I’m in Narragansett at the Christian Brothers Center – what used to be the district’s administrative offices and the Novitiate.
I was assigned a room in the new wing. In the image, I’m on a small deck between the old mansion and the new wing. (This is the first of several images that I shot through a ‘looking-glass’.) Greg is in the mansion; and where my room, in the addition, is modern and well appointed; his is a bit more dated.
The drive up was amazing – the area around Newark Airport was a massive traffic jam and getting across the George Washington Bridge was nightmarish.
And when I crossed into the Bronx, the density of the region just hit me – from Philadelphia east it’s a mega human colony – and I shivered remembering a time when I too lived in this eastern beehive.
Thankfully, Waze took me off I-95 and sent me up to the Hutchinson Parkway and then onto the Merritt Parkway; these ‘parkways’ made up for the New Jersey Turnpike and the George Washington.
I-95 through Connecticut was also an experience in driving through human density just not as stressful as earlier in the drive. But once I hit Rhode Island and turned south towards the beaches, the environment changed. The buzz and swirl of I-95 gave way to the bucolic Rhode Island landscape. A landscape and lethargy I remembered from years gone by.
The coastline in front of what was The Novitiate, we always referred to as The Rocks. It’s a rugged, inhospitable sliver just north of Scarborough State Beach.
After getting here, Greg and I walked down to The Rocks. Fifty years ago, all of us would walk through under-bush to reach the water, now the area across from the Christian Brothers Center, is a park with gravel trails leading both to the rocky coast and down to the beach.
Back then, I never considered the thought that there would come a time when I would be 70 years old and again walking The Rocks with a friend from my Novitiate group.
In ’68, the Rhode Islanders – John and Mike – kept telling us that by fall the beach would be empty; by the end of September, the tourists and the summer residents would be gone. And I do remember having The Rocks and Scarborough Beach to ourselves; looking for starfish in the rocky pools; body-surfing in the warm salt water.
And this weekend, we again had the rocks and the ocean to ourselves .
In 1968, I was wearing out the grooves of Simon & Garfunkel’s LP Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. And Scarborough Fair/Canticle was my favorite cut on the album.
are you going to scarborough fair parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme remember me to one who lives there she once was a true love of mine
And a series of coincidences, surrounding the Scarborough Fair/Canticle track, will always be linked in my brain:
At the end of June, 1968, I left Sault Ste Marie for Toronto to meet up with the group that was going down to the Brothers’ Novitiate in Narragansett. We met at the Toronto Brothers’ headquarters in Scarborough, Ontario. (That’s were the Toronto Brothers’ Motherhouse was back then.)
The next day, we piled into a beige van for the trip. There were 6 of us – Jimmy, Nelson, Ray, Brother Lucian, Brother Phillip and me – in a boxy vehicle driving into the unknown. (My experience of the U. S. was crossing the bridge into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and I certainly had no idea what Rhode Island, let alone this strange place called Narragansett was. I remember looking it up on a map and still had no reference for what I’d find.)
I can still see the green highway sign on the 401, pointing us back to Scarborough, but we kept west, making our way towards the US border at Buffalo, New York. ( Scarborough Fair/Canticle playing in my head.)
We must have stopped throughout the 9-hour drive, but the only stop I remember was in Providence. We got there late afternoon and went looking for someplace to eat and I couldn’t get over the fact that the place looked deserted. It was the weekend, but I knew nothing of American cities and their work-week rhythms. So, it was strange to see this empty city.
The last leg of the trip took us south, probably on I-95, I again saw a green sign announcing Scarborough Beach; we took that exit. Talk about surreal.
Days later, after some settling in, a group of us walked down to Scarborough Beach. It was like I had come full circle.
Saturday morning Greg, Paul, Bobby and I headed over to Newport. In the image on the right and going L to R – Bobby, Greg, me and Paul; we’re on the grounds of Salve Regina and walking around the Ocre Court mansion – the main administrative building. The two images were shot against the massive mansion windows. (Ochre Court is a large chateau-like mansion. It was commissioned by Ogden Goelet, a New York financier (robber baron), and built at a cost of $4.5 million in 1892. It is the second largest mansion in Newport after the nearby Breakers.)
The Newport Bridge, like us, was also celebrating its 50th. (I remember it being a big deal when it opened back in 1969. Narragansett is across the bay from Newport and we practically watched as the new bridge was going up.)
Salve’s 80-acre historical campus, bordering the Newport Cliff Walk, is set on seven contiguous Gilded Age estates with 21 structures of historic significance. And the college has weathered the transition from Catholic, all-girls school to co-ed, modern university. It’s also dear to the hearts of the four of us, because our Theology teacher during the Novitiate, John Greeley, taught here and our Director of Novices – John Veale – ran a house of prayer on campus. (Bobby pointed out where John’s office had been and Greg pointed out the building where he had spent a summer with our Director at the house of prayer.)