Boston’s first Italian American mayor, Thomas M. Menino, addresses a crowd at Faneuil Hall. (Courtesy of Pam Donnaruma and the Post-Gazette)
It was with great sadness that we received the news today of Mayor Tom Menino’s passing. An enormously popular public servant, Menino was not only Boston’s first Italian American mayor but would become its longest-serving mayor in history. To remember him, we’d like to present the following passage from The Boston Italians, Stephen Puleo’s tribute to the vibrant Italian American citizens of Boston who, like Menino, transformed the city around them. First published in 2007, some of Puleo’s facts might seem dated, even poignant in hindsight, but we think it captures the spirit of Mayor Menino, a man who ushered Boston from the troubles of the last century and into the promise of the new millenium.
An enormous mural in Mayor Tom Menino’s outer office virtually covers one wall and beckons visitors to study its details. Painted by Menino’s cousin, the scene depicts the mayor’s grandfather sitting in his Italian village, awaiting passage to America. Across a wide body of water that dominates the painting is the skyline of an American city, its shores a two-week voyage away in real life but just a few inches away on the canvas. The mayor describes the painting with pride; it is, he says, the beginning of the Menino story in the United States. Without Thomas Menino’s monumental decision to leave Grottaminarda, Avellino, and travel to a strange country, his grandson would never have had an opportunity to make his own special history in Boston. Thomas Menino settled in Boston’s Hyde Park section, at the far western corner of the city, a neighborhood his grandson still cherishes and lives in today, and from which he built the political base that has enabled him to lead the city for more than a dozen years.
My outdoor choice is Castle Island in South Boston. Great place to walk anytime, but particularly with the onset of Spring when the ocean air smells great and a hot dog at Sullivan's is the perfect reward for circling the whole Sugar Bowl.
The historic spot is the Old South Meeting House. Though there are many wonderful spots in Boston to experience its history, anytime I'm in this church, I can practically feel the place pulsating with 5,000 angry colonists on the eve of the Boston Tea Party.
And of course, the North End touches me personally in a way no other place in Boston does. All three of my immigrant grandparents lived there, my dad was brought up there, my parents dated at restaurants in the neighborhood, and the Italian experience is still vibrant and unrivaled. I feel comfortable there always, at one with my past, whether walking the crooked, narrow streets, spending a few minutes inside St. Leonard's Church, or enjoying dinner with friends. I've never lived there, but it's always felt like home.
Photos of North End by Jessie Bennett. Photo of St. Leonard's interior by wgdavis on Flickr.
John Hanson Mitchell is the author of The Paradise of All These Parts: A Natural History of Boston. concentrated much of his earlier early work, including, most famously, Ceremonial Time, on a square-mile tract of land known as Scratch Flat, located thirty-five miles northwest of Boston. He is the author of numerous books and editor of the award-winning magazine Sanctuary, published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Mitchell lives in Littleton, Massachusetts.
Not an easy question, actually, there are so many favorites, but two stand out:
The main one is probably the little warren of cobblestone streets in the North End between the Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Paul Revere Mall and Hanover Street. I don't even remember the names of the streets and enjoy very much getting lost there.
Do Cambridge or Somerville count? Two of my favorites are: True Grounds Cafe in Ball Square, Somerville-- the best scones and most artful lattes in town. Also Porter Square bookstore in Cambridge, a wonderful independent bookstore with a warm atmosphere and a great series of readings.
Editor's note: I don't usually chime in with my own opinions, but I have to add that Beacon Hill is one of the most beautiful places in the Boston area, and it's an absolute joy to work here, especially in the springtime. Here are a few photos of my favorite spots, including, of course, Beacon Press headquarters! -- Jessie
When Charles Dickens visited Boston in 1842, he might have had the Irish in mind when he told guests at a dinner in his honor: "Virtue shows quite as well in rags and patches as she does in fine linen . . . she goes barefoot as well as shod . . . she dwells rather oftener in alleys and by-ways than she does in courts and palaces." He urged Bostonians to "lay [your] hands upon some of these rejected ones whom the world has too long forgotten" and to understand that "these creatures have the same elements and capacities of goodness as yourselves."
But Dickens's message went unheeded during the height of Irish immigration to Boston.
Thousands of Boston Irish, who had witnessed such devastation in their own country—who saw it transformed from a nation of bucolic splendor to a blight-infested isle of death—arrived in their adopted city to find not succor but prejudice, not welcome but suspicion and contempt. Boston's closed Yankee society, its deep anti-Catholicism, its intellectualism—all of these were completely foreign to, and conspired against, the bedraggled Irish who stepped weakly off the coffin ships and sought refuge among her narrow streets. Beginning in earnest with the ransacking and torching destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown in 1834, the Athens of America, one of the most progressive and educated locales in the New World (or the Old World, for that matter), rejected the Irish with an unprecedented, unrelenting, white-hot vitriol that rocked the newcomers and left them dispirited and disillusioned.
After lamenting the absence of a One Book, One City program in Boston, the Globe decided to launch an experiment: a citywide reading program of its own. The comments that followed the story after it ran in the Books section and on Boston.com confirmed what we suspected — local citizens are certainly among the country's most opinionated readers. What better place to host a reading program than Boston? Here's how the Globe online book club will work: What follows is a list of 10 books, many of which were culled from readers' suggestions. The list — we hope — has something for everyone; each book certainly has plenty of meat for discussion. The only theme: All the books have local interest. Readers will have one week to vote for their pick (voting closes July 13). Once the winner is announced participants will then have a month to read the book. At the end of the month Boston.com will host a discussion with an expert moderator.
Go to the Globe website and vote now for the title you'd like to read. The poll closes tomorrow, so cast your vote now!
While many see July as a time for extra vacation days, our authors are hard at work promoting their books both across the country and here in Boston. With topics ranging from controversy over pornography to violence in our prison systems, here is a look at our authors' achievements this week:
In her new book, Pornland, Gail Dines analyzes how the lucrative pornography industry has-- through violence, racism, and sexism—destroyed how the public views sexuality. (The twoexcerpts available on Scribd have been very popular.) At the Huffington Post, Dines discusses the research process for such a controversial subject. The blog at Ms. Magazine has posted the firsttwo parts of a three part interview. At the Guardian, Dines's work sparked debate in the comments stream. Her interview at Pulse was picked up by Andrew Sullivan and moredebate ensued.
In Wealth and Our Commonwealth, Chuck Collins warns about the possibility of a permanent aristocracy in America. In an article for The Nation, Collins makes a connection to Teddy Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" speech and the dangers that accompany giving too much money and power to a select few.
California Lawyer praises Carlos Ball's From the Closet to the Courtroom, saying "[Ball] offers lawyers an enlightening shift of focus, enabling us to understand who 'makes law' in this country, and what motivates them to do so." The book examines five of the most groundbreaking cases that have shaped LGBT rights in the United States; in the Huffington Post, Ball looks at a recent victory.
In response to youth violence in the city of Boston, officials have created 400 jobs for at-risk teenagers according to Boston.com. Ninth graders in the program will receive a copy of Michael Patrick MacDonald's memoir All Souls, which recounts his childhood growing up Irish Catholic in the violence of South Boston.
At first, the woman in front of me jumped a bit when I popped my head over the seatback and said, "Would you like me to autograph that?"
We had just taken off from Charlotte, on a connector flight from Boston to Hilton Head, and her movement had caught my eye when she pulled a copy of Dark Tide from her bag and settled in to read. When I asked the question, she glanced quickly from me to the book and back to me again, and said, "No – you're not…are you?" But there's no author's photo on the paperback, after all, so she wasn't entirely sure. I whipped out my driver's license to convince her I wasn't a stalker, and more importantly, that I was who I claimed to be. "Wow, this is great," she said. "I love the book and you're coming to speak to my book club." Of course, I responded, and named the town and date, further verifying my identity. Now we were friends. She introduced me to her husband, and after we landed, we took pictures at the airport so she could e-mail them to her book-club colleagues. When I spoke to the club a week or so later, the story of our meeting had made the rounds.
When the 90th anniversary of the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 occurs on January 15, Dark Tide will be close to celebrating its own five-and-one-half year anniversary. The blink-of-an-eye passage of time is astounding enough to me, but even more amazing (and gratifying) has been the book's continued popularity and appeal. I have been truly blessed and humbled by the chord it has struck with readers, and my book-club friend on the plane was representative of the enthusiastic response Dark Tide has generated. I have made more than 150 appearances on this book alone since its publication, and at least 40 book clubs have selected it as their choice. In the winter and spring of 2009, the Massachusetts cities of Beverly and Medford will be reading Dark Tide as part of town-wide reading programs, bringing to six the number of communities that have selected the book for this honor.
As the paperback edition of The Boston Italians is released this month, I wanted to make a few observations about readers' reactions to the book since the hardcover’s debut a year ago. I have received hundreds of e-mails and spoken to nearly two thousand people at presentations throughout the Boston area; the response has been overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming – from Italian-Americans and others – and has fallen into two main categories.
First, there is the resounding opinion that the book was long overdue; that it's simply about time Boston’s second largest ethnic group was the subject of a "non-Mob" book. That the real story – one of Italian immigrants overcoming enormous odds and paving the way for their children and grandchildren to achieve remarkable success – needed to be told.