Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Hear the Angel Voices

“Are you ready?” friends kept asking.  And it was starting to vex me.  Ordinarily, I would be ready.  But with a week left before Christmas, there were cards not yet written and cookies still to be baked.  Moving in November had really messed with my holiday preparations this year.

When a dear friend invited me to her son’s Christmas concert the final Sunday before Christmas, the left side of my brain flatly rejected the notion.  I had too much to do to spend a whole afternoon at a concert.  But the right side of my brain which, for southpaws like me, runs the show had me blurting out, “Sounds like fun – I’m all in.”

Intuitively, I knew I needed some Christmas spirit.  And an afternoon of Christmas carols sounded like just the thing.  But as I traveled the long, convoluted train ride to Dorchester I wondered if my time might have been better spent preparing for the holiday.  I was behind and still had so much to do before Christmas.

The concert was held in a beautiful old Catholic church with magnificent jewel-tone stained glass windows and majestic statuary.  Even thought I had not been there before, I felt welcomed amidst all the familiar symbols of my faith.

Shards of late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, and I settled into my seat in the crowded church pew.  The young singers and musicians were middle- and high-school aged and they represented four different Boston choirs and musical ensembles.  As they gathered on the steps of the altar, I couldn’t help but notice that these youngsters were a diverse group – in age, in height, in ethnicity, each one beautiful and perfect in his or her own way.  I knew by reputation that they were talented and the moment they began to sing, their pure, sweet voices touched my heart.  This, I thought, is what angel voices must sound like.  A peace I had not felt for some time came over me.  Yes, I thought, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.

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Home Improvements

Ducks in a Row

I recently moved and all this change (read: disorder) has been jarring for a woman who inherited the cleaning gene and who’s so hyper-organized that I make a list of the lists I need to make.

This may be lost on those of you who don’t use a flat iron, but it took me four days to find mine.  Four days!  I should’ve marked the box that contained this miracle worker, magic wand “OPEN FIRST – Survival Kit” instead of “bathroom cabinet.”  Then there was the missing soap dish.  I was forced to put the slippery-when-wet bar in a zippy bag until I unearthed it.  But worst of all, when I opened the box marked “kitchen – coffee” there was the coffee maker but the filters were nowhere in sight.  Turns out they ended up as padding in a box that contained my favorite glass pitcher.

You’re probably wondering how such a list-maker extraordinaire couldn’t keep better track of what went into each of the 119 boxes that made the move.  I started out with a brand new spiral notebook, a package of fresh marker pens, bubble wrap, a mountain of newspapers, and miles of clear packing tape.  The plan was simple: number and label each box: #37 living room glass – fragile  # 38 dining room – good glass – SUPER fragile  # 39 dining room – Nanny’s stemware – EXTRA EXTRA FRAGILE.  Then I listed the contents of each numbered box in the spiral notebook.  But on that last frantic day before the move, things went terribly wrong.  Some of the boxes were numbered but not labeled and two of the boxes were labeled but not numbered.  Can you relate?

It’s been a month since the move and my ducks are finally in a row.  I’ve just about finished unpacking – for now that is.  But in a couple of months I’ll be gutting the kitchen and bathroom and, before the renovation project can begin, I’ll be packing up once more.

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons, The Brownstone

Opening a Door

All of my artwork has been removed from the walls, and I stand in a pared-down version of my living room, knee-deep in bubble wrap and packing tape.  Tomorrow when the moving truck comes, I’ll be leaving my home of the past 24 years.  This small brownstone apartment has been a haven for me, as well as a source of pride.

Built in 1888, my condo is rich with Victorian details, from the wainscoting and ornamental fireplace mantle, to the ceiling medallion in the living room.  A young woman has bought my place.  My realtor tells me she fell madly in love the moment she walked into the living room, awash in sunlight from the large curved bay window that overlooks Beacon Street.  The new owner is me, twenty-five years ago, and I am grateful that someone who loves this space, just as I have, will be living here.  To you, my younger self, who is about to cross this threshold with all your hopes and dreams, I say this:  each time you make yourself a cup of tea in your kitchen, watch the sunset from the roof deck, open your home to friends, know that one has come before you who knows exactly how you feel.  If you are half as happy as I have been here, you will be truly blessed.

As for me, I am ready to open a new door. And my new home has unique features of its own.  Two years shy of being a century old, this two-family house has retained much of its original detail and character.  Warm wood trim adorns each window and doorway.  Both the living and dining rooms boast bay windows.  The dining room’s built-in has lovely period leaded glass, and a butler’s pantry adjoins it with the kitchen.

This house needs no time, no holidays, no new memories to become my home.  It already is…  Like many older homes in the Boston metro area, this is a “family home” – with my brother living on the second floor and me on the first floor.

My arrival has my Italian-American next-door neighbors nodding in approval, “That’s nice,” they said, “keeping it in the family.”

“Yes,” I agree, “La familia!”

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Best of Boston, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

 

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Apple and Cranberry Season

What do you think of when you think about autumn?  The leaves turning brilliant colors?  That it’s time to wear your favorite bulky sweater?  How much fun it is to stroll through the pumpkin patch, searching for that perfectly shaped pumpkin to put on your front steps or by the hearth.

Me, I see red.  Deep, rich red.  The color of apples and cranberries.

Columbus Day Weekend is traditionally the time to go apple picking.  Whether you venture out into the orchard and actually pluck the apples off the trees or visit the local farm stand and choose your favorite varieties from large wooden bins – it’s still apple picking in my book.

One friend of mine makes apple butter, another makes apple sauce.  I prefer apple crisp.  Because the apples are so naturally sweet, I add cranberries for a kick of tartness.  Besides, cranberries are so plentiful here in New England.

Here’s the recipe:  Apple Cranberry Crisp Recipe

 

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Girl Talk

Will You Marry Me?

Last September, I wrote about Jaimie and Nick.  While I haven’t yet solved their romantic mystery, I do have an update.  But first you need to read the original post:

My neighborhood is lined with cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks.  As you might imagine, the old chipped bricks make for an uneven walking surface.  And over the years, I’ve ruined more than one pair of high heels.  So I’ve learned to watch where I step.

Back in July (2016), I noticed that an old brick had been replaced with a brand new one with clean, sharp edges, and a perfectly etched message that read:  JAIMIE, WILL YOU MARRY ME?  NICK

I’m not sure how long the brick had been in place when it caught my eye.  But each day as I walk by, I feel compelled to check and see if the brick is still there.  It’s become a wildly romantic mystery to me as I spin all sorts of stories about how the brick came to be in this spot, as well as my speculations about this couple – Jaimie and Nick.  Do I know them by sight?  Maybe they live right across the street from me.  Is Jaimie a woman or a man?  Have they gotten married?

So many questions remain unanswered.  Why did Nick choose to propose in this way?  How exactly did he plan his grand gesture?  And what happened when Jaimie spotted the brick?  If Jaimie accepted the proposal, wouldn’t they have dug up the brick as a memento?  Likewise, if Jaimie rejected the proposal, wouldn’t Nick have dug it up and gotten rid of what would’ve become a painful reminder?  Either way, why does the brick remain?

Update: One morning, as my downstairs neighbor and I left for work at the same time, we walked together down Dartmouth Street.  When I pointed out the brick and confessed that I was intrigued by it, she told me that her husband had witnessed the proposal.

“Tell me everything!” I pleaded.

Jaimie is a young woman, and Nick a young man, she confirmed.  Whether Jaimie saw the brick at first or not remains to be seen.  But when Nick got down on one knee in the traditional pose, my neighbor, right along with Jaimie, realized what was about to happen.  My neighbor didn’t want to impose on such a personal and meaningful moment so he quickly turned the corner and got out of sight.

“That’s it?  That’s all you know!” I persisted.

“My husband assumed she said yes,” she replied.

More than ever, I believe Jaimie and Nick are together and living happily ever after.

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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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