North Beach’s Italian-Heritage Parade, the oldest in America, is Sunday, October 7. Book your lunch table now at one of the many caffes and restaurants on the parade route. They’re going fast. It’s a fantastic holiday. You don’t want to miss it. Everyone will be there.
We’re in for a really special treat this year. Piero and Lorenza Cipriani are flying in from Italia laden with bounty from the fall harvest. Santo Esposito who owns Cavalli Cafe is pitching a big tent outside on Saturday & Sunday so the Ciprianis can share tastes of their Italian culinary loot with anyone who stops by.
They’re bringing this year’s extra virgin olive oil from a small producer in Tuscany, just-picked truffles from Emiglia-Romagna and Umbria, just-milled Tuscan chestnut flour and fresh and dried porcini mushrooms.
I’d kill for a fresh porcini. I like to grill them with garlic-infused olive oil and a light sprinkle of oregano or marjoram and sea salt. It’s like eating steak.
All of the Cipriani goodies are for sale so grab some while you can. And stop in Cavalli Cafe before you move on for an espresso and Santo’s cannoli, the best in all of North Beach. I hope I see you there after our Parade lunch party.
I have a few seats at my lunch table if you want to join us. Send me an email and I’ll let you know the details and where to meet up.
It’s just been 2 weeks since we saved the severely damaged Song of Pulcinella mural and rolled it across Columbus Avenue to a safe haven. It’s been a week since I brought the San Francesco statue to Emerald Tablet gallery to oversee the restoration.
The muralist Vranas was worried about the seam where the 2 big pieces were joined together. Sean O’Donnell had lined it up perfectly and Vranas repainted the vertical rip beautifully.
Vranas will finish the last shattered corner today. It may be the toughest section to conquer. Thank you San Francesco, Song of Pulcinella is almost back.
Leah Garchik picked up the restoration story in her Friday Chronicle column. Scroll down Friday’s column to find it.
Thanks to Andre Hunt for his video of Vranas working on that last corner.
Saturday was a day of truth. Could North Beach handyman Sean O’Donnell put the mural pieces back together again? I really wasn’t sure.
The muralist Vranas and I joined Della and Lapo at their Emerald Tablet art workshop and gallery to help Sean lift the heavy mural onto his operating table.
We placed the mural side down so Sean could work on the backside. He had to remove the drywall from the studs. Then he had to align the two pieces so that the image on the other side lined up perfectly. “If the seam doesn’t match perfectly I may not be able to repaint it,” Vranas warned.
Sean has to work blind. Fine measurements were checked, Sean reached underneath to feel the seam. “How is he going to be able to do this?” I thought. “He can’t see the face of the mural.”
I ran across the street to the gift shop at the National Shrine of St. Francis. Pulcinella was with us but we needed more firepower. I bought a statue of Assisi of St. Francis in an “illumination” pose and put him facing the mural on the table where the mural fragments were laid. Maybe he will help enhance Sean’s perception.
When we all gathered on Sunday I was taken aback as I entered the back gallery. Sean’s expert repair looked beautiful to me. “Your a genius,” I told him. “You put it all back together again!” We agreed on a plan to flip the mural. The moment of truth had arrived. Will all the pieces be properly aligned?
Oh my God it worked! The mural is back in one piece. Della and Sean meticulously checked the seam where the circular saw ripped the mural in two. This was a critical area. If the two pieces weren’t perfectly joined the restoration might be doomed.
Vranas walked the mural, stopping here, running a finger over the surface there. “It’s a miracle, everything fits perfectly,” he exclaimed. “Thank you St. Francis,” I mumbled to myself. I still don’t believe that Sean was able to accomplish this feat. “Bravo,” we all yelled in unison. Now the restoration of the mural could start. Sean packed up his tools and turned the project over to Vranas and Della.
“You like puzzles?” Vranas asked as I stood over him. He and Della were gluing the small fragments into place. Once the adhesive cured they would carefully join them to the mural.
There was a void in the upper corner that Della filled with plaster. The large corner fragment and a hang-nail piece flapping freely on loose webbing could both be attached. This is the last marriage for today. We’ll let everything cure for 24-hours. When we come back on Tuesday Vranas and Della will attach the rest of the fragments and fill the remaining voids.
Vranas will bring his paints and if possible he’ll start repainting the parts that we glued in place today. I can’t wait.
I checked in with Della and Lapo at Emerald Tablet Sunday morning. They’ve been instrumental in crafting our Song of Pulcinella mural restoration plan. We started to get our heads around the project. We need a carpenter. We need to talk to Vranas, the artist who created the mural. We need to get the restoration done quickly on a near zero budget.
I’ve met Vranas in North Beach caffes over the years, but I didn’t really know him. He’s lived in the Village, on and off, for decades. North Beach is home to four Vranas murals – the incredibly detailed Roman Forum at Viva, the Greek farm scene above Nature Stop’s produce case, the life-size portraits of great Irish writers at O’Reilly’s and the newest one, the one we almost lost – The Song of Pulcinella.
Sunday night we met at the gallery. Vranas saw his wrecked mural for the first time. He cried when he told me he was surprised anyone would try to save it. We’ve lost a lot of North Beach over the years. I didn’t want to add Vranas’ mural celebrating Napoli to the list of things that once were.
Vranas said the mural could be made whole again. When I left hours later I was energized. Out of respect for one of North Beach’s great artists, Song of Pulcinella has to be put back together and hung in a place of honor for all to enjoy.
Next, I called North Beach handyman, Sean O’Donnell. I told him my story and asked if he could help. “I know Vranas. I’ll meet you at the gallery tonight. We’ll see.”
Vranas and Sean inspected the mural and explored options for putting it all back together. Vranas talked about imagining the work and how he created it. (Google Earth inspired the city part of the mural.) “Be careful with this raised edge” he warned Sean, “or we lose the trompe l’oeil.”
Restoration ideas filled the gallery. A plan was emerging. No power tools, so the studs may stay. Plywood backing to stabilize the drywall. The two big pieces reunited from behind and the fragments re-attached. Plaster to fill the gaps. We all agreed. Easy, huh? We’ve got two weeks to get the restoration done. I think this North Beach gang just might have a shot at it. Pulcinella is watching, you know.
Sean will start work on the mural Saturday. We’ll all be there. Stop by and say hello.
What ever happened to the North Beach memorabilia collection at the North Beach Museum curated by Allesandro Baccari, Jr.? It was above Cavalli Cafe on Stockton until it suddenly disappeared several years ago. Rumors circulated all over the VIllage. Finally – mystery solved.
The answer was at the Old Mint downtown. All the North Beach Museum stuff was out of storage and on display. It took Al 3 weeks to install his fantastic private collection of North Beach’s Italian cultural and political memorabilia, ephemera and photos from the 1800s to present.
Baccari was born and raised in a prominent North Beach family and spent much of his youth with the Sicilians on Fisherman’s Wharf. He is an educator, businessman, museum curator and photographer. He founded the Fisherman’s Wharf Historical Society. His photography has been exhibited in museums around the world. He wrote a book on Fisherman’s Wharf and another on Saints Peter & Paul Church on Washington Square.
Al spent a lifetime collecting North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf pix and artifacts. Photographs spanning 100 years of North Beach life–early 1900s vestments and altar pieces from the 2 churches in the Village – Italian Garibaldi and unification of Italia militaria–opera costumes, posters and musical instruments–prominent North Beach resident histories – and much more are all on display.
Al has a motto – “Keep the fish in Fisherman’s Wharf.” He’s a leader in the struggle to maintain the Italian and Asian fishing communities on Pier 43 near Scomo restaurant. Most people don’t even know it’s there but it’s the largest fishing fleet on the west coast! Al’s just as passionate about North Beach. The Old Mint exhibit is part of his effort to preserve North Beach history and share his intimate knowledge of our special Village with all.
The Old Mint is a beautiful building. The Baccari North Beach exhibit takes up the entire main floor – about 12 rooms-full – really worth a visit.
Mint Plaza is abuzz – stop in at Blue Bottle, Chez Papa or 55 Mint.
Here’s a peek of the Baccari exhibit. See which Village landmarks you can identify!
Recognize these two towers? The original church burned to the ground in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Almost twenty years later the church is reborn as “The Italian Cathedral of the West”.
Remember this Grant Avenue store that closed a decade ago. I loved the wall of small wooden drawers. The Figone boys knew which one held the screw you needed.
How about these twin steeples? One of the 2 churches that bookend my Village.
A beautiful accordian from the last century.
North Beach’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s original wall poem The Old Italians Dying chronicles a generational transition in the Village.
Song still fills the air in the Village–Neapolitan songs at Trieste–opera on Puccini’s jukebox–the opera singing waiter at Colloseo–rock and R&B in the Grant Ave joints.
It’s the 150th anniversary of Italia’s unification–some Garibaldi items from that time.
Wasn’t Angelo Rossi the Mayor who gave the orders to fire at the striking longshoremen on Bloody Sunday in 1934?
I hope Baccari’s extraordinary North Beach finds a permanent home–maybe at the Museo Italo Americano in Fort Mason or at the Istituto Italiano Culturale on Montgomery just below Broadway. If we’re lucky maybe some of the photographs will even make it back to North Beach. I’ll let you know if they do.
The SF Public Library is hosting a new exhibit called San Francisco Eats, and it’s all about the unique food history of our fair city:
San Francisco Eats showcases the culinary delights that can be found in the San Francisco Public Library’s collections dating back to the mid 19th century and will serve as a visual feast for visitors of all ages. From the Gold Rush to Slow Food, San Francisco has never stopped being a beacon of gastronomic delight.
This exhibition includes menus, historical photographs, an array of food writers, cookbooks and culinary history, ephemera such as coasters and matchbooks, and San Francisco food inventions, including gadgets and signature dishes.
I’ll be attending an opening-day event, hoping to learn something about my favorite intersection of food and history in SF – you guessed it! – North Beach! Come out and say hello.