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October 17, 2005

-- Travel --

Eclectic city by the sea

By Courtney Coughlin

From the Ralph Lauren mom with her Lily Pulitzer daughter strolling down Bellevue Avenue to a weather-beaten old sailor sitting in a bar on Thames Street, from the townies thumbing an acoustic guitar on the cliffs of Second beach to the Bulgarian tourists kicking around a soccer ball on First beach speaking in foreign tongues – these are the characters that populate Newport, Rhode Island, summer after summer without fail. 

Though small, the island contains a diverse collection of people and possibilities. Whatever one might find in his hometown, he will find his opposite in Newport, as well as his separated-at-birth twin.

Upon arrival in Newport, the first thing that struck me was the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle, jasmine, and ocean breezes coming in off the shore. Around almost every corner, an ocean view seemed to peek out at me and beckon me into its waters. 

There are two beaches in Newport, as far as I’m concerned – although it is an island, so in effect, it is surrounded by beaches. They are formally named Easton’s Beach and Sachuest, but everyone knows them as First and Second beaches.

Both are long stretches of sugary-fine sand and brisk New England waters with attractions even a non-beach fan could love, such as a carousel and aquarium at First beach, or “surfer’s end” of Second beach, populated primarily by eye candy in wetsuits.

On the beach, I found myself in the company of radical liberals, reluctant conservatives, families creating memories together and loners searching to escape the past. I met teens from California looking for a new haunt, and teens from Louisiana who had, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “gone to look for America.”

While admittedly not all youths have the freedom to wander the world on their own, multitudes strolled the beach alone or with friends, just far enough from their mothers’ beach blankets.  Throughout the evenings, clans of adolescents met up at pizza joints across the island or lounged together looking at the yachts and sailboats on the wharf lining America’s Cup Avenue, a place also known for hazy afternoon boutiques and open-late delis, cafes, and bars. 

Two things have made Newport famous: sailing and mansions. A former naval base, the island is also home to the America’s Cup races, and teems with sailors who can be distinguished by their Australian accents, white uniforms, or deeply tanned faces.

The mansions, built mostly in the pre-income tax, early 20th century, contain room upon room of entertainment in the form of vintage clothing, antique kitchenware, old-fashioned toy soldiers and dollhouses, marble bathrooms, and even a topiary garden. 

Newport is the Island of Misfits, full of people who learn to feel at home on the little piece of land whether they stay for a weekend or a summer.

As far as I can see, there is no Newport-type, nor is there any one person I could imagine who wouldn’t appreciate its vibrant sunsets, bustling downtown, and friendly New England atmosphere.

Far enough from my Connecticut home to feel like vacation, but close enough to feel comfortable, Newport provided the ultimate summer spot and temporary home for me this summer.


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