We visited our Italian friend, Marianne, in Cranston, Rhode Island. Never having been to the Ocean State, we were enthusiastic about touring the state with Marianne. In our rental car, not only did we scour Rhode Island from stem to stern, but we also dipped into Massachusetts, and Mystic, Connecticut. We made the pilgrimage to Mystic Pizza, which was locally famous long before the movie. Numerous art galleries proliferate in Mystic behind tiny, almost secret gardens of flora and fauna.
One of the joys of feasting is when it includes fresh seafood, of which there is much in Rhode Island. My daughter pondered the ambiguity of “stuffed shrimp”, and marveled over quahogs, and clam fritters. While driving along coastlines that resembled travel magazine settings, we would pull over when hunger pangs manifested themselves, to crab/clam/lobster shacks that dotted the coastline. Sitting at rough-hewn picnic tables overlooking the ocean, we feasted on fresh caught crabs/clams/lobster/shrimp or quahogs. Marianne thought us hilarious because we could eat seafood anytime, anywhere throughout our Rhode Island visit.
Row upon row of blue hydrangeas created vast walls of beauty along the roads. Even the flowers on Federal Hill in Providence nearly blinded us with their vibrant hues in the summer heat. Flowers proliferated everywhere in the state.
Federal Hill abounded with Italian bakeries, coffee shops, delis, and restaurants. Even a negozio di souvenir shop caught my eye. At our friend’s urging, we entered many of these establishments if only to praise the mountains of Italian biscotti, the liquor-laced tortes, and the magnificent breads. But the greatest treat of all was hearing so many Italians speaking Italian on Federal Hill. I spoke with two padres who were indulging in a caffe and biscotti break in a charming café. They were from northern Italy and were in the States for the next several years. Wherever we walked as we meandered up and down Federal Hill, we encountered Italian speakers. Memories of my hometown in my childhood sprang to mind. Gatherings on hot summer nights at the Santa Maria di Loretto Club in August to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Dancing in the cordoned off street, the scent of roasted Italian sausage sandwiches drenched with fried peppers and onions, and the people. Most of all it was the people. Generations of Italian families on the north side of my hometown are whom I see before me laughing, kissing one another on the cheek, and pinching children on the cheek, arms around loved ones and friends. The gossiping older women, the handsome men seemingly absorbed in conversation while missing not a trick, and the dark-haired children dancing, singing, and chasing one another around the dance arena under a starry sky.
Those days spent on Federal Hill in Providence recaptured the sweetness of times past for me, before first and second-generation Italians migrated to the suburbs and became “acculturated” into the homogeneity, the blandness of suburban life, relinquishing the Italian language, except when ordering pizza.