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The People of the North End

The people of the North End in Boston are so unique.  If you get to spend some time here, you will know what I mean.  I took my first solo trip to Boston when I was sixteen years old.  Well, I wasn't exactly solo, Jim was with me.  We came to Boston to see the movie West Side Story.  He was seventeen and driving. That was the beginning of my love affair with the sights, smells and friendly atmosphere that defines the North End. You see those boys in that photo above...they probably meet here a few times a week.  It's there neighborhood. You can always count on the "boys" to be hanging out, smoking a cigar, drinking coffee or a beer on Hanover Street.  The other thing about the boys, they always speak to you.  It's easy and fun in the North End. It's also Italian...very Italian.  That my friends is where the smells come in...


I know, I know, everyone that comes to the North End usually just walks Hanover Street but people, you need to move down a few side streets.  It's where the locals eat and shop. It where you will learn where these people and their ancestors came from. The side streets are the heartbeat of the North End.  Now take the bakeries for instance.  Everyone raves about Modern and Mikes, and I agree, they are great, but pretty touristy.  It's not where the local shop, get off Hanover and get down to Salem St.  That's where the best smells are coming from.  Bovas bakery, family owned since 1932.  Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The yeast bread gets you when you turn the corner, step inside and the cakes and pies hit your nose as soon as the door opens. The smells are great, but the eye candy in the cooler cases will really get your juices flowing. This is where I come now, I love the people. So friendly and eager to explain their history to you. They also encourage you to try something new.  This day I was buying some chocolate cover pretzels for my Jaxson and Liam.  I told the lady that they were for my Grandsons and she picked up the ones with the most chocolate on them for me to give to "my boys".  That would not have happened at Modern or Mike' time your in the North End, give this bakery a try...

The cannoli stuffer at Bovas bakery.  Not hidden away in the back room but right out front where you can watch him work his magic..I was impressed with his ability to hold that big bag of ricotta and squeeze it ever so gently into the tube.  I don't think he would like my work even if I could hold it up.  He was really nice and didn't mind at all that I took his photo. You just have to trust a place that works out in the secrets to hide.  


This lovely lady was on her way to go to the market.  This day I was with my friend Dina, who is also Italian..and as we passed this woman, we said hello and asked where she was going with her basket and bags.  Thirty minutes later she and Dina were still talking Italy.  Where their families were from and how did she end up here in the North End.  She told us she came over after she got married at 18 and settled here with her husband.  They bought a house close by and now each one of her three kids has an apartment in that house. I'm thinking to myself that surely she would have a great recommendation for us for an authentic, neighborhood lunch spot.  Not so, she looked at me like I had a screw lose and said, "I dont' go out, I cook. I cook better than any restaurant here"...O.K. I get it...we were on our own.  I was finally able to drag Dina away and we found us a great pizza place not to far away.  I was happy for Dina that she got to talk to someone that was from Italy and I'm pretty sure we were this ladies entertainment for the day.  Sure wished she had invited us up to lunch though...Maybe the next time.

Bello, right.  ah if only I was 50 years younger but I'm not so I'll just have to settle for this beautiful smile that he was so willing to give me. He sure knows how to flip a pizza dough around though.  Probably knows how to snag a few woman with those dreamy eyes also.  He is the man behind the pizza bar at Quattro's. Best pizza anywhere.  I just love that speck of flour on his still my heart, your to old for him...a but a girl can dream...when the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's Amore...

You say, what would this guy be happy about.  Well he is  happy to have a job.  It was a beautiful day.  "You must be tired at the end of the day" I say. Yes, but it's a good tired.  The laundry has to get done and it's my job to deliver it to the cleaners. Table linens for that fancy restaurant.  He was of good cheer though.  It seems everything is done right out in the open in the North End. I like that.  I like how it still holds onto it's old ways.  No pretentious ways here.  No one above another.  All work for the good of local business and each other.  I did notice though, that work stopped for a second so he could enjoy the beautiful lady passing by.  Nice laundry bags also...

I saved the best for last.  This is my friend Bobby.  He owns my favorite tea and spice shop, Polcari's on Salem St.  I know his shirt says coffee but don't let that fool you.  His tea is the very best and at a price you wouldn't believe.  I love a good tea and I like fresh tea, in small amounts so it never dries out.  This is where I come.  I've been visiting Bobby for many years now. Not only does he have the best tea, o.k., he also has the best coffee beans that he grinds for you...smells delicious.  Then he has a few spices.  If you've ever had fresh, you would never go back to buying in a grocery store again..Same with the tea, small amounts and visit frequently. What I love best about him though is his love of the people who shop there.  We have had wonderful conversations over the years about our lives, families, and just life in general.  He feels like a member of my family that I just go and visit every few months.  Christmas time is the best time at his shop. So festive, all the Italian candies and fresh nuts.  Even chestnuts, loose.  I don't like them but I love to see them because when I was a little girl, Chestnut trees lined the street I lived on.  Sadly everyone of those trees are gone now but then there they are at Polcari's.  You see all those jars in the background...tea and coffee. Doesn't get any fresher.  Now if only I could get him to brew some tea while we chatted...I'm pretty sure that is not going to happen though...So when your in the North End...visit Bobby, tell him I sent you. That will get you nothing but it will give Bobby a smile...

So here's the thing, this blog post turned into something entirely different than what is was suppose to be.  I started out just writing about a few things in the North End...I really wanted to tell you all about the side streets and alley ways, and of the course that bakery.  Then I was started thinking about the news that I heard today about 45's new plan to keep immigrants out of our country.  I went back and looked at my photo's of the North End and started to really think about what is so special about this section of Boston.  It didn't take me long to know that my love of this area was about the people.  Their stories of how they got here.  How they stayed together in this new place to feel a bit closer to the homes they had to leave.  How they have made wonderful lives for themselves.  How they serve those of us who were born here.  How they appreciate being here and then I thought of what they give to me.  Without them I would have no knowledge of their history.  They share it with such pride.  I would not have made so many friends and feel so at home here now.  My husband went to school in Boston and lived in the North End.  He always felt safe.  I feel safe even now when I go in with the boys and my girlfriends. These are hard working, everyday people, just like us. I feel such joy when I am around them.  How sad for me and everyone else who visits here if they had been kept out.  How sad for them also..Kindness matters, every day.  Who are we to say that you can't come here. I welcome their diversity, their lessons, their authentic food and their stories.  I'm so glad to have lived in a time when we welcomed our friends from across the water.  I'm sad that 45 feels the need to change this. What I hope for though is that we, as a country will stand strong against his predjuice mind and move forward with compassion for all mankind.  That, my friends, is what I learned by walking the streets of the North End... little Italy.  Now come on in for a cappuccino and some ricotta won't be disappointed. Also, say hi to the boys if their sitting will make their day and yours.



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Reader Comments (11)

It's 3:19 am and I have insomnia, so I'm sitting here reading this and salivating over all the sights of the North End. THIS is what it's all about! I want to go there with you someday soon. Last year about this time, Bob and I wandered the streets and back alleys there and it was such a joy to discover the heart of this wonderful place. You are so right, you really need to get off of Hanover. I have yet to get to Polcaris but I really want to go now. Fantastic post and fabulous images, my friend!

Let's make a date soon!

February 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Oh Susan...your such a great cheerleader. I'm sorry that you had insomnia and was up so early but I'm glad that in the early hours you came to my post. Sometimes I struggle with what to write and what to add but honestly, this one was easy for me. Write what you love, shoot what you love and it will be authentic. I think we both do that. It's like my mind takes over and all because of my love of the North goes way back. Then I start thinking about everything else that's happening and it took on a life of it's own.
Thank you for your visit, your kind words and the promise of date in week so far has been crazy with school vacation. We will set that date very soon. I hope you sleep well tonight...snuggle in with Mozart.

February 22, 2017 | Registered CommenterCheryl Crotty

Really fantastic post, Cheryl.
There is nothing quite like the North End, and it becomes even more wonderful when you travel "off the beaten path."

February 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Gordon

As I looked at your wonderful photos of these people and read about the places you love and the relationships you've developed there over the years, I was wishing I were more adventurous and less shy. I've lived in Maine for almost 17 years but have only been to Boston a couple of times. I've been to the North End, but certainly not enough to know it or feel comfortable there. I was feeling envious! Then I got to the last part of your post and my heart cracked open. I feel as you do about the immigrants who made...and continue to make...this country great. Unless we're pure-blooded Native American, we are ALL the children of immigrants. My heart aches at every story of discrimination and hatred toward immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ, Muslims, blacks, Jews, any people of any race or religion. I do not understand it and cannot comprehend it. I can only grieve, and try to be as kind as I can in every encounter I have with another human being. Meanwhile, I hope and pray that the pendulum will swing back the other way SOON.

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLeón

Lisa it sounds like you've been to the North End...yes, Hanover Street is wonderful but so many places tucked down those little alleys and streets...Thanks for visiting and keep enjoying the North End...

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl c.

Leon, your words are so deeply felt. I couldn't agree more. Every person has value, kindness matters to everyone unless they do something that is totally off the grid...and like you, I hope pendulum swings back real soon also but right now I'm not feeling optimistic...soon though. So many good people to surround ourselves with. You know, the funny this is when I started writing this post that last paragraph was not in my head. That is the beauty for me with writing, I never know where it is going to take me. This time it took me to exactly to where I wanted and needed to be. Thank you for your visit and if you ever want to go to Boston...we can take the train in...

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl c.

Thank you for the tour of the North End. Your words and images captured the heart of a city and it's people. I have never been to Boston but the sights and smells make me want to go. (I think your blog post actually smelled good, or maybe I am hungry. :) My husband's great grand parents were directly from Sicily. I enjoyed his grandmother's cooking, her cannoli was always delicious.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle B

Dearest Cheryl,
Finally we're home again, with my internet back up . . .
I was able to read parts of your blog on my little iPhone, but couldn't wait to get behind my big screen to take it all in.
We had an "ok" time . . . didn't realize the kids were on vacation, so Beacon Hill was mobbed and the weather was unbearably HOT . . .
I WISH we had met you in the North End! All I remember is when our daughter took us there but we never found a place to park and had to leave!
And the only time I spent any time there was when I lived in Cambridge in the 60's and an Italian friend introduced me to cannolis! Obviously we have a lot of exploring to do! I was so deeply touched reading your blog. My sister, who has lived in Greece for 33 years, goes to a writing group. She just sent me a powerful poem which finally came to her after an entire day of trying to write something for her get together . . . again, it was brought about by the "situation" over here. I always say "there's a reason for everything" (good and bad) . . . but am praying the outcome will be about growth and acceptance of one another and our differences. There's so much I could say but it's too draining, having lived and barely survived amongst such narrow minds when I was a child. It's made me who I am today, but so painful to realize it still exists . . . I couldn't even walk one block on Newbury Street with all its pretense . . . we didn't even go in an art gallery.
So, it was a bittersweet visit, I must say. But you've put the GOOD PARTS into perspective here. I couldn't help but think of you and Jim, as youngsters in that wonderful North End! Wow, that's a long time ago, girl!!!! WHOO HOO for YOU TWO! xoxoxoxoxoxox

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAntoinette

Thanks Antoinette...yes, Boston is to be avoided at all cost during school vacation...Funny, I hardly ever go to Newbury St. unless I'm looking for something specific. I like hanging around in the North End, going to the Common and Gardens...walking Beacon Hill. I do want to get to the Boston Public Library though...that looks neat. You did a great job capturing that. Even though it wasn't perfect, I'm glad you were able to get away for a few days. If I had known you were going we could have picked you up and taken you to the North End. Jim always finds a parking spot. I think it's the luck of the Irish...thanks so much for popping by...and let me know the next time you want to go...have a great rest of the week.

February 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterCheryl Crotty

Oh Michelle you would love the North End...a really friendly place to visit and walk around. I also bet it would remind you of your Grandmother...especially the bakeries...the canoli's are the best...
Thank you for yoru visit and please let me know if you ever decide to come this way...

February 28, 2017 | Registered CommenterCheryl Crotty

. . . for some reason I thought you were on vacation in the islands!!!
You guys just know how to get around!!!!!

March 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAntoinette

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