I met up with a friend last Sunday afternoon. We spent some time at a local waterfront spot and after she’d left to catch her train, I decided a walk would be a great way to wind down with the weekend on its way out. Knowing the Feast of Feasts was still very much in season, a sense of adventure was joined with something of a sentimental desire: this walk would be more than just a bit of exercise and a mental distraction, something told me there would be adventure attached as well.
The corner of Prince Street between Caffè Dello Sport and Saint Leonard’s is often crowded with cars and foot traffic, but that Sunday was different. Standing there on the curb just as the sun began to disappear behind the western skyline I found that, instead of cars, there were crowds. These crowds weren’t chaotically jumbled together but were more like one big walking tour ten or twenty times the size of a usual group.
There was diversity in their numbers, a purpose to their travel, and a sparkle in their eyes. They came from all over the world to see Saint Anthony’s, to experience for themselves that which had been told to them by others who had previously fallen in love with its charm. For me, the feasts have always been a part of my neighborhood and I’ve occasionally been guilty of taking them for granted. Of not getting as excited as I used to when I was a kid happily throwing snaps and eating fried dough with my friends until the powdered sugar splotched our happy faces; of trying to time just perfectly the rattling of my drum from the dollar store across from the Fire Station to that of the real thing, or of watching the way the flame within the candle for St. Lucy’s processional vigil glowed against the background of its colorful enclosure.
I looked at these new fans of St. Anthony’s and smiled. They were leading me toward something I’d not really been a part of for a time. As we walked as one, many marveled at the architecture which was being affected aesthetically by daylight fading and evening coming in. Long shadows spilled out onto the crimson-colored bricks of this or that former cold-water flat turned condominium, golden strobes shimmering on the frosty windows, and that unforgettable patina adorning the copper column right above Dino’s restaurant on the corner of Prince and Salem Streets.
The crowds grew thicker, laughing as they waded through ream after ream of confetti which had been poured out like a freak winter storm from so many windows. The smells of sausage both spicy and sweet blended with peppers and onions brought me back in time once again: to the aroma of those once-a-year treats offered at stand after stand; of my late mother’s love for arancini and ceci, and of my father’s love for making her happy, such that he always bought us plenty.
The music was wonderful and reignited, at a precise moment when Tre Bella began with their folksongs from Naples, my love of our incomparable and unforgettable festivals from the perspective of artistic offerings. Their voices, occasionally and rather unintentionally accompanied by the distant sounds of the Roma Band serenading listeners a few blocks away with their own marching melodies, transported many of us in the crowd to a different time: a time we were reminded of the story-laden structures that surrounded us. I was humbled in that moment, rooted to the spot in fact; when the statue of Saint Anthony itself, borne in the still-sultry heat “on the shoulders”, reminded this young man of when I was lifted up to kiss its forehead as so many of my peers did too.
Culture, community, home. These things I’ve come to love more than anything. Having the privilege to see the world, I can safely say that for me there is no place like this place – there is no North End like ours whether on the islands of Greece or the ancient streets of Istanbul where I spent quite a bit of time. Being united with newcomers and locals alike, I enjoyed the best of both worlds, but I’ll end with this:
Saint Anthony has found my wallet, my keys, and so many other things for me over the years, but on the last night of the 100th anniversary of the feast, I found Saint Anthony again and through him was reintroduced and reunited with the best hometown in the world.
Steve Vilkas is a North End resident and writer for NorthEndWaterfront.com.
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