Festival Dates for 2016: September 8th – 11th
The 800 pound statue of the Madonna dei Martiri procession runs through the streets of Hoboken on Saturday, September 10th. As you read my article, you'll discover that there's more than the Festival itself to make the trip worth it...
My Mom and Dad both grew up in Hoboken, with many other Italian immigrants, many families (like my Dad's) were from Molfetta. In Molfetta in early September they have a feast to honor the Madonna dei Martiri (Madonna of the Martyrs). When I was a boy I went to the "feast" (as we called it) many times with my Parents, Uncles, Aunts and Grandmother... there was a grand procession, where young and old men would carry the hefty statue of the Madonna through the streets. There was usually a raised stage set up on a corner with Italian singers, dancers, and even dramatic short plays from the old country. Then there was the food. You name it and it was there. All manner of Italian delicacies... spaghetti dinners on long tables set up at curbside, meatball or sausage and pepper sandwiches, deep fried calamari, zeppole, pastries and much more.
Of course, in the old days the town's fame came from it's most popular and well known product--Frank Sinatra. My Mom went to grade school with him (and said that all the girls didn't "go" for him because he was so skinny). There is a wonderful waterfront park and promenade named after old Blue Eyes--Sinatra Park, which is where the Italian Festival is held.
Nowdays, he has been replaced with the newcomer, Buddy Valastro, of Carlo's Bakery and TV's Cake Boss fame. But Hoboken has a lot more going for it than its Italian heritage, Sinatra or Buddy's overpriced fondant covered cakes. We rediscovered it's charm and beauty while going to the Italian Festival last weekend. But, there is both good news and bad what we discovered there...
Ok, so the old style Italian Festival is virtually dead and gone. It's a lot different from the Festa of the Madonna dei Martiri when I was a kid. After all, when you look at the faces in this town all you rarely see one under 30 years old. I wonder how they can afford to live in Hoboken.
And that's not the only thing. When I was a boy, my Dad would take me down to the Hoboken waterfront to tell me about his history. He and his brother Peewee had a "three legged horse" (merely lame) they used to sell fruit and veggies to the sailors coming from the many large ships that docked along the waterfront piers. There were many bars in Hoboken (every other storefront, as he tells it) and houses of ill repute. This was a rough, tough and seedy seaport town. The famous Clam Broth House served raw bars in just as raw an atmosphere with clam shells tossed onto the tiled floor into the sawdust. (Now it's moved around the corner and is a fine dining establishment). Whenever my Dad took me in there I couldn't stand the smell of beer and iffy clams.
Sinatra's mother, Dolly (as my Mom told it) performed abortions in the back room of the family's bar. Dolly became politically active because of her inside "connections" to all the local political bosses. This was--and still is--a very "connected" and perhaps corrupt town, but the fruits of these politicians and developers have left something positive: The new waterfront.
This is the gold that Hoboken offers to visitors. The revived waterfront is every bit as good as the promenade down in Battery Park City--but with obviously better views looking back on the Manhattan skyline. From a single viewpoint, you can see the towers clustered in midtown and the newer towers clustered around the Freedom Tower down at the tip of the island. You can see all the way north to the George Washington Bridge. The river is alive again with lots of boat traffic and ferries going into many stops around Manhattan. And the best thing is the way they developed the waterfront itself. Paved paths, green spaces, trees and even a curved walkway that leads you from the shore onto a man made island park complete with a playground for the little ones.
We also had a chance to walk over to Carlo's Bakery (our second time there) thinking we'd pick up some pastries and see how their new renovation looked. Though over a block long like the first time we went there a year or more ago, the line inside was still long. We took a ticket. We were #77 and they were "Now Serving 44". Yikes. A quick calculation of 33 people at 4 minutes average apiece meant we'd be waiting over an hour and a half to be served. They only had 3 people behind the counter! So at best, 30 minutes to wait? To be honest, the last time we got cake from Carlo's we didn't think it was all that great... you see I grew up in Hudson County and have had Italian pastry and cakes from many great bakers in the area. Carlo's ranks 2.5 on a scale of 5 to me. So we left. Sorry, Buddy.
One more little detour was to take Lisa and Lucas down a few blocks to the old Erie Lackawanna Railroad Station--and old world gem, sort of a smaller version of Grand Central Station in Manhattan. It was beautiful, and is still a functioning train station. You can see its beauty in various films, like the train station scene in Julie & Julia (2009). Lucas noticed the fancy staircase right away and said it reminded him of that scene in the Untouchables when Elliot Ness has a shootout while trying to catch the baby carriage rolling down the stairs. It was like stepping back in time to the 1920s or 30s.
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