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Spirit of the North End

Carnevale with the Vaudo Clan — In person, this time

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Last year I wrote about the Vaudo clan’s annual pre-Lenten Carnevale meal – a daylong event attended by over 60 people spanning five generations. This year I had the honor of participating in the meal at the invitation of Tommy and Rita Damigella. Held at their lovely home in Topsfield, Massachusetts, the gathering was an experience of a lifetime that brought back memories of my own past family meals and thoughts about the future of Italian and Catholic traditions. As you may recall, the Vaudo meal tradition was brought over from Gaeta, Italy, by Salvatore and Anna Vaudo and has ...

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An Ice Idea — How an 18th Century Boston Entrepreneur Saw Value in Ice

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“This Winter [1740 – 1741] was the Coldest the Old People ever I remembered. Boston Harbour was Froze up twice. In Cold February’ was the deepest Snow we have had for 25 Years. There was a Tent kept on Ice between Boston & the Castle’ for entertainment. Horses Crossed Charlestown & Winimit Ferry Daily. Sleds loaded with Wood came from Charleston to Barton’s point. The Snow & Ice in some of Streets was 3 feet deep and lay in part till Middle of April.” These words were written in the diary of John Tudor, who lived in the North End ...

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The American Connection

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A former colleague of mine, Patricia Park, once wrote an essay called “My Least Favorite Question,” which was published in The Guardian. You can find it here. In it she described her experience of often being asked her least favorite question: “Where are you from?” In asking this of Patricia, the questioner did not usually mean “where in the United States are you from” but “where outside of the United States are you from?” They asked her this because Patricia has Korean ancestry and so she ‘looks’ Korean. And because of this people assume she is not American, that she ...

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Remembering Coach Dom Campochiaro of the North End

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In December, the Post-Gazette and the Regional Review both wrote in remembrance of Joseph “Dom” Campochiaro, who passed away on December 8 of 2014. I would like to add a few words here as well. I was one of the many lucky North End youth to have had Dom as a coach when I played Little League. Dom’s patience, as Sal Giarratani stated in a quote from his Post-Gazette editorial, was endless. He had a kindness about him that never wavered, and a certain smile in his eye that never left no matter what. In addition, it seemed to me ...

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The North End’s Hot Dog Santa

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Since I based my last two holiday articles on what I found searching the Boston Globe’s historical database, I thought I would make it three in a row by looking around for something on New Year’s Day in the North End. I found something, and this one surprised me. It is about a man named Axel Bjorklund, who used to give out free hot dogs to the poor children of the North End on New Year’s Day. The Globe does not provide any history or background on Bjorklund. A 1923 article simply tells us that Bjorklund had opened his sausage ...

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Christmas Tree Origins and an 1896 Celebration in the North End

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I always grew up with a decorated Christmas tree. Along with the Manger, the tree seemed both a very Italian and a very Catholic thing to have in the house. The gifts were under the tree and we usually opened them on Christmas morning. I know now, but I didn’t know then, that in Italy people give gifts on the eve of the Epiphany, January 6, and they are brought by La Befana. Today, this tradition still holds, though Babbo Natale and the giving of gifts on Christmas day are becoming more popular in Italy (and many other places, such ...

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Thanksgiving Eve in the North End, 1910

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What was Thanksgiving like in the North End in 1910? James Pasto finds an article describing just that.

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Our Food… Italian, Italian-American, or American?

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Last month I wrote about the “eternal question” (gravy or sauce?), which is a very Italian-American question in the sense that most non-Italian Americans would have little idea of its cosmic significance. This despite the fact that most Americans today enjoy Italian and Italian-American food as very much part of ‘their’ cuisine, particularly spaghetti. This has not always been the case, of course. When Italians first came to the United States, Italian food was very much a strange cuisine. Here is Fredrick Bushee, a Social Worker of the South End House, describing the food of the Italians of the North ...

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The Eternal Italian American Debate: ‘Gravy’ or ‘Sauce’

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In the first chapter of her excellent and enjoyable book “Gravy Wars,” Lorraine Ranalli states that the term gravy is “unique” to South Philly Italians. By “gravy” she means what most people call “sauce” — that tomato-ey stuff that goes on pasta. I met Lorraine a few years ago when she was at a reading with Lisa Cappuccio. I told her that up here in the North End, we — at least some of us – called it gravy too. She was surprised – just as I was surprised that she thought the word gravy was only used by Italian ...

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When calcio first came to the North End

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Soccer via the World Cup is making the headlines this past month. Recently, in column for in the Clarion-Ledger, Ann Coulter helped it along when she linked the growing popularity of soccer to “moral decay” in the United States. I thought it was a funny column, a tongue-in-cheek stab at the definite media hype around this increasingly (albeit quadrennially) popular sport. One point she spoke a definite truth: “If more ‘Americans’ are watching soccer, it is only because of the demographic switch” brought about by the 1965 immigration law. This law did allow a different demographic into the United States, ...

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A Modern History Lesson in the North End

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Last July, I wrote about North Ender Cotton Mather and his involvement in what is called the “First American Revolution” of 1689. The “second” and more renowned American Revolution took place almost a hundred years later, and it too involved North Enders, like Robert Sexton and Paul Revere, playing a key role. That story is well-known, but it deserves retelling. However, I’m not going to do that here, at least not this year. Rather, I’d like to point out, truthfully, how oblivious I was to the history and historical sites I walked past every day as a kid. #sb10065822f-001 / ...

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Breakfast with the St. Mark Society

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The St. Mark Society -- or more properly, Societa Cattolica Italiana di San Marco -- was founded in 1884 by Italian immigrants from Genoa.

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