Courville knows polo. He knows that the periods are called "chukkers." He knows that a full-sized polo field — 900 feet by 450 feet — is the largest field in organized sport. And though he is teased by fellow officers as the "AristoCop," he knows this isn't a silly sport. He leans a muscular shoulder into mine to mimic a defensive maneuver. "It's not this pinkie-waving, tea-sipping thing," he says.

This is clear as the teams retake the field to swing and gallop and thwack, kicking up clouds of dust as they go. The horses stomp and snort in dense packs, then dash off down the field when the ball squirts free. In the end, it's Cornell that winds up the victor: 7-6. After the final metal bell clangs, both teams line up to receive goodies from the day's based-in-Rhode Island sponsors: pens — excuse me, "writing instruments" — from Lincoln's A.T. Cross; bracelets from Cranston's Kiel James Patrick. URI's retiring vice president of advancement, Robert Beagle, gets a gift, too: an engraved Tiffany pewter plate manufactured in Cumberland.

Working the crowd is Terrence Hassett, Providence City Council president, his Providence city seal cufflinks gleaming with every handshake. Hassett is buzzing with stories from his district, Ward 12: the renovation of the Renaissance Hotel, the success of the new shopping center on Smith Street. His latest plan is to bring a polo venue to the swath of grass downtown between the train station and Providence Place Mall. "I mean, that's an attraction!" he shouts. "You realize how elegant that would be? We draw in people, fill up the garages . . . people going to the mall, the shops." When I asked about the rules of the game, he directed me elsewhere.

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