Newport is a great city. I used to think it embodied the idea of America better than any other city. However, after spending a few years on the west coast I am not sure I can say that anymore. Nonetheless, my years away from the east have made my return to this city extra special. It possesses all of those little things that I miss. There is history, formality, and tradition. I don't mean to use this time to berate the west, but familiarity can be so refreshing.
The trip here was actually pretty great. Well, day two went well. After my period of reflection on the first night, I found that pretending to be ok made way for actually being ok. As weird as Ben can be, he served as a great distraction and helped me not feel too much animosity toward Jack. To celebrate, Ben took us to a late dinner at the White Horse Tavern. Celebrating Jack and Millie's engagement seemed like a difficult idea, but if I had to feign getting in the spirit, I was glad it was there.
The White Horse is a favorite of mine for no other reason than that it is very old. It's almost old by English standards, having first opened in 1673. The low ceiling and painted wood walls rejuvenated my spirits and opened up a craving to re-explore the buildings of this great, old town. Our week ahead was mostly full of plans to sail, watch sailing, and go to pubs. But I felt pretty sure I could make some room for architecture exploration too.
Before I was able to become completely lost in the irregularities of the ceiling beams, Ben stood up to give a toast to Jack. I can't recall a single thing he said since I spent the following five minutes trying to sink into my chair so deeply I would eventually fall under the table and avoid the glaring eyes from around the room. These were the types of social cues the boisterous Ben never picked up on. As the toast was lingering and about to find its end, Kipling, sensing my discomfort, proceeded to ask Ben to retell a series of stories. “Sorry Ben, I missed part, what is your favorite thing about Jack?”...“And you still liked him after he had you impeached as class president?”
Ben loved to talk, and Kipling knew exactly what he was doing - trying to drive me nuts, and in the end, make me laugh. Eventually, Kipling managed to transform Ben's rambling's into a drinking game of sorts and I slowly pulled myself back up to the table. As the night drew on and the wine kept flowing it really to started to feel like old times.
The next morning, vacation hours were just setting in for the gang. While the others were sleeping in on their first day, I woke up early to see the town. By habit, I quickly found my way to the Newport Casino. Never actually a casino as we know them today, this place was conceived as a social pleasure palace where the Newport elite could wile away the hours enjoying all sorts of fun and games during the summer months. Considered by historians to be one of the best surviving examples of the American Shingle Style, my favorite thing about this complex urban building is that Newport was already an old city when its architects, McKim, Mead and White, began designing the place nearly 140 years ago. That is to say, the architects already had a really old built context to look to for inspiration. There are only a handful of places in our country where its possible to see a stylistic revival already underway before the turn of the last century. But at the Newport Casino, we can see that by 1880, there was already a sense of nostalgia for the America of the past. In nostalgia, there's usually a lot of myth. The myth at the Newport Casino is that life on the American coast has always been filled with leisure activities; that the symmetries of genuine colonial architecture, and the asymmetries of the armatures added over a century-century-and-a-half have always existed in a sort of picturesque manner to facilitate any number of casual activities. The casino was brand new in 1880, and yet, it could very well have been a colonial shingle-clad structure buried in the middle of years of adaptation. It was a story of generations, realized all at once. It was instant gratification.
Oddly, I found something satisfying in knowing that my fore-bearers had been as impatient as I was to tell the story they wanted to tell, and further, that that story did not necessarily align with reality. McKim, Mead, and White were my architectural heroes and suddenly I felt sure they had tread in exactly the same waters I was treading now. The last two days of adventure with the gang from my youth had been helpful, but this was the pinnacle. I had managed to contrive father figures out of the architecture and they could speak to me in assuring tones through wooden shingles and turrets. Or more likely I was going mad. I glanced down at the watch given to me by my actual father. If I didn't start back to the boat now, the guys would head to the races without me. Standing at a great enough distance away to take the whole place in at once, I nodded at the building like a boy nods at someone whose had a great influence over his life before he set off to battle or school or wherever it is he's going. There was a little extra skip in my step as I double timed down Bellevue Avenue.