The Italian Americans
Watching the PBS special on this subject Tuesday brought back some memories. After Paolo and Mercedes and his daughters left for a goodbye dinner we had for them, Todd cleaned up as usual and I sat just in time with a nice glass of wine and watched this special. It seemed appropriate, the timing as I thought about Paolo coming to the States from Genoa several years ago,with little than HOPE but amazing talent.
At his mother's apron strings he learned the simplicity of fresh local ingredients and how to create magic with them. He arrived in the fiercely competitive Bay area in San Francisco and made a name for himself with his Genoese dishes. His pesto won National prizes. I have never experienced a smoother, more fragrant basil and pinenut dish than his and folded into his homemade handkerchief pasta was and is heavenly. It was there that he met his beautiful fair haired wife Mercedes, also in the kitchen of the restaurant where he worked. Her family beckoned back in Gloucester and they moved here with their daughters.
In the past few years Paolo's cuisine has been enjoyed by many on the North Shore. His creative dishes have garnered a reputation as one of the top chefs that the North Shore has experienced, ever. California beckoned recently and as I said "Napa is a little more like Genoa weather wise" Si, Si, he acknowledged with a big smile. We will miss their friendship , their food and we look forward to our visit with them.
Unlike the immigrants who came first from the South who suffered from severe poverty, Paolo had already been trained well. Leaving Genoa and the Italian Lifestyle was difficult.His story brought back memories of another time for me.
When my parents divorced when I was about six and my brother three, my grandparents played a big role in our lives. My working mother would drop us off at their house and their adult children were off making their own life, accept for Aunt Rachel who was born the same year as I. We were best pals. She died of Leukemia at eight years old and my heart and my grandparents as well as many others was broken.
My grandfather worked in a shoe factory, To make ends meet he would bring home pieces of leather that he would work on to make more money on the week ends. In between he gardened, made mason walls and paths, and enjoyed life. The hardest part of life was the way he was treated by his fellow workers who called him names, made him feel an outcast, WOP, Guinea were some of the names. His home was his escape from this. His joy came from listening to The Phantom on the radio and Enrico Carusos records, and gathering with friends from Italy where he felt very connected. But it wasn't all pretty.
My grandparents found a piece of land in North Revere that was for sale. They visited practically every week end, picked dandelions, mushrooms and picnicked. They loved it. One day another family seemed to be enjoying the same thing. My grandfather approached a man about his age, also Italian, and he asked gently, I am sure as he was a very soft spoken, but kind of formal Roman.
It seems that this man thought this land was his and that he too was paying five dollars every month for the past five years for the property, which would some day be paid for. It seems that the man who was accepting their money was a fraud. Back in the day people like these men did not think about lawyers. It was not part of their thinking and it wasn't affordable.
I don't think my Nonno ever got over this.