Friday, June 27, 2014

Confessions of a Chaperone III

Restaurant-dining solo.  World Cup frenzy.  Yoga in the park. Walking in a walking town. Reflection amidst rest.

My journey as a solo traveler began when I said good-bye to the students in front of Keeney Quadrangle.  It was now time for me to really relax and make things happen for myself over these next three weeks in Providence.

On Monday, I said good-bye to the Biltmore Providence Hotel, and hello to the charming Hotel Providence, a few long blocks away.  The cab driver made it clear, through several exasperated comments, that he was not happy about driving me from one hotel to another in a distance that was clearly walkable, though, I wanted to retort, I had very heavy luggage, I would pay a nice tip, and how could he be sure that I didn’t have a physical disability of some sort?  Although this scenario would never have been an issue in San Francisco, I understand now that in Providence, if you have luggage, the taxis are expecting that you are going to the airport.  I wish the valet would have made my destination clear to the driver.  Still, his carrying on has now made me feel self-conscious about catching a cab in town, ever, so I have decided to walk everywhere.  Go ahead, call me a wuss.  This walking has actually been beneficial to my health and my connaissance of the town, so one day I will actually thank the cab driver for being snarky.  He is right - everything really is walkable.  It’s an old town and reminds me of living in Paris, another walking town.

Some views near downtown Providence.

Entering the Hotel Providence, I immediately loved its charm.  The bed had soft white linens, three large comfortable pillows, and it faced a television, which I knew would be on during several World Cup games in following days.  Two matching colorful lamps flanked the bed, there was a sleek coffee maker in the mid-century modern boudoir that houses the television, and the bathroom was pretty, shiny, and white, beckoning me to draw a relaxing bath immediately. That first day I decided to walk down the street and try Dunkin’ Donuts for the very first time.  The woman at the counter was kind and patient, as she walked me through all the additions that could be placed in the numerous types of coffee.  I decided to try the first coffee on the menu, a Coffee Coolata with Caramel, the alliteration now hilarious to me, and a toasted onion bagel with cream cheese. Trying the first sip of the Coffee Coolata, I immediately realized why the line was so long at Dunkin’ Donuts that one morning in South Station.  It tasted like caramel sugar with just a hint of coffee - it was delicious.  I knew that I would be on a coffee high for the rest of the afternoon.   

I had to meet the MacroEcon students in our cohort later that afternoon to buy the textbooks that had just been announced as required for the course, so I walked up the hill to the campus, finding the bookstore relatively easy on Thayer Street.  While Providence is a walking town, I am finding that not all of the pedestrian walking lights work.  When we were at the Biltmore Hotel, we found ourselves continually having to cross the street without the help of a pedestrian walk-signal, several times at busy intersections, because the walking signals were broken or never came on.  This felt really dangerous.  Thankfully, as I walk more and more in the financial district and near the campus, I am finding that the pedestrian walk-signals seem to work just fine, just maybe not at the pace we are used to in Berkeley or San Francisco. 

That evening, I decided to watch the World Cup game in the adjacent restaurant bar, A-Bar, as part of the seasonal kitchen restaurant, Aspire.  I cannot recall which game it was – Croatia versus Mexico? – as there have been so many soccer games aired over the past couple weeks.  I have found that I really enjoy this ritual of watching the World Cup games, and I am glad to be in Providence during such an exciting series where I can watch each game at a different restaurant or bar, a chance to share in excitement or conversation with other fanas de football.  I decided to try a flatbread Margherita pizza, and it was superb.  I found myself wanting just a little bit more food, so I ordered a hummus plate of crispy buttery pita wedges and a roasted pepper jam to complement.  The flavors were contrasting, yet harmonious, and I recommended this plate to a woman I met later in the week who had asked about Aspire.

On Tuesday, I surprised myself with how late I slept in.  Perhaps I was experiencing a snowball effect of all the hours of sleep lost in the previous week.  I had definitely missed breakfast and I felt like a gym session was in order, so I put on some workout clothes and threw my hair in a ponytail.  I received some e-mails from our School Board President, Charles Ramsey, about coordinating a second dinner with current Brown students for the upcoming weekend, so I spent the next hour and a half working on details and composing e-mails in my hotel before finally heading out around 3PM.  I went to Viva Mexico!, a Mexican restaurant whose presence a block away defied the myth that there aren’t any Mexican restaurants in Providence, and had some Fajitas Con Camarones.  The prawns were large and juicy, and I enjoyed the onions and peppers that accompanied the pinto beans and rice.  After finishing up, I noticed that the bar was starting to get crowded with World Cup fans, so I walked over to watch the Japan-Colombia game.  I struck up a conversation with the friendly bartender, David, and left after Colombia scored its third goal near the eightieth minute, putting two goals between itself and struggling Japan. 
Shrimp Fajitas before viewing the World Cup at Viva Mexico! Restaurant.
Post-late lunch, I went to the fitness room on the bottom level of the hotel.  The air conditioning was on and the room felt frigid.  I was by myself.  I got into a steady run on the treadmill, feeling the positive exercise endorphins kicking in for the first time in a week, my clip-on blue I-Pod encouraging me to run longer than usual.  The room did not feel so cold anymore.   The next part of the evening was an adventure, spurred on by my post-workout energy.  After eating in restaurants all week, I decided that I was craving fresh raw vegetables and fruit, so I looked up the closest market, which appeared to be Whole Foods.  I actually have never been to Whole Foods in the Bay Area, only Berkeley Bowl or Trader Joes, so I was excited to see this place.  I left just before it was starting to get dark, so I paid close attention to my route to Whole Foods, so I could find my way back easily.  Before finding Canal Street, I noticed a brick building on the corner, an Irish-pub-looking joint, called Fat Belly’s.  It seemed quite fun and crowded for a Tuesday night, so I stored that pub in the back of my mind for a future jaunt.  Canal Street felt peaceful, and many people were still on the road as I walked towards the Whole Foods Shopping Center.  I realized that I was passing by Roger Williams Memorial National Park, one of the must-see places in Providence.  Three young men were kicking a soccer ball around, as the evening turned from light to dusk.  I noticed a sandwich board announcing ‘5K Fun Run’ on Wednesdays at 5pm.  I took a closer look and saw that ‘Yoga in the Park’ also occurred Wednesdays, but at 12pm and it was free.  I decided that I would make an effort to try both the following day.

Whole Foods didn’t disappoint.  I made it past the beautiful display of tulip bouquets without putting any in my basket (success), but the organic fruit section was not so easy.  I quickly filled my basket with a tray of raspberries, a bag of dark cherries, a bunch of bananas, and some peaches.  My journey at Whole Foods didn’t stop there, as I piled on a container of tomato and mozzarella ball salad, and a kiwi/strawberry medley.  I was pleased with my purchases and opened the raspberries first upon returning to the hotel, the earthy taste of each pod reminding me of summers at my childhood home, where my dad let me gather and eat our garden’s raspberries until the sun went down.

Some loot from my Whole Foods excursion.
The next morning, I made good on my promise to myself and went back to Roger Williams Memorial Park for ‘Yoga in the Park.’ I found myself there with three other attendees and our lovely, pregnant instructor, who is also finishing up research for her graduate studies.  I had really missed yoga, especially the deep breathing that it garners.  My last class took place at Hercules Fitness back in the East Bay about a year ago, until my beloved instructor suddenly had to leave because she was moving.  Thus, this morning was a reawakening of my balance, breathing, and center.  The pace felt relaxing and comfortable, but my muscles and breathing were still challenged.  That’s what I love about yoga – it is really good for your health, but doesn’t feel strenuous like some exercise styles, where you feel like you are going to collapse or you wind up not being able to walk for the next several days after the fitness session.  One of yoga’s goals is to help you feel and be present in the moment, without worrying about the past or the future.  I feel like this idea is really important for me, as well as for the students in our cohort – to be present in the moment without worrying about the past or the future.  While practicing yoga, I felt like nothing could bother me or interrupt me, not the little green bugs that were inevitably crawling on me as I lay in ‘child’s pose’ in the grass, nor the happy dark-brown puppy that was running in between our mats so joyously.  Instead, these nuances of nature added to the free and grateful feeling I had to be present that morning.  One man in the group encouraged us to try the 5K Fun Run later that day.  I told him I would try to make it, but after going on a long walk in pursuit of clothes hangers to bring back to the students following the yoga session, I started feeling remnants of my high-school shin splints, and I decided to give my legs a rest from pounding the pavement for the day.  Definitely next week, though.  I really like the sound of a “5K Fun Run,” and I will consider it my first step in training for a formal 5K or 10K run.  

Last night, I decided it was time to abandon the workout clothes and actually get ready for the evening.  By “get ready” I mean putting a hot iron to my dented hair, and abandoning the polyester or spandex for more tailored garments.  I researched nearby restaurants through Yelp, and decided on Providence Coal Fire Pizza, as it had good reviews, and the thin-crust pizza looked like something light I could eat and take home if needed.  After perusing the menu options, I ordered a pepperoni pizza. The pizza that came out could have fed three of me, easily.  Thankfully, it was easy to love, as the thin crust was crispy, the pepperoni was salty, and the cheese was offset with just enough tang of tomato.  I tried their famous butterscotch pudding with house-made whipped cream for dessert, packed my pizza up, and went back to the hotel to work on my receipt expense logs for Don.

In the meantime, I have been in touch with two friends who I will see in Boston this upcoming weekend, Maggie from Pinole, and Andrew from New York.  After meeting with each of the students in my cohort today, I have gathered that all five of them are attending excursions to Boston with their dorm “clusters” on Saturday, so I figured that would be the best time to meet up with these two friends and get some Boston sight-seeing in.  Of course, I will return back to Providence in the evening so as to see the renowned Water Fire Providence, and be present in the event that one of my cohort students needed my immediate assistance.
Some views of the waterways where Water Fire Providence will take place on Saturday.

I was somewhat relieved to see and hear that all of my students are functioning fine in their new environments, the worst situation seeming to be that the shower water was cold for two of them.  It’s difficult to sit back as a chaperone and not be able to do much about negative housing situations, other than tell the students to complain to their RAs, or encourage them to ask for a new room in a new hall, which I don’t think they want to do being so close to their other cohort members and not wanting to leave their new roommates.  But overall, the students felt that they were doing well in their classes, they seemed to like and appreciate their professors, and there hadn’t seemed to be any roommate issues, other than one roommate being quite quiet.

After leaving the individual meetings with each cohort member, I walked along Thayer Street and found an alehouse on a corner that I had noticed previously.  I had a feeling this place was airing the World Cup, and I was right as I entered an extremely crowded room with all chairs and eyes facing the large flat-screen television behind the bar.  I wish I had taken a picture at how crowded this place was and how intently every customer watched the screen as United States played Germany.  I was dismayed to find that Germany had already scored a goal, and I was arriving past the sixtieth minute, meaning the United States had just over twenty minutes to tie the mark.  Several heightened attempts were made by the US team to achieve a goal, but nothing penetrated the net, and the final score lay at 1-0, Germany.  Thankfully, we found late in the game that Cristiano Ronaldo had made a second goal for Portugal, sending the United States to the knock-out round against Belgium. 

Now I sit here, finishing up this blog post, and I wonder what events await me in this upcoming weekend and weeks.  I look forward to tomorrow night, where I will listen to live jazz in Aspire’s A-Bar, and this weekend where I will get to see Boston and Water Fire Providence, while catching up with old friends over World Cup viewing and laughs.  Oh, how thankful I am for this moment.


  1. You are amazing! We are so close geographically so we should hang out together! I love the World Cup excitement amongst the international students! I feel that many Brown students don't venture away from the Hill too much and I would love to do more sightseeing in Providence! Hopefully I can balance that as well in the next two weeks! I guess I just have to get up earlier! Thanks for being so amazing and enjoy!

  2. Kevin, you said 'amazing' twice. Do I sense sarcasm in your tone? Also, you are the first student to comment on my blog, so what is your favorite candy bar?

  3. MADEMOISELLE SCOTT! It looks like someone is getting a hang on this whole blogging thing. You seem like you are enjoying yourself and to be honest, I was smiling when I read this. The fitness part made me happy to know that you are still running. I'll be reading the blogs to catch up. From your #1 fan!

  4. Hi Thao,

    It is so great to hear from you! You are going to really enjoy Brown and Providence. Thanks for reading- more blogs to come! I look forward to hearing about your trip.