Monday, June 30, 2014

Confessions of a Chaperone IV

Hot lobster rolls.  Unlikely French translations.  Fire-lit cauldrons.  Impressionist enthusiasm.  Freedom of expression.  History amidst the present.

My weekend began pleasantly, with an opportunity to hear live music, one of my favorite activities.  The adjacent restaurant, Aspire, hosts live music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Every Friday, it’s jazz.  I walked into the Aspire courtyard and the evening atmosphere of warmth and liveliness enveloped me.  Sitting across the way, I saw Lilian, the woman from ‘Yoga in the Park’ who I recommended the hummus plate to.  I recognized her, as she was wearing the same ball cap from yoga.  It appears she had taken my recommendation; she was there with her husband.  I went over and introduced myself, happy to see a familiar face, and knowing that she probably didn’t recognize me without my yoga workout garments.  Lilian was very helpful, giving me advice about the RIPTA bus system and letting me know that I could get to and from Newport for $4.00. Nice!  After speaking with my students, I have heard that they are signing up for a Newport excursion with their RAs, so perhaps I will head over on the same day as they go.

The evening was splendid.  An exceptional trumpet player was added to the jazz ensemble in the third song or so, and his playing added another complex layer to the sound.  Sitting next to me, a man about my parents’ age, Joe, began telling me about his childhood in Providence, how the buildings had changed, what the 60s were like, and how he grew up Catholic.  I asked him if he happened to be Italian (Joe? Catholic? East Coast?), and he verified that he was, delving into stories about his grandfather sending him to the corner store every couple weeks for an Italian herb, never speaking a word of English.  Joe had happy, squinty eyes behind his dark-rimmed glasses.  He reminded me of a character from the Scorsese film, “Goodfellas,” not in a violent way, but in the way he looked (gold chain, collared shirt, cigarette), spoke, and ingratiated himself into my company with familiarity and ease.  After a while, I felt like I could tell him anything.  He pronounced Santa Ana as “Sant-er An-er,” telling me about the few times he had been to California.  His lovely significant other, Laura, appeared later in the evening after her shift at a men’s department clothing store.  She had a short, blonde pixie cut, large blue eyes, and wore a long fuchsia dress, smoking her cigarette in a determined, yet effortless way.  I really enjoyed their company and hearing about their lives.  Sometimes people you barely know will open up to you, and you learn more about that time and place in the world than you would ever learn from hours reading a textbook.

The courtyard at Aspire Restaurant
Live jazz

The next morning, I woke earlier than usual to get ready for my personal Boston excursion, in order to be in the same city as the students while they were taking their Boston excursions.  My amazing Pinole friend, Maggie Brunstein who is currently living in New Hampshire while attending graduate school near Boston, drove into the city on Saturday to show me around.  I know Maggie through Pinole Valley High School.  She is in my younger sister’s graduating class, and we share several mutual friends. She met me in front of the Boston Tea Party Memorial and Museum, where parents and (some) reluctant children entered to participate in a theatrical role-play of casting the tea over the ship’s side into the water with actors who wore time-period specific garb and used words like “Aye.”  I laughed to myself as I saw two actors, dressed in time-period costumes, having a normal twenty-first century conversation while waiting for the next group of tourists to arrive.  
The Boston Tea Party Museum and Memorial
I thought when I met up with Maggie that I was already looking at a clear view of Boston Harbor, but then Maggie brought me to the real view of Boston Harbor, and I must admit, it is the most gorgeous picture I have seen thus far on this trip.  Imagine sail boats and modern skiffs over sparkling blue water, with a sky so clear it looks like glass.  I kept saying over and over, “I could sit here for hours!”  But hours we didn’t have, as there is so much to see in Boston. 

Boston Harbor
With Maggie

We decided to follow the Freedom Trail, an inlaid brick path that connects all the major historic monuments such as Bunker Hill, Paul Revere’s House, etc.  The Freedom Trail took us to Faneuil (pronounced like Daniel, but with an 'F') Hall, where we saw kiosks of souvenirs, drink stands, numerous international and domestic tourists, as well as ticket booths for the renowned Duck Tour Buses.  As we walked through some of the cobbled streets stemming from Faneuil Hall, I started to grow with excitement as I saw sign after sign in the restaurant windows advertising “Lobster Rolls.”  Since before this trip, a New-England lobster roll has been on my food bucket-list.  I know that Jack also wanted to eat a good lobster roll on this trip, so I hope that he met his goal on Saturday, too.  Maggie recommended the last brasserie on the path we took, called Belle in Hand, I believe.  I tried Maggie’s recommendation of a blueberry-flavored beverage, and we eagerly looked at the food menu.  I knew that I wanted either the Classic Lobster Roll (with mayo and lemon), or the Hot Lobster Roll (no mayo, but lots of butter).  Our server helped me decide on the Hot Lobster Roll.  It’s her favorite of the choices, and, well, you had me at “butter…” Maggie and I chatted about how all of our friends are getting married while we waited for our food, and just as our server set our plates down, a few hurried young women asked us, “Do either of you speak French, by any chance?”  At first I didn’t say anything, worst-case scenarios rolling over in my brain.  Is one of their family members stuck in the French consulate, needing my translation skills to negotiate an urgent release?  Maggie pointed to me. Then, I laughed with relief as the women said they needed to videotape me speaking French for a bachelorette party scavenger hunt piece.  Then she asked if I could say, “My favorite color is purple” in French.  Why sure, that was fun and easy.  I knew I would be using my French language over here on the East Coast, but I never knew it would be in such a carefree way. (I had better not speak too soon.)

Hot Lobster Roll

After eating our perfect lobster dishes, we continued along the Freedom Trail.  We passed by Paul Revere’s House, deciding to skip the extremely long line of tourists and continue exploring the North End (Boston’s more authentic equivalent of San Francisco’s North Beach district).   I adore North Beach’s Little Italy, so naturally I loved North End.  I peered in restaurant windows and saw people doing quintessential Italian things – sitting with family over a nice bottle of red wine, talking animatedly or calmly, enjoying cheese plates or bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I stored a restaurant called Limoncello in the back of my mind for a future Boston voyage.  As we walked along the cobble-stoned paths, we noticed small crowds starting to form in the entrances of restaurants where televisions were visible. I knew these crowds had to be World Cup-related.  I couldn’t resist stopping at one of the crowds to see what was happening in the Brazil-Chile game, and there it was.  They had gone into double over-time tied, and now it was time for the dreaded shoot-out. In my ten years of playing competitive soccer for club and high school teams, I have only had to participate in a shoot-out maybe three or four times.  Imagine the heightened emotion of participating in a shoot-out in the World Cup!  Brazil won, barely, in a 5-4 overall shoot-out score, only because the final Chilean player kicked the ball off the side bar of the goal structure.  I heard a fellow bystander say, “I wouldn’t want to be that guy.” We were all thinking it, but she said it. 
The crowd gathering in the street to watch the end of the Brazil-Chile match.

Maggie and I continued on, to meet my friend Andrew Weiss in the Seaport area to watch the second World Cup game and catch up on life since our Euro-trip six years ago.  I met Andrew and his close friends, Lauren Seigel and Joey Bestreich, on a rapid Europe tour that I took with my sister, Karly, in 2008.  Andrew, Lauren, and Joey instantly became our “New York” friends, and the five of us became inseparable on the tour because of our shared sense of humor, sarcasm, and weird voices used when imitating others.  Those long bus-rides in between countries can conjure up some pretty hilarious conversations, and this group had its share of those.  I always tell my French students about the time my friend, Joey, came down with strep throat in France, and how I had to describe his symptoms to the francophone concierge and understand her directions to get him to the nearest pharmacie.  (This is how I hook them, or at least try to, on the importance of learning and knowing health-related vocabulary in the target language.)  Since the Europe trip, we have stayed in touch on social media and visited briefly during a leisure stint in New York.  Lauren and Joey are still in New York, but Andrew has moved since to Massachusetts, as he now works in space-planning at UMass (University of Massachusetts).  I appreciated him meeting up with me and Maggie, and I appreciated them both for indulging in World Cup-mania with me.  That first Colombia goal was mind-blowing, by the way.  The ball rica shays off the top bar and bounces down behind the goalkeeper, past the goal line – GOALLLLLLL!

North End

Catching up with Andrew

Arriving back in Providence, I walked out of the Amtrak station and past the Rhode Island State Building.  Though an hour before Water Fire was due to begin, I noticed people were already starting to crowd around the waterway closest to the train station.  I had two things on my mind – I needed to charge my camera and change my shoes. (I have realized that no matter how comfortable one’s shoes may be, after walking around in them all day, there is a point when the feet just need to get out of those shoes and rest.)  I was able to change into more comfortable clothes and search unsuccessfully for my camera charger before finally heading down to the waterway in the financial district.  Upon arriving, I squeezed into a spot on the railing overlooking the waterway, and watched as gondolas with pairs of people floated along in the waterways past the crowds, rowed on by gondoliers in striped shirts and traditional gondolier hats.  A mystifying, simmering instrumental music played as the crowds awaited the next step.  Finally, large rowboats with people dressed in black moved past us, large piles of wood in the back of the water vehicles, a torch aflame with just a touch of fire, ready to light the floating cauldrons at any minute.  A shaman floated past us, wafting a sweet-smelling incense into the air, an action symbolizing neutralization of negativity and encouragement of positive spiritual energy, if spirits be present.  Finally, the cauldrons were lit and the fire in each grew and grew.

The Rhode Island State House

WaterFire begins.

If I am being completely honest, after five minutes of watching the flames grow, I sincerely wondered if this was all there was to this event, and if so, what was the big deal?  Was I going to be sitting here (standing, rather) for two hours watching the same flames flicker?  I decided to walk across the bridge over near the food vendors, and there, my understanding and point of view of the event completely changed.I started to see glimpses of blue light. I walked closer and saw a patch of trees with blue glow stars in the branches, and yellow luminaria bags lining the walkways and sprinkled in clusters across the grass. Walking amongst them, I began to read messages left to loved ones under each glowing light. “I miss you every day,” “I am so thankful to have found you,” “I pray for your safe return,” or “I wish you were here, Mom,” were some that I saw.  It is difficult to not become emotional, knowing that people are longing for the presence of their loved ones all over the world.  Other than feeling sadness in remembering the many good people that I have lost too soon, I instead felt overwhelming feelings of gratitude for this beautiful moment – at any time I could reach out to my siblings and parents, hear their voices, and know that in this minute, at least, they are healthy and at peace.  To have one’s family in good health is the greatest gift and joy.  Thus, I ended my perusing of luminaria messages with one that I felt summed up my feelings for the evening: “To a happy, healthy year.  To fun times and love.” Well-said.  Thank you.

WaterFire Luminaria

Remember how I said that my perspective of the event changed after crossing over that bridge?  Well, after exploring the beautiful glow-lit luminaria area, I understood that WaterFire is more than just the visual aspect of water on fire, it is an evening of reflection and gratitude, a time to remember those lost and celebrate those living, to be spiritual, or hold hope for the peace and health of those not near us. I decided to think about the lessons of my previous yoga class and be ‘present in the moment.’  I acquired, through a donation to Water Fire, a blue glow stick and wore it as a headband.  I walked back and forth in the crowds of people, acknowledging the accordionist, the banjo player, and the guitarist that played their music softly into the dark night.  I purchased a Chicken Tikka Masala from the Indian restaurant vendor and ate it quietly on a ledge overlooking the fire, the creamy tomato sauce tasting sweet against the buttery slice of naan bread.  I sat in several different areas surrounding the waterway, noticing the crowds thinning out with time and seats becoming more available closer to the water. I listened to the music, now recognizing that the artists and lyrics of these songs spanned all cultures and religions, a perfect nod to Providence, a city founded on the ideals of religious freedom.  I had walked across the College Street Bridge at 9:05PM, wondering if the monotony of the fire could keep me entertained for the next ten minutes.  Now, here I was, returning to my hotel nearly three hours later, not wanting the evening to end.

Wearing a glowstick headband and an MIT shirt.

Sunday morning, I had set up an optional excursion to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Art Museum with the Brown-I cohort.  I met them on the Benefit Street entrance, and we entered the museum.  Sunday admissions are free, and I was reminded of Paris, where Sundays, too, are often free or half-priced in the hundreds of museums present in France’s capital.  I knew that I wanted to explore the European art, 19th and 20th century art, and the Greek and Roman art.  But first I started in the “Graphic Design: Now in Production” exhibit.  In talking to Arnold, I knew that it was his first time in an art museum, and he seemed to be loving it, snapping pictures of the graphic design art.  This made me really happy.  I continued into a room that held twentieth century art. I like how RISD combines all genres of art – interior, as well as fashion design, into each time period.  I was ecstatic to see some work by Henri Matisse in this room.  I have been to many art museums since my studies in Paris in 2007, and the more I visit museums, the less I feel the need to read or look at everything, but rather just approach art or relics that draw me in.  However, on the other side of that statement, with more art exposure, I probably in turn find that more oeuvres draw me in than before I started frequenting art museums.  In the twentieth century room, I studied some mid-century modern furniture that I or my mom would love to own. I also saw a gorgeous floor-length black dress by Calvin Klein, simple, yet comfortable in its jersey composition, its museum description giving a nod to Coco Chanel’s pioneering of comfortable garments for women. 
Mid-century modern furniture
Matisse oeuvre

The Calvin Klein dress

Next was the Greek and Roman room – I was blown away with the variety of genres this museum houses! I immediately remembered the Art History class I took at Cal, one of the more difficult classes due to the required recall of dates, artists, and styles over the span of centuries.  Still, it was breath-taking to see these marble statues and sarcophagi, now white, but likely painted vibrantly back in their original construction. I moseyed on into the next room, feeling like I needed more time in the museum than I would have, and realized I had arrived in my comfort zone, as I was in the French Impressionist Art room.  I saw some works by Claude Monet, Eduard Manet, his wife Berthe Morisot, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renor, Henri Rousseau, and Pablo Picasso (not French, but lived in Paris during the impressionist/post-impressionist eras).   Brandon told me he had seen this room, too, and I am sure it brought his memory back to our French 3 Impressionist Art project, where the students had to research and imitate the work of their chosen artist through a drawing or painting.  I was drawn to a Monet work, A Walk in the Fields of Argenteuil (or La Promenade dans les Champs à Argenteuil), where he had painted a field scene with French red poppies.  I have become somewhat occupied over the past month with obtaining French red poppy seeds for my garden, after seeing the red dainty flowers in the Berkeley Botanical Garden during a visit with my significant other, Sohil.  This painting really made me miss my garden at home, and furthered my light-hearted obsession (oxymoron?) with obtaining those red poppy seeds.

This sarcophagus is one of the few to chronicle the Trojan War.
A piece by Picasso
Greek vases reminding me of the opening of Disney's "Hercules" movie.
A glimpse of the French red poppies!

I could go on for hours about the art museum, but I will stop here, as I have come to terms with the fact that I will need to visit RISD again next Sunday, for I didn’t even step inside the sixth floor, where the Egyptian Relics and Asian Prints exhibit is housed.  The students and I met back in the lobby, minus Kevin, who would sprint to meet up with us later.  We ended up seeing the outside of the First Baptist Church of America, snapping some pictures and vowing to return later for a tour at an admissible time, and continuing onto Canal Street to find Roger Williams Memorial Park.  I had been here previously for yoga, but did not know as much about Williams’ life and work before this morning.  After hearing the students’ accounts of Roger Williams, now experts after their junior year of AP US History, and seeing the video and touring inside the Visitor Center (thank you, Sparkle Bryant), I now feel that I have a better understanding of Roger Williams’ journey.  He left England for Massachusetts at a time of great religious divide, and after studying to be a Protestant theologian himself, he realized that he held views that were not necessarily in line with what he had studied all of his life.  He founded Providence on the basis of religious freedom, as a place where peoples experiencing persecution for their religion or lack of religion could find refuge.  He was the earliest proponent of separation of state and church.  His most prominent work, A Key into the Language of America, has greatly influenced our Bill of Rights, and the original copy is actually housed in Brown University’s Anthropology museum.  Providence reminds me a lot of the city of Berkeley, another city where freedoms of belief and speech were historically pioneered, though much later in United States history.  I love seeing the LGBT pride that appears in little nuances throughout the city, and I am sure the city’s founding ideals play a large part in the freedom of expression seen and felt here.

The First Baptist Church of America
The Visitor Center at Roger Williams' Memorial Park
Williams' compass
What houses looked like before the 19th century in Providence

After our morning, the students and I went our separate ways to prepare for our big dinner at Siena Restaurant later in the evening.  I had brunch at a chic café titled XO Café, where I had the XO Benedict, potato pancakes and short rib covered by poached eggs and a chipotle hollandaise.  The motif inside the café was romantic and luxurious, with plush pillows separating the seating, and leopard print apparent amongst luscious textiles.
XO Cafe

Dinner at Siena was lovely and very enjoyable for all who attended, it seemed.  I walked over to Federal Hill on my own – I wanted to be there early and make sure appetizers were set up for the arrival of twenty guests.  You know you are in Federal Hill when you cross over a freeway overpass and walk under an elegant arch.  The street is lined with little unique shops and lots of excellent restaurants.  Federal Hill is definitely a hill – when you look around you don’t see skyscrapers and tall buildings like other parts of Providence, just the clear sky and sun as far as the eye can behold.  The five cohort students, experiencing a close brush with tardiness to an ILC event, came sprinting up the stairs to the back room of the restaurant, out of breath but looking dapper in their formal wear.  I smiled and shook each of their hands, acknowledging that they had made it a minute early, relieved that the ‘hosts’ had arrived before the guests.  I am proud of them for trying the RIPTA bus system, but I think they will think twice about departure times before the next mandatory event.  I will say no more about it; they made it on time in good form.  And the thought of them sprinting down Atwells Avenue in their formal wear makes me giggle a bit.

Our dinner included a lot of good conversation and advice about being successful at Brown.  I learned from Helen about Brown’s Open-Curriculum system.  Richard shared the ‘feeling’ he got when he knew that Brown was where he wanted to be and where he wanted to stay even after graduation.  Juan and Julio were able to share their own post-graduate experiences, as they are alums now, both working in education.  Camera knew that she wanted to be a Brown student when she saw that students acted normally and were able to function harmoniously even during finals’ time.  I thought this was interesting and refreshing.  As a Cal graduate, I can honestly say that being at such a competitive undergraduate school, I definitely witnessed some less-than-healthy finals’ week behavior – all-nighters before a 4-hour final, cramming with the use of study drugs or caffeine pills, students I normally saw every day disappearing into their rooms or libraries for a week at a time to scour over notes, peoples’ physical appearance seeming to deteriorate from lack of sleep or stress. I personally felt that I was able to balance my normal life with finals fine, but it would have been nice to feel that my peers were doing the same, and it sounds like at Brown they do.  (Again, I LOVE Cal, but I couldn’t help but provide a contrast to Brown’s finals' culture.)  Lytisha talked about the ease with which she was able to change majors from Physics to Biological Health at Brown, which I know relieved some of the cohort members who weren’t quite sure what they wanted to study. 

As the dinner came to a close, I took a few pictures of the group, and although they were technically “dismissed,” I was thrilled to see that everyone genuinely wanted to continue talking, and so they did so standing for the next several minutes. Guadalupe Morales, a Richmond High School graduate and alumna of the Ivy League Connection, offered to walk the students back to campus, which was a really kind gesture.  She and Arnold were able to connect, as he is a current Richmond High School student.  Although I didn’t get a chance to sit at the same table as Bianca, Isaiah, Eveyln, Lizbeth, or Candice, I could tell they were having lively conversations with Jack and Arnold.  The walk home felt easy, as I got a chance to speak with Jing about her family and how much she was enjoying her time at Brown in Providence.

My choice: Penne Alla Vodka with prawns
The group
Genuine conversation post-dinner

I look forward to this week and celebrating the Fourth of July in a New England city.  What could be better than to celebrate our country’s freedom in a city whose ideals were founded on the basis of freedom?  Providence, je t’aime!


  1. Wow! Fantastic! Seems like you really enjoy your stay here and you are having a lot of fun! Although I also ate a lobster roll in Boston, but that was so different from the one you ate. Yours looks much nicer.

    1. Jing, thanks for reading. I am having a great time and learning just as much as you all about the campuses and application process. I am sorry that your lobster roll didn't meet your expectations - hopefully you can find a better one in Newport!