The research for the upcoming book, “The Ragman Murders” took forever. It has been about twenty years since I first heard the story of the 1912 murder. Over time, I have been to the places in Hartford involved in the story. Eventually, I learned that part of the story happened in Providence. On a vacation trip to Cape Cod, in April of 2013, we stopped in Providence to do some research:
Friday, we went to Providence, RI. I am looking for information as to why Giovanni Tassone was killed by Giuseppe Amato in 1912. The newspaper accounts mentioned that Giovanni was wanted for attempted murder in Providence. He had lived there since emigrating from Italy in 1895, moving to Hartford in 1908-09. Looking for references to Tassone, we went to the city library. There, we went through newspapers of 1908 to no avail. Then, we went through directories of Providence for the time period. Giovanni was there, along with his brothers Giovanni and Dominick. In the 1905 directory, the entry says that he went back to Italy. This is strange, since we know that his sons were born in Providence in 1907 and 1908.
On Saturday morning, we toured Federal Hill area of Providence, still a predominantly Italian neighborhood. I took pictures of houses and empty lots which had held homes with the right addresses a long time ago. We also found the old train station that figured into the story. I was pleased to find standing, and in good condition, the house Giovanni’s fiance lived in before they got married.
I chose to rush out of Providence that morning. I had another place I wanted to be before noon. We sped up the interstate to do some shopping at the farmer’s market in Boston. There is little more exciting than walking around the open air market with men and women hawking their produce and negotiating prices while keeping track of their money. There were old men and women with their baskets on wheels doing their weekly grocery shopping, young families with children there to spot deals. The signs in the brick and mortar stores surrounding the open air market are printed in Spanish, English and Arabic. One meat market had a sign “Goats freshly cut, whole or half”. I remember seeing similar signs in the North End years ago, often in the front window next to a dead naked rabbit hanging upside down.
After buying enough produce and cheese for a week, we got back in the car. Whatever we saved in groceries was spent on parking. $6 for half an hour in a new parking garage at Haymarket. And then we set off for the Cape.
It is definitely spring on the Cape. This is quite the opposite of our experience on Friday morning, when it was snowing so hard in the mountains Bob could barely see and the road was covered with half an inch of big wet flakes. But on the Cape, the dogwood trees have bloomed, the daffodils and tulips are all at their peak, lending color to the later-blooming trees that still look grey and dead. There are few oaks and other deciduous trees noted. It all seems to be evergreens. Of course it could just be the season.
I am into architecture, as a fan, much the same way that I am into the Red Sox. I can tell you the decade a house was built just y looking at it. And I found a curious thing about the buildings. The vast majority on the west and mid Cape are made of cedar shakes. They are not painted, for the most part, and are allowed to fade to a silvery grey color. Unless they were shellacked once or twice, then they turn a warm brown. So house after house is this silver grey color. And I now know why Cape Cod houses are called that. They are by far the predominant architectural style of the area. There is an occasional Victorian house with white clapboards to break up the monotony. I did notice a very odd thing, though. The owners of these grey cedar shake houses seem to want to go modern in some cases. So they put clapboards or vinyl siding on the house. But only on the front. It happens too often to be someone who ran out of money. I think this is a demonstration of Yankee austerity.
Another instance of Yankee austerity is the plethora of consignment shops. Every little village has two or three. Furniture, clothing, tools! And things that are not of good enough condition to go into the consignment shops go into the antiques shops, of which there is one every few miles.
Closer together than that is the omnipresent Dunkin Donuts shops, sometimes as close to each other as 200 yards. As far as restaurants go, there are plenty of those, mostly with names like, The Lobster Shack or Brazilian Seafood. You don’t see a steak house. They also have plenty of seafood shops, where you can buy your own seafood and take it home to cook. When was the last time you saw a beef and pork shop?
Something I did not expect was the Portuguese influence here. I should have realized it since there was a sizeable settling of Portuguese in Fall River 100 years ago and this is still in the Fall River diocese. We went to a breakfast place after Mass on Sunday and on the menu was eggs, home fries and your choice of bacon, sausage or linguica, a Portuguese sausage that tastes like kielbasa with a spicier back taste. When we went to a grocery store to buy meats for the week, I bought Portuguese stuffed clams, which taste like they contain linguica. Yummy.
On Monday we went to Plymouth. We went to the Pilgrim Museum where they have artifacts from the mid 1600s, including a sampler sewn by Miles Standish’s daughter, Laure. Kind of faded but there! We did not go to Plimoth Plantation. I didn’t feel like spending $25 each to be lectured by people on planting and weaving. The Mayflower II was in dry dock so we didn’t get to see it. We enjoyed a picnic by the beach, prepared ahead of time. Parts of Plymouth along the beach are reminiscent of Virginia Beach before all the condos went up along the beachfront. The rest is a series of hilly streets with quaint shops and houses. Mostly grey. I had to buy a little fudge from one of the shops, just to say I did.
The water is 100 yards across the grass and dunes from the condo we are staying in. It is about 48 degrees. Not swimming weather, for sure. And not much for wading, either. The dunes are kept in place by tall grasses. There are signs asking people not to pull up the grass. It’s the only thing holding the sand in place.
Tuesday, we drove out to Provincetown, a whaling town on a series of hills made mostly of sand. The dunes just out of town are as high as two story houses and are protected from humans crossing them. A lot of shops here, too, but the prices are higher, except at the grocery store, where we stopped to get sodas to go with our lunch. Loads and loads of little cottages along the water’s edge, mostly newer with vinyl siding, although you see a few cedar shake out there.
One of the more interesting things as we drove along was the multitude of cranberry bogs. This time of the year they are gold and red in color. Always near water (not too hard in an area of lakes and streams connecting with the bays) the bogs have deep irrigation ditches demarking the borders. Within the bog there are narrower ditches dividing up the land. The bogs tend to be rather small, only 5-10 acres in size, most of them. But there are so many, I can understand why we get all the cranberry juice, jellies, etc we want.
Bob has a thing for ice cream. We have found a number of ice cream stands. Mostly soft serve in various flavors. So far we have had peach, black raspberry, twist and crème de menthe. Guess who gets the more outlandish ones?