Posts Tagged ‘long island’

Memories are Motionless

June 2, 2016

“Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.” – Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

tribeca $1900 300sqft

Earlier today, taking a break from painting, I googled studio prices in NYC to check out the going rate. The above studio is on the market in Tribeca. For 300 sq. ft. you will pay $1875.00/month!

Once upon a time, I rented a painting studio of my own. The space was larger than the the space above. For 400 sq. ft. I paid $400.00/month. Situated above a clock store in Williston Park on Long Island, a decidedly unhip but affordable and convenient location at the time,  northern light flooded my studio all day long. I was in heaven.

Excited to have a dedicated workspace I could get as dirty as I wanted, I laid down a roll of cheap linoleum, moved in my work table and supplies and got to work.

One morning as I arrived, the proprietor of the store below me was standing amidst a forest of chiming grandfather clocks, front door open. He introduced himself right away and asked me what I was up to, mentioning he always heard music playing. He then said he enjoyed (rather than objected to) the music and seemed a bit tickled to find out that someone was making art in the space above him instead of preparing tax returns or teaching traffic school.

I fondly recalled my studio days as I stepped back from the easel this afternoon to assess the progress of a new painting. My studio is the second bedroom of the two bedroom apartment we rent in Queens. I never did put down linoleum, but I guess I should have.

It’s fun to fantasize about the days when I painted full time as I spend my days off from a dreadful office job. I’m not complaining, per se, but occasionally on days like these I enjoy torturing myself by thumbing through an artist book I own called Studios by the Sea. 

To refer back to Bachelard in Poetics of Space, he writes: “…even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.”

This is so true. At heart, I’m a romantic. A big part of me loves to dream and yearn. Loves the yearning part more than the actual getting. The aroma of coffee beans in the grinder more delicious than drinking the brew. As I flipped through Studios by the Sea I wished and imagined. Sometimes walking around NYC, I will find myself gazing longingly at a 19th century townhouse on the Upper East Side — yearning to live there. And enjoying every minute of yearning.

During my recovery from a broken ankle last summer, I would pass a particular townhouse on East 63rd St. on the way to physical therapy. A painting hanging on the wall by artist Caio Fonseca was visible through the expansive front window. It held my eye each time I passed by. His work is a favorite of mine. As I stopped to gaze, I conjured an entire fantasy scenario based upon seeing his work hanging in that space. On the landing beneath the painting an elegant ebony grand piano, keyboard exposed, was poised to be played. Above hung a glittering crystal chandelier. Aware Fonseca played the piano, I was convinced it was a Steinway and that Fonseca lived in the townhouse.

But he didn’t live in the townhouse as I would come to find out. The scene – his painting, the piano, the splendor of the decor  – had been staged by a real estate agent, likely another “romantic” like myself. That agent, through his or her design, had gifted me many evenings of yearning and pleasurable wanderings.

Fantasy is better than the reality. I suppose people who invest in their “dream house” spend the rest of their lives “making it even better than they imagined” with continual remodeling because intrinsically they know that dreams are never realized. Otherwise, they would no longer be dreams.

…the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” – Bachelard


Swan Pond

April 17, 2010











Joyous Spring on Dosoris Island!

Click on the photos to make them larger!

Hello, Hicksville: The Woodland Avenue Years – Part 4

January 29, 2010

125 King St., Hicksville, N.Y.

Moving in the middle of kindergarten from Brooklyn to Hicksville filled me with anxiety.

What I remember most about that first day at Woodland Ave. Elementary School were my nylon ankle socks — diaphanous, cuff-less pedi-sheaths, which my parents purchased in bulk from a pushcart on Delancey St.

Standing awkwardly in the front of the room as my teacher introduced me to the class, I felt my sock creeping, inch by inch, down my Achille’s tendon before it disappeared completely into the dark abyss of my clunky Buster Brown shoe. Regrettably, and directly, its mate followed suit.

Remember that sensation? When the bare heel of your foot suddenly, unexpectedly, made contact with the chilled leather innards of your shoe? And how your unstoppable sock would aggresively bunch up near the arch of your foot?

How I longed for a pair of frilly anklets from Macy’s, cottony soft and lace-trimmed, with just the right amount of huggable tension in their fold-over cuffs.

Alas, a wardrobe upgrade was not meant to be. At least, not insofar as my parent’s budget would allow at the time.

Woodland Ave. Elementary School in Hicksville, N.Y.

Fashion concerns notwithstanding, at Woodland Ave. Elementary School, male teachers seemed to outnumber the females. Why that was so, I’m not sure. One thing of which I am sure is that when it came to the highest ratio of oddball teachers, male to female, the males ruled.

One of the worst was my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Sena — a dictatorial behemoth in a gray suit who lived with his mother.

In his desk drawer Mr. Sena kept a wooden paddle about the size of a cricket bat, which he used to punish the boys. If one of them talked when they shouldn’t have (silence reigned supreme in his class), Mr. Sena would make the boy stand in front of the classroom and hold out his hands, palms-up. Then he’d whack them until they turned deep red.

When he was finished, he’d make the boy “thank him.”

One day, when we were supposed to be reading silently in class, he caught me whispering to “my neighbor.” Remember how certain teachers would refer to the kid sitting next to you as “your neighbor”? As if you’d ever petition a ten year-old for an egg or cup of flour.

Slowly and deliberately, Mr. Sena began tapping the pink eraser of his No. 2 pencil against his desk blotter, all the while glaring at me intensely. His bad voodoo pierced right through me. It was terrifying.

This is what Mr. Sena wrote in my autograph book when I graduated sixth grade:

Check out the rigid, lower case “t’s” in his handwriting. They look like they could impale a child or launch a Crusade.

Thankfully, all the male teachers weren’t sadistic. A few of them were downright wonderful. In particular, Mr. Garth E. Somers, who genuinely liked kids and who believed in me and helped me believe in myself when I needed it most. I will never forget him.

His “t-bars” do not invoke fear. Nothing about him invoked fear. He was all about enlightenment and encouragement.

I’m sad to say that I lost track of him after elementary school. But I imagine that, upon retirement, he would have returned to his native state of Maine. It was a place he had loved and spoke about often.

So, wherever you happen to be, Mr. Somers — thank you. P.S. I sure could have used you in Junior High.

Bye Bye Brooklyn – Part 3

January 20, 2010

It’s hard to leave your friends.

My dad was an amateur photographer and shot this picture of me and my friends in front of 893 Schenck Ave. I was three years old when it was taken.

I’m fourth from the left in the bottom row — the girl with the precision-cut bangs (my mom must have used a slide caliper) and Hopalong Cassidy wristwatch, a gift from my parents after I’d learned how to tell time.

For those next couple of years, if someone were to ask: “Do you have the time?” I could answer, “Yes.” Life was good.

But not long after I turned five, my dad announced that he was set to join the diaspora of Brooklynites fleeing to the suburbs. That our neighborhood was changing (How so? From worse to worser?). Every weekend, we began taking family car rides to Long Island just to look around.

Over my mom’s protests, my dad put a downpayment on a house in Hicksville. Before we knew it, moving day was scheduled for early March, right smack in the middle of kindergarten.

Admittedly, there were some things about Brooklyn I didn’t mind leaving behind. For example:

1) PS 137.

In my kindergarten class, when it was your birthday, you had to lie face down over the teacher Mrs. Gosden’s lap in front of the whole class. First, they’d sing “Happy Birthday.” Then she would lift up your dress and slap you on the tush, tallying her slap-count to match your years of age.

That wasn’t all. The next words out of her mouth were: “and a pinch to grow an inch…” — after which she’d make good her promise by targeting the same anatomical area.

Ever since I had entered kindergarten, I’d dreaded the arrival of my birthday but was too ashamed to tell my parents.

But fate, as it would turn out, was on my side. To my enormous relief, I would be spared the mortification of having my underpants exposed to everyone in my class because my birthday fell on a national holiday. On Lincoln’s birthday, school was closed.

2) The scary smoke stacks across the street from where I lived.

At last, I could release my fear of being stuffed into the smokestacks by a “stranger.”

3) Polio shots or shots of any kind in the school cafeteria.

I was not going to miss the gun-metal, prison-issue cafeteria tables and benches — which folded out of the walls like Murphy Beds and provided seating for the tear-stained throng of wailing, drooling, post-vacinated kids and our respective collection of sticky lollipops matted with hair.

4) Sandy, the scourge of  kindergarten, who insisted on throwing my coat on the floor every single day so he could hang his own on hook #1.

Hooks were assigned alphabetically. I didn’t care where I hung my coat, but Sandy did, and, apparently, so did my perverted teacher, who insisted on punishing him daily — thereby prolonging our vicious little cycle of misery.

5) Peeing contests staged by boys who lived in my building.

They’d line up at the curb, unzip their flies and enthusiastically expel golden arcs of urine into the air just to see whose would splash down the farthermost.

But other things, irreplaceable things, would be lost in the move, and that made me sad:

1) My vibrant network of friends.

2) Our neighbors (and honorary godparents), Aunt Eva and Uncle Hal.

Eva was drop dead glamorous and smoked her Pall Malls in a cigarette holder. Hal was a mensch who worked as a sales manager for Mattel. The night before they would hit the toy stores, my sister and I each received a pair of Mickey Mouse ears from Hal — not the cheap, plastic headband-style ears, but the genuine article:  black felt cap with Mouse Club insignia and ears sewn on, just like the Mouseketeers wore on T.V. Talk about bliss.

3) Knish runs to Pitkin Ave.

Every type of knish you could imagine was sold on Pitkin Ave. My mom’s favorite was the cabbage knish. My sister and I liked potato. My dad, not a knish man, would always go for a Hebrew National hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard.

4) The carousel at Coney Island.

My sister, Connie, riding the carousel

This carousel had a brass ring you could grab for — which is something of a rarity as far as carousels go. My arms were too short to reach the brass ring, but I loved wrapping them around the horse’s neck and running my fingers inside its flaring nostrils. I also liked sitting on the benches because that’s what the adults did.

In the picture above, I’m standing on the carousel platform next to my sister. I’m holding onto a pole. Check out the guy in the fedora behind her. He looks like he hangs out around smokestacks.

Which is probably why I was not in the saddle. I wanted to keep an eye on him.

5) The subway.

When we weren’t on foot, and for lack of a better choice (i.e., being chauffeured around by my dad), we rode the subway. We were always able to get where we wanted to go with a token.

The subway cars were not silver then, but black. The seats were actually caned. Yellow in color, they looked just like corn on the cob. And the fare was only 15 cents.

Although my mom had never learned how to drive a car, she’d always loved riding in one. For another type of person, moving to the suburbs sans drivers license — where subways were non-existent — might have proven to be an insurmountable obstacle. But not for her.

Yes, she would deign to ride buses, when necessary, but her preferred mode of transportation was the automobile. This inclination of hers would lead her in pursuit of a rather unconventional means — at least, when it came to most mothers of the 1960s — for getting around town.

Thumbing her nose at convention, and in the interest of expedience, she would take up hitchhiking.

Them Apples

November 4, 2009

themapplesSo, how do you like them?!

Is there a better way to celebrate autumn than to visit a cider mill?

Yes! You can visit the cider mill you used to visit as a kid. In my case, it was the Jericho Cider Mill on Long Island, which is still thriving after all these years.

CiderSignOh, the memories that visiting the mill brought back to me. Memories of all the leaves I had raked during junior high school, hoping to attract the notice of the boy who lived next door. The distant scent of burning leaves in the crisp afternoon air, mulled cider cooking on the stove, the breathtaking vibrancy of the north shore of Long Island during this time of year (of which I’ve caught a glimpse).

As a result, since moving back to New York, I have visited this mill three times.

First, it was for Cameo apples, a gallon of cider, homemade blackberry preserves and baked apple crisp.

The second time, it was for more Cameo apples and, also, some Honey Crisp (m-m-m), another gallon of cider, and two apple turnovers for the road.

This third time, the crate of Rome apples were so gorgeous and so red, it took all my willpower to resist buying some of those, too.

romeapplesBut we’d already selected a juicy group of Golden Delicious and MacIntosh, another gallon of cider, jar of Orange Marmalade (I just love it on toasted wheat English muffins), and 3 Oatmeal raisin cookies to savor later on with our evening tea.

Not to worry. It’s only November 4th. There’s still time for at least one more car ride to Long Island. I mean, how could anyone resist the charm of this little cider mill. But, I’ll have to learn to do that, eventually. Either that, or get fat.


I’d almost forgotten that today had started out on rather a wrong note.

During the past 4 days, we have been without hot water in the morning for 3 of them (h-e-l-l-o, New York apartments), which meant no wake-up shower for me, which kind of throws off my whole day.

However, many good things did happen later on, the culmination of which was our trip to the cider mill — as a sort of celebration:

1.  This morning, J.C. finally was able to process his N.Y. driver’s license at the DMV due to the arrival of the coveted social security card in the mail (in N.Y., it seems, you are either a non-person or a “person of interest,” without that card). Someday — “and that day may never come” (so said Don Corleone) — the NY DMV may permit him to actually register the car and obtain the illusive N.Y. plates. If that ever occurs, it will indeed be a joyous day.

2.  We each found a stylishly attractive winter coat at the Burlington Coat Factory, which happened to be stone’s throw from the DMV.

3.  Last night — the unexpected events of which I will describe in the next blog post — we purchased warm and waterproof winter boots at Clark’s in midtown.

4.  And just for the hell of it, we bought a snow shovel at Ace Hardware (to dig out the car if it snows during alternate-side-of-the-street-parking days) and tucked it away in the trunk.

We are so prepared.

The last bit of good news is that I emailed the go-to-adminstrator-manager person at the law firm where I used to work right before moving to CA, who thought it was “great to hear from me” and said I should call him first thing on Monday.

So…maybe a job in the offing (fingers crossed).

This little vacation we’ve been on (albeit a working vacation — many hours spent at the computer watching tutorials and honing our respective skills) — is about to soon, sigh, come to an end.

But, as I blurted out last night as we were strolling down Lexington Avenue: “Don’t you just LOVE this city? I do!”


Oh, by the way, for those of you who’d been following the saga of my Saturn, right before leaving California — guess what was forwarded in the mail to me from Sacramento, CA today?


Arrrgh….guess what, California? I don’t even miss you. So there.

Brick House Revisited

October 29, 2009


My childhood home, from age 6-up, in Hicksville, NY

The other day, we were driving out to Ikea on Long Island and I thought: since we’ll be in Hicksville, anyway, why not drive past my childhood home? So, that’s what we did.

I am pleased to report that, at least, from outside appearances, it hadn’t changed all that much.

The front of the house was still covered in brick — every one of which had been laid by my father and his friend Nick, an old school Italian and Master of Masonry — on one sunny Saturday, from dawn till dusk, back in the 1960s.

Trickling hose and trowel in-hand, wheel barrow at my knees, I acted as their assistant, mixing mortar all day long in the driveway. I guess I was about 11 or 12, and excited to help out.

Everything about the old house looked the same, except, perhaps, for the landscaping. The flowers were new and artfully arranged. As were the bushes. There was also a healthy carpet of emerald green sod.

If my father were still alive, he would wave his hand in irritation and say: “Sod? Come on! A waste of money, and I’ll tell you why…”

His secret formula for greening up the lawn was to stockpile the fallout of iron filings produced by his lathe in the garage, sift them into a sack of lime, and then disseminate the elixir over our property via a spreader. It must have worked well because our lawn was always pretty darn green.

As for the bushes, there used to be several yews planted in front of our house. But, one winter, long ago, the oil deliveryman spilled fuel on the bushes, which turned them brown. Not long after, they started to rot.

So my mother sued the fuel company.

A few months later, she and I rode the bus to Small Claims Court, where she was awarded $100, by default. No one from the oil company even bothered showing up.

My parents eventually received a check in the mail, but never replanted. The cash settlement went directly into the bank. The bushes got browner and browner and eventually morphed into a crusty eyesore.

Dead shrubbery aside, what mattered most to them from the very beginning were the bricks. Particularly, that they were “old.”


Back then, to incite the envy of your neighbors, bricks were more effective than painted shingles, no matter what the color. Bricks announced to the block that your family had money in the bank. My mother opined that embedding randomly placed flagstones among the bricks would add a certain panache.


What the neighbors didn’t know was that “our” bricks had been purloined from the front lawn of a house on the other side of town, which had been hit by the wrecking ball. According to my father, that meant they were up for grabs.

As a bonus, they happened to be the much coveted “old bricks” (weatherworn, slightly chipped, and in varying shades of terra cotta) as opposed to the spiffy, red, brand new bricks, which my mother eschewed as “lacking in character.”

My father and I made many a pre-dawn raid on the lawn of that wrecked house, stacking the back of his station wagon with scores of old bricks until we had amassed a sufficient amount of to get the job done.

Each one of our brick-runs was then followed up with a cozy trip to The Donut Man.

As a result, it seems that I have inherited from my parents a love of bricks. I love how they grow warm to the touch when heated up by the sun. How crepuscular rays intensify their color. I especially love the memories attached to them.

Here in Jackson Heights, whenever I look outside any one of my windows, I see bricks. The building in which I live is also brick.

ourbldg-lo res

So, I suppose it’s no wonder, then, that I like living here — ambulance sirens, thumping car stereos, and abundant rain notwithstanding. It’s all about the bricks.

Falling in Love Again with The City

October 24, 2009

horsecopI love that the NYPD, mounted on horses, patrols our block. Not that we’re so special…there just happens to be several elementary schools in our vicinity. It’s so much fun to see a horse going by just as you step outside the door.

On this day of the horse, we were on our way to “the city” (in case you’re wondering, I was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Long Island in the middle of kindergarten — a story in itself — as a result, like other Brooklynites and Long Islanders of yore, I’ve called Manhattan, “the city,” since, like, forever.

A sort of mini-mission I’ve undertaken after being back in N.Y. (at least, mentally, for now) is that I want to visit parts of the city that I’d either ignored and never seen, taken for granted, or simply forgotten about during all those years that I was living here before.

First on the agenda was The Museum of the City of New York. I’d heard about it, but never been. New York Magazine had recommended a photography exhibit they had on view.

Located on Fifth Ave. at 103rd St., we boarded the #7 train to Grand Central Station from Jackson Heights. At GC, we switched to the #6 local and got off at 103rd St. and Lexington Ave. We walked 3 blocks or so to Fifth Ave.

The MCNY is a stately mansion, fronted by White House columns, with winding marble staircases, mahogany ballustrades, and towering, sky-lighted ceilings. A beautiful, old building. We’d come to see an exhibit of photos titled: “The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks.”

11668Above is a sample of Meyerwitz’s work, the photographer we wanted to see. The show was enjoyable from a native New Yorker’s standpoint. I recognized many of the landscapes, which, aside from their comfortable familiarity, induced in me tiny bouts of nostalgia for the days when there were more trees in the city, when N.Y. and Long Island were less developed.

But — the show itself disappointed in that I didn’t experience transcendence.

Another exhibition, however, called “The Edge of N.Y. – Waterfront Photographs” presented work by a husband and wife (Len Jenshel and Diane Cook) — both, photographers in their own right. That show was spectacular. Each haunting image, whether it was a monumental bridge, some pilings, or a scene picturing a desolate area of N.Y.C. transported me to an exalted place.

Leaving the museum, we headed north on Fifth, with the intention of crossing over to the westside at 110th St., which borders the northern edge of Central Park (also called Central Park North — who knew?).

It made me think of the 1972 blaxploitation film “Across 110th Street,” which featured an amalgam of NYC cops, the Mafia and Harlem crime bosses. It just so happened that I’d re-watched it on cable not long before moving to back New York, so it was fun to be “on location.”

Then, right inside the park, surprise of surprises, I saw a Knish stand. A N.Y. knish topped my list of foods that I missed and longed to eat.

KnishnoshCPNaturally, we ordered two-with-mustard (these knishes were baked and not deep fried, which, I suppose, is good…) and sat down at the table as soon as Mr. Typical New Yorker, above, kindly vacated. While knishnoshing, we gazed at the lovely tableau before us, another lake in Central Park!



Our appetite temporarily sated, we turned left on 110th St. and walked toward Broadway. Across the street on our right was a ten-story brick building with a large cage affixed to the roof. In my 2009 mindset, I thought: Oh, look. Condos with a tennis court on top. That’s nice.

But, then I saw the sign above the door: Lincoln House of Correction. A prison! Right in the middle of the city. During their one-hour R&R in the caged rooftop “yard,” the prisoners certainly have a pleasant view of the park.

We continued on down Broadway, which, as we reached 96th Street, become more populated with stores and less populated with sketchy characters.

One, sitting on a park bench, suddenly asked me for the time. My street smarts kicked in involuntarily, I’m relieved to report.

“Sorry, I don’t have a watch,” I told him, thinking wouldn’t he just love it if I dug into my purse and pulled something out. As if a twenty-something guy in an expensive sweat suit wasn’t carrying his own cell phone.

The Upper Westside was once a favorite neighborhood of mine (back when that most fantastic of bookstores, Shakespeare & Co., resided there). Now, it seems to have been taken over by too many Banana Republic-, Gap-, Target-type stores.

Too bad.

So, at 70-something street, we hopped on the downtown #1 train and rode to Hell’s Kitchen. It was about 2:30 p.m. and we were getting hungry. We stopped for lunch in a charming little Italian place called “Cara Mia” on Ninth Ave. at 45th St.

cara mia

I made a note to revisit it for dinner sometime, maybe pre-theater, if I get tickets to “Jersey Boys,” which I’m dying to see.

Nine Years Later

July 30, 2009


July 24th was the nine-year anniversary of my father’s death.

Where did the time go?

The photo above (I’m on the left, my younger sister is on the right) was taken, possibly by my mother, at the beach in Coney Island, Brooklyn:


Some of our best times as kids were spent at the beach.

My dad was one of the few senior citizens who, when visiting the casinos in Atlantic City, brought along his swim trunks. He liked to take a restorative dip in the gray waters of the Atlantic before heading back home to Long Island. Beached hypodermic needles and used condoms notwithstanding, he swore by the magical healing properties he’d attributed to the sea.

One of his favorite poems was Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Maybe that’s part of the reason he revered salt water. On any given hot summer’s day during my childhood, or if he was particularly thirsty, he might spontaneously recite a few lines from it (which, long ago, he had memorized in grade school):

All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody Sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,

We struck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Those were the salad days for our family. Days of reciting poetry, of weekends at the beach, dancing in the kitchen or committing our imagination to a good book. Both of my parents were big readers back then. A few years after this picture was taken, I would also share in their passion.

Perhaps, to guide us through the troubled times that would eventually overtake our family, the bedtime stories he told us each night changed from tales of chocolate soda fountains and enchanted forests to poetry recitations. Invictus (Henley) was one of his favorite poems. These last two lines have stayed with me all my life:

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

In raising us, he did his best with what he had to work with, which wasn’t a lot. His own father was a brute. So, for that, I thank him.

Right before he died, he was diligently at work, emailing Italy and Canada and copying us kids, as he cobbled together his family tree. He never was able to finish it. Death would claim him rapidly and unexpectedly, in just three months’ time.

While wading through the things he left behind, I came across an essay he had written in his forties, around the time he’d returned to school to get his bachelors degree. He had saved the essay for thirty years.

It’s a wonderful glimpse into the past, particularly, as it relates to the Italian immigrant experience in Brooklyn, N.Y. For me, it’s another piece to the puzzle that was my father.

The Old Neighborhood

by Frank Ambrico


When I think of the old neighborhood, I feel as though I were raised in Italy.

Most of the people in our neighborhood were Italian either by birth of descent. When you heard two people speaking to each other, it was almost always in Italian. As a child, it was a wonder to me that they could understand each other’s rapid conversation. The dialects were so different. As I grew older, however, I too learned to understand most dialects, Northern Italian and Sicilian being the most difficult to learn. The other dialects that were spoken by most of the other neighbors were only slight variations form the Neapolitan my parents spoke.

The music that was heard in our neighborhood, as would be expected, was Italian, too. Radios were always turned to stations VOV, WLIB or WEVD. Tulio Carmanarde, Nino Martino and Carol Butti were the favorite singers.

In the summer, all the religious societies held “feasts” in honor of their patron saint. There, you would find all kinds of favorite foods sold at stands where they were cooked or baked.

The “feast” that was held in honor of Saint Rocco seemed to be everyone’s favorite. This celebration always included a grease pole. This pole was as tall and round as a lamppost. At the top of the pole was a crosspiece loaded with fine foods and a ten-dollar bill. The pole was then covered with a thick layer of grease. Whoever could reach the top would take all that was there. Long lines of young boys would form to get a chance to climb the pole, some, as two-man teams, some as singles using a rope with a slipknot. This sport would go on for hours attracting hundreds of people.

There were many summer evenings that I enjoyed in a neighbor’s front yard singing Italian folksongs or just listening to the conversation of the adults. The singing would usually begin when some of the musicians from our block brought their instruments over and played a few tunes. All of the would-be “Caruso’s” would immediately join in and so the sing-along began.

There never was a shortage of singers; the problem was to get some of them to stop singing. Absolute quiet and undivided attention was expected when someone performed individually, even if he was unpopular. The custom was to show enthusiastic applause, and a spokesman would beg the performer to honor the group with another song even if the first one was terrible. Sometimes when the music went on past midnight and the children were in their homes asleep, the celebration would take on a quieter air.

At this point, the enthusiasm for music would taper off and the neighborhood comedians would take center stage. An Italian, it seems, cannot tell a joke the way an American does, with just a few lines. A three-line American joke becomes no less than a fifteen-minute production. The gestures and pantomime intermingled with the story make for an incredibly funny performance.

The comedy would eventually give way to the more serious or sentimental talk by the old folks about Italy or their youth. Occasionally, I was able to escape my mother’s eye and sit there with my eyelids at half-mast trying to fight off sleep so that I could listen to the stories the old folks would tell. They always enchanted us youngsters.

Whenever I happen to overhear a familiar Italian dialect or detect an aroma of Italian cooking, I can’t help but think of the old neighborhood.