Wednesday, August 31, 2011


When we recently visited our family in Massachusetts we visited the North End with my brother Vinny and his wife Susan. The North End is a neighborhood of Boston which has the distinction of being the city's oldest residential community, where people have lived continuously since it was settled in the 1630s. The streets are narrow and compact and there is history
seemingly around each corner. 

The Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung on the night of April 18, 1775, signaled Paul Revere that the British troops were setting out for Lexington and Concord in boats across the Charles River. You may remember Longfellow's words, "One if by land and two if by sea".  Paul Revere's house, a two and a half story wood building where he was living that night is still there. There is also a park dedicated to Paul Revere where people enjoy a beautiful day.

    On Hanover Street stands St. Stephen's Church built in 1804.

 There seems to be a feast celebrating a different saint each week!!

The North End was one of our favorite places to visit even when we lived in Massachusetts. Getting back to see it again was a real treat. This is a place where the past meets the present, where history sometimes collides with traffic, where saints, sinners and everything in between have lived and continue to live.

Historically it is a great place to visit but I have to admit we have gone so many times not for the history but for the people, the ambiance and the food!!!! For a small neighborhood there are over 100 restaurants, mostly Italian!! You can find some of the best Italian food in Massachusetts right here in the North End. Many are located on either Hanover or Salem Streets but by no means all of them. Many are tucked away on little side streets. There are also many small neighborhood grocery stores selling Italian products.

In the summer months some restaurants open their windows to allow street side tables. Here you can eat great food and enjoy great people-watching.

          Looking through a window of an Italian grocery store.

An Italian neighborhood needs to have an Italian bakery and one of the best is Mike's Pastry which has been in business since 1943.

 This was about 11 AM on a Monday!! They do a terrific business.

                    Great bread, pastry and gelato.

In the early 20th century the North End was dominated by Italian and Jewish immigrants. But to understand the sheer size of the Italian immigrant population, one must first look back at the groups that preceded them. The Irish, at their peak, numbered roughly 14,000 and the Jews numbered 17,000. The Italians, however, peaked at over 44,000. 

This resourceful neighborhood has endured a few disasters in its history. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 hit the crowded North End severely; so many children were orphaned that the city created the Home for Italian Children to care for them. The following year in 1919 the Purity Distilling Company's 2.3 million gallon molasses storage tank exploded, causing the Great Molasses Flood. This may seem funny but it was anything but!! A 15 foot wall of molasses flowed down Commercial Street towards the waterfront, sweeping away everything in its path. The wave killed 21 people, injured 150 others and caused damage worth about $100 million in today's money!! 

In the 1950's the Central Artery was built to relieve Boston's traffic. The artery walled off the North End from downtown Boston, isolating the tiny neighborhood. Ultimately the artery was dismantled as part of another state project. I have to believe that  being walled off like that for over 50 years helped build the wonderful sense of community that has helped it survive all these years. 

We have found the people to be warm, helpful and family loving. I think they are more receptive to visitors than any other area of Boston I have visited. Now I will admit that I am proudly Italian American but I really think I would feel that way if my name was O'Brandon and not Brandano. 

These two gentlemen really were helpful in telling us where and how to park our car!!!

I think the true story of any neighborhood is told in the faces of the people who live there!!

Two 'belle signore'! Actually these two beautiful ladies are Phyllis and our sister-in-law Susan!!

   You can see the old and new all over the North End!!

If I'm writing about an Italian neighborhood that has been around starting in the 1600s, I guess I need to mention the Mafia!  The Mafia was rumored to be involved there. It is said that the Angiulo family was the leading Italian-American crime group from the North End during the 1950s and 1960s. As made guys they were placed in control of the racketeering throughout Massachusetts. 

That is until the Irish mobs such as the Winter Hill Gang decided to run the rackets in their own neighborhoods. During that time one of their members, James 'Whitey' Bulger was informing on their Italian mob colleagues by allowing the FBI to bug their headquarters during the early 1980s. After that the Italians lost power in the area altogether. But they stilled ruled in certain areas including the North End. 

I will not spend anymore time on this part because I do not want to take away from what all the law abiding citizens of this great neighborhood have accomplished all these years. Besides I do not get royalties from the renting of the Godfather movies. 

People here still use clotheslines and clothespins to dry their clothes.

                 A little alley way dedicated to all the saints!!

This is a great part of the city to visit, it still has that old world flavor to it: a real flavor not fabricated to make a few dollars. These are real people living here, many of their families have lived here for over 100 years. If you're in Massachusetts, I would recommend you visit the North End and enjoy the atmosphere, the great people and the truly wonderful food!!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011


Flower power, for those of us old enough to remember it, will always remain a reminder of a very complex time to be young in the United States! Nothing exemplified this more for me than the term Flower power!! Flower power was a slogan used by the American counterculture movement during the late1960s and early 1970s as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. 

It was rooted in the opposition movement to what many of us thought was an unjust war, that being the Vietnam War! The expression was coined by the American beat poet, Allen Ginsburg in 1965 as a means of transforming war protest into peaceful, non threatening street theater. Hippies embraced the symbolism by dressing in clothing with embroidered flowers and vibrant colors, wearing flowers in their hair and giving flowers to the public thus becoming known as flower children. The term later became known as a way to represent the hippie movement and a culture of drugs, psychedelic music /art and permissiveness. I feel this demeaned the importance of the movement. 

For many of us it was a time of deep cultural divide. Before this time in the US the young people listened and believed what their parents believed in social/political matters. The wars up until Vietnam were generally supported by most of the population. There had been men who would not fight in wars and took the very controversial and some would say brave stand that they would not kill anyone but never before did a generation stand up and shout "Hell no, we won't go". 

I remember some very heated conversations with my uncle and dad about the war. When I was called to take my physical for the draft with seven of my buddies it was a scary time. Amazingly six out of eight of us flunked our physicals. The ride back to our town was as confusing as the times. We almost wanted to celebrate, to laugh and shout but two of us would be going to Vietnam. One of those two was completely deaf in one ear but faked the hearing test (I have no idea how) and was drafted.

There was also very mixed feelings. We were all raised in homes that loved this country and we did and still do. We just did not believe in this war, it was not our fathers' or grandfathers' war. We were not attacked and many felt we were there for political reasons.
It was not easy to justify those feelings to ourselves when raised in such a different environment. After all John Wayne never disagreed with his country (he actually made a film about the war that looked as though it was written by the administration). 

I know some of us were conflicted about our own thoughts. Before my physical I honestly had thoughts on running off to Canada and that made me feel like a traitor to my country and family. I also thought that I would probably just go off to war and that made me feel like a traitor to myself!  As I said it was complex times! 

There was so much killing going on inVietnam and in our own country. It seemed like everything was changing; our feelings on the war and our country, our feelings on racial injustice, our feelings on women's rights, our feelings on the 'sexual revolution' and our feelings about the drug culture revolution. It was a strange, interesting time to be young in the US. 

Then slide in all the 'normal stuff' hormones and feelings of inadequacy !!!! Did Sally like us, would she go out with us? Scott broke up with you! How would you ever find another love like him? Seems silly now but in those young years it was very important!  The Flower Power movement, like most movements died out but it was important. It helped change the public perception of the war and helped end it! 

 So remember a time when the young people of this country voiced our opposition to a war and using the symbol of the flower helped change how a nation thought!

I took these on our trip back to Massachusetts. We were driving with my brother Vin and his wife Susan when we found a field of sunflowers that my brother Bob told us about.
Vin and I left the car and started walking across a field to get to the flowers. It looked promising from this distance.

But when we came closer it was obvious that the flowers were a week or so past their peak!

I adjusted my thoughts and decided it might be a portrait shoot, a portrait of flowers!!! I started looking for individual flowers that were still in good shape. I had to find flowers that I could backlight or sidelight to get the best images.

As I walked around this large field of flowers I was able to include more of the field in my shots.

I hope you enjoyed this flower power post and will check out some of the other bloggers involved in the Marvelous Mondays at

Friday, August 26, 2011


We had a great time visiting our family and friends last week in Massachusetts. One night, our families met at one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. As always, I had my camera with me! As I was sitting there enjoying the food and mostly the company, I could not help but think of how many times over the years this scene had played out. 

As with many families a meal in our family is more than just food. It is a social event especially on those special occasions. I looked around and remembered some members who are no longer with us but are still with us in our hearts enriched by our memories of them. Those memories shine brightly in the faces of their children who now sit before us as adults. 

As I looked at my nephews and nieces, I thought of when they were young children and their parents had brought them to our family gatherings. They were so young, brimming with hope and vitality. Their futures were bright with promises of their own successes and their own families. I felt a warm excitement inside of me from the knowledge that they are well on their way to fulfilling those promises. Now as they become adults, they bring wives, future spouses and their children with them to the table. We have young faces at our table once again and it is wonderful to see the new faces of promise.  

I picked up my camera and fulfilled the time honored tradition of capturing memories and as I did, I smiled from deep inside: a smile of hope and promise reflecting from their precious faces through my lens into our collective memories! 

I photographed little Lillian, whose eyes capture your hearts; her parents Pete and Laura never too far away!

 That is our niece, Dayna, Lillian's loving aunt, helping her brother  
 Pete with Lillian's shoes!

I can tell Lillian is a Brandano because she's talking and socializing while trying to eat!!!

As we were eating our meal Laura began feeding Lillian her dinner. Lillian enjoyed eating and wearing her food!!

I think Lillian was telling her uncle what she thought of me taking her picture while she was eating!!

                           I just love those blue eyes!!!

I'm not sure what she does better; eat or wear her food but she looks really great doing it!!!

 I also took pictures of future Rock Star, Joel!! This young guy is a 
 lover already.

        That is my beautiful niece, Alexis playing with Joel!

Joel's granddad, my brother Vin is helping Joel take show off his shirt!! That writing on the shirt states,  'Lock Up Your Daughters!!'

We can see why his shirt has that written on it!!! Joel was smitten with Lillian. Well, the kid has great taste!!!!

I think Lillian would rather have her food!!!

You just can't help wanting to kiss Lillian. Everyone  followed Joel's lead!!
My brother, Rick is giving Lillian a kiss!

                    AHHH, safe in mom's embrace!!!

         Lillian, Joel and their mothers; Laura and Andrea.

Have you noticed how Joel isn't taking his eyes off of Lillian???

           You could just tell this was going to happen lol!!!

You might ask if these were all truly candids? Well, maybe not all were, not in the strictest interpretation of candids. When I started with Lillian they were but she caught on to what I was doing and started playing to the camera. To be honest, she was just too damn cute not to include all the images. As for Joel? Did he seem interested in me or the camera? Especially when Lillian came around!!! I don't think so!!!

I know we all wish for lives full of love and prosperity for all the children!! Look at these faces! How could you not???