Sunday, April 4, 2010

Good Friday in the North End

So my plan was to the walk over to the North End, to light some candles in church (the only Catholic thing I still do, besides recite church doctrine, feel guilty, and depend on Saint Anthony). I planned to take a pair of wool suit pants to the reweaving lady on Salem Street (moth hole), then pick up some bread and gnocchi at the Salumeria, get cold cuts at Pace's, and cheese and produce at the Haymarket.

It was a gorgeous day and I was anxious to get going. By the time I hit the Public Garden — pink and white blossoming trees surrounding the mud-pit Lagoon — I realized I'd forgotten the pants, which were conveniently hanging on a hook on the front door so I wouldn't forget them. But it was okay, because I had also forgotten the name and the address of the reweaver. It's the perfect excuse to go back this week, and hit up Lyndell's for cupcakes, which I can't carry when my hands are full from the Haymarket.

The North End was crowded already with families doing their pre-Easter shopping. Everyone seemed to be in the best of moods because of the sunny warmth, the day off from work and school, the beginning of a holiday weekend, the great food surrounding them on all sides.

I usually feel happier the minute I am in the North End; it is my favorite place in Boston. It's even better around holidays, when that happiness feels more general. The line outside Modern Pastry stretched out the door and past a couple of shops; Mike's was similarly mobbed. Lyndell's was empty, and I like it the best.

I am psychic. Back in October, I wrote:
The pointless yoga store that took over half of Dairy Fresh Candies is out of business — an empty storefront, just begging for someone to open up, say, a small candy store.
And, indeed, it is now a tiny candy and cupcake store, Lulu's Sweet Shoppe (reincarnated from the Hanover Street cupcake shop). They don't sell those tombstone-shaped white-chocolate crosses among their Easter chocolates (a cello-wrapped memento mori for an Italian child's basket, amid the chocolate eggs and bunnies) that I used to buy from the late, great Dairy Fresh in that very storefront. But a candy store exists again, instead of a yoga shop, and that's all the matters.

At the Mercato di Mare (North End Fish Market), I was not disappointed by the lobster in the window. As you can (sort of) see, it is sporting a pink-and-blue bunny nose and ears, and clutches baby chicks in each claw. The shivering blue Easter eggs and drowning chicks on the ice, along with the mussels and clams, are a nice touch, too.


At the Salumeria on Richmond Street, I stood in line forever with my bread. There were mainly tourist families ahead of me, ordering large assortments of picnic goodies to eat in the warm sun. As I waited, I noticed this sign (click to enlarge). Check out item #7 under "Slicing Soppressata [sp]:


What on earth is felino sopressata? Are the good people of Italy turning cats into salami? (No, I looked it up nervously at home, and it comes from the town of Felino, around Parma. Phew.)

When I finally got the register, I chatted with the young Italian clerk about how busy he was as I handed him a twenty. "Very, very busy," he said as he took the bill. "All I see is green, green, green." Then he stared at my twenty for a moment. "What's the matter with it? I made it this morning," I said.

"No, it's just this face." he said, indicating Andrew Jackson. "I see his face all the time. I see it more than I see my girlfriend's face." I told him he needed a vacation.

I was not in full picture-taking mode because my ailing laptop can't handle large downloads or Photoshop too well these days. But I couldn't resist shooting the Iggy's bread basking in the window. There are French as well as Italian-style breads for sale, and all of them are the best you can get.


Then I went to light candles. I didn't go to St. Leonard's because I know they have electric candles. Pressing a button to light a bulb just doesn't feel as effective as producing fire and smoke from a long wooden spill. So I tried Sacred Heart. Electric candles there, too. Still, I "lit" several electric candles. I had a list of people who had asked me to do this for them; I didn't have time to comparison-shop votive stands. But next time, I will check out the candle-authenticity of Saint Stephen's.

In Pace's, there was a small line at the deli counter, so I called my dad for a brief, loud conversation about the quality of the last torrone candy I had given him for Christmas. "The foil on each piece is really hard to unwrap and it sticks to the candy, and I'm eating foil," he complained. "So do you want harder torrone instead?" I enunciated (he is 95 and somewhat deaf). "No, I just want soft torrone that isn't sticky!" We'll see how he likes the long bars I bought him this time. My favorite guy, Michael, wasn't slicing in the deli, but he gave me a huge, friendly wave from the window after I went out.

At the Haymarket, the Cheese Guy was in his typical jovial and flirtatious mood, but he didn't have any of the marvelous French cheeses (Fromager de Clarines, Saint Vernier....) he delights in selling me for $3 instead of the $17 to $20 I'd have to pay elsewhere (not that I'd ever pay $17 for cheese). He tried to sell me a nice, big goat cheese and listened in horror as I gave him the long list of all the things my husband won't eat (olives! goat cheese! sheep's cheese! sundried tomatoes! eggplant!). He told me he was so happy to be single. And then he sold me soft cheese packed with black olives for my own enjoyment.

I picked up strawberries, asparagus, spinach, pears. Hauled it all home. Having all that yummy stuff from the North End in my kitchen makes Back Bay seem like a happier place, too.

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