July 25, 2013

Greetings from Newport, Rhode Island, where I’m blogging from the Yankee Peddler Inn‘s quaint parlor on a cloudy, breezy morning that smacks of an early late-summer day. There’s something about this town and its history that always touches me deeply whenever I’m privileged to visit here. A couple of months ago I was in San Diego; some call it the west coast version of Newport, but besides the money, the boats, and the beautiful people who flock to them like moths to a porch light, there’s nothing really these towns have in common.

San Diego is a pretty cool place but it has (at least to me) a very modern feel to it. Of course, it’s just as old as Newport is, but as a New Englander and an American its history seems unaccessible to me. Newport, on the other hand, speaks to me in a way I can relate to: tiny streets, old houses, and leafy trees, the romantic, quaint feel of a place where generations of people little known or long-forgotten have passed through on their way from nothing to nothing. People, houses, places, and things that floated in, flourished, declined, and then passed on into history.

From my location I look out the window and see lovely houses along a street that, were the metal light post just outside the window not there, would be just as recognizeable to someone sitting in this very spot in, say, the 1890s, 1920s, or 1950s. Or maybe not, but one can easily imagine sitting in this parlor and listening to a Scott Joplin rag, or big-band music, or Elvis on the turntable. I sit here and the surroundings make my New England bones and blood feel at home, as if the ghosts of times past and I are united at this place and time in a quiet and timeless way.

Just as any other place, Newport has gone through its ups and downs, through Colonial times, through its rough-and-tumble Navy years, through the Gilded Age where its “cottages” served as a six-week playground for the rich seeking respite from oppressive Manhattan summers, to the nouveau riche playground it has become for lots of pretty people. And maybe that’s why I like it and why it attracts me so – it embraces its past but isn’t held back by it, it’s been up and down and keeps moving on, a testament to the passage of time and place. I come here and can recall past visits when I was younger, I remember places I’ve visited that are no more, I see in it the passage of time both here and in me.

Away from the quaint shops and noisy bars and restaurants along its waterfront, a walk along Newport’s quiet, narrow streets with big colonial houses surrounding you on both sides or a tour through Rosecliff mansion makes you feel smaller, a mere player in history, whether it be yours or others. Many of the houses are well-preserved and painted in gay multi-colors, some are in sore need of upkeep. Big houses that used to belong to large families full of life and the prospect of years together are now apartments above first-floor shops, or quaint inns, or condominiums; some have been neglected, or empty, or up for sale. You walk past them and can’t help seeing in their passage of time a part of your own. It’s not good or bad, or happy or sad, it’s just the way it is.

I sense it’s important for me to feel this way – sentimental about times that were never quite as good as I remember them being, hopeful about a future that could turn dark or uncertain by a doctor’s visit or a lab result, or my name appearing on a company’s layoff list, grateful for a life surrounded by loving parents and family, good friends, and the opportunity to travel to places that as a kid I could only imagine seeing. In that way, my life isn’t so much different from that of others – or perhaps it is – but I also know that in the grand scheme of things I’ve been beyond fortunate.

I know not when I will – or even if I will – return to Newport, but if I do have the privilege of visiting again I know things will be different for both of us. Perhaps in small ways, perhaps in ways not so small. But there’s comfort in knowing that, whichever way it is or might be, we have in common the fact that neither of us are immune to the passage of time and that we’re both just bit players in the larger drama of history that will continue to unfold around us.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 09:53 | Comments (0)
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