The Ultimate Guide to Newport, Rhode Island

Grab some sunnies and our comprehensive guide and make the best of summer in the City by the Sea.

Silver Screen Scene

There’s more to a picnic than who’s bringing the sammies.
By Grace Kelly

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Photography courtesy of the Newport Film Festival/photography by Jennifer Manville Photography, Nick Mele for Patrick McMullan, Jaclyn L Photography.

NewportFILM’S Outdoors series is not for the faint of heart, at least the shows with picnic contests. If you don’t have the cojones to go all out and bring not just a full spread, but a color-coordinated full spread, be prepared to shrink into obscurity on the ratty towel you brought to sit on. I should know. I was that person.

Pulling up to OceanCliff, I see people unloading cars with picnic baskets, bags of ice and plates with sailboats drifting into painted sunsets. I grab my bag, a free canvas number from my university days and, at the last minute, the American flag towel that’s been in my car for weeks.

Oblivious to my own unpreparedness, I happily waltz down the narrow path to the open vista of the lawn. As I pass the tents with newportFILM greeters, the dumb grin slowly drips off my face. Before me is the most extravagant picnic spread I’ve ever seen (granted, a fancy picnic in my eyes is any food spread plus the addition of wine, so my standard is pretty low).

This is the holy grail of picnics, a full wooden table laden with plates, cups and glasses, pillows to sit on and decorative flowers to admire by the light of the candles that will no doubt be lit as soon as the sun sets. Fudge.

I zone in on an open spot that promises a good view of the not-yet-inflated screen, spread my towel and sit. My complete underestimating of “BYO picnic contest!” is made painfully aware. Oh, and you’re supposed to wear blue, in honor of Bill Cunningham, New York Times fashion photographer, the subject of the film we’ll be watching.

I stare down at my dress. No blue. Wait! My sandals, they’re blue. I rationalize that this counts, but then I see people milling about in shades of navy, indigo and cobalt. Newport filmgoers 2, Grace 0. The sun beats down as I wait for my friends to show up, the blond hairs on my legs glinting in the light, making me feel like even more of a heathen amidst the hairless blue gods.

My friends arrive with beach chairs and, thank heavens, one with a blue blanket to show that we’re not completely ignorant of the blue memorandum.

We sit back with our black bean burgers and warm wine and observe the action around us.

Blue wine glasses adorn the table nearby, along with green grapes, nuts and fried chicken that will tempt me towards robbery all night. A blue Chinese vase sits near another picnic, while a nearby group opts for a nautical theme complete with wine in a sand bucket filled with ice and a shovel.

Silverware clinks as people set tables, the woman behind us happily munches on Tostitos and a small boy sits hunched on the one spot of grass that isn’t covered in some form of hand-embroidered, blue-quilted blanket. He looks into the sunset, chin resting on his knuckles, away from it all, a little Nietzsche contemplating the meaning of life.

The flower of the night is the hydrangea, though some have pushed the limit of the blue spectrum, dancing with danger by daring to prop nearly purple flowers in their crystal vases.

Photographers hover around the blue spreads like moths attracted to light, brushing past our modest (“minimalist” my friend calls it) spread for the glamour nearby.

One tall braggadocio makes rounds in a snazzy blue sport coat, white shirt and crisp white pants. He could pass for the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” (except twenty years younger) with his lush brown beard, aviators shading mysterious eyes, regal Roman nose and massive…camera. Ahem.

A woman’s voice snaps me from my reverie as they begin to thank sponsors for providing the free popcorn, amongst other things. The winners of the picnic contest are announced to demure, perhaps even jealous, applause and the speech ends with “there is an open bar.” The woman quickly realizes her mistake, yelling to correct it to “cash bar” as people start to make a run towards the unsuspecting bartenders.

The smell of hand lotion briefly bursts into the air, the nearby fried chicken giving it a hint of umami, and in the fervor of scents, smells and sounds, I think I see images beginning to appear on the inflatable screen. Oh wait, I’m not going crazy, the film is starting.

We learn about Bill Cunningham, who was probably one of the sweetest men in the world, as he bicycled around New York City snapping fashion on the streets. His uniform was simple: a blue shirt, blue jacket and khaki pants.

I feel a kindred spirit to Bill, whose minimalist personal style stood in stark contrast to the glamour around him. Maybe we were onto something with our simple spread. Maybe we should have won for best picnic, I think, since our simple blue blanket is probably right in line with Bill’s ascetic style.

The stars begin to pop into the inky sky, its intense blackness fading near the skyline where the light from civilization seeps in. It is the ultimate spread, a dark canvas dotted with celestial beings that outshine any of the blue candles flickering nearby. Bill is up there now, staring down at us, perhaps remarking once again, “It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it.” For details on this year’s picnic theme, visit newportfilm.com.


Picnic Plan

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Photograph by Chris Vaccaro

Gather everything you need for a picnic at Picnic Gourmet and Cafe on Bellevue Avenue in Newport. Owners Tracy and John Bach-Sorensen are celebrating one year in the shop, where guests can pick up sandwiches, cheese and charcuterie plates, salads, beverages and more, plus all you need for an outing on the lawn, beach or boat. They also bake delicious handmade pastries, like light and fluffy cinnamon swirls. “My husband is Danish,” Tracy says, “so when you get a danish, you get a real danish.” 26 Bellevue Ave., Newport, 619-1181, picnicnewport.com
–Jamie Coelho

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