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Taking the Title: Championship Melt Food Truck Review

Motif has introduced a new sort of Locale: Food Truck Profiles! We’re looking at a new food truck each month leading into the warmer months when food truck season officially begins.

I still remember the day when it hit me like a freight train. I was struggling in front of the mirror to stick a small piece of plastic into my eye to help me see. That’s when I realized, Dude, they call them contacts because they contact your eye. I had a nearly identical blonde moment when, weeks after hearing the name and about a day after finally eating at the grilled cheese focused food truck with a wrestling-theme called “Championship Melt” that it hit me: Championship Melt…Championship Belt.

champmeltThe truck itself is a 1994 Ford E-350 converted and doused with bright shade of yellow. It’s easy to spot even at one of its several late-night destinations in the area (most notable are likely E&O Tap and the Scurvy Dog, routes that were picked up when Poco Loco decided to focus more on the restaurant route). Their branding includes the face of a masked luchador ripping a grilled cheese sandwich in half; the exertion on his face comes off as hilarious because it looks like a muscled macho man ripping a phonebook in half…except it’s grilled cheese.

They boast “wacked out crazy combos” with options for vegans, lactose intolerants and those with a gluten allergy. As a member of the second category, I’m often a bit hesitant to go for grilled cheese in my everyday life, but was pleasantly surprised to find that Championship Melt offers far more than your run-of-the-mill grilled cheese. You can call each of their primary items a grilled cheese only by technicality; you get two pieces of buttered and toasted bread with some kind of cheese in between.

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But they have items like the Spirit Dragon, with pepperjack, blue cheese and breaded buffalo chicken that is basically a pressed buffalo chicken sandwich, which is the delightful late-night choice of many a drunkard, myself included. I had one during a recent late-night venture to Scurvy Dog in Providence on a Saturday night with an ice-cold Budweiser. I was trying to make Peyton Manning proud. My companion opted for the Hall of Famer, a straightforward classic-style grilled cheese with American and cheddar cheese. Both sandwiches had the perfect amount of crisp to them with a nice, buttery bread, looking nearly identical.

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Those “wacked out crazy combos” come from melts like the Vader, which has cheddar, peanut butter, bacon and Sriracha with an optional honey add-on. Or there’s the Piledriver, which includes pepperjack, beef & bean chili and Fritos with a fried egg add-on. Nuts, huh?

I got the opportunity to chat with owner and chief head honcho Drew Cordeiro, whose Twitter profile (@drewcordeiro) reads: “Legendary independent wrestling commentator. Eater of foods,” which I sort of love. Drew explained that the bread was from Superior Bakery in Cranston and the cheeses from New Vermont in Providence.

Drew doesn’t just head up this food truck — long before he was also the big boss at Beyond Wrestling, an immensely popular wrestling group in the area. It all started for Drew there: “I’ve always wanted to run a professional wrestling business — that’s been a lifelong dream.”

Beyond Wrestling started in May 2009 in Ohio as what Drew calls “basically a fight club with no fans in attendance.” The gist of it was that wrestlers could wrestle each other and get feedback immediately from others. In that way, the quality of the performances grew and grew until a fanbase developed that allowed the group to start running live events.

Now Beyond Wrestling draws huge crowds, and the local events just relocated to Aurora downtown. For about a year, the former owner of Championship Melt piggybacked on the Beyond Wrestling events by parking outside and feeding many of the hungry wrestlers and fans. Much like how breweries and other events across the country attract food trucks, Drew explained that “a lot of wrestling shows across the country have started doing this with food trucks.” In September 2014, Drew bought Championship Melt from the business’s former owner, and forged a tiered business of sorts. “The two work hand in hand. The truck is used to get out promotional materials to places that my wrestling business couldn’t reach otherwise.”

He drew an interesting comparison (yeah, I went there), between the wrestling and food trucks scenes: “I really like the cooperative aspect of food trucks as opposed to the intensely competitive nature of wrestling. Food trucks help each other out a lot.” He told me stories about how helpful food trucks can be with one another, even at events where they might be competing for business. The demand is high enough that they’re all better off sharing spare parts and working together to build a community.

To learn more about Championship Melt, find them on Twitter: @ChampMelt or Facebook at facebook.com/ChampionshipMelt. To see the current locations of rocket, Championship Melt and other local food trucks, visit motifri.com/food-truck-locator, brought to you by FoodTrucksIn RI (foodtrucksin.com), a Providence-based company allowing users to find food trucks in over 1,300 cities nationwide.




Running Out for Coffee

At press time, the entire Motif staff was huddled around a space heater in our difficult-to-heat warehouse space, trying to keep our typing fingers warm. Winter took its sweet time this year, but when it arrived, it arrived with a vengeance. The coffee run is a time-tested office tradition, giving the runner a break from the office and those left behind a necessary jolt of caffeine. In the winter the tradition becomes more necessary, because there’s nothing like wrapping cold fingers around a warm cup. The difference — at least in our office — is that in the spring, the runner is a senior staff member and in the winter, it’s an intern. Sorry guys! Check out some of our favorite places to run to.

Wild Flour

Just a couple of doors down from Garden Grille in Pawtucket, this coffee shop under the same ownership offers the complete opposite of its next door neighbor, Dunkin’ Donuts. Fresh juices, smoothies and carefully crafted teas are on offer, as well as a dazzling array of  fresh baked and raw treats, many of which are gluten-free. And the coffee, oh the coffee. My go-to is the caliente, which is a latte laced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. If the caffeine doesn’t wake you up, the subtle spice will! While you’re ordering, grab a deeply discounted (and still delicious!) day-old package of treats. And while you’re waiting for your coffee, make sure to sample their daily water infusion. Infused with everything from beets to grapefruit, this place takes spa water to another level.

Seven Stars

A staple to every caffeine-guzzler on Providence’s West End, Seven Stars has two locations within PVD city limits, with remarkably different vibes, and a third just over the border into East Providence. The aforementioned West End location right in the middle of Broadway has a crisp, modern decor with enormous windows and a ton of natural light. Their latte art is on proud display on the wall and their lattes taste even better. A common special is a London Fog, which is basically an Earl Grey Tea Latte. It’s one of those coffee places where those working there are truly baristas in every sense of the word; the quality of the caffeine shows. The Hope St location offers a more lived-in atmosphere with all the same goods. Their extensive bakery line accentuates their coffees nicely, and is one of the best around. I never leave without a cheddar cheese biscuit in my hand or stomach!

Coffee Exchange

Depending on the way you approach Wickenden, this PVD institution is either the perfect place to grab a cup of fuel for strolling or the perfect place to rest your weary feet. It has a laid-back and welcoming atmosphere, and its tables are always filled with people having quiet conversations or working. In the warmer months, its patio provides the perfect vantage point for Wickenden Street people watching. The air inside the shop is scented with the intoxicating aroma of the organic and fair trade beans roasting daily on site. Those beans make a fabulous cup of coffee and years ago, when I had organic, fair trade taste on a Nescafe budget, my boyfriend would try to buy my affections with a pound of Coffee Exchange beans. Worked every time. Coffee Exchange also has an extensive tea menu if you’re into that kind of thing.

New Harvest Coffee & Spirits

Perhaps the best thing about New Harvest if you’re visiting their location in the Providence Arcade is that you don’t have to sneak your flask of whiskey or nip of Bailey’s in to spike your coffee. They’ll do it for you! That location has a fully operational bar and offers whiskey flight tastings, among other things, after noon. Their home base is in the Hope Artiste Village, where you can access a slew of exclusive roasts harvested from small farms, but you can also get many of their blends at markets and other coffee shops (including Seven Stars). The flavors tend to be a bit more bold and complex than your run-of-the-mill cup of joe, so it’s a fantastic option if you’re looking to buy local and brew at home.

Brewed Awakenings

Brewed Awakenings is all over the place, with its newest location on Bald Hill Road in Warwick. This new location is the biggest, and probably seats about 50 or 60 people. It has wi-fi, comfy leather couches, large booths and rooms to rent for business meetings. I love their flavored iced coffees and my go-to is Banana Hazelnut with a shot of coconut milk. Soy and almond milk are also offered here, which is a treat.

Marylou’s

Going to Marylou’s is always a sweet treat, and when it comes to the color pink this place is not lacking. You won’t find a male working behind the counter, which is why I refer to this joint as the “hooters of coffee.” Cute girls slinging sweet treats! Their unusual coffee creations are a hit from Massachusetts, and their unique style has slowly trickled into Rhode Island. With a handful of locations scattered around the state, I tend to go to East Greenwich or Johnston stores, which are attached to gas stations.

Now let’s talk what makes Marylou’s a hit. I’ll bet you like Girl Scout cookies. Did you ever drink one? Yes, they did! Creamy chocolatey iced coffee with a seductive amount of mint. Insider tip — get the whipped cream and mint on top. You may be drinking your calories, but it sure as hell is worth it. More of an Oreo fan? The Oreo Cookie Monster is a crowd-pleaser, and whipped cream is a must on this one, too.

 




DareMe: @coreyisafox Tattoo

I awoke at dawn, eager to greet the day.

I surveyed my dominion, but soon found that something had gone afoul. Scrawled across many of of my toys, clothes and other belongings was “Corey is a …” in the kind of penmanship only capable of children in Pre-K. I ran to my mother, in tears, demanding to know what it said.

“Corey is a fox,” it said, over and over. I was devastated. I was 3 years old.

My brother had just started Pre-K and in a fit of rage, strung together some of the only words he knew how to spell as a way to attack me.

But in much the same way that Tyrion Lannister suggests of our identities that we “wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you” so too did I wear it like a badge of honor. The animated version of Robin Hood, all the Star Fox video games (especially making Fox McCloud my main in Super Smash Bros.) … I’ve just always been obsessed with foxes because of this. It’s been an in-joke in the family for my whole life. When Internet monikers became a “thing,” the choice was obvious: You can find me on Instagram and Twitter as @coreyisafox.

When the Dare came for our tattoo issue, the choice was again obvious. I would overcome my anxious fear of skin-commitment and get a tattoo to represent my lifelong experience, and obsession, with foxes. The fox has always been my spirit animal, would be my obvious patronus, and now, it’s my single tattoo.

I think you all should know before this really gets started, but I have a very low threshold for pain. I’ve fainted a number of times in my life, get woozy when my blood sugar gets low and I used to have a morbid fear of needles. Eh, I still do. The last time I donated blood I passed out, smashed my head open, and had to ride in an ambulance to the ER. With slurred speech, I deliriously tried to assure the EMT that I was fine and didn’t need medical attention while he wrapped my head in bandages.

I put my fears aside and threw myself headlong into this experience.

It seems only fitting that I reach out to a childhood friend for such a serious decision. Jon Gorman, a tattoo artist working for Providence Tattoo was a good friend when we were very, very young. We bumped into each other a few years back and he told me all about his enthusiasm for being a tattoo artist. Much like how we can never trust a skinny chef, we can never trust a clean-skinned tattoo artist, and Jon has a lot of great ink.

Jon’s been a tattoo artist for 10 years. He apprenticed under Dennis Del Prete, who owns and operates both Providence Tattoo shops, one on Angell St and one on Atwells Ave. Del Prete himself actually did Jon’s back tattoo years ago. Jon’s portfolio is littered with detailed tattoos in both color and black, along with a number of animals both abstract and lifelike, which was perfect for what I was going for. Even better? He already had the rusted orange ink from a fox he did a few months ago.

Providence Tattoo, Atwells Avenue, PVD
Providence Tattoo, Atwells Avenue, PVD

I reached out via Facebook where Jon and I were able to talk about scheduling and design ideas. I considered a dapperly dressed anthropomorphized fox, not unlike a faux Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it would have been a bit too complex for the size I was looking for. We brainstormed, each independently researching some base images and other examples. The back and forth went on for a few days until I stumbled upon a simple but detailed side profile of a fox’s head. And that was that!

It was really interesting to work with an artist like Jon while planning the thing out. My impression of the experience was always the stereotype of badass people wandering in, getting tattoos of hearts or skulls or motorcycles or something to do with flaming heart skullcycles. I’m ignorant. I know this.

For the longest time, it was illegal in a lot of places. Jon explained, “Some people attribute the vibrant RI tattoo community to the fact that in Mass[achusetts] it was illegal until about 15 years ago.” In contemporary tattooing, it’s trendy to think of your body as a canvas for art. Though classic tattoos are still popular, the newer norm is similar to what I did: Work with your artist on a creative design and then bring it to fruition, which I did recently.

I showed up for the appointment at Atwells Ave early to fill out the paperwork and was shocked. Who knew you had to initial in so many places? There was almost two full pages of clauses including things like recognition of the ink’s permanency, the assurance that planned designs don’t always come out exact and that infection can and does happen. It rattled me only slightly as Jon set things up in one of the cubicle-like areas in Providence Tattoo’s Atwells Ave location, so I sipped extra hard on my bottle of OJ.

The feeling of lying facedown on a massage-esque table while Jon prepped the equipment felt oddly like a very serious dentist appointment. The needles are a bit loud, the lights a bit bright and the fear was real. Jon used carbon paper and a print-out of the sketch to form a stencil that he was then able to slap onto my back with the outline.

As I braced for impact, he told me he was just going to draw a small line to break the ice. A sharp inhale. A wince. BZZZT.

If we’re being perfectly honest, getting a tattoo really fucking hurts. It really does. But it’s not as bad as I expected it to be. You know when you’re getting a haircut and the barber accidentally pokes you in the head with the corner of the electric buzzer? It’s just like that. But instead of release and bumbling out an apology, they dig a bit deeper and drag it across your skin.

I think to help ease the pain, Jon kept chatting throughout the procedure (do you call it a procedure?). “It wouldn’t be badass if it didn’t hurt, right?” Hurt it did, but I don’t know if I’m a badass.

“I consider myself fortunate to be able to make a good living by being an artist like this,” Jon said at some point. We got a bit philosophical by the end, which I’m grateful for so I could be distracted from the pain. Permanently scraping ink into your skin can seem like such a strange thing in a way, but a lot of people do it because they want to assert some kind of change in themselves. One of the last things Jon said to me before he finished up really stuck with me: “When you really think about it, tattooing is one of the most arcane and ancient forms of expression there is.”

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The fox tattoo on my back left shoulder has a fiercely detailed face. I guess you could say he’s watching my back for life now, huh? I took my dare to finally get a tattoo. Will you?




Local Author’s “The Changing Season” Coming Feb 16

The-Changing-Season-413x620Local author Steven Manchester is known for being a prolific, heartfelt author who also wrote and directed his first play last year, which I also covered for Motif.

His latest work, The Changing Season is due out on February 16, 2016. I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of his work, and although a full review is in the works, an advance review follows.

Manchester artfully uses a number of veteran novelist tactics in The Changing Season to keep the reader enticed, most notable being an early dalliance with foreshadowing. The story itself is grand — something frequent in Manchester’s work — in its common, optimistic, hopeful and loving perspective on human life. The story will be all too familiar to any high school grad, particularly recent ones who can relate to the main character’s frustrations with not having a solid direction. The Changing Season is a statement about hapless youth, but also a pointedly modern predicament.

The Changing Season




Alternative Gestures of Affection

Much like New Year’s Eve, the soon thereafter Valentine’s Day is often characterized by high expectations and even higher levels of inevitable disappointment. Even if you are lucky enough to have a significant other to spend the day with, how can you ever really rise above the typical flowers and chocolate? Sure, you should be going out to dinner, but what if it lands on a weekday? All the logistics of a long, swanky night out can be a bit tiresome, not to mention expensive. And actually getting a reservation at a decent place!? Ugh.

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This V-Day, consider some of these alternate gestures of affection.

  • Let’s just say you do actually do go out to dinner. Buy dessert ahead of time and leave it for an at-home session of Netflix & Chill, order it to go at your dinner place or pick it up somewhere else on the way home. If you’re in the PVD area and on Federal Hill, the date maneuver I was taught by my brother was dinner somewhere on De Pasquale Square followed by dessert from Pastiche. Can’t go wrong with that!
  • Buy all the high-end ingredients needed for one of your significant other’s favorite cocktails, even if it’s in small quantities. For mine, that means a Dirty Martini: top shelf vodka, some quality vermouth and some of the best organic olives and olive juice money can buy.
  • Pick a day on or near V-Day and coordinate it so that you and your sigoth get “sick” on the same day and stay home to work. Watch a movie, order in, have a few drinks.
  • Reschedule Valentine’s Day! You’re better off surprising him/her by doing it a week early rather than a week late. You don’t want to get accused of forgetting!
  • If you’re the type of couple who prefers staying in to going out, but you aren’t big on cooking elaborate meals, consider this alternative: charcuterie! Though I prefer calling it adult Lunchables, charcuterie is a pretty easy and a fantastic romantic dinner coupled with some wine. Buy a few different meats and cheeses, along with a loaf of french bread and some mustards, and voila!
  • Hide little love notes in his/her things: lunch box, wallet, jacket, pants pockets. It could be a simple “I love you” or a touching memory starting with “Remember that time when…” Or, if you’re into the torturously funny, think of the time that my then-girlfriend had a pair of purple pants we called her “Joker Pants” that I once filled with all the Joker cards I could find in the house.
  • Arrange a scavenger-style treasure hunt for your significant other. If you’re feeling cruel, have it be a quiz: “Meet me at the second place we ever had dinner together!” or “Look in the Blu-ray case for my favorite movie!” Obviously the final clue has to be your dinner reservation location, or their present, or hey maybe the bed.
  • Sexy Candy. If you look hard enough and dream big enough, you can find all sorts of candy out there. We’re talking sugary, candy penises or even life-sized chocolate dildos. Note: Recommended for consumption, not use. These sure are hard to find, but I know for a fact that if you ask at the counter at Pearl’s Candy & Nuts in Woonsocket, they’ll have the goods … out of the sight of children.
  • If you’re the crafty type, get or build a wooden box. Paint it. Learn calligraphy and write some of their favorite quotes on it. Maybe slap your anniversary date on there somewhere. Better yet — put a lock on it and have that be the code.
  • If you’re the sentimental type, fill said box with memories of your relationship: ticket stubs from your first movie together and/or first concert, photos, love notes or receipts.
  • Into apple picking in the fall? String a bunch of apples from a tree in the middle of February to go apple picking in the winter!
  • The photo-obsessed should know that you can print out your Instagram photos at most photo areas in pharmacies and the like. Consider printing photos of your favorite memories and building a scrapbook. Do it chronologically and write in how you felt in every picture.
  • Consider a sailor’s valentine: artwork done with seashells in a mahogany wooden box and placed under glass. MermaidsBaubles is a local Etsy shop that specializes in these and similar items.
  • Sometimes the greatest gestures of affection come in the form of acts of service: Clean the house for them, make the bed, do anything that might seem like a step above and beyond. Just helping out and taking care of things so they don’t have to worry about it can be a better gift than the biggest bouquet of flowers and sweetest box of chocolates.



The Tinderization of Modern Dating

If you’re sitting in a room with two of your closest friends, chances are they’re dating, met online and you’re the sad single sack who hasn’t tried Tinder yet. Just kidding! Don’t be sad. Maybe they met on Happn, Grindr, Hinge, Hitch, Coffee Meets Bagel, Match.com, HowAboutWe, Down, PlentyOfFish, OkCupid or — if you’re lucky enough to have famous creative friends — Raya.

Actually, that’s all a bit of a stretch, but data put out by Berkeley’s School of Information says that two-thirds of Americans have at least tried online dating. Are you the odd man/woman out? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also tells us that one-third of American married couples met online. (But be wary of that one: eHarmony may or may not have funded it.) Other research from Stanford University and Michigan State University found that couples who meet online are more likely to break up. So if you’re having mixed feelings about it, then maybe you should.

Services like eHarmony and Match seemed aimed at finding life partners, whereas sites and apps like PlentyOfFish, OkCupid and Tinder have a reputation for people looking to hook up. Casually dating a hook-up buddy still equals “relationship,” but that doesn’t always bode well for long-term commitments. Either way: If you’re looking for casual sex, you can find it on your phone or computer. If you’re looking for a partner who shares the same values with you (according to a computerized matching system), you can find that too. Both are totally okay for your to pursue nowadays.

The Pew Research Center has statistics proving that the stigma that once surrounded online dating has largely dissipated in a market flooded by these dating websites and apps. It’s a $1.75 billion industry.

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But this destigmatization coincides with a shift in dating trends more broadly speaking. In-person flirting will never die, but anecdotally, it seems like the traditional progression toward full-on dating has changed greatly. “Dates” don’t really happen as much, not like they used to. Labels have more to do with whether he relationship is Facebook-official. And when’s the last time you or someone you know actually asked someone out or was asked out in person?

I remember being puzzled in college as I tried to legitimately date girls who quickly dismissed my awkward attempts at chivalry and propriety. To ask someone out on a “date” has eroded into an oddity. You bring flowers on a date? Clingy. Freakish. To “hang out” or even “chill” is the norm now. You spend time in a group, maybe one on one eventually. Then if something sparks between you, it might happen again. Before you know it, you’re dressed up as a Spartan Warrior at a Halloween party and she’s the Kool-Aid Man, and when someone asks you if you’re official, you both look at each other, sort of shrug and say, “Of course!”

Or maybe you never label it. Maybe you’re using an app like Tinder that literally gamifies your romantic experiences. There’s certainly no shame in using an online resource to meet people, but what does it say about our culture when it slides toward being the norm rather than an oddity? The digitization of everything these days is positively overwhelming. Having more options, whether we’re talking about television and film on streaming services, or Tinder in our personal lives, means that the very act of making a choice is desensitized and made more meaningless.

Binge-watching a show is the psychological equivalent of a one-night stand; you might have a vague, fond memory, but in three months time, your brain will grasp at remembering a name. In Tinder, you slide through options with a flick of the wrist, and judging a person based on one picture is as simple as swiping to either side.

Analysts presume that Tinder has 80 million users globally with around 1.8 billion swipes daily. Hey, I’ll admit it, I “played” it once on a single friend’s phone when I was tipsy (because it really is just a game when you think about it). But when you play it like a game, are you doing it right? Or are you degrading both yourself and the people you engage with? It’s hard not to think of it as a game, especially when humor websites post viral articles almost weekly featuring hilariously awkward Tinder disasters or comical new pick-up techniques. This is all a joke, right?

Of the people who use online dating services, 81% lie about their height, weight or age. For Tinder, the pictures that it aggregates for your profile are pulled directly from your Facebook page, a collection of all your most carefully curated photographs. Is that, in and of itself, ever an accurate portrayal of who we really are? Does any of this really matter for an app that’s been publicly accused of increasing the spread of STDs?

Perhaps I just need more “chill” — no, not the verbal, euphemistic form used in “Netflix and Chill” (a ubiquitous term whose appearance in OkCupid profiles rose 5,357% in 2015) — but chill, the adjectival state of being relaxed. Passion and too much singular attention is often seen as obsessiveness, particularly in the casual dating market purported by Tinder. Modern dating is now all about the saturation of choices, the power to condemn anyone we want to a left swipe and the struggle to connect with our thumbs and phones, rather than our hearts and minds.

What is a modern romantic to do?




18th Annual Funda Fest: A Celebration of Black Storytelling

Every year about this time something amazing happens. I have had the pleasure of being part of it whether sitting in the audience or on the stage. This year, FUNDA Fest turns 18 and is stepping into adulthood with some brand new moves, like live jazz and spoken word, a performance at Brown University’s Rites and Reasons with their resident Spoken Word group “WORD!”, and rumor has Cape Verdian hip-hop artist and Providence’s own Chachi Carvalho will be a special guest.
 
I spoke with FUNDA Fest originator Valerie Tutson who told me, “In this present time, there are enough negative stories floating around; we want to deliver victories, voices and culture, because there really isn’t one black culture.”
 
This year Rhode Island Black Storytellers brings some amazing partnerships with local talents like Monique Rolle Johnson, Mr. Deep Positivity, Poetry Slam Champion and Rudy Cabrera who will be performing his one-man show. If this doesn’t conjure enough excitement to beat old man winter, Community Music works is set to perform with the one who started it all — Valerie Tutson herself.
 
FUNDA also will be bringing back some old favorites. Madam’s Backyard Bash is back with Rhode Island musical legend’s Mebitt Threats, Paul “Sweet P” Williams, Alvin Terry and Frank Wiltkins on jazz and local legendary spoken word artist Raffini told me she will be holding positions for local artists to come in and perform with the band.

FUNDA Fest: A Celebration of Black Storytelling lasts from Martin Luther King’s birthday (Monday) through the following Sunday, every January. Tellers present a variety of performances and workshops throughout Rhode Island, from school performances for K-12, to intergenerational and family workshops, to evening spoken word and storytelling concerts for adult audiences.

Performers:

Karen “Queen Nur” Abdul-Malik is a nationally renowned storyteller and teaching artist. She has performed in venues from the Kennedy Center in Washington DC to Equity Theater on Broadway, from the National Black Storytelling Festival to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro. She has been the recipient of Mid-Atlantic Artist as Catalyst grants for her work with Teens-at-Risk and women’s shelters and the National Storytelling Brimstone Grant for her innovative community-based programs. Mother of three and grandmother of two, Queen received her Master of Arts in cultural sustainability from Goucher College, and a certificate in dispute resolution from Harvard Law School.

Teju Ologboni, FUNDA Fest favorite, is a master storyteller and folklorist of international renown. Teju draws his listeners into stories with gestures and movements, and sometimes with traditional African instruments. An author, teacher, poet, actor, dancer and verbal illusionist, Teju shares stories that reflect on longstanding and contemporary cultural perspectives to give listeners greater understanding of the profound influence of African heritage on our traditions and identities.

Len Cabral is a nationally acclaimed storyteller and author who has been enchanting audience since 1976. His strong Cape Verdean ancestry comes alive in his exuberant retelling of Cape Verdean, African and Caribbean tales.

Ramona Bass Kolobe, The Watermelon Lady, is a story wheeler. Miss Ramona brings her traditions of storytelling from her Jamaican and Native American ancestry together with her formal education to create works that open up the treasury of healing and understanding. Watermelon is a fruit of peace, friendship and sharing good times all around the world!

Raffini, a self-made artist, actress and teacher from the South Side of Providence, has long been committed to the community, teaching black history and theater, telling stories and nurturing the spiritual and creative abilities of youth.

Valerie Tutson, has traveled in Africa, Europe and North America to gather and share stories. Her repertoire includes myths, folktales and historical and personal stories with an emphasis on African traditions.

Rochel Garner Coleman, an actor, singer and storyteller, has been performing since he was 9 years old. He travels nationally and internationally sharing stories of black historical legends such as Nat Love and Cool Papa Bell in shows developed using the research to performance method.

SCHEDULE

Saturday, January 16, 2016 New Day!

Family Storytelling Concert: 2pm,  Westerly Public Library, 44 Broad St, Westerly.

Sunday January 17 New Event!

Madam’s Backyard Bash: Live Jazz and Spoken Word: 2 – 4pm, Southside Cultural Center, 393 Broad St, PVD.

Monday, January 18

MLK: Amazing Grace at the Providence Children’s Museum: 11:30am, 1pm & 2:30pm shows. 100 South St, PVD.

Tuesday through Friday, January 19 – 22

Storytelling in the Schools

Thursday, January 21

Family Storytelling Concert: 6:30 – 8pm, YWCA of RI, 514 Blackstone St, Woonsocket

Friday January 22

New Venue! Spoken Word: 7:30pm

Liar’s Contest: Tell your biggest lie before a panel of judges. Prizes available. 8:30pm, Mixed Magic Theatre, 560 Mineral Spring Ave, Pawtucket.

Saturday, January 23  New Venues!

Family Storytelling Concert: 1pm, Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope St, PVD.

Storytelling Concert for Adults: 7:30pm, Rites and Reason Theatre, 155 Angell St, PVD

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Family Storytelling Concert: 2pm, Martin Luther King Center, 20 Marcus Wheatland Blvd, Newport

Full Festival Pass allows access to all ticketed events.

 




Locale Profile: Raw Power Juice Bar & Kitchen

rawMy weekends spent in Newport were once filled with beach days and nights in the arcade as a child (plastic ninja swords anyone!?), but now, as my rabble-rousing evenings have taken a more mature spin, late nights lend themselves to even later mornings and the all-too-common urge for a greasy, boozy brunch that might stave off the lingering headache.

But, because it’s the new year and I find myself burdened with glorious purpose from a newfound gym membership and a longing for cleaner eating, I recently was on the hunt not for Newport’s best breakfast burrito (an article for another day), but for the best smoothie! I’ve had a smoothie for breakfast almost every day for the past five years. I’m no amateur, but let me tell you — the skills of the folks over at Raw Power Juice Bar & Kitchen far surpass my own.

Located in Bellevue Plaza, right on Broadway, Raw Power is only slightly off the beaten path. Foot traffic wasn’t crazy (but hey, it’s almost peak winter). Though small enough to be called a hole-in-the-wall, it boasts a wide assortment of items on its menu.

Though the name implies specialty in raw power juices and smoothies, they also offer a handful of uber-healthy breakfast options like the Rainbow Fruit Bowl along with wraps, salads and rice bowls like the Aztec Warrior. For foodstuffs, one of the more popular items is their zucchini pasta, made by using a spiralizer. When you’re dowsing it with sauce and other goodness, who can really tell what their spaghetti is made out of anyway?

Though not technically raw (which means uncooked and unprocessed) and only mostly vegan, the menu does boast a slew of powerfully healthy delights. Most items are gluten-free, and there is no surcharge for gluten-free breading or wraps.

The physical space is bare but welcoming with mostly white walls and surfaces with wood-paneled trim (raw to the max). The seating is simple and straightforward, and the place looks like it could seat around 24 comfortably, maybe more if you smoosh. But the best part: There’s enough green plant-life throughout the store that the air quality seems noticeably crisp. Potted plants hang from the ceiling, sit on windowsills and linger around the dining area. It would be overwhelming if the atmosphere weren’t so welcoming.

In the kitchen, behind a counter but largely open for public viewing, the smoothie machines (you might call them blenders) are nothing short of a wondrous sight.

The real draw for a place like this comes in these tailored organic power juices and smoothies Raw Power has to offer, most of which are aimed and named with purposes like “Anti Aging,” “Digestion” or even “Hangover” (which, I’m sure you want to know, has carrot, apple, pear, orange, celery and ginger).

Though such juices were tempting, I opted for the “Muscle & Fitness” smoothie for obvious reasons and my plus one went with the “Ultimate Athlete.” They both had almost too many ingredients to name, but they included things like pure hemp protein, chia seeds and goji berries, top-notch smoothie ingredients that you will hardly spend the time or money to track down yourself. My protein-packed smoothie was served a bit warm, with almond milk being the only potential cold ingredient. I was confused at first, but it actually came to be quite pleasant. It was a dense and fulfilling smoothie, all frothy with enough panache to make me feel like I was drinking a warmed dessert. Almond butter really is a flavor like no other; along with the honey and cinnamon, it was the dominating flavor.

The “Ultimate Athlete” was a different beast altogether, with the healthiest fruits and veggies around mixed with a couple different seeds. The greens of spinach, kale and avocado duked it out with the sharp fruits of goji berry, lemon, apple and pear, with ginger sharpening the flavor profile and celery twanging up the mouthfeel of the thing. And sure enough, this one was served ice cold.

Though we didn’t stick around for other foods, a few Newport locals told me they really enjoy many of the menu items. So if you’ve got a hankering for some potent juices, smoothies or a generally healthy and delicious meal, check out Raw Power Juice Bar & Kitchen.




DareMe: The Stages of Polar Plunging

plungeYou know how they say that grief has five stages? The same could be said for taking a polar plunge. They’re both characterized by a vicious sense of shock to your system riddled with pain, anger, regret and a sharp, stinging feeling of loss. Grief traditionally progresses through shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and finally, acceptance. Doing a polar plunge is just like that.

To kick off 2016 and my new tentative tenure as a DareMe columnist, I decided to try doing a polar plunge for the first time, one of those seemingly RI-ish “things” that I had never gotten around to doing until now. I was in Newport anyway for New Year’s so the timing seemed ripe.

There’s the delightful atmosphere of camaraderie, solidarity and comisery at play with the people gathered for the event. And boy do people gather. You’d think something as insane as jumping into freezing cold waters would be something reserved for the most adventurous of hippies, but it’s a legitimately popular thing that people do. And everybody was super friendly.

I was very afraid to actually follow through with the dip when it came down to it, with the closest experience being that one time I leaped out of a hot tub in peak winter to make a snow angel on a dare. But I was young and foolish then, and trying to impress a girl. This is entirely different. These days, the most adventurous arctic adventure I have is getting out of bed in winter with no slippers on.

Besides, wading into beach water has always been a challenge for me. As a child, a great fear of mine was seaweed, the kind of juvenile fear with echoes that linger into adulthood. I still feel a sense of unease at what lies beneath and it takes several minutes of internal cajoling to coax myself into actually submerging my whole body.

But now when it’s FREEZING!?

Shock: my entire top layer of skin goes instantly numb. The cold seeps into my pores. I gasp a bit for breath and let out a screech, like a baby banshee.

Denial: It’s just a trick. This isn’t actually happening. My body isn’t freezing solid, right?

Bargaining: Maybe it won’t be so terrible if I get out immediately and don’t linger. Blankets! Warm beverage!

Anger: THIS IS MISERY! WHY DID I LET ANYBODY CONVINCE ME TO DO THIS!?

Depression: The cold … it’s … it’s in my bones. This towel is doing next to nothing. Pneumonia is going to claim my life.

Acceptance: Hugs help. Hugs help a little bit. Okay, they help a lot. Maybe I’ll actually survive. More hugs please.

Later, I did some research to see what actually was happening. The initial “cold shock” basically makes your body freak out, which accounts for difficulty breathing. Blood vessels along the outer portions of your body constrict, as they feebly attempt to move that precious blood to the inner organs, you know, for survival. Muscles numb up, causing some weakness or even paralysis. As your body temperature decreases drastically your blood pressure escalates to try and compensate. For that reason some people feel dizzy or lightheaded.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, starting the year off with this element of self-sacrifice is a noble venture. And a lot of odd people will tell you that shocking your system like that has health benefits. You know, the kind of vaguely placebic benefits that compare to when people tell you that the antioxidants in that fourth glass of wine will actually improve your body rather than harm it. But hey, some of us like to live a life of danger.




Follow Your Nose to Providence Perfume Company

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When Providence Perfume Company owner Charna Ethier offered to let me sample an all-natural perfume whose ingredients list included some obscure thing called “ambergris,” I was initially a bit skeptical. I remembered hearing once that they put skunk urine in some perfumes (is that true?). But I was also overwhelmingly optimistic. This was over a half-hour into my discussion with the lively and tenacious Ethier at her store on Wickenden Street, and we had spent a bulk of that time chatting about the golden age of perfumery while she shared her vast knowledge on exotic perfume ingredients, along with quite a few whiffs of some amazing fragrances.

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She brandished a tiny, tiny glass bottle. “This little bit is worth well over 100 dollars,” she said, rolling the fragrance across my wrist. I tensed. Oh god, what if I dropped it?

As it turns out, ambergris is one of many exceedingly rare aromatic items, with an explanation that reads like a magical fable: When some kinds of whale eat just the right kind of cuttlefish to such an excess that they vomit, these pools of vomit sometimes congeal and simmer in the sea and sift through the water, baking in the sun until randomly, accidentally, they wash ashore somewhere for some incredibly lucky sonovagun to happen upon it. That’s right. Ambergris is whale vomit. It’s incredibly valuable, and it smells like a dream.

An Australian couple in 2006 found a 32-pound chunk of sludgy, tar-like something they claimed smelled like sweet cow dung (huh?). As it turns out, that netted them £155,000 ($295,000) when they sold it, because, you know, whale vomit.

Providence-Perfume01-lowresThe scent of the ambergris-based perfume applied to my wrist was a gentle musk, sharp and strong, androgynous and well-rounded, but oddly clean-smelling. While sniffing, I tried to think of the vomit simmering in the ocean, wondering if nausea might hit me. But it didn’t. The smell was absolutely amazing, completely alien but vaguely familiar and pleasant. It made me think of that magic potion in Harry Potter that smells like your favorite things.

Charna Ethier is a real-life potions master.

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“Making a perfume is like building a house,” Ethier explained to me. “You have to pour the foundation and build from the base, up.” We were at the Perfume Bar in the store, where yes, you can build a fragrance from the ground up under her guidance (you can also pre-buy the empty bottle and a voucher for gift-giving purposes). I still smile when I think of the comparison to Build-A-Bear.

Every perfume scent is comprised of top, heart and base notes. There are roughly a dozen options for each tier at the perfume bar, and each final perfume typically has 1-2 top notes, 4 or so heart notes and 2 or 3 base notes. After application, the dominating scents progress in that order over time. So what’s your fancy? Sweet and fruity? Clean and floral? Spicy?

“Rose and jasmine are the building blocks of the whole perfume industry. They round out a scent, and are very well-balanced.” But what’s the cost of a kilo of real jasmine essence? About $59,000. Mainstream perfume companies tend to use roughly upward of 98% synthetic chemicals. Rather than use fragrances as they occur naturally, they isolated the individual chemicals and synthesized them cheaply. For that reason, these all-natural perfumes can be a little bit pricier, but the quality is above and beyond.

Providence-Perfume-001-highThe International Fragrance Association (IFRA) regulates the aroma industry from within; most of those sitting on the directorial board have ties to the aroma industry. “Roughly 85% of natural ingredients are banned, whereas only 15% of synthetics have been,” Ethier explained. The general rule of thumb seems to be that if anyone has ever had an allergic reaction to an ingredient, then it becomes restricted. Remarkably few studies are being done on the effects of aromatic ingredients. For example, perfumes cannot contain more than 3% real lavender. Lavender! That delicate purple flower in the mint family that smells so wonderful and relaxing.

man Though the Providence Perfume Company sources what it can from local vendors, most ingredients for perfumes come from areas like India, Turkey, France and Morocco, just to name a few. The shop has somewhere around 630 different suppliers. Some ingredients are hard to come by, like ambergris. Others are out there, but it takes years to find the right one. Ethier has been a perfumer for around a decade, and she opened her store about two years ago so she could have a home base for a business that was thriving internationally.

Ethier and I were standing by a rack of tinctures and essential oils: “We get our specific sandalwood from a supplier in Hawaii. It’s the best I’ve come by. Oh! And try this,” she said, excitedly picking up a different vial and urging me to smell. It was tomato leaf from the south of France, and it smelled exactly like a rich, fresh caprese salad. Mmmhmm. Come to think of it, hunger is a pretty good reaction you’d want to induce in people who catch a whiff of your scent, isn’t it?scent.bar

For all intents and purposes, Providence Perfume Company is one of the only “organic” perfumeries around, and for that reason, it’s 100% illegal in the eyes (and nose) of IFRA. Though this rebel is about as close as you can get in the industry, Ethier explained that she can’t actually call her products organic. “The only way to extract a number of delicate exotic flowers is through a process called solvent extraction.” When the innocuous process is complete, trace amounts of solvents might remain, so the final products can’t be officially called organic. “This process is why so many of our perfumes have color to them.” Most mainstream perfumes are clear, but again, because of the synthetic ingredients.

In addition to the Perfume Bar (which makes a great gift for anyone in your life who wants to smell amazing), PPC also has a fill station for body lotion and shower gel that functions just like the growler model at most breweries: simply purchase a vintage glass bottle and fill it up with your chosen product, and then quite literally just rinse and repeat.

Charna Ethier also teaches perfumery classes right in the store. Students get the opportunity to craft and name their own fragrances, while learning strategies for creating and marketing a business. These intensive, weekend-long seminars attract aspiring perfumers from around the globe. Clients vary from those already in a scented-industry looking to expand their horizons to wealthy business people looking for a career change. Locals tend to frequent the $70 community class: two hours on a Sunday, which represents what Charna affectionately calls “perfume bar on steroids.” No matter which flavor students are in for, they learn a lot about an exciting industry that’s changed quite a bit in the last century. After all, there are supposedly more astronauts than there are perfumers.

“Vintage perfumes used to have so much nuance to them,” Ethier reminisced. “But most of the mainstream perfumeries pushed toward simple, synthetic blends over time.” She appreciates the value of a genuinely good product and wants to preserve something the world seems to be losing, especially when everyone has an idea of what things like rose or lavender should smell like, without hardly ever knowing what real rose or lavender smell like. At Providence Perfume Company, you get the real deal.

“Scent history is being lost. People should know what real things smell like!” Ethier said. “I like to think that a little bit of what I do is preserving scent history in a way. People should try to open their minds…”

“And their nostrils?” I add. We laugh.

Ed Note: Following the interview, Ms. Ethier decided to offer an early-bird holiday sale just for Motif readers. No one’s done that before, but we decided to pass her offer along to you – so, mention “Motif” at checkout to receive a 15% discount on any fragrances. Good in store only, and only through November 25.

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