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  Field Notes From
Boston’s North Enders

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From Author

Erla Zwingle

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From Photographer

William Albert Allard

Unfiltered for authenticity, these accounts have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

in Boston’s North End

Field Notes From Author
Erla Zwingle
The North End is still a place where people can do spontaneous things. I was walking up Hanover Street one Sunday afternoon. That is not a very neighborhood time because a lot of the locals are at home eating with their own families. A lot of tourists come through at that time. All of a sudden I heard an accordian playing. It was this little old man named Antonio. He was outside the Cafe Vittoria playing classic Italian songs. A bunch of tourists stopped and started to sing along. Then a bag lady started to dance in the middle of Hanover Street. I thought, this isn’t really about Italy or America. This is something very North End. I realized that they were connecting with him. When you come into the North End, you start to connect with people. Maybe it’s because you’re walking instead of driving. Maybe it’s because other people are standing around talking to one another. There’s something about the scaled-down dimension that keeps you from feeling that you’re on the outside. I think it is because the North End still has that village ethos. I had my heart set on seeing Frank Susi make wine. Not because I wanted to drink it, but because practically every North End family used to make their own wine. Now hardly anyone does, except Frank. He’s so nice and makes you feel like anything is possible. Yet everytime I tried to pin him down, he said, “Well, I don’t know. It depends. We might be doing it Saturday. First I’ve got to buy the grapes.” So I said, “Gosh! Maybe I can go with you to buy the grapes.” I gave him my number, but I never got a call. When I went to his butcher shop on Monday, he told me they went on Saturday afternoon to get the grapes. Then another man told me to come at 2 p.m. the following Saturday, and they would be making the wine. I got there at 2:05 p.m., but they’d already done it! I told myself that I deserved this because I knew that often when Italians say 2 o’clock it really means “sometime.” But I had to wonder if they simply did not want me to see how they make the wine. The man who works at the Cafe Vittoria most of the time, Kenny McCracken, looks like a very scary person. He’s tall, bald, and rides a massive Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He’s a body-builder with arms like proscuittos. Kenny is a man of few words and looks like the kind of person you don’t want to mess with. But, in fact, he’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
I met Kenny through Lynne Poland, who owns a nearby cigar shop. One morning—at Lynn’s suggestion—I cautiously asked, ‘Kenny, would you make me a capuccino with a heart, please’? And without missing a beat, he said, “Sure.” So he started doing the routine: He took the cup, did the espresso in the bottom of the cup, and covered the top of the milk with a dusting of cocoa, then he took the pitcher of steamed milk and poured out the last little glob of foam onto the top, twisting his wrist in such a way that it came out in a perfect heart of foam. I tried to be cool about it, but I looked at him with little stars in my eyes, like a cartoon character falling in love.
After that I made a point of going by every morning and having a capuccino with a heart.

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