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North End laureate, Part II

Ciardi-home

Two years after the death of his father, John Ciardi moved with his family from the North End out to the “country” (i.e., Medford) and into a house they shared with Aunt Christina and Uncle Alec. Together, the families struggled to make ends meet. Echoing the lives of many North Enders, Christina worked at Schraff’s as a candy dipper while Alec was a barber on Causeway Street. The mother kept the house with its chickens and giant garden, and then worked some nights on the late shift as a men’s tailor. The children also helped out, working various jobs after ...

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Foraging for pranzo

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One of my favorite memories as a girl was foraging through the woods on Mt. Amiata with my dad’s family. Whether for mushrooms in fall, or herbs in spring, my nana and her sisters would later cook them as the filling for ravioli or a frittata. Who knew foraging for something wild to eat could reap such fulfilling rewards? It’s the primal adventure of traipsing through the woods, a lush field, or the bases of olive trees and getting your hands and knees dirty in search of sustenance. It’s the pleasure of transforming those overlooked gems of nature into delectable ...

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Confessions of a carboholic

Nutella

I walked into the dining room and my jaw hit the floor. Before me was a three-tiered altar, draped in white cloth, holding gorgeously decorated, ornately shaped pieces of bread. From afar, it looked mouthwatering: gorgeous, porous, crunchy-on-the-outside, heaven-on-the-inside Italian bread. Each masterpiece had been skillfully molded by hand into the shapes of horses, ducks, hearts and crosses, and brushed with egg before baking. At the top of the tiered structure perched a large portrait of the baby Jesus with his father. I was 7, at my first feast for St. Joseph, and had just discovered my drug of choice: ...

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Culture Clash

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Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi recently visited Harvard University in Cambridge, where he gave an impassioned speech about several issues afflicting Europe today. I won’t go into detail on the various subjects he touched, but I would like to delve into one particular theme that is dear to him: Italy’s investment in culture. Renzi tied a widespread sentiment of fear and lack of solidarity to the rise of terrorism in Europe. “Culture is the target of terrorists,” he said. “You don’t think about death if you have a place to go to, if you have curiosity, if you have a ...

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The Perfect Wine for a Perfect Spring

garganega

Spring is upon us and we’re finally out of the winter weather, I think. It is time to transition into the mindset of enjoying the fresh outdoors again if you’ve been bottled up this winter. With the change in seasons comes a change in tastes and of course the wine we enjoy with that cuisine. No more hearty soups, stews and heavier meat-based dishes. We’re now starting to think of fresh vegetables and other lighter fare to go along with it. Maybe for some us there is a shift in wine preferences from the bolder, heartier Italian red wines to ...

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John Ciardi: North End’s poet laureate

Ciardi-home

“I was born June 24, 1916, at 25 Sheave Street in Boston’s North End, which was then as now, though more so then, Little Italy … . My mother, in the custom of her tribe, bore me in the same bed in which she connived me … . ” So wrote John Ciardi, renowned poet, translator and teacher. I had long known of Ciardi’s translation of Dante, and I knew he was Italian American, but I did not know he had been born in the North End. Truthfully, I don’t recall now how I discovered that he was. But what ...

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Auto racing comes to Boston

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One of my favorite sports that I love to watch is championship open-wheel auto racing, because I have so many fond memories of Sunday afternoons as a child spent with my dad enjoying the IndyCar or Formula One races on TV while mom cooked us pot roast. We’d watch the lights go from red to green signaling the suspenseful start. We’d wonder who would overtake whom in the opening laps while the drivers vied for position. We’d count out loud the seconds that elapsed during pit stops. Sometimes I’d close my eyes just to listen to the engines buzz around ...

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#Age of Jesus

Rome-web

“How are we celebrating your birthday next week?” my mother asked as we gave our dog, Rufus, a bath. In truth, she was giving him a bath, while I took pictures of his adorable, soapy face. I’m very helpful like that. I groaned. “Let’s not and say we did?” “No! You are the age of Jesus. We need to celebrate!” “The age of who now?” “L’eta di Gesù,” my mom repeated matter-of-factly as she pulled a flailing Rufus out of the tub and began to towel him off. “Because I’m 33?” “Exactly. My mother always used to say it was ...

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Of kidnappers and cockroaches

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The first thing I noticed was the cleanliness of the hotel room; the second thing I noticed was the intruder. I was on a business trip to one of the “kidnap capitals” of the world. I had prepared by reading the city’s State Department warnings and convinced myself there was a statistical likelihood that I would, in fact, be kidnapped. From there, I hoarded mal occhio charms, watched Buffy re-runs, and wrote heartfelt letters to my family in case I was sold into a human-trafficking ring and never returned. By the time I checked into the hotel, I was sporting ...

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Hungry for opera

Gina Fava at the opera!

Hungry for Italian opera? Me too. Conversely, Italian opera makes me hungry. As in ravenous for a full-course meal every time. I don’t know whether it’s something about the brilliant orchestra or talented performers or the musical compositions themselves that evokes my hunger. What I do know is, the little snack bar stocked with peanuts is never enough to satisfy my appetite. When I studied Italian opera at the University of Rome, part of my midterm included attending an evening showing of “Don Giovanni” at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, an iconic 19th-century theater. By the time my classmate and future ...

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The power of the piazza

I AM Books

I had a hunch before opening I AM Books, the country’s first Italian American bookstore. Based on the feedback I received from readers of Bostoniano, I felt there would be a need for a common place where people could start a dialogue about their shared heritage and their roots. Soon after opening the bookstore last year, I realized this was only one of the many elements that people appreciate about the bookstore. I think what really excites people is the physicality of it. As human beings, we need places we can anchor ourselves to. These are places we rely on ...

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Homegrown verismo

Il Padrone

George Scigliano was the first Italian American elected to public office in Boston. His story was brought to life by Steven Puleo in “The Boston Italians.” As Puleo notes, Scigliano fought hard to end the exploitation of Italian immigrants through the corrupt padrone system. His death inspired the unsuccessful effort by James Donnaruma to rename North Square after him. Scigliano’s work also may have been the inspiration for something else: an opera about Italian immigrants set in the North End. That opera is George Whitfield Chadwick’s “Il Padrone” (1913). Chadwick is one of the most well-known and accomplished American classical ...

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