Consensus at St. Gabriel festival: There's `no place like Little Italy'

Loyal residents, visitors celebrate Italian culture

August 26, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Even defeat doesn't seem so bad when there are homemade meatball sandwiches to be had.

Ben Nees and his three teammates came up short yesterday in their first game at the St. Gabriel Italian Festival bocce tournament in Baltimore's Little Italy, but the 68-year-old player from Kent Island took the loss in stride.

"It's not a winning thing for us, it's a fun thing for us," said Nees, a self-described "Italian by marriage" who had enough room left after the meatballs to try some fresh fried dough.

The annual two-day festival, in its 74th year, wrapped up yesterday on the streets surrounding St. Leo Roman Catholic Church, an anchor in this community where the fire hydrants are painted red, white and green in honor of the homeland.

There were T-shirts proclaiming "Hug Me, I'm 1/2 Italian." There was an alcoholic concoction called a "Bocce Ball" (a mix of amaretto and orange juice with a splash of club soda). And, naturally, there was Italian food galore - everything from pizzelle to porchetta.

Anita DeSales Korpisz sat on the steps of St. Leo's convent with her fiance, Angelo Nucci, and her grandson, Zack Korpisz, eating a meatball sub.

"It's just like the most homelike atmosphere," said Korpisz, 68, who lives near Patterson Park and is to be married at St. Leo's in October. "You just can't find this anywhere else. Everyone you talk to, it feels like you're related."

Nucci, a retired brick mason who conceded that his Italian isn't as sharp as it used to be, attended St. Leo's School - now used as a community center that offers classes in bocce, Italian bread-making and Italian card games, among other subjects. He said that even people who have moved away come back to the festival to reminisce.

"All these people that were born and raised in this neighborhood are here every year to support" it, he said. Including his sister, Josephine Piccirilli, who lives in Fullerton. She was christened and married at St. Leo's. So were her three sons.

"I am a true Italian when it comes to St. Leo's Church," she said. "This is my life here."

In the basement of St. Leo's, visitors viewed a photography exhibition by Thomas C. Scilipoti, who grew up in Little Italy and now lives in Fells Point. A book of his photographs includes pictures of the New York Yankees and boxing champion Rocky Marciano on visits to Little Italy in the 1950s.

Scilipoti received a medallion yesterday for being one of many, over the years, to carry a statue of St. Gabriel through Little Italy's streets as part of the festival procession, which this year included a 13-piece band. He had that honor back in 1948.

"It's a good camaraderie of people," Scilipoti, 72, said of the neighborhood. "Everybody tries to help one another when in need."

Chuck Chiapparelli, who has lived in Little Italy for most of her 90 years, recommended the pizzelle - Italian cookies that look like flattened waffles.

"They're five for a dollar," she said. "I ate all five in five minutes."

Although she has lived in other cities, including Washington and Chicago, Chiapparelli has always made it back to Baltimore, and she intends to stay.

"I wouldn't move if you gave me a million dollars," she said. "There ain't no place like Little Italy."

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