My 27th birthday cake was not actually a cake. Instead, six ricotta-filled canolis lined an old-school wooden box. A package all tied up with string. Yes, sweets are perhaps my favorite thing.
“Yeah, the guy took them in the back and squirted the filling in, so it’s fresh!” my dad quipped, excited to have brought Boston’s North End, a traditionally Italian neighborhood, into my celebration. My big day, celebrated August 15th (thanks for the birthday wishes, jerks!) marks the start of the 100+ year-old Fisherman’s Feast to celebrate the Madonna del Socorrso.
Our suites were located on the corner of North and Fleet Streets, the virtual apex of the celebration. On either end, vendors selling everything from oysters to orchiette, Italian sausage to limoncello stretched along the 17th Century streets once home to Paul Revere and other revolutionaries. The scent of the food was toxic (for my waist, that is) and shouts of Mangia! Mangia! could be heard over the Baaaahstan drawl.
The festival begins on the Thursday after August 15th with a Semana Santa-esque procession of the Madonna from her tiny blue chapel to the waters of the Boston Harbor, where she blesses it for good yield. The next four days are full of raffles, street performers and dancing, capping off with a parish girl flying from a third story window to the blue-draped Madonna to bless her and pray to her.
My family did little else but eat and drink, but I noticed wide white ribbons around the neighborhood in bars, pizzerias and family-run delis. The ribbon framed an image of the Madonnas and saints, and patrons had pinned dollar bills as a donation. I reached into my purse for a buck and pinned it to the picture of Saint Lucy, my Confirmation Saint, whose stature (eyes in bowl included!) can be found in a small chapel in the neighborhood. Gotta have my eyesight to be able to feast my eyes on Feasts like this one.
The Freedom Trail, marking the hallmarks of American Independence, were just steps away, snaking past Paul Rever’s House long before the North End was home to Little Italy. Even the tell-tale red brick sidewalks seemed to seep up the smell of Italian sausage, which we could smell over our breakfast each morning!
Mangia and music was the theme of the night. Right below our inn, a rickety stage was set up and the over-the-hill band members, dressed in the azue blue and buttercream of the Madonna’s veil, belted out “Notte en Roma.” We settled in for a beer, unsure if our already pasta-heavy bellies would hold any more oysters or pizelles. Stand after stand boasted Northeastern and Italian fare, tempting even the youngest entrepreneurs.
I’m privy to any summer festival – the food, the characters, the carnival rides. While Feria de Sevilla is hands-down my favorite (not to mention most extravagent!), I can’t turn down a good fling. People in the North End seemed to be there for the same reasons: a momentary escape for good food and good company.
What’s your favorite summer festival?