Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Night Caruso Came to Dinner

L-R my Mom, sisters Josephine and Amelia and brother Felice. Mom and Josephine are living.
Texas in the beginning of the 20th century was an outpost. Ft. Worth was the Wild West. My dad’s dad arrived there in 1910 at the age of 15. His first job was as a film projectionist on 7th street. He later moved to Dallas and set up shop, following in the tradition of his father, whose life revolved around leather.

My mom’s family also gravitated to Dallas in those days. Her father came and went, but the family was rooted there. Her uncle, Alessandro, by the best account I could gather, was a “promoter.” He and my maternal grandfather were not as risk averse as I am. They lived the high life, even when they might not have been able to. America was a land with no limits and these two brothers took it right to the edge. One night they found Uncle Alessandro in the Trinity River with a new pair of shoes, ones made of concrete.

Before that auspicious ending though, Alessandro got around, according to accounts, mainly from my aunt Amelia, who passed away in 1999. She was a great story teller and we were best friends. She could cook and I’d bring the wine. Kindred souls. She told me things. She told me about the night Uncle Alessandro brought a special guest home to dinner.

Enrico Caruso was considered one of the great tenors of his time and his life was legendary. He grew up around Naples area and fashioned a life of music and art. He was lucky enough to have been born in times when phonograph recordings were appearing, so many of us can still hear his voice from 100 years ago.

In 1920 he was slated to appear in Ft. Worth, at the North Side Coliseum in the Stockyards. The Stockyards was a stop along the famous Chisholm Trail and the “westernmost railhead and a transit point for cattle shipment.” Cattle were the foundation by which Ft. Worth grew into an important Texas city and along with oil, one of richest towns in the West. Along with wealth came culture. Hence, love of opera.

Reports have it that when Caruso heard he was going to sing in a cattle barn, he was unable to eat. When he arrived to the Coliseum, to a standing room only crowd, it appears his spirit lifted and he gave a performance worthy of a star like Caruso could give.

In La Fanciulla del West

My aunt related to me the story that Uncle Alessandra was quite the opera buff. He “dabbled” and so when he got wind that Caruso was in Ft. Worth, he got into his Essex and headed west.

Caruso, by all accounts, was a man of great appetite. So to miss a meal before a performance was most likely something that caused him to have an even bigger appetite afterwards. I don't know how my uncle did it, but he convinced Caruso to come back to Dallas. In those days there weren’t that many restaurants in Ft. Worth, and likely none of an Italian style. The lure of a home cooked meal, especially from another southern Italian was enticing. My grandmother was a fabulous cook.

I’m not sure if my mother was there that night. She was six years old. I could only imagine what she saw if she was. What did they eat? What did they drink?

My grandmother and Uncle Alessandro's wife probably made pasta or gnocchi. There was probably some kind of meat, maybe a roast. It was October, so whatever was available from the garden would have also shown up on the table. Garden to table, those days were.

And the wine? Well, in those days, the very beginning of the roaring 20’s, there was probably some whiskey, for sure. Everyone made “hooch.” And there were a few basement winemakers as well, with grapes coming from California. The wine was probably a little rough, nothing compared to what Caruso would drink in New York or San Francisco. But from what I have been told, that didn’t stop the celebration.

I don’t think anyone slept much that night in October of 1920, the night Caruso came to dinner.

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Patty Wright-Ferrini said...

I bet he never forgot it!

Samantha Dugan said...

Pretty amazing, I could hear your voice, like the actual one, as I read this. Guess great story telling runs in the family. Loved this.

Marco Mascalese said...

I can hear "Marechiaro" softly in the distance like the haze on the still waters. Wonderful story, amico.

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