Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Flight of the Angel

Last August, I wrote about the annual Feast of St. Anthony that takes place in Boston’s Italian North End.  Called “the Feast of All Feasts,” it’s the culmination of the summer season’s celebrations of faith, Italian culture, and food – and the biggest block party you could ever imagine.  However, this year, on the Sunday night prior to the St. Anthony Feast, I ventured down to North and Fleet Streets for the Fisherman’s Feast because an Italian-American friend promised me a spectacle “unlike anything you’ve ever seen!”  She wasn’t kidding.

The tradition of the Fisherman’s Feast was brought to Boston by Sicilian immigrants in the early 1900’s to commemorate the fishermen’s great devotion to the Madonna del Soccorso (Our Lady of Help).  Every August, to coincide with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Flight of the Angel takes place at the conclusion of the Fisherman’s Feast.

A large crowd gathered at dusk, awaiting the arrival of the statue of the Madonna and the little angels who pray to her.  Trumpets played and everyone cheered when the statue of the Madonna approached. Spotlights shone on two skirted third-story balconies, directly across from one another.  A little girl dressed as an angel appeared on one of the balconies and began praying in Sicilian.  Soon, the second little angel appeared on the opposite balcony.  With the help of some elaborate cables, she began her descent until she was lowered down to greet the statue.  Still suspended, she also prayed to the Madonna.  The crowd went wild cheering and throwing confetti.

But what was truly remarkable about this scene was not that these little girls had memorized a rather lengthy prayer in Italian, or how the many hands holding the cables did everything with such care and precision, or even how beautiful the statue was.  It was extraordinary to witness the devotion of so many people, and the great sense of community that devotion had inspired.  Younger people made spaces on the crowded street and sidewalk for older folks, as folding chairs seemingly appeared as if by magic for these elders.  Adults lifted children up – not even their own children – so the youngsters could get a better look.  And despite the lack of a significant police presence, when the ceremony was over, the thousand-plus crowd disbursed in a respectful and organized fashion.  I’m sure the Madonna del Sorrorso was smiling down on all of us.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Poolside

Growing up, I spent my summers at our town pool.  My mother, brother, and I formed a little parade as we walked through the parking lot, carrying beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, and a cooler.  On the weekends, my father joined us, and led the parade.  Nothing was planned yet we always found neighbors and friends to sit with, and we’d set up camp for the day.  No one worried about getting too much sun.  Although some of the ladies swam rather awkwardly, craning their necks so their hair wouldn’t get wet.  Funny how my brother and his friends would take a running start and cannonball into the water as these ladies tried, in vain, to shield their hairdos from the big splash.  The Olympic sized pool was crystal clear and we’d stay in the water until our fingertips shriveled like prunes.  Once we got older, my mom would drop us off in the morning, knowing we were safe amongst friends, and come back for us just before dinner time.  It was perfect suburban bliss.

As a city dweller, I’ve relied on rooftop hotel pools when the temperature rises into the 90’s and the humidity frizzes my hair.  These tiny, sky-high pools can be pricey but when you’ve got the flop sweats, money is no object.  On weekends, these hot spots get crowded quickly, mostly with post-college urban professionals who are more interested in the small plate menus and trendy pastel-colored martinis, than in taking a swim.  And depending where you manage to find an unoccupied lounge chair, your view could end up being nothing more than a cluster of flat rooftops.

This summer, I finally discovered poolside nirvana at the Mirabella pool in Boston’s Italian North End.  Situated right along the Harbor, with magnificent views of the Charlestown Shipyard, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the Zakim Bridge, I’ve marveled at the ferries and sailboats as they pass by.  I’ve found the perfect aquatic oasis at this historic neighborhood pool.  There’s a great sense of community and diversity, as young families gather, their toddlers padding around wearing neon colored water wings, giggling teenagers hang out with their BFF’s, my peers luxuriate without using their phones or laptops, and older, retired folks who’ve mastered the art of relaxation, smile or nod as I walk by.  I love this pool for its clean, refreshing water but I love it more for the nostalgic memories it has evoked in me.

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers, Pop Culture

Red Hat Lady for a Day

Have you ever seen a group of women all wearing red hats, and flamboyantly dressed in purple?  These older ladies can be seen lunching and laughing, and generally whooping it up all around town.  Some of them even wear feather boas… Truth be told, my mother is one of them and, on a recent visit home, I crashed the party.  But I did not wear the requisite purple, nor the red hat.   According to Red Hat Society lore, someone my age wears lavender and pink instead.

The Red Hat Society was founded quite by accident by a woman who bought a stylish red hat for herself, then started giving them as gifts to her friends.  The purple attire came about as an homage to the poem that begins, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…”  Now, there are a bazillion chapters all over the country.

On the first Wednesday of every month, when my mother and her friends get together adorned in their whimsical outfits, they remain mindful that everyone is not as carefree and blessed as they are.  That’s why they never fail to pass around an envelope for their donation to a food pantry.

I was expecting lunch to be a quiet affair in a subdued café.  Instead, it was a raucous celebration in a sports bar with Bon Jovi and Led Zep piped through the loud speakers.  The ladies talked about hair and makeup, current events, and their families, just like my friends do when we get together.  And I nearly forgot how much older they were until the talk turned from gardening, to their former careers, and to their numerous doctor appointments.  Save for the arthritis, they were mostly just like their younger counterparts.

So thank you Red Hatters for welcoming me into your circle, and for offering me a window into what lies ahead.  It promises to be fun and fabulous!

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Life Lessons

Best. Resort. Ever.

It’s a one of those “best kept secrets.” This four-star resort that’s tucked away in a quiet town along the Hudson River is my go-to spot when I’m mentally stressed out and physically depleted.  The moment I arrive and set my suitcase down, the tightness in my shoulders is released.

My favorite room is awash in soothing, muted colors, and drenched in natural light.  The luxurious linens and scent of fresh cut flowers do wonders to lull me to sleep.  There’s no set time for breakfast.  Morning coffee is served on a private deck that’s a riot of color (imagine a Martha Stewart-like arrangement of hearty potted flowering plants and lush green herbs) overlooking an expanse of untouched woods where a rustle of leaves announces a family of deer quietly wandering through or a bunny rabbit darting by.

This place has the best bagels I’ve ever had in my life (it’s in New York, after all), and fresh squeezed tangerine juice.  Lunch might be an asparagus mushroom soufflé or, my favorite, the Caprese salad, with tomatoes and basil that were grown on the property.  And dinner might be an expertly prepared Italian, French, or American inspired dish like Chicken Marsala, Beef Bourguignon, or Barbecued Ribs.

The spa-styled bathroom is larger than my kitchen.  (Really, I’m not exaggerating.)  The white soaking tub glistens so brightly you need to wear your sunglasses.  And paraffin treatments for your hands and feet are available at no charge.

Besides these lavish meals and spa treatments, there’s laundry service and an open bar.  In fact, everything is free.  “Such amenities and you don’t have to pay?” you may ask.  “Where exactly is this place, and how soon can I book it?”

Well…you can’t.  It’s exclusive and they don’t take reservations.  It’s the house where I grew up.  And the people there are the best – my folks.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, Pop Culture

Wishing Every Day was the Fourth of July

It’s no secret that here in Boston we like to do it up big on the Fourth of July.  For decades, the Boston Pops has performed at the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade and, after the concert, a spectacular fireworks display rains down over the Charles River.  My neighbors and I may curse our lack of closet space 364 days of the year, but on the Fourth of July, we have the best place on earth to watch the fireworks: our roof deck.

Last week, as neighbors and friends gathered with beach chairs and blankets, food and drink, I was struck by what a diverse group had assembled on our roof deck for the day’s festivities.  One young mother was nursing her nine-week old baby, while the oldest, a vivacious lady in her seventies, sported an American flag motif scarf.  There were straight couples and gay couples.  And folks whose ancestry represented each of the seven continents.  There were Boston Brahmins, first-generation Americans, and at least one New Yorker.  All afternoon and into the evening, the sense of community prevailed as we waited in anticipation for the fireworks to start.

On the day we celebrated the red, white, and blue, there was no red state/blue state divide.  No political talk at all.  Do we all agree on everything?  No way.  But for one glorious, sparkling day we had come together with respect, pride, and patriotism.  All of us different, yet all the same – Americans.

 

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Italian Sisters

Ya know, I’ve known you for more than half my life,” my friend mused as we were enjoying a long-overdue girls’ night out recently.

I get a kick out of how she eats with such gusto.  She marvels at my talent for knowing exactly what shoes to wear with any given outfit.  When we shop there’s no dilly-dallying.  We see something we like, there’s no waffling, we just buy it.  The compliments are abundant and genuine.  I comment on her new eye shadow and she notices my new earrings.

We share the same story:  The only daughter in an Italian-American family.  Exceptionally close to our mothers.  New Yorkers who came to Boston for college – and stayed.  We are modern women yet we celebrate, even revere, tradition.  We’re scratch cooks who constantly swap recipes.  We know how to set a nice table.  We send hand-written thank you notes.

When we talk, our conversations are peppered with Italian words and phrases:  mia cucina (my kitchen); la familia (the family); and ciao bella (so long beautiful).  And the slang, of course: scoochi (pest); jaboney (jerk); and capisce (understand).

Our lives have taken us in different directions.  She’s married with two little girls while I’m the single one.  She’s the teacher and I’m a writer.  We’ve grown but we have not grown apart.  We remain each other’s confidant and sounding board.  One year for my birthday she gave me a Willow Tree figurine of two young girls sitting on a bench, seemingly deep in conversation.  It was the perfect gift.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” I agreed.  “We’re like sisters.  Italian sisters.”

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Life Lessons

My Dad – the Ad Man

The following is a re-post from June 2016.

Back in the day, my father was a G-rated version of Don Draper – one of the original “ad men” of the 1960’s.  For most of his career, he worked in the advertising department at NBC.  As a child, I didn’t understand what he did, but I surmised it was important because he worked in Rockefeller Center and had a view of the skating rink from his office windows.

Years later, I understood just what his job entailed.  His department was responsible for all the print advertising for the network.  The graphic artists and copywriters created ads and he produced them, by working closely with engravers and typesetters.  He then bought space in the various newspapers and magazines that would run the ads.  Faced with the pressure of constant deadlines, he often schmoozed and negotiated with the printers, all the while cajoling the artists to get them to turn their work in on time.  My father worked long hours.  And he suffered from migraines.

My father’s immigrant father owned a small, independent, neighborhood fruit and vegetable store in Queens, New York.  My grandfather spent his life lifting and carrying crates.  Despite how tired my father must have been from his long work week at NBC, he sometimes helped out at the family store on Saturdays, and I doubt he and my grandfather ever talked to each other about work.  I’m not sure if my grandfather understood the power of the media or saw the work my father did as meaningful.

When my father retired, he traded in his suit and briefcase for a set of golf clubs.  These days, he goes out to breakfast with the ROMEOS (Retired Old Men Eating Out), wearing the Life is Good baseball cap I gave him a few years ago.  He thought the slogan was a reference to his retirement.  But it was also meant to acknowledge how hard he worked to give our family a good life.

Dad

 

Thank you, Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

red poppy

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