Arthur Puopolo was truly a wonderfully passionate man with a generous heart. A good friend of my Uncle Angelo, Arthur rented me his first floor apartment in 1984 in the North End of Boston. I was 22 and my rent was $300 a month. It was my first apartment. My cousin David helped me move in. It was the first time living on my own and I had no idea what I was in for. Arthur and his wife, Pat lived in the upper three floors, an elaborate, spectacular townhouse draped in Venetian décor and located at 50 Hull Street. It was also on the Freedom Trail. I thought it was the most gorgeous place I had ever seen. There were views of Boston Harbor, the historic Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, and the Old North Church. As a young kid, I thought I had hit the jack-pot.
Now that I’m older and reflect on that time, I realize that living in that fancy townhouse was so much more than the material surroundings. Arthur and Pat were unpretentious, real people with heart and soul and little bit of jazz. Within weeks of moving in, they gave me an abundant amount of attention, and that was incredible for me since I came from a large family. It was the first time I had a sense of self, and felt like an adult.
Walking with Arthur through the streets of the North End was like walking with a rock star. Everyone was drawn to him, all who knew him, loved him. I don’t think I know of anyone who had more friends than Arthur. I think it was because he knew how to live life to the absolute fullest, had a never ending smile on his face, was witty and charismatic, and he had the best homemade wine in the North End.
I had my first cappuccino with Arthur, my first Sambuca, fresh tuna cooked in duck fat, it was the first time I made wine and the first time I experienced the famed Saint Anthony festival. I was weekly invited upstairs to their small dining room for elaborate table clothed dinners where fine china and silverware were always set, and opera would blast. Arthur’s potent homemade wine flowed too. His meals were monumental, large platters of fresh seafood, roasted meats and all kinds of pastas and sauces, salamis, cheeses and prosciutto. My friends were always included and welcomed.
My year with Arthur and Pat remain one of the most charming and magical times of my life. When I left that apartment to live in Washington DC, it was a very sad day for me. I only saw them occasionally through the years. When I came back to Boston to go to college, I waited tables and they would come to the restaurant I worked. When my plays were produced, they came to New York City to cheer me on. One of those plays was set in the North End of Boston, The Sweepers.
About 10 years ago I saw Arthur one Easter weekend and he shared his delicious Pizzagaina with me. The last time I talked to Arthur was months after Pat had passed and I thanked him for that special time in my life. I’m glad I was able to do that. They were the perfect couple to jump start a young person’s life. Their influence on me was unbelievably fantastic and memorable and in many ways the path I took in my life was due in part to what they exposed me to. I shall never forget them.
John C. Picardi is a Playright/Novelist and former North End resident. One of his plays, The Sweepers, takes place in Boston’s North End and was produced off-Broadway in 2002.