Entering Hanover Street from the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market end, guarded as it is by no less than Goody Glover's Irish Pub, we passed such landmarks as Mother Anna's, Dolce Vita, Modern Pastry, and Nick Varano's coveted and costly Strega restaurant (take a look and while you do, enjoy the music: http://www.stregaristorante.com). As if some Hollywood prop master was trying to accentuate the point, that this was authentic and truly "Little Italy", there was a new shiny-red imported Fiat Cinquecento (Fiat 500) parked at the curb (difficult real estate to get on Hanover St. by the way) and a little farther along, to ice the cake, was not just a Vespa but a Vespa with matching fire engine red side car! Its owner told us he'd purchased his sweet setup in Arizona back in '72. I'd never seen one before (see photo album).
The feast itself wasn't totally reminiscent of the kind of festival we'd grown accustomed to in Calitri. Here was a celebration more on the order of an American carnival mixed in with the trappings of an Italian party ... basketball hoop shooting and 'wack-o-mole' game booths intermingled with shaved ice, pizza, sausage-peppers, even a cigar stand. Continuing our casual walk through the festival, we came upon "The Fury of Fleet Street", Tony DeMarco, sitting at a table under a tent canopy in the refreshing shade. Tony had battled his way from the streets of his blue-collar, North End, immigrant neighborhood to the top of the boxing world. In 1955, his determination earned him the title of "Undisputed Welterweight Boxing Champion of the World". There was Tony in the flesh meeting and greeting passersby. As a kid, I'm sure I spent many a Friday night along with my father watching Tony's bouts. It would have been on that black and white Hallicrafter TV of ours. Friday night fights were featured on The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports with its catchy theme song "To look sharp and be on the ball, to feel sharp ...." Hopefully someone besides myself remembers that show or possibly the tune. Anyone? It was an honor to speak with Tony, the "Italian Stallion" long before pop-culture created "Rocky", and shake the hand of a true king of the TKO (technical knock-out).
Any stroll along Hanover Street wouldn't be complete without a stop at a particularly interesting alleyway. We never miss stopping by. Nestled in a ten foot wide alleyway between 4 and 8 Battery Street lies one of Boston's more curious street-side attractions. For there, behind a faded, dull-green gated doorway, which always seems to be closed when we happen by, you'll find the "Wall of Saints". Basically this aptly named wall is just that, an outdoor shrine with labeled portraits of saints everywhere. Think of it as the Sistine Chapel of Boston's Little Italy! Careful to avoid fire escapes and extending air conditioners, the images of saints ascend toward heaven, row after row up the exterior brick walls of the adjacent buildings. Just above the placard announcing you have arrived at "All Saints Way", on the crosspiece above the door connecting one side of the alley with the other and arrayed in a line of solidarity like pieces on a chess board are an assortment of religious figures flanking a large statue of Jesus. They are guarded by two angles, one to either side, and shaded by overhanging geraniums all surmounted by an illuminated blue backdrop, on the order of a large hoop, completely surrounding a statue of the Virgin. Strands of Christmas type lights further accent this off-the-beaten-path attraction. Even though the door may be locked much can still be seen from the street since the framed photos, plaques and cards of saints, like an ever growing vine, extend to a considerable height up the walls of the alley behind the door. Its creator, Peter Baldassari, said to have collected holy cards as a child, has decorated the walls with, by some estimates, thousands of saintly images. The weathered frame of St. Joseph, a longtime member of this distinguished pantheon and namesake of the day's festival, can be identified by a purple banner with bright yellow lettering. On the wall along with the saints, Baldassari has posted an old Italian saying somewhat equivalent to the familiar American saying "Don't mess with Texas" with his adage mindful to "Mock all and sundry things, but leave the saints alone." Good advice!
At some point of course we had to think about dinner. With so many places to choose from, there in the heart of "Little Italy", it made any decision difficult so we relied on advice and reputation. Mare had been told of a place called La Summa, on Fleet Street, named for a loved grandmother and known for its Sicilian cuisine. We found it without difficulty and peeked inside. It was a simple, unadorned, one-room affair and even at lunchtime was filled. A festival like we were attending only added to the flood of patrons and obviously amplified the demands on the staff to the point of overload. We could only imagine how it would be later at dinnertime. It is not uncommon to see lines of would-be diners extending down the streets awaiting tables at the better known restaurants. We kept La Summa in mind and moved on. What better way to get some advice than to ask someone hopefully far more familiar with the area cuisine, a local. This wasn't difficult at all since this was their festival and they were everywhere. Not really trying to typecast, profile or stereotype anyone, I chose a middle-aged well tanned fella sporting a white Italian undershirt accented with multiple gold chains and tufts of chest hair! All right, so maybe I was searching for a particular look. On his advice we headed for Massimino's on Endicott Street a few blocks away from the epicenter of the festa (festival). Only mid-afternoon, we hoped to check-out the place.