Sunday, October 26, 2014


I've spent my life in America but I do get outside our borders on occasion. Ireland and Scotland when I was young, a honeymoon in Innsbruck, a little bopping into Canada, two anniversary cruises in the Caribbean. One tension-filled car trip from Southern California into Tijuana for kicks
Our cousin and masterful
tour guide Roberta Bourassa
(what were we thinking?).

But only one trip was life-altering, and that was to Italy with extended family on my mother's side. The trip was led by my mom's cousin Roberta, who got every detail of the trip right. And while I loved our trip to Florence, even more the ones to San Gimignano, Sienna and Pisa, it was the daily rhythm of life in our base town of Lucca that affected me most. Lucca is a walled city where families walk together in the late afternoon, before going back to work and then out together to dinner with their friends.

Candle Night photos from
This is common throughout Europe, of course, but alien to most Americans.  Every night when our group went out to dinner, there would be tables overflowing with groups of family and friends holding their babies, eating three courses, drinking wine and talking deep into the night. Then walking through the old stone streets to their home, lit by street lamps and string lights, stopping in shops, and chatting with people they knew. That's on a regular night, not even a special occasion like last month's Candle Night festival of Santa Croce. There are a lot of festivals in Italy, each even more beautiful and communal than everyday life.

In America we go home at the end of the day and have dinner with the spouse and kids, then watch TV or maybe take them to soccer practice. There used to be a boardwalk on a beach near my house, not the same since Sandy, but before then it was filled with families at night walking and talking, but most of them were immigrants; the rest were alone, running or walking a baby or dog. Not a bad thing, but not the same. Weeks (or months) go by between when most of us see even close friends. Parties are centered around kids' events like graduations. Festivals are an arts and crafts festival in the summer on the green, rather than celebrations of the community we form. 

I've been to a few First Night celebrations, New Year's Eve events that almost capture the European feel of strolling with family and chatting with friends amidst lights and laughter, but in New England, it's cold on December 31st, and most of the events have to be inside, which limits the effect. I know there are also riverside strolls in a lot of American cities that capture the look of a European town, but they're largely for tourists, and shopping, rather than the residents.

Burning fires
Bridge near the basin
Then I came to Waterfire last night in Providence, and it was beautiful, and spiritual and communal. My daughter who goes to school in Providence is already hooked, she and her friends come down every time it's lit. I would too. It's amazing not just for what is on display, but for how it makes you feel connected to the place and the people around you. 

Boat of drummers

Glass blower at work
There were street performers and food stalls and artists selling their work and others creating more. Gondolas cruising along the river, some with tables and waiters and wine. Fire tenders cruising along the pyres, restocking  each one with 15 pieces of wood when the flames burned low. The night was cool but heat poured off the fires in waves with the wind, wrapping you with warmth and a smoky scent, then moving away. 
Josh, Ciara and Mark
taking phone pics

Two of their favorite tiles
At what looks like it used to be an aqueduct, thousands of tiles the kids of Providence drew after 9/11 are on display in accordian-like rows, next to a guy on a stationary bike raising money for cancer research.  Looking up, there are glass skylights built into the dark sky. Looking out, all the building in the city are lit up, pink and purple at the state house, some brick walls with a blue projection of a "Yes to 5" for arts funding. 

You can buy a blue star and write a story on there in someone's memory, or a card that's placed under a lit luminaria. I laughed at some of them and cried at others, and watched others around me do the same We shared a shrug or a smile. Such is life, that those left behind try to make sense of their loss by making strangers feel their pain, or sometimes their joy. I like the anniversary and love notes a lot. I liked the straight-out mourning even more. There's a purity to ripping our clothes and pounding our chests in public; or placing a card expressing our feelings next to a fire and waiting for it to catch. 

In between the eating and crying and laughing and talking and taking pictures and watching and admiring the primal fires raging over the water, I gave thanks for a daughter to likes to stay connected, and take her parents to Waterfire be part of
the Providence night, and then hole up in our  hotel room on the pull-out couch, overlooking the basin where the waterfires burned past midnight, watching the World Series and eating fresh kettle corn and giving thanks for us too.  

Because last time I wrote about how nice it is when adult kids move out, but in truth, it's only good if you still have adventures together, meet their friends, go shopping, let them show you new things and take you new places. 

Magical places you'd never been despite their being so close, that feel so familiar, like you'd been here before. Or should have, at night, before and after a three-course dinner together. 

Love, Lisa

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