New Azzurri, Old Neighborhood
Mario Balotelli broke down Germany – Germany! – on Thursday.
It was compelling viewing at the center-of-the-Italian universe, Mama’s of Corona, Queens, surrounded by antipasto and cannolis and friends.
Three Italophiles – a local hero named Minaya plus a Blum and a Vecsey -- watched Balotelli grow in stature before our eyes.
As soon as the big dude blasted his second goal against what had been the strongest-looking team in the Euros, his inner knucklehead could not resist, and he whipped off his jersey, the worldwide macho gesture of goal-scorer pride.
Of course, by football regulations, that cost him a yellow card, making him vulnerable to suspension for Sunday’s final against Spain.
Still, Balotelli was an impressive sight, a son of Ghanaian immigrants named Barwuah, adopted at 18 by an Italian family, displaying his rippling muscles.
“If he scores another goal, they’ll put up a statue of him in Florence,” somebody said.
“Il David Nero,” somebody added respectfully in Italian. The Black David.
The growth of Balotelli in this tournament has been impressive, a tribute to the man himself and also to Coach Cesare Prandelli, who seems to treat him with calm dignity, neither despairing nor fawning. In the quarterfinals, Prandelli sent Balotelli out first for the penalty kicks against England, and the big guy whacked one past his Man City teammate Joe Hart. If the coach thought he belonged out there….
On Thursday we gathered for the semifinal at Leo’s Latticini, also known as Mama’s, at 46-02 104th St., about a mile south and west of the ballpark I prefer to call New Shea.
Ron Blum is a football-soccer expert for the Associated Press; he takes his family to Verona and La Scala every year. I have been an Italy admirer since my first family trip decades ago. And Omar Minaya, son of the Dominican Republic, grew up in the traditionally Italian neighborhood of Corona, dropping into Mama’s when he could afford a sandwich or a biscotto. Later he played two seasons of pro baseball in Italy, and loves to speak the language.
Minaya, who now lives in leafy New Jersey, and works in the front office of the San Diego Padres, was on a short home visit for his son's graduation. He remains the favorite son of Mama’s, which has two outlets in the Mets’ ballpark. When he worked nearby, he often ducked over to Mama’s for a snack, a chat, a World Cup match. Anybody who still has a home neighborhood is a lucky person.
Although he left after the disastrous season of 2010, this is the kind of guy Omar Minaya is: last year he escorted his successor, Sandy Alderson, to Mama’s –“just to show him the neighborhood, you know,” Minaya explained on Thursday.
Mama’s remains the way it has for seven decades, with inevitable changes. The matriarch, Nancy DeBenedettis, passed late in 2009 at the age of 90, but her name lives on.
Get this: the official city street sign on the block now says: Mama’s Way.
And get this: Public School 16, a few blocks away, has been officially renamed. The Nancy DeBenedettis School. (Read more here about her inspiring American life.)
“I get tears in my eyes when I talk about it,” said Irene DeBenedettis, one of three sisters who operate the little empire on Mama’s Way.
She was showing me a montage in the window, photos of friends and celebrities who have visited Mama’s. (Half a decade ago, Mario Batali, the celebrity chef, paid the huge compliment of dropping in. (“Mama asked him, ‘Who does your hair?’” Irene said, referring to his iconic ponytail. )
Inside, we were fussed over by Marie DeBenedettis and Carmela Lamorgese, Mama’s two other daughters, and we saw Carmela’s daughter, Marie DiFeo, and her baby, Gina DiFeo, born last Sept. 23, and was wearing an Italia shirt for the Germany match. The staff, from far-flung provinces of Italy, bustled in with cheese, salami, olives, bread, plus pasta with absolutely delicious broccoli rabé, followed by roast beef and potatoes and salad. There might have been a bit of wine, too. Then came the desserts and the coffee.
Before the match, we stood and sang the Italian anthem, Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians), the most merry anthem in the world. Perhaps we were not as passionate as Gigi Buffon, the Azzurri portiere, who bellows the anthem with his eyes closed, but we tried. Then we remained standing for the German anthem. Oranzo Lamorgese, Gina’s grandfather, is originally from Bari but lived and worked in Hamburg and Dusseldorf for a decade and played semi-pro soccer there. He spoke with great respect for modern Germany – and its football squad.
At halftime, Marie DeBenedettis came back and said their deli next door just had a customer – Dwight Gooden himself, buying a hero sandwich. She had invited him to sit with us, but Doc said he was double-parked and didn’t want to get a ticket.
We watched as Prandelli wisely removed Balotelli, to protect him from a second yellow card, to preserve him for the final as the Azzurri outlasted Germany, 2-1, to advance safely to the finals. Italy has long produced artful midfielders and defenders who specialize in the defensive catenaccio, the bolt. But now it has a force up front, a striker who is growing in size and tactics, match by match.
The three sisters plied the Italophiles named Minaya, Blum and Vecsey with enough love and goodies to last us until Sunday’s final. Mille grazie, amiche mie.
6/29/2012 05:28:40 am
this is great. during the last world cup, i was flying to meet my son in germany and go to italy. i was reading the times and happened upon an article describing a meal at mama's during one of italy's matches. these are my cousins, and it was pretty amazing to read the story. i shared the meal vicariously and sweled w/ pride for mama's and azzure. nick lotito atl.
6/29/2012 06:11:10 am
hai una brava famiglia...GV
6/29/2012 03:45:32 pm
6/30/2012 02:14:21 am
Alan, thanks for the nice words. I may watch the final solo. One really does see the match better. You and John McDermott both reminded me of the exquisite passes that set up the goals. Italy always has the Baggio, the Del Piero, the Pirlo, but I've never quite seen a force like Balotelli. Gotta go watch the Tour. GV
6/30/2012 04:27:22 am
Italians love their football heroes. I had downloaded the audiobook "The Godfather". I was surprised when Michael went in to the Don's office, and told him that Balotelli scored again.
6/30/2012 11:38:21 am
Mario Puzo definitely ahead of his time. GV
Charles in Absecon
7/1/2012 09:00:24 am
Born at Mary Immaculate in Jamaica, spent many a wonderful visit at my grandparents' place in Hollis and in Flushing saw Seaver strike out the great Roberto Clemente three times in a 1-0 win on a very cold afternoon with my dad in April 1971.
7/1/2012 11:11:02 am
I was born in the same hospital. Now closed.
4/2/2013 04:56:25 am
That a very cute kid! I wish you all the best. Regards from Turkey! Have a nice week.
4/2/2013 04:57:49 am
I want to read more stories like this one because you really caught my attention with your subject. I am waiting for other articles as interesting as this one. :)
6/13/2013 01:31:27 am
It is always exciting to meet the old friends and re-union is one of the most memorable events in our life. People who live in the neighborhood are like our family members and they show great care as well as affection towards us. They show a helping hand whenever we are in need and it is good to see them again.
8/25/2013 04:21:42 am
It absolutely was powerful viewing at the center-of-the-Italian galaxy, Mama’s of Corona, A queen, surrounded by means of antipasto and cannolis and pals.
9/5/2013 12:09:09 am
I have been coming to your site for a long time. They have done such a great job with it. You cannot go wrong at all. Keep up the good work.
9/19/2013 08:57:16 pm
The raise associated with Balotelli in this particular joust has been fantastic, a new compliment to the chap herself moreover similarly to Trainer Cesare Prandelli, who appears to be discuss your ex together even now standing, nor despairing none fawning.
9/28/2013 11:23:52 pm
At halftime, Marie DeBenedettis came retreat further said their deli then barrier narrowly had a client – Dwight Gooden himself, buying a conqueror submarine. She had invited him to meet among us, besides Doc said he was increase-parked besides didn’t wish to obtain a key.
10/2/2013 01:15:45 am
The personnel, from distant-flung areas of Italy, bustled in beside cheese, salami, olives, loaf, plus pasta along truly delicious broccoli rabé, followed by lampoon beef besides potatoes moreover salad. There authority experience been a speck of vintage, over. Thereupon came the sweets furthermore the coffee.
10/3/2013 12:21:23 am
Next we remained eminence for the German chant. Oranzo Lamorgese, Gina’s grandfather, is originally from Bari only lived besides worked in Hamburg moreover Dusseldorf for a decade besides played semi-professional soccer there. He spoke among large attention for contemporary Germany – plus its football group.
10/9/2013 01:26:09 am
In the quarterfinals, Prandelli sent Balotelli out first for the penalty kicks against England, and the big guy whacked one past his Man City teammate Joe Hart.
11/3/2013 08:54:31 am
I like your blog.Thanks for the post.I am waiting for your new post.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.