My Italian Roots in San Francisco

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What better way to begin a new blog than with a little background into my Italian roots and how they ended up in San Francisco, CA.  My parents immigrated from Italy in the 1950’s – my dad in 1955 and my mom in 1958.  They were sweethearts in Italy along the romantic and beautiful shores of Lago Maggiore.  My dad was a professional soccer player – he played in B Series for Gallarate!!  When his career was coming to an end, he decided to try his luck in America!!!  Since he had an uncle and a brother living in San Francisco, he decided that’s where he wanted to go.  So, in March of 1955, with my mom seeing him off from the port of Genoa, he set sail aboard the Andrea Doria.  He spent 10 horrible days at sea (he was so seasick that he never even left his bunk) until he arrived in New York.  From there he boarded a train which took him across the country to San Francisco!  He learned the restaurant business from his uncle who owned Bardelli’s Restaurant in Downtown, but was desperately missing his sweetheart back home.  So, six months after arriving in San Francisco he decided to travel back to Italy to marry my mom!!  But this time, he used all his savings to buy an airline ticket – he vowed never to sail again!  They married in their hometown church of San Martino in Ispra on December 26, 1955.  After honeymooning along the Italian Riviera, he returned to San Francisco.  Sadly, my mom was not able to join him at the time due to quota restrictions.  It would take more than two years before she would be given the OK to emigrate to the USA.  Fortunately, after her petition to Cardinal Montini of Milan (who later went on to become Pope Paul VI) , she was allowed to join my father in San Francisco in March of 1958.  At first, she hated this new country – she knew no one and she couldn’t understand or speak the language.  She was horribly homesick….until she became pregnant with me in May of the same year!!  Once that happened, her outlook changed.  She began to go to evening classes to help her learn the language, and she started meeting and associating with other women who had immigrated from Italy.  My dad established his own restaurant, The Iron Pot, in the financial district and owned that for more than 20 years.  Little by little, this new place became home. 

San Francisco is a city with a very rich Italian culture.  The neighborhood of North Beach is known as Littly Italy.  Italian shops, churches, and restaurants can be found here.  Many Italians live in this part of the city, and you can hear Italian being spoken everywhere.  It holds a very special place in my heart – as a child, I spent countless Sundays and Holidays here, and whenever I return, it feels like a little piece of home.  The hustle, bustle and vitality in North Beach can be a bit frantic, but it’s  exciting to partake of.  Passing the cafes and restaurants, with outdoor seating under heat lamps (yes, SF can be quite chilly), harkens me back to the outdoor piazzas that are all over Italy.  Sipping a cappucino at Victoria’s Pastry shop or perusing the wide selection of Italian coldcuts and other imports at Molinari’s Delicatessen, is like heaven to me.  I could spend all day people watching and listening to all the Italians!!  And then there are the  churches!!  The very famous St. Peter and Paul’s Church is featured in countless movies filmed in San Francisco.  It is the original Italian parish, where Italian immigrants felt at home with priests who spoke Italian and who offered Masses in Italian.  All major events in a San Francisco Italian immigrant’s life  took place here.  This is where I was baptized and also married!  And sadly, this is also where my father’s funeral took place.  It is that little connection that means so much to us.  The other church, much smaller than St. Peter and Paul, is St. Francis of Assisi.  The wonderful thing about this church is its new Porziuncola – an exact replica of the original found in Assisi!  I will post more on this in future posts, but for now I will say that it is an amazing spot for reflection and silent prayer in the heart of San Francisco.

So, even though I am far away from the country which I hold so dearly in my heart, I can venture into North Beach and perhaps get a bit closer…if only with those cappucino’s or pizzas which are almost as good as those found in Italy!!!

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