On the weekends, the place is thick with tourists-- wandering for the most part, taking pictures of odd little bits of architecture and shaded alleys. Lining up in droves for the hotspots- Cannoli at Mike's. Pizza at Regina's. Sometimes an entire street smells like roasted garlic or fresh pesto sauce or a bakery.
Connected guys sit in their corner tables, watching the streets. Running numbers. Others sit in small groups, talking Italian. It feels like they are talking about the good old days. Arguments explode with accents that seem heavy to me (though, here, I am the one with the accent) and filled with profanity...just marking territory, not dangerous or even serious if you know the local rules.
Little old ladies have no fear and will tell the biggest groups of young men what is and isn't acceptable and they will listen. In a barrio, this is the abuella power, and it is like magic. Similar, I suppose, in many places where families are held together by strong women while men play their little games.
The young men try to look tough. The young women are beautiful, many in that special mediterranean way. They don't need to try. Sometimes the contrast between the smooth skin and sparkling eyes and the brash Bostonian accent catches me off guard and I laugh.
I move through the North End at all hours of the day and night, humidity so high that cotton shirts are soaked in a matter of seconds. Wandering, trying to get lost and finding my way again. Listening to music and arguments and laughter. Watching people walk dogs and others complain that people walking dogs. The scramble for parking when streetsweeping is scheduled.
There is no smell of BBQ smoke and it's a puzzle- clear skies and too hot to cook inside, I expect outdoor cooking to be rife. Finally, I ask and am told that all forms of outdoor cooking are illegal. "I had a hibachi out on the fire escape and my neighbor turned me in. Can you believe dat shit?" Strange.
There are other significant absences. I see young men drinking in the parks at night, but never the addicts or panhandlers that I expect in a big city... but cross the Surface Rd (artifact of the Big Dig project) to Downtown and there they are. For whatever reason, except near the piers, you don't find them in the North End.
And there is cannoli and coffee, which all by themselves can make life pretty sweet. Try the Florentine cannoli. Yum.