heshi had a client who was from Newport Rhode Island, and within minutes of beginning our drive we had a more solid destination; the Cliffwalk in Newport Rhode Island. So we began the drive around 1230 in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day; we opened the sun roof and put the windows down, blasted some road trip music and kept going.
Before we got there the first thing Heshi announced was where we should have dinner. Heshi is a 22-year-old, size two, girly girl, and her most lovable characteristic is her love of food. At any given moment you can count on her to be hungry, be cooking, or be thinking about food in some form or another. There isn’t a week that goes by without a text from Heshi inquiring about a new restaurant or buffet that we should ABSOLUTELY try! We all like to mock her and she is often called “Fatty!” despite her fabulous figure and general beauty. Anyhow, Heshi’s client (she is a hairdresser and cosmetologist) recommended a well-loved restaurant in the Newport city center. As it happens we should have made a reservation that morning, but we also couldn’t have known how long the walk would end up being.
It took about 2 hours to get to Newport, what with Malli eternally missing an exit and the quick drive through for lunch. As we drove over the bridge into Newport, the surrounding beauty trully lifted our spirits. We parked in the public lot at the beach, and walked up to the beginning of The Cliffwalk.
It was beautiful. With frequent stops for photo opportunities, it took us about 4 and a half hours. Somewhere near a third of the way in there was a plywood board, restricting any continuation. Seeing several people squeeze through the sides we too ventured through the slit and continued on. After sometime it became clear why that portion of the cliffwalk had been cordoned off. Portions of the fence and walkway itself had been destroyed. (Something akin to a sink hole.) Someone had laid the fencing over the hole to use as a makeshift bridge. Further on the walkway turned into the natural cliffs and rocky edges of the New England coastline, where there was no sign of any kind of ramp or pavement; just the well-worn rocks marking the pathway. We found out later that evening that the original path was created by a type of Deer that used to live in the region and later used by Native Americans, before colonization.
The mansions were beautiful, extravagant as they peered majestically over the cliff into the beautiful endlessness of the Azure Atlantic. We walked on to one of the lawns, the building now owned by Salve Regina University, and it was like being on the set of Downton Abbey or a similar period classic. It put me in the mood for an over-the-top, white tie luncheon birthday party. (Since then I’ve found out how much it costs to have such a birthday and I think I’m going camping instead.)
The cliffwalk ended abruptly as we later found out Hurricane Sandy had destroyed most of what hadn’t already been damaged in Hurricane Bob back in the 80’s. Even without the railing and the paved walkway, it was still a maneuverable path. We found wonder in the smooth stones by the water, and even enjoyed the huffing and puffing up the rock face. We found tunnels, and made stories of a “Forbidden Kingdom” when we saw the Japanese temple in the distance.
Further on we stepped out onto ledges where we could see the white foam of the ocean as waves crashed against the earth. We took funny pictures and serious pictures, landscapes, portraits; it was just a day to remember.
At times we would be quiet, each within our own world. I remember walking along the rocks, letting the sun warm me and the wind whip my hair and clothes. For many a mile I walked with no jacket, happy in my reverie of a spring day. We began our journey around 230 in the afternoon, and by 530 the heat of the day was fading and we started wondering if we were lost. The coastline seemed to extend and each time we expected an end we found none. Before proper trepidation set in however, we bumped into stragglers walking in the opposite direction who assured us a short walk on we would find a beach.
Sure enough by 6pm, we were back on paved roads. We walked back another 3 miles along Bellevue Avenue passing all the mansions, some in better shape than others, wondering what it would be like to live in such a place. I explained to the others that these were only summer homes, and the people who owned and lived in these places would only visit during the warm summer months. That kind of opulence is so far from our working class world here in America and it seemed impossible to imagine. We talked about living here with our whole families, how we would each be lost in our own worlds and would not need to see each other. We joked about putting up signs for missing siblings within the house. We wondered if the families that owned these properties had large families like ours, 3-4 kids, or 7-8 kids like my parents’ generation.
I explained further that the typical White Anglo-Saxon Protestant families, especially wealthy ones aren’t known for having large families, I wondered whether that’s a strategy for keeping the wealth generation over generation. It also made me realize that while this world seems so far from reality to us, it shouldn’t be. In Sri Lanka we have several properties, one by the beach, another in the mountains, apartments in the city, not unlike the wealthy of America. So then why did it seem appropriate to make fun of these people?
One of the best jokes of the day was how the value of each property would decrease by 300, 000 dollars as we walked by, and the more ridiculous and uncharacteristically we would act the lower the value would fall. We wondered if there were any minority families who live in that neighbourhood.
Of course not all the houses on Bellevue avenues were large and opulent. There were small dainty cottages that appeared to be plucked straight out of a storybook. I wondered if there were native Newport-ers who lived in these places. I found myself fantasizing, as my legs started to ache, of getting a publishing deal for one of my stories, and becoming a full-time writer. I would rent a small cottage along the coast and spend my days walking and writing along the surf.
How very cliché! But there is so much truth in the inspiration people draw from nature. How I longed that evening to be a published (and successful) writer!
When we finally got back to the car we were ready to sit, rest our legs and eat. I was craving seafood; what with the smell of the ocean seeped into my skin and a the scent of sea breeze caught in my hair. Such a familiar and comforting smell; the smell of the ocean brings a level of solace to my soul that cannot be matched by any other feeling. It’s complete peace and restfulness. Even while my body was exhausted, my soul was rejuvenated by the ocean.
We drove into Newport city and found the restaurant. They told us there would be a one hour wait, and not wanting to spend an hour waiting, we walked around to the Barking Crab. Dinner was delicious and uneventful. I had Atlantic Bairdi Crab. We were all tired but very excited about what a fantastic day we’d had.
I love this life I live. I love how amiably I live with my brother and how much we’re looking forward to having our sisters here with us. When my friend Namali came to visit she pointed out how once I decide to do something I just go ahead and do it, without over-thinking it or letting any doubts or difficulties stand in the way. I’ve noticed how my brother and I both have that quality. If we want to do something, we just do it.
Last week he made beef jerky.
Two weeks ago we made a mosaic for our living room wall.
Two days ago we signed up for a 60 mile bike ride.
Last weekend we decided to go to Rhode Island.
There’s no saying what we’ll decide to do next. Watch out world, here we come!