Now that I’ve got your attention (to paraphrase the famous Wall Street Journal editorial), the title should really be “Sensuality at WaterFire: or, Art as Aphrodisiac.” Whatever else has been said about Barnaby Evans’ great work of art, WaterFire as a setting for love seems more noticed than remarked upon, and more remarked upon than studied in an academic vein. With this essay, this scholarly lacuna is history.
Many have noticed that WaterFire turns the Providence waterfront into an Italian piazza, where people sit and walk and talk and watch others sitting, walking, talking, and watching. Romance suffuses the evening along with the aromatic smoke. After most of the crowds have gone home, after the crush on the river walks subsides at midnight, there still remains a devoted throng of quiet lovers enthralled by each other and the fires — lost in each other’s eyes or gazing together over the city skyline. These souls, for whom WaterFire is the cheapest date in the state, the stage for grand passion, or some delicious thing in between, reflect the work of art at its most profound intensity, not to mention its most intense profundity.
Intense? Profound? Yes. The spooners are among the people least likely to be bored by WaterFire (such sad creatures do exist, alas) and most likely to be engaged by its depths of meaning, whether they pause amid osculation to reflect upon it or not. Fire as passion and water as passion’s foil play both on the rivers and in the emotions unfolding along their embankments. Lovemakers are in the dance of romance, fast or slow, hot or cold. They and their sensual affection, as it waxes and wanes with the tide and the flame, are the purest reflection of WaterFire and its magical power.
While most cities have a secluded place to go for necking, few cities celebrate romance in the heart of their downtown. In WaterFire, Providence has such a place. How much love has bloomed along these embankments? Strip WaterFire of its final profundity and the intensity remains. Providence is blessed, indeed caressed, by WaterFire.
David Brussat, aka Dr. Downtown, when he is not skewering modern architecture, can often be found admiring the city’s skyline by the appropriately anachronistic firelight of WaterFire. He was an editorial writer for the Providence Journal.