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September 19, 2014     Post-Gazette
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Page 12 POST-GAZETTE, SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 2 Owned and operated by Pamela Donnaruma, Publisher, Post-Gazette Memories of City Spa Days by Sal Giarratani The City Spa Cafeteria has become a convenience store. (Photo by Sal Giarratani) As a kid growing up along the sometimes mean streets of Harrison Avenue in Boston's South End back in the '50s and '60s before the urban gentry began gentrifying the area back in the days when being "gay" was not a way of life, my life was my neighborhood and my neighborhood was my world. It sustained me, and it nurtured me. It could be my best bud or my worst enemy. Unlike places like Southie, Charlestown or East Boston where I reside today, it was dif- ficult to know exactly where one neighbor- hood stopped and another began. As kids, we all thought it was the wide Massachusetts Avenue that was the DMZ between the South End and lower Roxbury. The even-sided num- bers of Mass. Avenue was the South End and the odd side of the avenue was lower Roxbury The South End side, I knew well orbited around the old Boston City Hospital near Worcester Square and I lived with my family for years on East Springfield Street. The lower Roxbury side, I too knew well, having lived in St. Philip's Parish. That neighbor- hood revolved around the Green Shoe Factory and Blanchard's Liquors. My brother Domenic and I both worked at the City Spa. Here is my brother standing by his 1970 Plymouth Fury getting ready to go into work. (Photo by Sal Giarratani) My South End resembled the United Nations, but St. Philip's in lower Roxbury re- minded me of the Trinity. One neighborhood with three parts. One part, Irish-American, one part Italian-American and one part African-American. We called that a fully in- tegrated neighborhood back then. Each on the surface looked alike yet remained quite different. If you know what I'm saying, you know what I mean. All of us lived to struggle that was our shared life. The only vacations we took were to the Franklin Park Zoo, Revere Beach or simply downtown on the Boston Common. When it came to where we got jobs, most folks either worked at City Hospital stitching pa- tients or at the Green Shoe, stitching shoes. - My first ever job was as a paperboy with my brother hawking the Globe. Traveler and Record American at Boston City Hospital for a guy named Blondie who didn't have blond hair anymore. Then, for me, it was onto the Green Shoe for six long months of endless packing of shoes into binds. American kids don't have to worry about packing shoes anymore since all those jobs ended up in China today. I laugh today thinking that all us kids would always meet up at the same places like the Accident Floor at City Hospital, or Sam's Spa on Harrison Ave., on the odd side of Mass Avenue or at the City Spa in Worcester Square. Other times, we all might grab a great pastrami on a bulkie roll with fries for a 81.25 at Bernstein's where the cabbies and hospi- tal workers often drank their lunches. During WWII, my mother worked the counter at the City Spa Cafeteria with an- other gal named Kay. The owners were Alba- nians immigrated to the South End decades before. In the late '60s and into the '70s while attending college, I worked the counter with that same gal who worked years earlier with my mom. Years after my City Spa days, I once com- mented that the place could have been the TV sitcom "Cheers" because the cast of char- acters who worked there and those that patronized the place were all one-of-a-kind characters that sadly included me too. There were brothers Tommy and Richie Ella, sometimes easy to work with and some- times pains in the *&#^%. Tommy was the business brain and Richie helped on week- ends and was back then a young college pro- fessor. My brother Dominic and I worked together there for a while too. Then there was Bill who ran the place weeknights from Monday to Friday. I often worked with him too. There was Gregory who worked the day shift during the week. He was smooth and dressed well to the point lots of customers thought he was the owner. Finally, there was Kay, who worked with my mother 25 years earlier. She told me she remembered working with my mother on the morning of December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I can't remember the names of the cooks in the kitchen, they weren't too friendly but they sure could cook. The customers we served were even cra- zier than us. Many of them were doctors in long white coats wearing bowties, There were the nurses, orderlies like my father and housekeeping folk. Lots of out-patients would come in before or after appointments. When hospital construction began across the street, we got a slew of hard hats plenty hungry. We had several regulars like the midget bookie, the two ladies of the evening, mother and daughter, and a large female cabbie. I got to see the whole world from behind the counter of this cafeteria and loved every moment of every day. At the noon rush, I learned how to be quick too. Waiting on one, two, three or more customers at once. No computers back then and we rarely made mistakes. Partly, because we were good and partly because we didn't want to get yelled at by Tommy the boss. He once told me that yelling at me was becoming a full time job and then he kinda laughed. To make this point, one day a customer ordered a tea to go. I gave it to him with one simple item missing. He returned within 10 minutes complaining there was no tea bag in his cup. Tommy yelled at me, no surprise there, huh? I also got yelled at by the cooks too. At lunch when it was really busy, I would use the microphone to call in my orders and often the cooks who were Albanian or Greek would yell some profanity at me in either of those languages of which, while unfamiliar, I knew weren't good words. For example, "One meat loaf dinner with baked and peas" and the cook would reply "&^%#@*!" My favorite customers came in every afternoon about 2:00 pm. They were young student nurses and very pretty at that. I was young about 20-something years old. When these girls wanted ice cream cones, I would add extra ice cream by instinct. One day, Tommy caught me and you guessed it, I got yelled at again. After that, my head was turn- ing everywhere looking for Tommy when those cute nurses came in the cafeteria. I am not 20-something anymore and the City Spa is long gone. Actually it is a conve- nience store today. Those young nurses are probably retired today. As for those ladies of the night in their special booth, they've been replaced by today's ladies of the night. The bookie is gone too along with the pay phone. I enjoyed my younger days at the City Spa, the folks I worked with and those I waited on are all history now. But it also still lives inside my memories of those long ago, far more innocent days. It was another time and place. Gone but never forgotten. None of us knew how good we had it. The City Spa still stands in a comer of my mind as does Worcester Square and those great pastrami sandwiches with fries. It's all in my head, as long as I keep those memo- ries alive, they live forever. Hey, I even miss Tommy yelling at me, ah, no I don't! Parla Come Mangi! You Eat!) : ix a~andra Samb~i } Benvenutil This week's pasta dish was named after Sicilian composer Vincenzo BeUini's 19~h century opera "Norma." The most famous aria from "Norma," "Casta diva" is a leading ex- ample of the Italian bel canto genre and is most notably known through the performances of soprano Maria Callas. "Pasta alla Norma" is a staple dish of Catania, the city of Bellini's birth at the foot of Mount Etna along the Ionian Sea. More recently, "Pasta alla Norma" received an honorable mention in Andrea Camilleri's "Commissario Montalbano" series of books-wherein Sicily's people and rich cultural heritage are vividly brought to life. In this simple but delicious pasta dish, a generous dust- ing of ricotta salata (salted, aged ricotta) gives the eggplants an added dimension. Pasta alia Norma (serves four) 2 pounds fresh tomatoes for sauce 1 pound macaroni 2 round light colored Italian eggplants or 2 medium purple eggplants 1 bunch of fresh basil 1 garlic clove 1 tsp sugar grated salted ricotta to taste frying oil extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper to taste Preparation: Wash the eggplants, dice them, mix with a generous handful of salt and leave on a plate for about 45 minutes to drain off their bitterish liquid. In a saucepan combine the garlic with some olive oil, add the fresh diced tomatoes, basil, salt and sugar. When the tomato has soft- ened, strain out the skins and put the sauce aside for later. Rinse the eggplants, squeeze them well and pat them dry with paper towel, then deep fry them in the oil. Place the fried pieces on paper towel to drain. Cook the macaroni in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and toss in a pan with the tomato sauce and the fried eggplants. Serve with a generous dusting of salted ricotta. Buon appetito! Pasta alia Norma (serve quattro) 1 kg di pomodori da sugofreschi e maturi 500 g di maccheroni 2 melanzane ton de chiare oppure 2 viola medie I mazzetto di basilico fresco 1 spicchio d'aglio 1 cucchiaino di zucchero ricotta salata grattugiata a piacere olio per friggere olio extra vergine di Oliva sale e pepe q.b. Preparazione: Lava bene le melanzane, tagliale a cubetti, mescolale con una manciata di sale e disponile su un piatto per circa 45 minuti in modo che perdano un po' del liquido amaro. In una padella fai soffriggere leggermente olio ed aglio, versaci i pomodori acubetti, Io zucchero ed il basilico. Aggiusta di sale. Quando il pomodoro sara' appassito, togli il sugo dal fuoco, passalo al setaccio e tienilo da parte. Sciaqua le melanzane, strizzale bene, asciugale con della carta assorbente, friggile in abbondante olio e mettile a scolare su altra carta assorbente. Cuoci i maccheroni al dente in acqua leggermente salata, scolali e falli saltare in padella con il sugo e le melanzane fritte. Servi con della ricotta salata grattugiata. Buon appetito! If you would like to cook with me go to www .speakasyoueat.com. Alessandra Sambiase is an elementary and middle school Italian language teacher in the Catholic school system and in the North End. She is also a cooking instructor and founder of "Parla come mangi!" (speak as you eat!) cooking classes, where the passion for the Italian language meets the love for the Italian food. N 5 PRINCE STREET* NORTH END * BOSTON, MA 02113 Quality Printing for all your Commercial and Personal Needs Stationery * Business Cards Menus * Flyers Program Books * Wedding and Party Invitations Announcements Business Forms and Documents COMPETITIVE PRICES ---