by Donna Perezella
I don't eat meat. Which is ironic considering that tonight's Carnevale celebration is a farewell to meat (literally, as carne means "meat," and vale means "farewell" in Latin). In this devout Italian Catholic circle, also ironic as I am not a devout anything, Carnevale signals the start of Lent, where during its 40 day period, meat is intentionally absent from most Italian dinner tables, both in the US and in Italy.
But, I don't eat meat; meat is noticeably absent from my own dinner table 365 days a year. So why am I here at this last-chance-to-eat-meat-for-40-days celebration? I love a good party.
In an attempt to resemble our pre-winter 2010/2011 selves tonight, Mark and I decide to shed our cold weather layers; he dons a suit and tie, me a dress and high-heel boots. We almost don't recognize ourselves. I have no guilt about abandoning my faithful friends -- warm, woolen tights and snug, snow boots. But I do worry that my down coat may experience separation anxiety tonight; we have been inseparable since early December.
I am willing to take that risk, so we join some two hundred plus meat eaters at the 33rd Annual Carnevale Dinner & Dance for song, dance, food, and drink -- Italian style.
The American Legion hall in Newton has been transformed into a piece of Venice on the bank of the Charles River. We are met by a sea of black evening wear and sparkling jewels; some memorable hairdos and forgettable hair-don'ts. I spot our friends at table 33, and quickly settle in for the evening's festivities.
Our emcee, Signora Cimino, a delightful gal who reminds us all of our favorite nonna (grandmother), excites the crowd as she introduces Rhode Island's own Ambrosiani band, fresh off a plane from Rome, who will provide the evening's music. "Oohs" and "aahs" are exclaimed from this group, mainly Italian immigrants, upon hearing the mention of the band's recent trip to the old country.
This gala, like so many other events in Boston's large Italian community, is an attempt to keep a piece of the old country alive. There are many traditions that they carried with them when they left Italy, and tonight they successfully preserve another one of them.
The band begins to play an old folk song -- l'Italiano. I drag Mark out to the dance floor, attempting to blend into the crowd before his "two left feet" dance moves are exposed.
Back at our table, red wine is flowing as waiters begin to serve us family style. Plates of antipasti (appetizers) are being passed. Colorful platters are filled with sharp, pungent cheeses and wonderful vegetables -- vibrant red roasted peppers, pearly-white artichokes marinated in oil and vinegar, a painter's palette of olives -- green, black, and brown. Mounds of delicately-sliced prosciutto di Parma are piled onto individual plates; we pass on this glossy pink delicacy.
The band continues to play, a mix of the old and the new. The Italian national anthem, "Inno Nazionale," not only brings everyone to their feet, but also moves some to tears. Our Italian friend, Clelia, cries openly for the country she left as a teenager and that she still greatly misses; I think how hard it must be to leave the only country that you have ever known.
As we are soothed by beautiful Italian ballads, our waiters appear with platters of home-made pastas; a wonderful orecchiette (little ears) simply tossed with broccoli rabe and olive oil, and another swimming in an aromatic and flavorful tomato sauce. Crusty Italian bread is passed from person to person.
And then the course,that everyone (except me) has been eagerly awaiting, finally appears -- il carne (the meat). Plates of golden oven-roasted chicken and sauce-soaked braciola (rolled pork) are greeted by my table mates like long lost friends.
The evening's entertainment is about to begin. The dance floor clears. Glasses clank as "silenzio" is demanded. We turn our attention back to the dance floor where 18 men and women, in traditional Italian folkloric costumes, are waiting to perform.
This Italian folk dance group, "Ricordi d'Italia," entertains us with multi-regional Italian folk music and traditional dances. They take us on an exciting trip though the regions of Italy through their song and dance. I am particularly moved when they perform "Ballo dei Mattacchini," the traditional folk dance from the Molise region, where my own grandparents were born and left as adults, never to return.
A rousing applause is felt and heard during Ricordi d'Italia's rendition of the popular and age-old folkloric "Tarantella," which brings the night to an end. If you've ever been to an Italian wedding, chances are you, too, have experienced this Italian classic. And chances are you left humming it's tune.
Tonight it has that same feeling for me -- I call it the Tarantella effect. And I have a feeling that this group of transplanted Italians is feeling it, too!
It's still not too late to celebrate Carnevale in Boston!
Although on a lesser scale, Italia Unita Sponsors "Carnevale 2011"
When: Thursday, March 10th, 2011, 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Where: Spinelli’s Function Facility, 280 Bennington Street East Boston,MA.
$25.00 per person advance purchase, $30 night of the event.
To purchase tickets of for more information, call 617-561-3201 or visit their website at www.italiaunita.org