The North End is Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Salem, Parmenter, and Hanover Streets are lined with restaurants and shops, all celebrating Italian culture, and more importantly, Italian cuisine. I often go there on Saturday afternoons and, as I make my way from the cheese shop, to the fresh pasta store, from Polcari’s Coffee (where I get my spices), to Bova’s Bread, I am met with smiles and nods. None of these merchants know my name; they call me figlia mia (daughter), bambola (doll), or bellezza (beauty). Recognizing me as one of their own, the second and third generation Italian-Americans who live and work in this colorful neighborhood treat me like some kind of Mediterranean goddess.
Whenever friends visit from out-of-town, they always want to have dinner in the North End. Then after some wine and good food, we walk about, as I point out the Old North Church, the statue of Paul Revere, and St. Leonard’s. Afterward, we stop by a café for espresso and pastry or gelato.
Despite all there is to love about this romantic and magical neighborhood, right now is the best time to go there. The Feasts begin in June and continue throughout the summer, but the Feast of all Feasts is the St. Anthony Feast, in late August.
Locals, suburbanites, and tourists come out. Italians, Italian-Americans, and Italians-for-the-day line the streets. Vendors sell pizza, sausage-peppers-and-onions, cheeses, zeppole, cannoli and pastries of all kinds. But not to worry because whatever you eat while standing up has no calories.
Music and laughter abound as generations of family members celebrate. As the parade makes its way down the old and narrow cobblestone streets, the large statue of Saint Anthony leading the way, balloons and confetti are dropped from apartment widows above. The crowd chants, “Viva Sant Antonio! Viva!” The faithful stand in line, waiting to pin money on the statue as they offer a silent prayer. It’s quite the spectacle.
The Feast of St. Anthony takes place next weekend in Boston’s North End. I wouldn’t miss it.