What a feast!

... Have you ever been to a feast?

by Betty Rossi

Have you ever been to a feast? Not the kind where the whole family sits around
a table and eats and eats and eats, but an Italian Feast. The kind that celebrates
a Saint's Day. Most cities have them. I know that Malden celebrates The Feast of
Saint Joseph at the church on Salem Street. Ferris wheel, amusements, booths
with good food, music and meeting friends make for a great time.

Greeks and Italians love to celebrate and the feasts that I'm talking about are
celebrated every year. Italian feasts. North End of Boston Italian Feasts! The
kind where there are so many people jammed into very small streets that you
couldn't fall down if you tried, they are packed so tight.

My mother used to say that her Feast was the Fisherman's Feast. When my
Grandpa came to America from Taurasi, Italy, he and his brother were
Pharmacists. They opened the Green Cross Drug Store on the corner of
Hanover and Cross Streets. Their initials are still in the cornerstone.
My Mom lived over the store, almost on Fleet Street. She said that her
cousins in Italy were Marine Biologists and that was "our feast". I loved
that feast because every year, a little girl was chosen to be an angel.
She would be rigged by wires strung from one side of Fleet Street to the
other, around the third floors of two buildings and the little girl was
"flown" across the street. She really and truly looked like she was flying.
The streets were jam-packed with feast goers, all looking skyward, praying
that she wouldn't fall. When we were older, we'd meet our friends on Fleet
Street and go into a club. Not a night club, but a friend's club, where
en would meet to play cards and kibitz and probably gamble. On nights of
the feast, the clubs were opened to women also.

I loved St. Anthony's Feast. It's probably the most popular feast. My people
came from Taurasi in Avellino, Italy,and that's where St. Anthony was from.
I lived on Noyes Place, behind Bova's Bakery, when I came home from
Germany. St. Anthony's Club was kind of behind Regina's Pizza. People prayed
to St. Anthony to help them find things that they've lost and to grant them
favors.A statue of the Saint is carriedthrough the streets of the North End
and people pin money, watches and jewelry to ribbons hanging from the statue's
neck to help people in need and to keep St. Anthony's Club open.

All through the summer months, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Saints
are honored with a Feast or a Saint's Day. St. Lucia, or St. Lucy as I
know her, is the saint who you pray to for good eyesight. St. Agrippina
is honored by both Italians and some of the Greeks who I know. As she was
Sicilian and a patron saint, she is supposed to "ward off evil spirits".
There are still people who wear little red or gold "horns"...not the ones
that you play, but Horns made by pointing your index finger and your pinkie
finger to keep them safe. Superstition is still alive and if St. Agrippina
didn't save you,"God Forbid", you had to find someone who knew how to do
"the oil". Believe me, when I lived in the North End, St. Agrippina had
a huge following! Madonna Della Cava is also a Sicilian feast. I believe
that she is prayed to for speech and good hearing. She is the only one
that I know of who only has a banner carried through the streets, not a
statue. Her statue is stationary on Battery Street, because every time
her statue is moved, it breaks.

You can't believe the vendors who line the streets. Years ago, there were
very few things offered. Bread, Pizza, Chichidees, Quahogs and not too much
else. Now the vendors are about 100 strong. The smells of Sausages and
Peppers. Zeppoles frying in hot oil, Pizzelles, and Quahogs! Ah, the Quahogs!
"Lenny Quahog" could shuck a half dozen quahogs in two seconds flat! A band
stand is set up on North Washington Street and there is much singing, music
and laughter. St. Anthony is the saint of the poor and when you lose something,
prayers to St. Anthony seem to help you find your lost possession. His statue
is carried through the streets by the faithful, up Snow Hill Street, down Hull
Street to Salem Street and back to North Margin Street with a band playing
instruments that sounded like an "Ooompah Band".

The people. People come from all over to pack the streets, eat and buy
Tee Shirts that say, "Kiss Me, I'm Italian" or "Love Me, I'm Italian",
or "Never Trust a Skinny Cook". Pizza! The best pizza in the world and
every vendor tells you that their pizza is the best! Buy a slice, thick
or thin, a square or a triangle. Just like Hot Dogs at the ballpark,
everything and I mean everything tastes great outdoors, bought from a booth,
after standing in lines to buy food even if you aren't hungry. Slush! Ah,
Slush. Every flavor you can think of, but the slush of the Feasts is
definitely Lemon Slush. So refreshing. Sausages and peppers in a roll,
meatballs in a submarine sandwich, Italian Flags, keychains and memorabilia.
Wall to wall vendors selling everything and anything having to do with Italy.
Meeting friends, listening to the bands, maybe having a cold beer in
St. Anthony's Club and being very thankful that I didn't have to drive
anywhere.I could just walk home.

This article made me hungry. I'm going to fry up some peppers and onions
and say a prayer to St. Anthony. Wow, it really is a feast of food!

August 5, 2016

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