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March 11, 2011     Post-Gazette
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March 11, 2011

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POST-GAZETTE, MARCH 11,2011 Page 13 by John Christoforo Babb' onno A Nostalgic Remembrance Ash Wednesday took place this week. In the Christian religions, it is the beginning of Lent, the forty days before Easter. In the Catholic tra- ditions, a celebration is held during the week that pre- cedes Ash Wednesday. The French, Spanish, Portu- guese and Italian cultures go overboard making merry before the solemn days that follow. The French call the festivities, Mardi Gras, the Spanish and Portuguese, Carnival, and the Italians Carnevale. The celebrations are party time for the folks who participate, and in the past, I have been one of them, experiencing the fes- tivities in cities like New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, San Juan and as a musician, Boston. The famous New York res- taurant, Mamma Leone's opened in Boston back in December 1972, on the first floor of a parking garage located above the Mass Pike, just off Copley Square. After the Leone family sold the original restaurant located in New York's theater dis- trict, the corporation that bought it decided to expand and Boston was one of the locations. Just before lent in the early spring of 1973, the management decided to offer Carnivale entertain- ment at the Boston restau- rant and called Uncle Nick, who at that point in time, was the vice president of the musicians' union in Boston. They wanted four small bands to stroll among the tables of diners during the week that preceded Lent. My uncle put the whole thing together due to a busi- ness meeting with the ex- ecutives of the Boston opera- tion. He then called for a meeting at his office with the 20 musicians who would be part of the 4 bands and everything was laid out in detail. Uncle Nick, himself would lead the first band of five who would be dressed like chefs: checkered pants, white shirts, white aprons, and tall white chef's hats. The other three bands would be dressed with black pants, white shirts, red white and green sashes around our waists and caps with Italian flags on the front. I was to lead a novelty band. It in- cluded an accordionist, a musician playing wash- board, Dad playing washtub bass and yours truly playing kazoo and a toy friscoletto, a plastic flute with a push pull handle that gave the instru- ment its tones. Another band would be led by a guitar player and a fourth by a vio- linist. Each of the bands would feature Italian music ranging from excerpts from opera (only Italian, of course) to Neopolitan street songs. We were to stroll in con- secutive order at given in- tervals and serenade the diners while they ate. We began about a week before Ash Wednesday and things worked out rather well. There were a couple of changes made to instru- mentation and personnel, but nothing major. As part of the contract, we were to be fed, seeing that most of the playing sur- rounded the late afternoon- early evening hours. Uncle Nick made arrangements with the management that a lower-level room be set up as a dressing room with tables in place for a buffet style dinner. When we were on our breaks, we could choose what we wanted for dinner and help ourselves. Each afternoon, the buffet table was set up for us with everything from antipasti, pasta courses, meat and fish courses, vegetables, salads and an assortment of Italian pastries. An urn of coffee and an assortment of sodas accompanied the food. Uncle Nick was happy with this type of treatment partly be- cause this wasn't often the case and partly because we were being paid a very hand- some sum, way over union scale. There was one problem, though. The food was awful. Although it was Italian in appearance the taste left a lot to be desired. After the second day of employment, we all complained to Uncle Nick. He hadn't tried any- thing except the coffee. On the third night, after listen- ing to everyone in the bands complain, he sampled the dinner offerings. My band was on a break at the same time that he sampled the food and I could tell by the look on his face that he was in agreement with us ... bad tasting food. That evening, after the restaurant closed to the pub- lic, Uncle Nick had a meet- ing with the management. They wanted more enter- tainment and he agreed to provide it. He also men- tioned the food which they assured him was the same as they were serving to the public. When I drove my uncle home, he told me about his meeting and their reaction to his comment about the food. He didn't want to push the issue in fear that he would insult them. After listening to my uncle detail their responses, I came up with a possible so- lution. He liked Irfy idea and decided to present it to the head chef. The next day, when we arrived at the res- taurant, he told the head chef that the food was too heavy for the musicians and they couldn't perform as well as they should. He asked if they could illuminate the pasta, meat and fish dishes and substitute cold cuts and sliced bread instead. He ex- plained it that way, adding that the bands could make sandwiches and partake of the already served salads which might be better on their stomachs when they performed. Phrased that way, the kitchen staff was more than happy to accommodate us especially after Uncle Nick slipped the head chef a large tip. That night, some friends arrived at the restaurant to partake of the food and Carnevale entertainment. Most of them complained to me before they left. They loved the entertainment and hated the food. Considering they were mostly Italian, I thought about how everyone loves their own gravy better than anyone else's and let it go at that with- out saying anything. The next night, some friends -- fellow teach- ers -- came in for dinner. They were African Ameri- can and loved the entertain- ment but complained about the food. This time I spoke to Uncle Nick about it on the way home. Uncle Nick had another business meeting with the management at the end of the week. They told him that their patrons loved the mu- sic and Mardi Gras festivi- ties. He thanked them as- suring them that it would continue for the forth com- ing last week of the Carni- val season. They then asked him why he had requested in a change of menu for the musicians. As diplomatically as he could, he tried to tell them about the complaints surrounding their food. The head man gave my uncle every excuse he could about how large the portions were and how well the waiters served each course. He de- cided not to push the issue as the man didn't seem like the type who could handle constructive criticism very well. On the way home that night we talked about the complaints my friends had and he added in that several of his friends who had eaten at the restaurant had the same complaints. The ver- dict was in ... the food was not good. Well, we finished perform- ing on the Tuesday night before Ash Wednesday and the job came to an end. Af- ter that week, the}I'~had Uncle Nick book a small group to stroll during the weekend dinner hours, but that was short lived. Mamma Leone's went out of busi- ness. I guess New York cor- porate executives couldn't run a good Italian restau- rant. Thank God for places like La Summa, Lucia's and Filippo's in the North End, and may God Bless America. ST. JUDE AND ST. ANTHONY NOVENA May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world now and for- ever. Sacred Heart of Jesus pray for us. St. Jude, worker of miracles, pray for us. St. Jude, help of the hopeless, pray for us. St. Anthony, most loving protector and wonder worker, pray for us. Say this prayer 9 times a day and by the 8th day your prayer will be answered. It has never been known to fail. Publication must be promised. My prayers have been answered. Favor received. LM.D. The Socially Set (Continued from Page 9) Suffolk University will premier "Car Talk: The Musical!:!" at the Modern Theatre March 31-April 3. Actor Nael Nacer, front left, plays Rusty Fenders, a hapless owner of a terminally ill '93 KIA, who falls in love with character Miata C. LaChassis (actress Tiffany Chen, right). Seen in the background, left to right, are actors Ryan Gonor, Adrian Brendel and Isaiah Rotondi-Gray, who play the Mechanics Trio of "Mike, Mick, and Mook." For tickets, call 800-838-3006, or visit performance. (Photo by Stratton McCrady) foot garden. In addition to the 'big chair', Mass Hort's exhibit will also include a vegetable garden, with the theme, 'From Garden to Table'. There will be hand- outs on building a home garden and on Mass Hort's educational programs. There are talks and dem- onstrations every day of the flower show, but Mass Hort provides the programming for Thursday, March 17, on both the demo stage and the lecture hall. A total of 15 speakers will talk on sub- jects ranging from garden photography to floral design. There will be two sessions, morning and afternoon, on container gardening. Visit to learn more about its mission and educational programs. For information about the Show, visit www.thebostonflower Enjoy! (Be sure to visit Hilda Morrill's gardening Web site, In addition to events covered and reported by the columnist, "The Socially Set" is compiled from various other sources such as news and press re- leases, PRNewswire services, etc.) American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts to Offer Free Training on "Gabrielle Giffords Honorary Save-a-Life Saturday" The Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts will offer free CPR and first aid training on Saturday, March 19, as part of Gabrielle Giffords Honorary Save-a-Life Saturday. Classes will be held on March 19 as follows: American Red Cross, 139 Main Street, Cambridge, MA - 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm, lpm, 2pm, 3pm Mashpee Public Library, 64 Steeple Street, Mashpee, MA - 10am Harwich Community Center, 100 Oak Street, Harwich, MA - 11am Wellfleet Public Library, 55 West Main Street, Wellfleet, MA - 2pro To register, go to Training will last approximately 45 minutes, and will include instruc- tion in hands-only CPR, controlling external bleeding and managing shock. More information and a complete list of communities participat- ing in the event can be found on the event website at 'q-he tragedy in Tucson is a reminder of how important it is for every- one to know first aid and CPR," said Deborah C. Jackson, CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts. The Red Cross is able to provide this free training through the gener- ous support of Walgreens and Safeway. Also on March 19, the Red Cross is premiering a special set of videos to teach CPR and first aid skills. Those unable to attend a Save-a-Life Saturday event can also visit to see life- saving skills being taught. The public can also contact their local Red Cross chapter to find out when full CPR and first aid classes are offered at other times. ~r .