“Food connects us like nothing else I’ve never seen. It has a way to peel away at all our differences and help us find a common language. Food is the most honest and simple expression of who we are.” -Penny De Los Santos
If you drove down Pleasant Street Friday night, you may have seen the hazy glow of lights from Foley Stadium over on Chandler Street. You may have seen a man huddled against himself, hidden under his hood, smoking a cigarette at the corner of Park Ave, under the dimly lit Blue Jeans Pizza sign. All and all, it was a quiet night on Pleasant, with the occasionally whooshing of cars past Newton Hill.
In the world that day, Hostess and Wonder Bread went out of business, causing a bidding war for Twinkies on eBay (as of this morning, some final sales topped over $100.00 for boxes of the spongy chemical goo filled treats.), The Petraeus’ Scandal continued to unravel with reports that both Broadwell and Kelley visited the White House on several occasions, never meeting President Obama (hmm, that’s news?), and perhaps the most under-reported story of the day, according to the AP, Hamas aimed rockets at Jerusalem for the first time as Israeli airstrikes pounded the Palestinian territory for a third day.
In Worcester, the Telegram & Gazette covered executive producer Dennis Leary’s talk and screening of the documentary “Burn”, chronicling the daily nightmarish battles of Detroit Firefighters, who respond to over 30,000 fire calls a year in a city plagued by vacant buildings and arson (http://detroitfirefilm.org). A man was kidnapped at gunpoint on Austin Street and was later thrown or jumped from the car at Providence Street. Police are still investigating. In happier news, hundreds gathered at Worcester Trial Court on Main Street as 27 families became a bit more complete with the addition of 37 children in Worcester’s celebration of National Adoption Day.
Like most days, there was news, mostly bad, some good.
When I prepared to become a reporter in college, whether it was writing for The Berkshire Eagle or the T&G, I always had that adage “If it bleeds, it leads” in the back of my mind. As an intern covering local news and feature stories, I knew I would not write a sensational-fear-based-media-money-making-voyeuristic- gem-of-consumption, but I hoped I’d see a paper, a website or a magazine with more authentic stories, ones of survival, the thriving of the human spirit, the coming together of unlike minds, working, living and creating together. Needless to say, my career as a reporter, if you can even call it that, was short lived. I didn’t have the gut to ethically cover what would sell versus what was news…(and the fact that my last name was Connolly when theree were about eight with the same last name on staff at the Boston Globe already, plus the shrinking of the newsroom with the rise of a new digital medium didn’t help either).
It is not news that good deeds, authentic gatherings celebrating the mundane, but perhaps extraordinary are rarely and often uncovered. I don’t remember the last time I read, “Man finds $5.00, returns it to owner,” “Friend picks up friend on 290 after flat tire disables vehicle,” “Child says thank you to woman who holds door at the library”. Of course, is this news? No, I don’t think it is, but I worry that if we look back on the 2000s as history, there will be a perception that life was more tragic than reality. We live in a time where 24 hour news channels “cover” events as they unfold without getting the facts first. I look at it as some outsiders look at Worcester; man what a dump we live in.
If you’re still reading, stay with me, I have a point and will connect it all in a bit.
Is the world going to hell in a hand basket? Maybe, and I’m not naive enough to think that the world is a rainbow filled unicorn stable of justice and truth. During my first year teaching I recall a student pointing out I was the most morbid teacher she ever had because “In everything we read this year, the mom was either dead or died in the story” (My apologies for this unintentional choice of plot turns, and my hopes are that this student is not rocking herself in a corner somewhere today). It’s not perfect, but it’s not awful. It’s a bit of a beautiful disaster.
So if you read the paper and you drove down Pleasant on Friday and that was the data to determine that Worcester was/is a dump with nothing to do, that’s a valid assessment.
But look closely.
On the second floor of a two family house converted into apartments, my cousin Shaun hosted a soup party. With his roommate and brother Marky, about 30 people throughout the night stopped in, conversed and warmed up to a bowl Pumpkin Curry and Turkey Rice.
It’s a simple idea really, and one Shaun has been simmering for over a year. He makes two unique varieties of soup, invites a hodgepodge of people, some young, some older. We gather to eat, drink and be merry.
It may seem hokey or silly…a soup party. Why not just have people come over and hang out. Whether intentional or not, using soup as the theme is genius; it is informal enough to allow food for guests while allowing for mingling. I well imagine a contrived sit down dinner party, which would of course be filled with small talk and pleasantries, which this was not. And though this four letter word is seen as a starter, it packs a powerful punch. Making a soup is a labor of love, if you ever had. (Aka, you didn’t just use a can opener and simmer on low until contents are warm). Soups are complicated, delicate and ever-changing depending on the amount of time the flavors are able to marinate creating a broth, depending on what type of ingredients are cut, diced, pureed, sliced or reduced. There’s sauteing, boiling simmering. Meat braises off the bone. Flavors mature, spice enhances, heat warms.
Soup often comes up in writing, Willa Cather wrote, “A soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.” Ludwig van Beethoven is quoted as saying “Only the pure of heart can make a good soup.” American Psychologist Abraham Maslow stated, A first-rate soup is more creative than second-rate painting.” Think about the imagery, the memories soup brings up. When it’s raining on a brisk September day, don’t you want a bowl of soup and a fluffy blanket? Even if you’re 30, when you’re sick, don’t you want your mom to make you Chicken Noodle Soup? Soup is comfort. Soup is satisfying. Soup strengthens.
Please sir, may I have some more?
We arrived at Shaun and Mark’s around 9:30, just as soup was about to be served. In the living room I caught up with their parents Donna and Tim, discussing our Thanksgiving Day plans. In the kitchen I caught up with former Worcester Mag report Jeremy, now an English teacher at University Park Campus, sharing stories of the year, the good and the battle scar worthy. I met and revisited new and familiar faces, a PhD candidate from Ohio, the founder of Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments, reporters, teachers, social workers, and a karaoke extraordinaire. Yet the informal setting allowed me to mingle and walk through each room chatting and getting to know some of Worcester’s finest better. I truly think if we were sitting at a large table, the discussion would have been focused on what these individuals do for a living in a sort of polite stuffy way.
I’m very lucky to have the family I have. Though my brother’s name is Sean and my cousin’s name is Shaun (it’s really not that weird). I never grew up with them. I met Shaun and Marky a handful of times as we were in Pittsfield and they were in Worcester. It wasn’t until I went to Assumption in 2000 that I became close with the both of them (from Shaun helping me move into dorms and apartments, showing up on his bike and even taking Marky Trick or Treating, yes I am old). All kidding aside, they’re good people. Those who know Shaun know he is a versatile comic/actor/teacher who is instrumental in putting Worcester on the map as a legitimate comedy stop, rivaling the bigger cities. Those who know Marky know he has razor wit and is a talented musician in his own right. But as family, I get the added advantage of touting them as genuinely good guys with even better heads on their shoulders. They care for their families and friends, and underneath their unique personas are hearts of gold (good job Donna and Tim!)
Of course this wasn’t the only authentic event happening in Worcester that evening, but I’m glad I got to be part of such a group. This close to Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for that. It was newsworthy enough for me to make note of it here.