Saturday, August 18, 2012

Providence in Providence, RI

State Capitol, Providence RI
Several free parking spots greeted me when I arrived at the State Capitol.  Ready for the $4 per hour that is standard in downtown L.A., I was mildly pleased to have an hour remaining on the meter AND the rate was only $.75 per hour.  In the tradition of state capitols, an armed guard and a massive, ornate cupola awaited inside.  No crowds, no wait, I was enjoying this side trip.  As they say, the fun is in the journey and not the destination.  Seeking to handle some family business at government offices in Providence, RI, I was on a mission.   Not mission impossible but a mission easy, as it turned out.  After meandering through the halls and legislative chamber, I requested directions of the fiftyish bored state police.  More than amiable, he directed me to another building a behind the capitol building.

Pocket parks with fake grass & real soul in downtown Providence

Steeled for a long wait with a cache of reading material, I pulled a number and the clerk appeared.  I blinked to make sure I wasn't at the Apple store or some other customer oriented store.  Friendly and agreeable, she took ample time to explain what I needed to fill out.  I asked how many days to get these records.  "You can wait, I'll have it in fifteen minutes."  I needed coins for the meter and a helpful customer at the cashier offered to give me as many quarters as I wanted.  (thought to self, 'people are friendly here').  The clerk gave me the documents and carefully directed me to the next office across town (about 1 mile distant).

At the Secretary of State's office a similar scene played out but even easier.  Two clerks jumped to serve me, did my apostille (even though a hand-out said it would take two days).  They encouraged me to handle the last piece of my document recovery mission and printed a map to direct me to the office.   Driving through downtown proved a challenge to my usually perfect sense of direction.    But getting lost on the winding, one way streets, turned out to be a pleasant tour of a renewed city.  Through out the new Providence, you'll find ancient (by CA measurements) buildings all shined up. It is an easy walk from the government buildings to the shopping mall to the riverside park to the downtown arts district and the financial district.   Everything is within a few blocks.

All time friendliest State Offices
Allowing my intuition to guide me to the State Archives office, I drove straight to it and found a parking spot with time on the meter right in front.  The state archives guy gave me a slip of paper to fill out which also warned of a two day delay.  He took my info and went directly to the files and returned with my document. 

Downtown Providence is old, clean, & hip

By this time in the odyssey of state offices, I was on a cloud.   This state works.  Everything flowed.  How do they do it?  Especially with parking at 75 cents per hour.  Starting with my easy sit at the Blue State Coffee near Brown University through the parade of state offices, everything flowed effortlessly.  But that was just the warm-up for the main act, Federal Hill.   I had been warned by my cousin in Boston that the old Italian neighborhood was not what it used to be.  He said that it had been taken over by hipsters, I feared the worst: a phony imitation of a traditional ethnic enclave and subsumed in too hipness (note in downtown L.A. these days).
Beautiful Cousin Belinda at De Pasquale Piazza
Having arranged to meet another cousin  for dinner, I took Atwell St to Federal Hill.  Cruising the commercial street, I looked for the De Pasquale Piazza, the heart of Italian Providence.  All along Atwell are homey, restaurants with a few tables outside to take advantage of the summer weather.  Another easy park (no meter, no valet) and I ambled to La Dolce Vita Cafe' on the square.  Passing several groups of apparently old Italian gents gossiping, I hit the square and was faced with another surprise--It was real, it wasn't too hip.  Five or six outdoor restaurants and a big fountain filled the piazza.  One restaurants offered customers to select a live chicken for their dinner.  

My cousin, Belinda asked:  "How was your mission in Providence today?"  I said, "I can't believe how much fun and easy this mission was."  We caught up on family stories and gorged ourselves on real Italian food.   Che bella.  Then the dulcet sounds of  an ersatz Frank Sinatra waffed through the air.  A young man in a black suit and tie serenaded the whole piazza in the sultry summer night.

A day like that in Providence, showed me that cities can have grace and ease.  The renaissance of Providence began during the long mayor ship of Buddy Cianci (the first Italian-American mayor), who sparked the transformation of a city that was considered by all to be a pit.  Now, its light shimmers and is worthy of its name.  Indeed it was providence for this soul who had been wandering in some inhospitable regions.  

My insight?  Find a worthy mission, drop into a fresh location and enjoy the ride.  When you are on purpose, get in the flow, and let providence (care and guidance of nature) take over.  And to Boomers who may be afflicted with 'been there, done that': Check that old city (beach, island,  country, where ever), it may have had an extreme makeover like Providence (founded 1636 by Roger Williams who proclaimed it a haven).