Providence Ablaze

WaterFire Image

It is every bit as cool as it sounds – 100 braziers, on three rivers, set ablaze to an eclectic mix of choreographed music, in the heart of one of America’s great downtown areas.  This is Providence’s “Waterfire.”  Started in 1994 by artist Barnaby Evans for the tenth anniversary of “First Night Providence,” Waterfire has grown into one of the city’s most spectacular attractions.  Held on specific nights between May and October, we were lucky enough to be in town to catch a performance.

We arrived early in the afternoon intending to take in some other attractions and immerse ourselves in the city before the big show.  One thing that struck us long-time New Yorkers is how empty the place was on a Friday afternoon.  Where are the throngs of people jostling to get to that ever-pressing engagement?  At one point, when we ended up in the wrong building with no one around to ask for directions to the visitor information center, Shannon quipped, “It’s like we’re in that British Airways’ commercial  . . . ‘Where is Everybody?!”

But the relative serenity made walking the city enjoyable – nothing at all like the grudge match the sidewalks of our hometown can be.  So we strolled leisurely past the Venetian- inspired bridges of downtown and the impressive collection of original Colonial homes along Benefit Street that make up the city’s “Mile of History.”  We popped in to see the Monets and Manets (and a giant Buddha statue) at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.  And when we tired of walking we took some rest at one of the city’s several small parks until hunger notified us it was time to eat.

WaterFire 2With no dinner plans we luckily happened upon Harry’s Bar & Burgers.  It didn’t look like much at first, but the waitress’ t-shirt announcing “No Crap on Tap” told us we were in the right place.  And we weren’t disappointed.  The beer list is not overwhelmingly long but offers a great selection.  Shannon stuck to the tried and true Old Speckled Hen, which we last enjoyed in a U.K. pub.  I opted for Shipyard’s Old Thumper, a non-traditional English bitter served at room temperature.  Two great beers and we were off to a beautiful start.  Quality burgers, or in my case a nicely spiced “Sloppy Harry,” arrived in short-order resulting in a surprisingly good meal from a burger joint we picked at random.  Our only regret: we couldn’t stay longer to more fully engage the beer list . . . one of the downsides of life on the road is the constant need for a designated driver.

WaterFire 5From Harry’s we made our way to Waterplace Park, a veritable amphitheater where a river serves as the stage and the city skyline as the backdrop.  What earlier seemed like an empty city now teemed with life as tourists and locals gathered for the show.  Shortly after sunset, music, piped in from unseen speakers, boomed to an encouraging round of applause.  More applause as black boats glided ‘on stage’ and mysterious, black-clad figures ceremoniously lit the braziers.

The surprisingly powerful fires filled the sky with light and smoke and removed the chill from the early June evening.  We made our way closer to warm ourselves by the fire.  From this lower vantage point, the individual blazes merged into a single river of flame.  We watched as gondoliers carefully navigated their passengers through the waters and around the fires.

WaterFire 7From there we meandered along a riverfront pedestrian passage known as “Riverwalk.”  Small alcoves and subterranean tunnels lit by ornate gas chandeliers added to the ambiance.  We paused to watch a fire juggler sail past on his aptly named boat, Prometheus (a titan who, according to Greek myth, stole fire from Zeus and gave it to man).  All too soon we came to the end of the walk.  It was time to leave Providence behind – no city hotel room for us, we headed back to our home-on-wheels as the bonfires continued to burn.

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