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POST-GAZETTE, FEBRUARY 18, 2011 Page13 00abb00onno by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance Next week is president's week and that means public school vacation. Years ago, when I was a young teacher in Boston, I would plan to go on vacation during that pe- riod of time. There were sev- eral young single teachers that I had become familiar with and we all had the same idea ... vacation time ... go on vacation. Many of the people I taught with liked to ski. I tried it once and decided to stick to the warm weather sports and hobbies. If none of my colleagues wanted to head to a warmer climate, I would call old friend, Sal Meli. He lived in East Boston and worked at Polaroid enjoying a rather flexible schedule that allowed him to take winter vacations. When I told him that I was thinking of heading to Puerto Rico during the winter re- cess, he told me to include him in the plans. One teacher that I had become friendly with at Hyde Park High School, Tom Aylward, decided to join us and I headed to Colpitt's Travel Agency in Boston. I knew the vice president as he was a friend of Uncle Nick's and had taken care of his vaca- tion needs for many years when he and Aunt Dorothy decided to travel. I've forgotten the man's name, but when I gave him our time frame and budget, he planned a trip for us that included Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, all in one week. We were booked to fly to San Juan at night on the last Friday before the week's vacation would start. We were to stay at the Hotel Normandie, an older but fashionable hotel that, today, is classified as the oldest hotel in Puerto Rico. After being there for a few days, we were booked to fly to Charlotte Amalie, the capi- tal of St. Thomas and check into the Gramboco Inn, a local hotel that was fre- quented by naval officers sta- tioned on the island. When I told Babbononno about my plans, he fantasized that he could come with us, but it was impossible. He was too old but was satisfied when I told him that I would bring him back a bottle of home- made Puerto Rican rum. That Friday night, Dad, Mom, Babbononno and I picked up Sal and we headed for the airport. My colleague from Hyde Park High was being driven to the airport by another teacher who had wanted to come along but had to care for his ailing mother and couldn't. It had begun to snow and Dad questioned as to whether we would take off. Being young and positive about everything, I had him drop us off at the Eastern Airlines terminal and head back home. There was a lounge at the terminal that was owned by a former sena- tor, Mike LoPresti. I had cam- paigned for him when he ran for the senate and had also known one of his sons, Vincent, when we both at- tended English High School. When Mike spotted me, he came over to say hello and I introduced him to Sal and my teacher friend Tom who had arrived just as I did. Mike told us to check in and then head back to the lounge for a drink. At check in, we were told that the flight was going to be delayed for an hour due to the weather. Our teacher friend who couldn't come had more than one drink, and when he headed back to the parking lot, couldn't find his car as they were all covered with snow by then. He wandered around aimlessly and then began to yell for help. A state trooper heard him and found him. He brought him back to the barracks and sobered him up before letting him continue the search for his car. The rest of us didn't know this part of the story but would find out a week later. When the plane was ready to take off about an hour or two later, Mike LoPresti wouldn't let us pay for anything. I thanked him and we headed to the gate to board the plane and head south. I don't know about Tom or Sal, but I fell asleep. A stew- ardess woke me up as we were ready to land and I could see that it was almost dawn. It must have been around 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning when we landed. Just as soon as we deplaned, I could feel the warm tropical climate surrounding me, a climate that I've grown to love over the years. A Grey Line tour bus was waiting for us and brought us to the Normandie after we picked up our suitcases from the luggage area. The hotel was oval shaped with a large deck area in the middle and an Olympic sized swimming pool in the center. The room we had booked was very large and had three good sized beds which made us very happy. After check in, we changed -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST-- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 into more casual clothing and headed to the hotel res- taurant and breakfast. As we entered, I noticed a table with three or four very attrac- tive ladies sitting around it. One of them waved and as I approached, I discovered it was the stewardess who was on the flight from Boston. She and one of the other girls were from Puerto Rico and decided to show us around San Juan. We decided to head for the pool and enjoy the sun and water while we planned what we were going to do for the next few days. Sal had been to the island a couple times and knew where to go, so we left the planning up to him. Before we did anything else, I wanted to call home and let my folks know that I was safe. Back then to save money, I would call home collect and ask for myself. Whoever answered would say to the operator that I wasn't home and I would leave a message giving a relative's name. This would let, especially Mom, know that I was safe. Her problem was that she would always respond with, "I'll tell John that you called and don't for- get to wear a sweater ff it gets cold." Later in the day, Sal, Tom and I headed for Old San Juan, the colonial section of the city. We jOined a tour and saw the historic sites that amazed me as many of them had been there since around 1500, a fort and several gov- ernment buildings that were constructed by the Spanish not long after Columbus landed on the island.. Later, Sal brought us to a restau- rant and we got a sample of local dishes. I loved the food and still do. Much of it is cen- tered around roasted pork marinated in garlic, olive oil and spices. For the next few days, we head for several beaches that were recommended to us and at night, local clubs where the best in salsa music could be heard and danced to. We also spent time at several hotels, especially the ones that had casinos. Right after Cuba became off limits for American tourists, Puerto Rico passed gambling laws and several of the major hotels opened casinos to attract the tourists. It worked and the island be- came a destination for Americans who had gone to Havana in the past. I had never been inside a casino and developed something called beginner's luck. No matter what I tried, I won. I tried blackjack and won. I tried roulette and won. I tried slot machines and won. I made more money than what I had brought for spending for the entire trip. As a result, I was ready for some gift buying a few days later when we headed for St. Thomas. But, that's a story for next week ... GOD BLESS AMERICA The Socially Set {Continued from Page 91 The Original National Tour Company of "Mary Poppins" performs at the Opera March 20. to audiences around North America. With four productions cur- rently running on three con- tinents, "Mary Poppins" is one of the biggest stage mu- sical successes to emerge from London or New York in recent years. Worldwide to date, the show has grossed more than $470 million and welcomed 6.5 million guests. The musical is the winner of 25 major theatre awards around the globe, including Tony@, Olivier and Evening Standard awards. A co-production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, it opened on Broadway on November 16, 2006. Based on P.L. Travers' cherished stories and the classic 1964 Walt Disney film, "Mary Poppins" the stage play fea- tures the Academy Award - winning music and lyrics of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. The stage production has been created, in col- laboration with Cameron Mackintosh, by Academy Award-winning screen- writer Julian Fellowes, who has written the book, and the Olivier Award-winning team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who have composed new songs and ad- ditional music and lyrics. Broadway Across America will host an Open Captioned House in Boston through (Photo by Joan Marcus) Performance for the hear- ing impaired on Tuesday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. On Sat- urday, March 12 at 2 p.m. they will host an Audio Described Performance for the visually impaired. On Sunday, March 13 at 1 p.m. they will host an American Sign Language (ASL) Per- formance for the hearing impaired. Tickets for these performances may be pur- chased through Voice 617-880-2419; TrY-617-426- 3444, or via email at ADABos ton@BroadwayAcross America.com. Special VIP ticket pack- ages are available for select performances and include premium seating and a com- plimentary souvenir pro- gram. General admission tickets are currently on sale through Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787, and by vis- iting www.BroadwayAcross America.com/Boston. For groups of 15 or more, call 1-866-633-0194. Enjoy! (Be sure to visit Hilda MorriU's gardening Web site, www.bostongardens.eom. In addition to events covered and reported by the columnist, Socially Set" is compiled from various other sources such as news and press re- leases, PRNewswire services, etc.) Anthony J. Messina {Continued from Page 3) ners to be flown to the finals event in March where he will compete against nine other regional winners from across the United States and Canada during the three- day finals in front of a panel of food media, distinguished guests and renowned chefs. The overall winner will take the title, up to $20,000 in prizes and a paid apprentice- ship from one of the partici- pating chef judges. The Finals competition will be streamed live via the Almost Famous Chef website and Facebook page again this year. Fans can interact with the participating chefs and media, as well as each other to get all the updates and insider information dur- ing the competition. "I am elated to have com- peted against fellow culinary students who have raised the bar in this competition," says Anthony. "I believe in my vision and my abilities and was excited to see the judge's response to my dish. I took their comments to heart and will apply their advice in Napa." For further information on the competition, visit www. almos tfamouschef . com, www. thesparklinglife.com, become a fan on Facebook or follow the competition on Twitter at AFChefComp. K j  Fully Insured Lic #017936 hanical Heating & Air Conditioning Sales, Service & Installation Ken Shallow 617.593.6211 kenskjs@aol.com