Monday, February 8, 2010

Our Funny Valentines

The week leading up to Valentine’s Day can be fraught with peril. So here’s some advice: If you see a barbershop quartet getting out of Mini Cooper in the parking lot, hide. ‘Tis the season for “singing valentines,” when barbershop quartets from the Providence Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society fan out across southern New England like guerilla Cupids, spreading love in four-part harmony wherever they’re told to go.

Days of Wine
Of course, if you’re more into cliché than humiliation, Rhode Island has several ways to woo that special someone. For wine, why not buy a bottle from one of the Ocean State’s three vineyards – Newport Vineyards in Middletown, Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton or Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth? Joel Stein of Time magazine didn’t much care for the wine in Rhode Island when he tried a bottle of vidal blanc from Sakonnet Vineyards in 2008. He gave it a “good” rating but otherwise qualified that by saying the wine “isn’t too bad,” is “sticky-sweet” and noted that he’s “had better vidal blancs, from New York and Canada.” He followed that up with: “I don’t think vidal blanc is such a great varietal to begin with.” Never answered the obvious question: Then why did you pick that one to drink? It’s not like it’s our only varietal. And by the way, what kind of person uses the word varietal? Here in Rhode Island, we like our wines like our chowders – white, red or clear. No varietals. Just colors. And labels. Labels are very important to the quality of a wine. After all, Stein could have tried In the Buff Chardonnay from Newport, notable for its portrait of a nude woman on the bottle, based on the famed French painting “La Verite.” Greenvale has a classy-looking, leisurely 2007 Skipping Stone white on offer, while Sakonnet turns out its popular Rhode Island Red, with a label created by a team of graduate students from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Mostly Stein was upset because he said the state’s name was too hard to find on the bottle, appearing below the words “Southeastern New England.” He didn’t know southeastern New England was a thing. It is. As distinct from northern New England as Wales is from Scotland. One place is known for clam shacks, quahogs, flat land, sandy beaches and casinos, the other is mostly lobster pounds, moose, mountains, rocky shore and bean suppers.

And Roses
For roses or favored flowers, how about getting tickets for the R.I. Spring Flower & Garden Show, one of the few remaining spring flower shows in the country? This year the indoor gardens will be on display at the Convention Center in Providence from Feb. 18 to 21. As always, look for the Exeter-based R.I. Wild Plant Society’s exhibition, designed by Judy Ireland. Those folks spend a year planning for the next one, digging out earth and shrubs and loose timber from former Sen. Chafee’s place on Route 102 and storing some of the detritus in their own houses over winter. It’s the Rhode Island equivalent of those New Orleans krewes working on Mardi Gras floats, masks and costumes. (Speaking of which. Congrats to the Saints!)

And Chocolate
For chocolate, there’s only one real choice: Sweenor’s Chocolates. The company began when Walter Sweenor started making sweets in his basement kitchen in Cranston to make a little extra money during World War II. Sweenor’s Open Fire Candies launched as a shop in Garden City in 1955. Rhode Island’s largest chocolate manufacturer is still there, along with satellite shops in Wakefield and Charlestown. They make all of the traditional chocolates, along with distinctive chocolate crosses ($1.39 per) and a “Best of RI” set that includes a large chocolate lobster with two chocolate quahogs ($3.25).

Rhody Valentine
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Half Shell would like to send a cyber-valentine to the Providence Awesome Foundation, a group of Rhode Island philanthropists committed to awarding $1000 every month for the next couple of years to an individual or business that comes up with the “most awesome idea” bringing joy, excitement, spontaneity and innovation into the state. Like many things in Rhode Island – including Legal Seafood, the Red Sox and the Bruins – the first Awesome Foundation started in Boston. But Providence business leaders quickly formed their own chapter and have already awarded two “awesome grants” to Rhode Islanders. The first went to Otto D’Ambrosio, a Pawtucket guitar-maker who is building a guitar as big as a stand-up bass, which he will bring to state parks and playgrounds for children to play. Last month’s prize went to Stephanie Burbridge, a Providence hair stylist, who pitched the idea of hosting a Rhode Island version of the popular Picture Discovery Channel’s quiz show “Cash Cab.” Burbridge plans to drive around the city for a day in a taxi, giving fares a chance to answer questions about Rhode Island and Providence for cash prizes. As we’ve said before, “awesome” is the second most awesome word in Rhode Island, just after “wicked,” but this is even a more awesome use of awesome than normal.

To whom or where would you send a Rhody valentine?