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Life on the Corner: La Passeggiata (The Walk)

One of the most charming Italian customs is the postprandial evening stroll called the passeggiata. In Northern Italian cities it takes place on Sunday evenings but in the South and Sicily it’s a daily event. After the evening meal families get dressed up and take a leisurely stroll through the piazzas and old sections of their city or town. Elderly sit on benches or in cafes’ sipping espresso, teenagers flirt and the adults greet their old friends and exchange local gossip. All the shops are open and the tourists are gone; the city once again belongs to the inhabitants.

This tradition was brought to the North End by the Italians who emigrated here at the beginning of the last century and it still continues in small and unobtrusive ways. Just recently there was a popular Christmas stroll in the North End where many of the shops and boutiques opened their doors in the evening for neighbors to visit and shop.

Many years ago, the week before Christmas in the North End was a continuous passeggiata. All the neighborhood shops would have a bottle of wine or grappa opened, ready to share with their customers. Grocery stores, meat markets fruit and vegetable shops and even the barber shops would offer their friends and customers a sip or two to warm them on a cold winters day. Some would even have an assortment of antipasti or sfizi to nibble on. Giuffre’s fish market on Salem Street would have tubs of live eels, a Southern Italian New Year’s delicacy. They would skin the eel with a sharp knife and a pair of pliers while street kids watched in awe. The pastry shops on Hanover St. would have panettone and strufuli, specialties of the season, which are still available. Christmas in the North End was special time of year.

This past Wednesday Ralph delGaudio continued this tradition in his gift shop next to Paul Revere’s house. Ralph ordered an assortment of amazing pizza, sandwiches and calzones from Bob’s Italian Foods in Medford. Good friends gathered to remember old times and toast departed compadre.

Buon Natale, Ralph. We’ll look forward to next year’s gathering.

Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.

7 Replies to “Life on the Corner: La Passeggiata (The Walk)

  1. I can remember men with locked arms walking together down Hanover St.I would think at that time it was odd,then learned that was a expression of friendship and love.

  2. Nick. I loved this article. My family that was from Avelino would tell stories of the whole family going out for gelato. As far as those eels go, my Nonni would have them in a large pan. My cousins and I would freak out at the sight of them. It was even worse to watch our family eat them. Thanks for a great memory!

    1. Thanks, Joyce. My Northern Italian nonna hated eels and thought they were snakes that lived in the ocean but she made them to please my grandfather. She either broiled them or made them in a tomato gravy. I actually liked them but you’d be picking those small bones out of your teeth for a week.

  3. I can remember those eels swimming in my grandfather’s skin and him skinning them, I though it was terrible, but what I would not give to see him do it now!

  4. Your article brought back many wonderful memories but sadly it was a stark reminder of the neighborhood we lost. I don’t even know my next door neighbors. I do not see the old neighborhood through rose colored glasses. we had our problems, The area is now an adult Community , with a hundred+ restaurants and 7-11 has replaced our corner stores. Now I leave the North End to shop, Nothing stays the same, I guess this is called progress. I have to adjust to living in this community.This is just my opinion. I miss the convenience of the old neighborhood.

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