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Romance, Intrigue. Rhode Island?

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Waterfire in Providence, Rhode Island

Brant, Bronwen and I decided to travel south to Rhode Island last night to see Waterfire. Waterfire started out as an art installation by a RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) student a few years back, and was so popular that it has been continued and expanded upon each summer to the point of it becoming a cultural phenomenon.

We had no idea what to expect outside of rumors of street performers, a live jazz band, and fires burning along the rivery waterway that intersects the city. Upon arriving in Providence, I began to understand that it might just be a little bigger than that.

Providence is a neat city; it’s like Boston in it’s age and stature, but has an industrial feel that makes the city feel gritty and kind of blue-collar-with-European-aspirations. I liked it. It has a lot of neat old brick buildings and cobblestone roads, with some really beautiful spots around the RISD campus.

We parked and walked down to the festivities. The river, which was at the center of activity, was about 15 feet wide and seemed to run indefinitely through the city. In the center of the river, about every 15 feet, were metal baskets mounted on blocks that had (unlit) chopped firewood piled in them. These baskets seemed to go on way down the river.

There were vendors were selling food and hundreds of families were milling around prior to the opening ceremony of the show. Brant, Bronwen and I found a stand selling Indian food, and sat down near a statue to eat.

Halfway through my pakora, this weird, slighly ominious music started emanating from what seemed like the belly of the nearby river. It started out quietly and slowly, but began building with an intensity that was a little unsettling. There were gongs and drums and didgeridoo that was like something proceeding a cannabalistic cermony or a tiki sacrifice. Brant made a joke about the giant god of fire arising angrily out of the river to light each of the baskets of wood with his giant, flaming hand.

Young men dressed in striped shirts were rowing gondolas down the river, full of people sipping wine and coctails and enjoying the river.

The music only got louder and weirder and more intense, to the point where it was making me laugh or uncomfortable, I’m not altogether sure. These Providence people were taking the pre-lighting-of-the-fire ritual very seriously. Pleasing the god of fire was not something to be taken lightly.

After dinner, the three of us started venturing down the banks of the river further, and the sun was beginning to set. The crowd got more dense as we traveled down the length of the city and the music had a palpable effect on the mood of the people; I could feel the tension rising a notch everytime the mallet would strike the gong.

The wood baskets in the river went on and on, until finally we came to the mouth of the river where it ended in a large circle, sort of like the shape of a long thermometer. About 7 or 8 thousand people were gathered here, mostly sitting or milling through looking for places to sit or stand. In the river were a circle of firewood baskets, about 15 of them.

Once completely dark outside, the music had changed slightly to a lighter tone. Soon after we arrived at the circle, we saw a boat arrive filled with about 15 people all dressed in black. They began rowing around the baskets and lighting them on fire. Meanwhile, this man standing in this canoe dressed like a white ghost pirate was being rowed around, throwing long stemmed roses up at the audience from the river. He was theatrical, mysterious, and just a tad bit queer. We immediately dubbed him the Fire Spirt.

We braved the thickest parts of the crowd to take a some pictures of the fires and to catch a closer glimpse of the illusive Fire Spirit.

Shrouded in mystery, the Fire Spirit glides by as I desperatly try to capture some proof of his gossamer countenance. Without it, will we ever really know if he was real? Or just a product of our fire-addled brains?

Brant & Bronwen explain the story of of the Fire Spirit. Unfortunately, their voices are kinda drowned out by the rather loud music playing.

Soon after, we met up with Ashely and Hugo, to watch the rest of the fire lighting ceremony from a balcony on a clock tower. We had a pretty good view, but the show was pretty much over by then, as the lighing crew + Fire Spirit had moved down river to finish lighting the rest of the fires.

Hugo and Ashley, standing by the sundial, which, to my sadness, Hugo informed me that it only works in the sun. Oh yeah…

We decided to go in search of refreshment, and left the park and headed into the nearby mall, which is really really giant. We went to the food court for lemonade and a break from the crowds (not really).

Then, we went back out towards the river where the crowds were beginning to move out. We slowly wandered down the length of the river, about a mile or so, listening to the music, which had regained its eerie intensity post-fire-lighting. We traveled underneath some bridges, by some big chandeliers, really close to the fires, and for the first time, I think I got it: The combination of the rudimentary fires and the brooding tone of the music on the river gave Providence the feeling of an ancient city. Like a burning Rome. It was neat, and even a little romantic. Not having anyone to hold hands with, I instead pestered Ashley and Hugo, Brant and Bronwen.

We stopped to see a jazz band in an area that reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans, but the band was taking a break, so we didn’t get to see any music. We arrived at the end of the fires, where were had eaten the Indian food a couple of hours before, and stopped to watch a bunch of street performers. There were some really neat ones; people dressed up like a variety of mythical creatures & gods, such as gargoyles and some Egyptian gods (totally painted in gold!). There were Trojan warriors and girls dressed like dolls, dancing, and pirates swashbuckling out on patches of grass. A mish-mash of times and cultures for sure, but fun nonetheless.

We went down to the river once more and sat along the edge, our feet dangling over, staring at the fires and listening to the music. I took this picture:


And Ashley took a picture of me, which I kind of like, even though it is not in complete focus and I look all sweaty:

Library - 943


Currently listening to Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins


Written by pocheco

July 30, 2006 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. come to


    July 31, 2006 at 12:01 am

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