Mrs. Cottage and I had a lovely afternoon yesterday. I worked all day Sunday, and like a madman on Monday morning, to set aside the afternoon for a little excursion. We ditched our kids with their grandmother, and set off to Newport, Rhode Island.
Newport's a lovely place. It's a town made of wood, and I find the colonial architecture melded into a lively modern scene a tonic for the senses.
There are flowers everywhere. The roses reach out their arms to tap you on the shoulder and cadge you for a look. Their thorns buttonhole you like an importunate hawker at a carnival: Look at me! I'm fabulous. Step right up and see me. You find yourself turning around to look back at what you just saw ten feet before --did I just see that? Was it really that pretty? Just like the housepainters did when Mrs. Sippican walked past.
There's an impression many people share for a kind of ideal city living: Quiet streets, old houses fronting right on the sidewalk, little plots of land with well tended but unfussy gardens, common areas of greensward appearing regularly to break up the houses and exercise the dog. People are busy but not frantic, there is street life but not clamor, and there is something to do, some peg on which to hang the whole thing, that informs the visitor what the ultimate essence of the place is --raison d'etre.
Newport comes as close to this ideal as I can muster. And the raison d'etre -- the Atlantic Ocean-- makes it especially lovely. Only Florence Italy beats it, and they had Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci on the payroll there; it's like cheating, really.
We go places, when we go there, but it's really not necessary. You can just wander around and gape at the quotidian. I'm not normal, and have a greater than average interest in such things, but I find myself examining the heads on the wrought iron nails used to affix the clapboord siding to the three hundred year old houses, until my wife yanks on my arm and says: Hey loser, look at the flowers.
Completely by accident after lunch, we came upon the Samuel Whitehorne House Museum. It' s not as well traveled by tourists as the big attractions of the Gilded Age Mansions on the other side of town. The museum's right in the middle of the bustle of the barrooms and other plebian haunts, and there's a working wharf across the street, still visible out the upper story windows.
We went in not hoping for much, but were rewarded amply with what I can only describe as a kind of furniture porn. The house was saved from demolition in the 1960s by Doris Duke's cigarette money, has been ably restored and cared for, and is filled with furniture made by the two conjoined twin families of the specifically Newport and generally American Townsend and Goddard furniture makers.
Want to know what the fuss is about Goddard and Townshend furniture? Go into any antique store and tell them you found some in your attic and it's kinda gloomy what with the ball and claw feet and nasty mahogany and you want to unload it. Watch the proprietor wet his pants and clutch his chest. They just fight about which museum the stuff goes in, at this point.
The difference between seeing the pieces of furniture they made in a restored colonial manse and seeing them in a sourcebook for furniture geeks is like the difference between a Victoria's Secret model's picture, and a Victoria's Secret model's phone number pressed into your hand at a nightclub. Sometimes the theoretical isn't enough to fully appreciate the situation, as it were.
There were only five people on the tour. The poor docent, who was a lovely elderly lady with an aristocratic Austrian accent, must have thought I was an off-duty second story man casing the place for a robbery later. I could feel her eyes on me as I lingered in each room looking at each piece of furniture while she was talking about the wallpaper in the next room.
Come to think of it, I did rob the place. I steal with my eyes.