“In a quaint caravan, there’s a lady they call the Gypsy,” the song says.
In South Brooklyn at autumn’s end, the quaint caravan isn’t a brightly colored, circus trailer set up for temporary living. It’s a storefront. Any vacant storefront on an avenue can become home to the lady and her family — the Gypsies.
Heavy red and […]
Friday after the nonnas finish cleaning the church, they visit the fish market to buy dinner. Whiting, cod, calamari, sole, shrimp, scallops, mussels. Each nonna has to smell each piece to make sure it’s fresh. If one sniffs a fillet that is less than fresh, she wrinkles her nose and invites the others to take a […]
On a hot July afternoon, the nonnas are sitting on folding chairs at the curb, crocheting lace trim on linen handkerchiefs, and watching their grandchildren play in water spewing from a fire hydrant. “Too hot to cook tonight,” one says, “maybe I make sandwiches.”
The others almost in a chorus pooh-pooh her. “You know you’re going […]
Holy Thursday, twilight is descending as the nonnas leave the seventh and last church they visit. They are eager to return to their neighborhood to shop for an essential ingredient– dried grain, or wheat kernels– for the pastiera, or sweet Easter pie.
“I’m getting the dried grain,” a nonna says. “I’ll soak it and bake the pie […]
There are no flowery fields of clover in Brooklyn. So on hot summer nights, streets and sidewalks become living rooms and tiny backyards become campgrounds.
The nonnas’ grandsons gather their supplies for their campfire feast: a rickety four-legged metal burner that should hold a can of Sterno, twigs and newspapers to place on the burner, […]
It is a Friday afternoon and the nonnas are cleaning the church. The door opens, letting in a burst of winter air, a late arrival enters. Under her heavy coat, she wears an outfit much like that of the others — black dress, a colorful front apron. But she has accessorized her costume with a necklace. No […]
It is midafternoon on a blustery winter day; the sun is hiding behind a cloud. The nonnas sit around a kitchen table, each crocheting a lacy gift for a June bride. Their fingers move nimbly to cast onto their crochet hooks the finest cotton thread — thin enough to sew seams on a silk wedding dress. There is […]
The basement with its laundry room and functional kitchen becomes a ballroom on New Year’s Eve. Twisted colorful crepe-paper streamers criss-cross the space’s low ceiling. The radio is turned up loud and brings in the best music of the night from New York City’s Hotel Roosevelt.
Each year a different neighborhood nonna hosts the year-end festivities. Each […]
On Christmas Eve, the nonnas meet on the corner near the Church. Each talks nonstop, paying no attention to the others, about the feast she has served for the Vigilia. Seven fishes. Eight side dishes. Baccala. Struffole. Panettone. Zeppole. By the time they reach the Church, they are out of breath. They genuflect hastily, cross […]
One of the nonnas’ greatest joys on Thanksgiving morning is to dress the grandchildren in ragamuffin outfits for their run around the neighborhood begging for coins, candy, crayons, or “anything for Thanksgiving.” The nonnas take the old custom seriously, and try to outdo one another in providing the children with clothing that makes them look as […]