I have special reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving. One is to be thankful to America for admitting me as an immigrant back in 1963. From what I can remember, I was welcomed as part of the then-huge British quote that applied to me, even though I was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
I am also very grateful to Rhode Island, where my wife, Linda Gasparello, and I have, by happy chance, made our home for more than four years.
People, you have a little treasure here; a bolthole for the world-weary, a welcoming and pleasant place with great restaurants, a wonderful selection of beaches, interesting countryside and the warmest people this side of I know not where — and I have traveled to more than 100 countries and lived on three continents.
Take it from me, Rhode Island is a treasure. To me, it nestles between the arrogance of Massachusetts and the upward-tilted-nose superiority of Connecticut.
In London, they listen to how you speak: “Just listen to her speak, She’s not our class, darling.” In New York, they speak about money: “I’m heavily invested in pharmaceuticals.” In Washington, they speak about power: “I’m well-connected at the White House.”
By comparison, Rhode Islanders speak about everyday things. But, oh, must you have such a bad self-image? Self-deprecation has its limits and, if I might be so bold, you have reached them. I sometimes want to take dear Little Rhody by its lapels and gently shake it, saying, “Don’t you know you have it all here, give or take a larcenous politician?”
John of Gaunt described England in Shakespeare’s “Richard II” as “this other Eden, demi-paradise.” Of course, he had not seen Rhode Island, the jewel in New England’s crown.
But Rhode Island, my adopted home, is more than being about eating and sunbathing. A special delight for us has been good, affordable theater. There is live theater everywhere, if you look. Sure you know about Trinity, the Gamm, 2nd Story and Ocean State. But did you know about the Arctic Playhouse, in West Warwick’s impoverished Arctic village? Its productions are polished, and it is moving to new, swankier premises next year.
Whereas the other theaters charge around $50 a ticket (which is a bargain), little Arctic charges only $10 for its own productions. That should be sent to the Guinness Book of World Records for theater ticket prices.
Newport has its place on the list of destination cities, but I would throw in Providence with its downtown masculine charm, its best Italian food offerings in the nation. I speak as a man familiar with the likes of Little Italy in Baltimore and North Beach in San Francisco.
When I lived in London in the early 1960s, the thing that struck Americans was how polite the English were. Now London and New York are interchangeable, and Washington is well on the way to losing what is left of its manners.
I would offer up the whole state of Rhode Island for recognition as a place of lovely, cheering politeness that makes daily living a pleasure, and smoothes a little grease on the rough edges of any day. People of all ages open doors, thank you profusely for even a small purchase, give way to traffic entering a highway and stop for pedestrians.
Also — and as an old newspaperman, this is important to me — Rhode Island has great pubs, as in public houses. A bar is where you go to drink, a pub is an extension of a living room: a place to hang out, meet friends, eat and, yes, imbibe if you wish.
In Rhode Island, as in Britain, people tend to have a “local,” a regular haunt. I have two quite different locals that are quintessentially pubby: the Harris Grill in Coventry and the Square Peg in Warren.
I give thanks to Rhode Island and you, the Rhode Islanders. You are a good lot.