Monday, December 7, 2009

My Persian Leprechaun in Boston

“C'ead Mile Failte” shouted my little leprechaun tour guide picking me up at the train station as he waved a sign in the air that said “America’s Gypsy”. 

“C'ead Mile Failte! C'ead Mile Failte!” he repeated as he grabbed my bags and escorted me to the car.

“C'ead Mile Failte? What does that mean”? I asked. In the strangest accent he told me that it means ‘A Hundred Thousand Welcomes’ in Gaelic. With a tilt of my head I questioned, “Are YOU Irish?” For he was the size of a leprechaun, barely over 5 feet tall but his skin was olive, his hair and eyes were black and his nose had an eastern point to it. He chuckled and said, “No, No, I am from Iran but I am Irish at heart! Just call me Charlie, your Persian Leprechaun!”
                                                     That worked for me because being America’s Gypsy, I find myself in his multi-culturally confused position many times.

“Salam (‘Peace’ in Farsi- the language spoken in Iran) and Slainte (‘Health’ in Gaelic) to you!” I said as we pulled out of the old South Station in Boston heading into the old city, feeling that this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“I am going to show you the best of Boston…starting with Irish beer and raw oysters then an Italian dinner in the North End and finishing with, of course, more Irish Beer! For, “In Heaven there is no beer, that is why we drink it here! Ha! Ha! Ha!” said Charlie as he lit up with laughter and merriment.

Our first stop was Mister Dooley’s, one of the many favorite local pubs in Boston, best known for its nightly live music and community of “pubbers” who talk instead of watch sports on television, for there is no media in the bar except loud Irish and Rockabilly music. At 3 pm, it was packed with people laughing and drinking…as if it was their last day on earth. The draft beers were flowing into the glass like a water hydrant that just exploded on the street. Glorious colors of browns, golds and ambers were displayed on the bar table as if they were flags of their countries but in this bar, the main country represented was Ireland.

I ordered a pint of Guinness and learned that not only does it have a robust, smooth taste, it is also filled with vitamins and nutrients such as iron, and it only has 125 calories. When alcohol is tasty and healthy at the same time, I am in heaven!
 (Even though it was sad to hear that they don’t serve beer in heaven, but I bet they do serve wine!)

Charlie and I held our beers high in the air as if to ‘cheers’ while he quoted a famous Irish saying in his Persian accent, “Here's to you, here's to me, the best of friends we'll always be. But if we ever disagree, forget you, here's to ME!!”
We both laughed and gulped down the golden suds of Guinness.

Irish pubs have made their place in America to be the go-to spot for anything anytime; the best place to watch sports, the ideal place to pig out on fried food and the most enjoyable place to get tipsy on the nectar of the gods. But in Boston, the Irish Pub has more meaning that just a place to get drunk. They are places for friends to connect, whether drinking or not, places for the hard working folk to relax after a long day and places for lads to remember where they came from; telling stories of life in the old country, sipping the whiskey that almost took the lives of their alcoholic grandfathers and, after a few too many, singing the songs that still bring their mothers to tears.
Oh Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling…..

From about 1815 to 1855, over 1 million Irish immigrated to Boston, hitting an all time high in 1847 when over 13 thousand Irish families were living in the North End, titling that year as “Black 47” because it was the most deadly year of Ireland’s Great Potato famine (“An Gorta Mor” in Gaelic that means “The Great Hunger”). “The average Irish man ate about 10 lbs of potatoes a day until they lost the crop” quoted Riley, a older Irish gent in the Mister Dooley’s pub.

So one can imagine the drastic effect the potato crop had on the Irish people and on the city of Boston.

Leaving the lively pub, we walked the cobblestone streets to our next destination, as the brisk air whispered ‘hellos’ from our Four-Fathers, many of whom walked out of those same doors hundreds of years ago. The bricks under my feet of Union Street were over 300 years old and through winding alleys, they lead us into another national landmark the Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in America. Circa: 1826. It is also the oldest standing brick building in Boston, dating back to 1742 where it started out as a warehouse for fancy dress goods.

Immediately upon entering I was greeted by a lobster and an oyster. A huge tank of lobsters sat next to the hostess stand and hundreds of oysters lined the bar. We decided to sit with the oysters as we watched our old Irish waiter cracked them open for us. Oil, vinegar and horseradish were given to us in gallons as we sucked the meat of the oysters and talked about the history of the restaurant.

Looking out the window, I saw the golden globe of the statehouse that was lit up with the last kiss of the sun. Along the streets, the windows of the red brick brownstones were starting to come alive with light as the moons glow appeared on the Charles River.

Time for dinner!

Charlie and I voyaged over to the North End for some Italian food. The North End of Boston is now called Little Italy for the majority of its residents are Italian families. Famous for many American historical landmarks such as the Old North Church (1723), the Paul Revere House (1680), the Pierce-Hichborn House (1711), and the Clough House (1712), the North End hosts about 100 restaurants: one Chinese (for take out only), one Japanese and the rest serve strictly macaroni.  In the 2008 Zagat guide of ‘The Best Italian Restaurants in America’, 25 of them were in the North End of Boston. 

Out of the 98 Italian restaurants to choose from, we picked, Trattoria Il Panino. Specializing in food from the Amalfi coast, we dined on grilled eggplants with parmesan, bountiful green salads and the most delicious pesto sauce drizzled over homemade tagliatelle pasta. All of the pasta in the North End is made from De Pasquale’s, the first authentic handmade pasta shop that has every type of fresh pasta available for purchase.

The food, the wine and the atmosphere were divine. The North End seemed like it had not changed since the 1800’s with its refurbished tenement architecture and vibrant Italian culture. But there had been many changes in the last 100 years. The Irish originally inhabited the North End and when they moved out and to the South Side, in came the Jewish families. The Italians claimed the North End later in the 1890’s. Today, the area is still a thriving Italian community filled with the traditional pastry shops with warm bread baking in the oven, coffee shops with the Italian futbol on the television and Italian still spoken on the streets. There are many decorative churches (some of which used to be Jewish Synagogues) honoring their specific patron saints and each year, huge parades are held for the celebrated saint of the season.

After the amazing Italian meal, I wanted a little something sweet. Charlie gave me two options, “We can go to Mike’s Pastry shop for home made cannoli or we can go to my favorite secret spot in Beachon Hill”. Being the cultural adventuress that I am, I chose the secret spot.

Walking down the historic streets of Beacon Hill, I saw new England at its finest. Beacon Hill is a neighborhood best known for its narrow, gas-lit streets, brick sidewalks and Federal-style Rowhouses. Today, Beacon Hill is regarded as one of the most desirable and expensive neighborhoods in Boston to live in.

Around the cobblestone corner, Charlie walked into a restaurant, La La Rokh, as if it was his home (soon to find out that is was his home) greeting everyone with kisses on the cheeks and speaking Farsi. He introduced me to his mother, Agda, the owner and chef.

After having just finished dinner, we were already stuffed. Thinking I was simply sitting down for a little desert and cafe, I saw Agda come from around the corner with a hot sizzling dish called Tadik; which is a crispy, sticky rice with a sweet and tart sauce of tomatoes, saffron and lentils melting through the cracks. It was hard to put the fork down as she sat starring at my every bite with a proud smile of sharing her spices with me and my senses. Just like her son, she stood no more than 5 feet tall with piercing dark eyes and the most serene smile and elegant style. And though her English was not always clear, she communicated her journey from Iran to America in a profound way…through her food, enticing all hungry visitors to come on a voyage of tastes through her Iranian spices in Boston.

At this point I could not fathom putting anything else in my stomach, for it was full of all the culture I was able to absorb in the few hours of my first day in Boston. And what vibrant cultures they are! At the end of the night, Charlie dropped me off at my hotel and it was sad to leave my newfound friend. We hugged and said our goodbyes and though he said he was Irish at heart, I could see that nothing could compare to the love he has for his Iranian mother living in the land of the Irish of Boston.

Walking into my hotel I was greeted by the valet of 3 tall dark skinned men with the names, Rafik, Mounir and Saeed.  Exhausted and cultured out, I was still a little curious about their ethnicities and asked where they were from. “Morocco”!! They all said with big smiles as they continued to tell me about the large Moroccan community here in Boston along with a great restaurant I should try. Well, I knew what my next day would be like! Yalla Yalla! Slainte! and Good Night!!!

For more information on any of these places and if you have any GYPSY CULTURAL Questions: Just click here and Ask the Gypsy

The Legend of La La Rokh
In 1817, the poet Thomas Moore, inspired by exotic stories European travelers were bringing back from the Orient, published Lala Rokh, a romance. The title character is a beautiful young princess whose name means "tulip cheeks," a term of endearment still used in the Persian language today.
Her story is truly an enchanting one. Lala Rokh is betrothed to a prince in a distant kingdom, who sends a grand procession of palanquins and elephant-borne thrones to meet her and bring her back to him. During the journey, she is entertained each evening by the poet Feramorz, who recites a series of magical, fantastic tales. In spite of herself, she falls in love with the handsome young poet, and as they near the end of their travels, knowing they must soon part, she descends into a state of deep melancholy. Only then does Feramorz reveal himself to be the prince in disguise. Of course, they marry and live happily ever after.

Irish Phrases and Blessings!

"Éirinn go Brách" Ireland forever

slainte "health"

May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.
I drink to your health when I'm with you,
I drink to your health when I'm alone,
I drink to your health so often,
I'm starting to worry about my own

May you never forget what is worth remembering,
Or remember what is best forgotten.

May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.

Here's to you, here's to me, the best of friends we'll always be. But if we
ever disagree, forget you here's to ME!!

May your neighbors respect you,
Troubles neglect you,
The angels protect you,
And Heaven accept you.

In Heaven there is no beer, that is why we drink it here.

Here's to a long life and a merry one.
A quick death and an easy one.
A pretty girl and an honest one.
A cold pint-- and another one!

May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light.
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.

1 comment:

Wahid Boctor said...

Love the article ..Wish you had a picture of Charlie the Persian Leprechaun..