The Oregon Coast: Raw wind-blown beauty — and great chowder — warmed the heart of my Italian photographer

This wide stretch of unspoiled sandy beach south of Yachats can be seen all over the Oregon Coast. Photo by Marina Pascucci

This wide stretch of unspoiled sandy beach south of Yachats can be seen all over the Oregon Coast. Photo by Marina Pascucci

YACHATS, Ore. — I found it a little daunting last year when my Italian girlfriend said she wanted to see where I grew up. What kind of a ghoul tour could I give her in Eugene, Oregon? I could show her the bar parking lot where I passed out the night of my 21st birthday. Maybe she’d enjoy the street in front of my high school girlfriend’s house where I lost my virginity (the stick shift in the ‘67 Mustang could NOT have been designed for a more inconvenient spot). Maybe she’d like to see my frat house where they filmed “Animal House” while I was living there. Then again, she didn’t really understand the movie. Italians, God love ‘em, don’t find food fights remotely funny.

The most important thing on her must-see list, oddly, was Papa’s Pizza. It’s the pizza parlor where I worked the summer after high school graduation. She had a weird curiosity about her American boyfriend making pizzas. It didn’t matter that every single ingredient at Papa’s, from the tomatoes to the cheese to the salami, came from a box or can. Those pizzas had so few natural ingredients they were nearly synthetic. It was no concern that a Papa’s pizza could grease an International Harvester. She wanted to try it.

She also wanted to see my house, my school, my sisters. What she didn’t know much about was one of the best parts of my childhood, the part she wound up liking most during our recent two-week trip around the Pacific Northwest.

The Oregon Coast is a way to get away from it all, namely people. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The Oregon Coast is a way to get away from it all, namely people. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The Oregon Coast.

Notice it is not called the Oregon beach. The word “beach” conjures up images of bikinis and sunscreen, Frisbees and volleyball, swimming and palm trees. The Oregon Coast is cold. The ocean is freezing. It’s between 45-63 degrees (7-17 celcius), depending on the year. Don’t even think about swimming. I went in once when I was 10 years old and I swear I’ve been sterile ever since. Before we arrived, just in case we took a quick dip, I looked up the Italian word for “shrinkage.”

The weather itself makes it feel like it’s on the Bering Strait rather than the Pacific. It gets 60 inches (150 cm) of rain a year. Wind sweeps in like icy thunderbolts, reaching 60 mph in winter, and pierces your ubiquitous hoody regardless of season. It was August and I wore jeans and a long-sleeve shirt every day. Marina, being Italian, dressed as if she was mushing a dogsled over one of the poles.

Me on Agate Beach, a frequent family destination when I was a kid and still beautiful in its simplicity. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Me on Agate Beach, a frequent family destination when I was a kid and still beautiful in its simplicity. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Yet we take pride in that as much as its raw beauty. It’s why we capitalize “Coast.” The Oregon Coast is so unique. No place has beaches as broad with such fine golden sand as Oregon. From Highway 101, which goes the length of the Coast, it looks like one long continuous sand dune. Yet we could practically pack the number of beachcombers we saw in our rental car. If the Coast was 20 degrees warmer the crowds would make Manhattan Beach look like a river bank in rural Kansas.

We Oregonians? We didn’t know any better. My family would take the hour drive from Eugene and have BBQs on the sand. Trying to find a sheltered spot where our fire didn’t get blown out after 30 seconds would’ve challenged Navy SEALs. My father and I played golf with one of his local friends, and I distinctly recall the wind sending one of my badly hooked drives halfway to the Marshall Islands. The next morning after a storm we’d walk the beach and see little sea creatures playing in tide pools. We’d find various sizes of glass balls that broke away from nets on Japanese fishing boats and floated to shore. I had a very learned uncle who flew out from Bethesda, Maryland, just to collect the perfectly black rocks he said could only be found on the Oregon Coast.

Since 1967 all of the Oregon Coast has been public land. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Since 1967 all of the Oregon Coast has been public land. Photo by Marina Pascucci

What also makes the Oregon Coast special is every grain of sand from the California to Washington borders is public land. In 1966, a motel owner in Cannon Beach, about 80 miles west of Portland, tried banning the beach behind his motel from all but his guests. Lawmakers quickly introduced the Beach Bill and since its signing on July 6, 1967, all of the Oregon Coast is public land.

The Oregon Coast doesn’t have any palm trees but it doesn’t have any Club Meds, either.

To reach the Coast we drove diagonally from Portland through McMinnville, near the heart of Pinot Noir country. If you didn’t know, Oregon has the best Pinot Noir in the world. Just ask Oregonians. Or look at the prices. You don’t get any home state discounts in my Oregon, buddy. We stopped at R. Stuart & Co., a downtown McMinnville wine bar where I paid $15 for a tasting of three fantastic single-vintage Pinots and one blend. Thirsty for more and possibly a present for us as we sat by the ocean later that day, I asked the cost for a bottle.

Fifty dollars for the single vintages; $60 for the blend. I looked outside to see if I was still in Oslo.

We continued down the road until we met the Coast at Lincoln City, not more than a small logging town when I grew up in the ‘60s but now rivaling Cannon Beach as one of the top tourist destinations on the Coast. We headed south and just short of Waldport I pulled into the Flying Dutchman Winery. It was in the mid-60s and windy.

Marina, shivering, wouldn’t get out of the car.

The view from the Flying Dutchman's patio in Waldport.

The view from the Flying Dutchman's patio in Waldport.

The cheerful man behind the bar poured me a lovely 2016 Pinot as well as a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and three others while we swapped notes on Italian versus Oregon wines. The wines were almost as good as the setting: right above the water with a big backyard featuring picnic tables all with fantastic views of the ocean. If you can handle the cold, it’s the perfect place to improve your wine palate.

I mentioned the view to Marina and suggested having a glass outside. She mumbled something in Romanaccio, the part of the Roman dialect exclusively reserved for profanity, that I fortunately didn’t understand.

However, she did join me for a bottle of local craft beer and some Oregon cheddar cheese behind our motel where a park bench pointed out to the ocean. While chilly, the Oregon Coast was one of the few places in the Pacific Northwest last month where raging forest fires hadn’t reduced the air to Beijing in July. We could smell the salt water as it pounded against the rocks. The gray overcast sky mirrored the ocean, a mix of roiling sea the color of steel and white sea foam.

Marina and I behind the Fireside Motel in Yachats.

Marina and I behind the Fireside Motel in Yachats.

Notice we stayed at a motel, with an “m,” not a hotel. For you Europeans, an American motel is like a hotel but usually just one or two stories and featured in most slasher movies. Not all have “FREE PORN” on their sign with a light missing. The Fireside Motel is a reputable, comfortable and very clean motel and an absolute steal at $120 a night.

In the summer the Oregon Coast is real expensive. As I searched for hotels I wondered if it would soon price itself out of the tourist market. I used Priceline, the U.S. bidding website where you put in a price, hotel level and date and if the computer finds a match, it automatically books you a room and charges your credit card. While you can’t review the hotel before the purchase, it offers major discounts at hotels desperately trying to fill empty rooms in the last week or so. I bid for four days and topped out at 175 euros. That’s nearly $200. Still no match.

What is this, the Oregon Coast or Saint-Tropez?

I punted. I took the recommendation from my sister who uses the Fireside for quick weekend getaways from Eugene with her husband.

It is pronounced YAH-hots, not “Yacchtssh” as Marina continually butchered. It comes from the Siletz Indian word for “Dark water at the foot of the mountain.” This little town of about 700 people has gone from an internment camp the U.S. Army used for local Indian tribes in the 19th century to No. 7 on travel guide guru Arthur Frommer’s top 10 list of favorite destinations in the … world. In 2007 Budget Travel listed it as one of the 10 Coolest Small Towns of the USA. That same year, the now-defunct VirtualTourist website called it one of the top 10 U.S. up-and-coming vacation destinations.

This all explains the lodging prices.

Yachats Underground

Yachats Underground

This also explains how Marina and I sat in Yachats Underground, the town’s local dive bar, talking to a 38-year-old mustachioed new father showing off his baby’s picture while bitching about local real estate. The Underground is Yachats’ nerve center. Hardened middle-aged women with bad hair and no makeup drink tall beers at the long, curved wood bar. A sign reading “DEEP SEA DRINKING” hung on the wall.

“You can’t find a place anymore in Yachats that isn’t taken by rich folks buying a second home,” the man said. “When you do find one, it’s $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom.”

Twelve hundred a month? That’s more than I pay for a one-bedroom in the middle of Rome.

“Nine years ago, $1,200 would rent you a house,” he said. “It’s $2,300 now.”

Yet falling on the cliche, you get what you pay for, after two days in Yachats I could see the appeal. Burned out? Divorced? Dying? Walk along the manicured trail that parallels the ocean. Holding hands, Marina and I meandered through tall grass for a couple hundred meters, climbed around driftwood and jumped over small tide pools. We found our way to a giant expanse of beach, void of anyone but a stray man, obviously burned out, divorced or dying, strolling the sand.

This is near where Ken Kesey wrote "Sometimes a Great Notion." Photo by Marina Pascucci

This is near where Ken Kesey wrote "Sometimes a Great Notion." Photo by Marina Pascucci

The late great Ken Kesey, a fellow University of Oregon grad who grew up in Eugene’s neighboring town, Springfield, based his “Sometimes a Great Notion” novel in 1964 on a struggling logging family on the Oregon Coast. The author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” did a lot of writing in Yachats. As a writer, I always thought the Coast would be the perfect place to write.

Kesey said it’s too nice.

He once told an interviewer, “I can’t sit out there, look at the ocean and get any work done. It hammers the hell out of me.”

The Yaquina Head Light is the tallest of Oregon's lighthouses at 93 feet

The Yaquina Head Light is the tallest of Oregon's lighthouses at 93 feet

The Oregon Coast is a wilderness paradise. Just across Highway 101 from the ocean is the Siuslaw National Forest where 630,000 acres of trees provide canopy for a spiderweb of hiking trails. Add 30 degrees, humidity and deadly snakes and it would be the Amazon. I recall in years past hiking in the shade for an hour then coming across a crystal-blue lake I never knew existed.

Marina and I eschewed the hiking trails for Highway 101 and drove up the road 30 miles to Yaquinta Head Light. Lighthouses litter the Coast like sentries. The state has 11 and the 93-foot Yaquina is the tallest of them all. It can be seen from 20 miles out at sea. It’s just too bad it wasn’t built until 1871. Before its construction, 69 ships turned into kindling and underwater tombs from not knowing where the hell they were. Blimps and the U.S. Navy protected the lighthouse during World Wars I and II.

Yaquina Head Light sits at the end of promonotory that sticks out into the sea like a drunken sailor’s middle finger. The Oregon Coast has a lovely giant aquarium in nearby Newport. The beach at Yaquina is better. Marina and I descended a tall staircase to the beach where we walked along the sand and examined tide pools with starfish. The sun had appeared. Marina’s camera clicked like a horde of crickets.

Then something appeared in the water.

A black head. A little black head with whiskers. Then another. Sea lions, the kind you pay $29.50 to see in an aquarium, were surfacing just about 50 feet away from us. They stared at us. We stared at them. Just on impulse, I waved. I thought one of them nodded. Anyway, they dove and disappeared.

Then Marina pointed behind them. Rising out of the water was a long black, shiny object about 20 feet long. It was a whale, one of the 36-ton gray whales that cruise by here daily to feed. This is what I wanted Marina to see. This is what she can’t see in Italy.

This is the real Oregon. My Oregon.

Mo's Alaskan cod sandwich and clam chowder.

Mo’s Alaskan cod sandwich and clam chowder.

Besides the Oregon Coast’s beauty, I also spent the last year regaling Marina about its food. She fell in love with the clam chowder last year in Newport, Rhode Island. The clam chowder in the other Newport is better, I told her. Mo’s in Newport is as legendary as Oregon’s lighthouses. Paul Newman and Henry Fonda often ate here while filming “Sometimes a Great Notion” in 1970. Robert F. Kennedy campaigned at Mo’s in 1968, no doubt swearing off New England chawdah fahevah. In 2011 Coastal Living listed it among America’s Favorite Seafood Dives.

It started in 1946 by one Mohava Niemi, a local chain-smoking broadcaster who turned it into a hippy hangout in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She later bought an oyster farm and has expanded to six stores. Mo’s makes a half million pounds of chowder a year.

We ate across from the street from the original in a small annex consisting of about a dozen tables overlooking two fishing boats. Nautical flags hang on the wall as does a black and white photo of a 500-pound halibut. Waitstaff run around in T-shirts reading “Eat Like a Pirate. Drink Like a Fish.”

We ordered the Alaskan cod burger and chowder. The burger was excellent. The cod was grilled, not fried. But the chowder was orgasmic, packed with fat clams and soft potatoes and thick soup, all topped with a little pat of butter.

After I spewed glorious adjectives on Facebook, fellow Oregonians who claim Mo’s is overrated roasted me with rebuttals usually reserved for murder trials. They listed a half dozen other tiny dives that serve better chowder, meaning we’ll just have to come back again.

On our way to Eugene, Highway 101 South revealed phenomenal vistas of long, empty beaches without a person or — gasp! — lounge chair in sight. The state highway department was smart enough to include lookouts to pull in so Marina could snap away.

The Siuslaw River in Florence. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The Siuslaw River in Florence. Photo by Marina Pascucci

We stopped in Florence, just an hour west of Eugene and nearly surrounded by water. As we sipped our coffee outside a little gift shop, staring at the pleasure boats bobbing up and down on the peaceful Siuslaw River Marina had a familiar smile on her face. It’s a smile I see when we’re in special places in Italy, like staring at the Roman Forum at night or sitting alongside a canal in Venice or laying on a beach in Sicily.

“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been,” she said.

An endorsement on your home state’s beauty from an Italian, a better compliment can not be heard.

Newport, Rhode Island: The sailor’s mecca isn’t just for the rich and famous but it certainly looks the part

The view of Newport Harbor from the Blooms' deck on Goat Island. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The view of Newport Harbor from the Blooms’ deck on Goat Island. Photo by Marina Pascucci

NEWPORT, R.I. — I am prone, on my back at the bow of an 80-foot sailboat with my foot propped atop the railing. If I moved 12 inches to my left, the sun would set between my feet. But I’m too relaxed to budge. The glass of champagne in my hand convinces me that there’s no better place in the world right now than sailing in the Sailing Capital of the World.

My girlfriend, the lovely and uber-talented photographer Marina Pascucci, is sitting behind me. The descending sun and lights of one of the world’s prettiest harbors reflect off her glasses like fireworks. Her beaming smile reminds me of the same one she flashed in Positano and Paris.

A sailboat during the sunset cruise. Photo by Marina Pascucci

A sailboat during the sunset cruise. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Welcome to Newport, R.I. It’s a combination of Camelot and Monaco, America’s answer to every desperate immigrant’s question since they first started storming our shores: What is the American Dream?

Marina and I finished our nine-day New England trip with a visit to some friends who are living that dream. Gretchen and Peter Bloom have lived in Newport off and on since 1988. I met them in Rome where they lived for 17 years and escaped every sweltering summer to Newport. They haven’t changed their routine since moving from Rome to Washington two years ago.

She’s retired from the World Food Program and Peter, a native of Providence, R.I., 40 miles up the road, is retired from USAID. Between the two, they’ve been to 123 countries, including 40 in Africa. They lived in Sri Lanka. Yet there is no place in the world — not Rome, not London, not the beaches of Thailand — they’d rather be than Newport.

“I wanted a piece of Rhode Island,” Peter tells me. “I am a Rhode Islander. You have no idea how much of a Rhode Islander.”

He’s telling me this while we sit in their fifth-floor condo on a long deck overlooking historic, majestic and magnetic Newport Harbor. After three days, I learned how much of a Rhode Islander he is. It goes beyond the fact that this Harvard grad still pronounces my home state “Or-ee-GONE.” He’s as proud of Newport as I am of Oregon. He puts down his glass of wine and sweeps his hand across the bay. Pleasure craft from small motorboats to towering sailboats dot the harbor, some drifting in from a cruise around the Rhode Island Sound.

Newport is to sailing what Aspen is to skiing. That’s why Marina and I found ourselves on a sunset booze cruise of an 80-foot windjammer. The America’s Cup, the international sailing championship founded in 1851, was held here from 1930-1983. John F. Kennedy’s old boat is here. Ted Turner’s famed champion, American Eagle, is docked here. So is Intrepid, which won the America’s Cup twice. The International Sailing Hall of Fame is negotiating to move here from Annapolis, Md.

Photo by Marina Pascucci

Photo by Marina Pascucci

It’s not just sailboats. Jimmy Buffett has here a 245-foot yacht, the fourth-largest private boat in the world. Race car driver Roger Penske has a 200-footer. The harbor in Monaco may have more expensive yachts. But Monaco doesn’t have Newport’s ambiance, its casual sense of bliss. In Monaco, you go to be seen. In Newport, you go to do.

The Blooms go sailing but are smart enough not to own a sailboat. I’ve met too many people who say, “The second best day of my life was when I bought my boat; the best day of my life was when I sold it.” While boats may be money pits, they are the most leisurely way to travel. I’ve done week-long sailing trips in French Polynesia, the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands. Marina has sailed around Greece. There is no more restful sleep in the world than on the deck of a sailboat rocking on the South Pacific under a Polynesian sky. Peter was working in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1968 when he learned to sail 15-foot dinghies.

“I’m living in the sailing mecca of the world and I learned to sail in Lagos, Nigeria,” he says.

The Blooms actually live on Goat Island, a narrow islet less than a mile long and connected to Newport’s dock-lined southern shore by a short causeway. Goat Island is where they buried pirates they hanged in the 17th and 18th centuries, back when Newport rivaled New York as the most important port in the colonies. It later housed the Naval Torpedo Station until 1951. Today the Blooms look down along Goat Island’s southern shore lined with 19 modest harbor homes starting at about $1.3 million.

Sunset from the gazebo.

Sunset from the gazebo.

Romantic gazebos are spaced along the shoreline. Four big tables with chairs are pointed west for us to sit around and eat smoked gouda and drink good wine while a blood red sunset paints itself along the horizon. As the sun touches down, cannons go off from Newport’s three yacht clubs.

It’s the perfect spot for a wedding reception. In Newport, we were lucky to find a free gazebo. Newport is the nation’s second most popular wedding spot behind Las Vegas. But, as one local said, “Most of the weddings in Las Vegas are at 6 a.m. so I like to think Newport is No. 1.”

Every night we hear wild wedding receptions pulsating from a nearby building, forcing The Temptations’ “My Girl” to swirl in my head on a continual loop the next day.

On the harbor. Photo by Marina Pascucci

On the harbor. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Walking around Newport, Marina and I feel like we’re exploring a nautical gingerbread land. The boating theme is everywhere on the long, straight boulevards lined with curiosity shops, tony cafes, sweet stands and souvenir stores. Down Thames Street we see U.S. flags with anchors in place of the stars. Flipflops sport fish on the soles. Jewelry are in the shape of nautical flags. A studio shows Onne Van Der Wal’s brilliant photos of giant sails and bows bopping up and down on the water, basked in a sunset. Then we pass the greatest name for a tackle store in the history of fishing.

Bite Me Bait Shop.

Try explaining that to an Italian woman still learning English. I admit, I had fun trying.

Newport’s action, however, is on the harbor. It’s like its own separate city. The southern shore of Newport is crawling with the breadth of American boating: kayaks, dinghies, motorboats, 15-foot skiffs, 22-foot J-class, historical windjammers. We walk in and out through the maze of shops and seafood restaurants and open-air bars where people eat thick clam chowder, drink big mugs of ice-cold beer and listen to The Doors’ “Light My Fire” over the loudspeaker. We can’t walk five minutes without running into little booths advertising harbor cruises scheduled from morning to sunset.

The Blooms pick us up and give us, not the nickel tour, but the million-dollar tour, which is the only way you can describe Newport. We drive by Washington Square, a wide swath of an area where they use a more civilized means of punishing thieves: a courthouse. People in red uniforms and black, three-point hats and wigs walk around in preparation for a reenactment of the Stamp Act protest from 1765. That’s when locals rioted over the British laying a tax on printed paper, one of the first direct taxes the British forced onto the colonies. We pass St. Mary’s Church where JFK married Jackie Bouvier, who grew up on nearby Hammersmith Farm, one of Newport’s mansions that became Kennedy’s summer White House. Later we see a photo of the Kennedys cutting their wedding cake.

International Tennis Hall of Fame. Photo by Marina Pascucci

International Tennis Hall of Fame. Photo by Marina Pascucci

We pass the International Tennis Hall of Fame, a miniature Wimbledon complete with the green wood architecture and grass courts. Two weekend hacks look astonishingly out of place wearing all whites while patty-caking shots across the net in front of an empty grandstand.

As we go by the massive gray-and-white Renaissance-Norman mansion used to house the New York Yacht Club, I ask Peter how much it costs to be a member.

“I’ll never get inside,” he says.

 The Breakers has 70 rooms and was built on 14 acres.

The Breakers has 70 rooms and was built on 14 acres.

We continue along stately Bellevue Avenue and turn left up Narragansett Avenue to what attracts most visitors to Newport. In the mid-19th century, wealthy Southerners wanting to escape their steamy summers built summer homes on Bellevue. Then came the wealthy Yankees who went one step up and built mansions along the north shore facing the ocean. Today the mansions remain, a remnant of America’s Gilded Age. We pass monstrous French-style chateaus, Italian-style piazzas and Elizabethan-style manor houses, many surrounded by American-style fuck-you fences. Running along the north end is the Cliff Walk that offers stupendous views of the mansions on one side and the deep, blue Atlantic on the other.

The crown jewel of Newport’s long mansion necklace is The Breakers. It’s a 70-room, five-story Italian Renaissance palace sitting on 14 acres near the far northeast end of the peninsula. It has 20 bathrooms with 15 bedrooms on the second and third floor that housed the 40 servants. Marina and I walk in and above us are four giant chandeliers with 16 bulbs each. The opera house in Paris inspired the fountains and curving staircase. The dining room is the size of a ballroom with two huge chandeliers over a 10-foot-by-10-foot table decorated with Baccarat crystal. The columns throughout the house are solid alabaster. The walls are made from the famed cipollino marble in Italy, the same marble Michelangelo used. One bathtub is cut from a single block of marble. Every light fixture is fitted for gas in case the electricity ever goes out. If everything goes black, there’s a six-foot-high fireplace.

The Breakers' entryway and staircase were inspired by Paris opera houses.

The Breakers’ entryway and staircase were inspired by Paris opera houses.

In 1855 Cornelius Vanderbilt III bought the grounds for $450,000 (about $12 million today) from money he earned in his huge New York Central Railroad empire. He hired famed architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a mansion befitting his label of “New Renaissance in the U.S.” Vanderbilt held huge parties on the gargantuan lawn that separates the home from the ocean. Walking around the grass you feel like you should be holding a champagne flute. CNN broadcaster Anderson Cooper is Vanderbilt’s great, great, great grandson and is said to have stayed here on a few occasions.

Yes, Newport oozes money like honey squeezed from a tube. We see candy apple-red Ferrari convertibles and men whose shoes, shorts, matching sweater and shades are worth more than my entire wardrobe in Rome. The Brooks Brothers store has an elaborate flower garden in front of it. The city buses are as elaborately decorated as San Francisco cable cars. People rent cars that look like Lamborghinis.

Peter and Gretchen Bloom, Marina and I

Peter and Gretchen Bloom, Marina and I

But unlike in Monaco, where everyone lies to impress each other, Newport’s populace is as down to earth as the mansions’ lawns that could pass for fairways at Augusta National. Newport originated in the 17th century as a place where people could escape religious persecution. Everyone is welcome in Newport. People kayak and bicycle and jog. They barbecue on their porches. Peter cooked us incredible teriyaki swordfish one night; Gretchen cooked us massive scallops the next. Locals drink beer and watch the Newport Gulls, the highly popular college summer-league team that plays in 81-year-old Cardines Field sporting a retro sign reading “BASEBALL GAME TODAY.” One block off the ritzy harbor, the east end of Thames Street sports old-fashioned barber shops, take-away pizza joints and an old-fashioned malt shop called Gary’s Handy Lunch that serves one of the better cheeseburgers I’ve had. Even Marina, a third-generation Roman, said the tomato pizza slice at little Via Via “was great and similar to pizza in Rome on the street.”

We drive through Brenton Point State Park, on the southeast corner where people fly kites in an expansive grass area across Ocean Avenue from the Rhode Island Sound. People picnic. I see a kid playing with a yo-yo. We drink a Rhode Island tradition, Del’s frozen lemonade, from a truck stand. Newport is like a sultan’s palace with a country town right across the street.

The Aquidneck. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The Aquidneck. Photo by Marina Pascucci

After seeing so much water, we decide to get on it. The Aquidneck is the longest boat for harbor cruises in Newport at 80 feet long. We leave at 6:15 p.m. with a full boat and jovial crew who start passing out beer and champagne before we barely exit the slip. The Aquidneck is modeled after a 17th century storage vessel that was used to mail cargo up and down the coast. “It was the FedEx of its time,” one of the sailing guide says.

We pass Fort Adams which was built in 1851 and lasted through five wars but never fired a shot.

“The only thing fought at Fort Adams was boredom,” the guide says.

Me and Marina on board the sunset cruise.

Me and Marina on board the sunset cruise.

The sun is starting to set through the clouds as a party boat motors past playing Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” We pass the mansions standing like castles on grassy lawns. Seagulls fly through the setting sun slowly as if basking in the dwindling warmth. The temperature is in the high 60s but with champagne and Marina at my side, it feels much warmer.

Rome is paradise. But it’s paradise with flaws. The only flaw Newport has is maybe it’s too perfect. It’s like you’re afraid to knock a gum wrapper on the spotless street or you’ll suddenly burst into flames. Even the birds seem happy here. The opulence is gaudy. But you don’t have to be a member of the New York Yacht Club or bathe in a marble bathtub to enjoy Newport. All it takes is a seat by the water and a glass of champagne.

Of course, a sailboat helps.