The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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What Time's That Flight to Glocca Morra?
March 17, 2016 -- March has already been a messy month to fly, what with the TSA self-righteously lengthening the checkpoint lines, the self-destructive boardroom battle at United Airlines and carriers' relentless devaluations of their supposed "loyalty" programs. And, you know, it's put me off business travel.
On this St. Patrick's Day, I'd much rather talk saints and songs and sfingi. So, with your kind indulgence, I will ...
I've always believed that the best thing about St. Patrick's Day is How Are Things in Glocca Morra?, the most insanely beautiful song about a mythical Irish village ever written by two New York Jews. And whether you prefer the 1947 Broadway original from Finian's Rainbow by Ella Logan (she was a Glaswegian), the definitive pop vocal by Buddy Clark (born Sam Goldenberg in Massachusetts), the moody tenor sax rendition by Sonny Rollins (a black guy from Harlem), the crooning cover by Dick Haymes (a refuge from Argentina), the 1968 movie version fronted by Petula Clark (a Brit), the crisp, cracking version by Julie Andrews (she's English) or the astounding medley from Barbra Streisand (a Jewish girl from Brooklyn), it is always a joy to hear Glocca Morra well and frequently played on St. Paddy's Day.
Yet if it is good eats you want around the Ides of March, allow me to point you in the general direction of Saturday, March 19, St. Joseph's Day, my onomastico (name day). Southern Italians in general and Sicilians in particular go all out on St. Joseph's Day because he is one of Sicily's patron saints. The holiday fare varies by family and region, but there's always pasta with bread crumbs (to signify the sawdust on the carpenter's floor) and fava beans (because they survived a brutal Sicilian drought of ages past).
March 19 was a really big deal in my family of non-frequent flyers because almost everybody was named after the guy who forgot to make reservations at the Bethlehem Holiday Inn Express. My father was Joseph. My godfather was Joseph. My godmother was Josephine. Several uncles and cousins were named Joseph. One of my sisters married two guys named Joe. For most of us Joes and Josephines, St. Joseph's Day was more important than our birthdays.
The dessert of choice: St. Joseph's zeppole and sfingi, available only during the Lenten period and called Bigne di San Giuseppe in Northern Italy. But not even my came-from-the-other-side relatives baked 'em. In my family, at least, this was a store-bought treat. I recall boxes and boxes in our home on St. Joseph's Day, each one from someone's preferred pasticceria. And because my neighborhood was ethnically diverse, lots of Jewish and Irish and Armenian friends were around to partake of the pastryfest.
Most of them preferred the zeppole, a round, deep-fried fritter dusted with confectioner's sugar and filled with a sweet, eggy, yellow cream. But I was a sfingi guy. Although the shape varied from baker to baker, a sfingi is stuffed with a dense, velvety cannoli cream crafted from ricotta cheese, sugar and vanilla.
If happiness is just a thing called Joe, sfingi is what made this Joe happy. Besides, sfingi is a pastry worthy of a saint who, after all, is best known for being the stoic husband of a virgin mother.
Truth to tell, I'd like to live in Glocca Morra some fine day. It's not Italy, but it sounds perfect. How can a place with a River Shannon breeze, leaping brooks and weeping willows be bad? How could I not want to live where a lassie with twinkling eyes gets sad and dreamy when she doesn't see me there? There's also the implied promise of cozy pubs, brewery-fresh Guinness and Smithwick's Red Ale and Bushmills 21-year-old single malt. Besides, flights to Ireland are blessedly short and ridiculously plentiful. And Aer Lingus even offer special deals to JoeSentMe members regardless of our respective ethnic origins.
Before I moved, though, I'd have to check to see if Glocca Morra had a Sicilian bakery. Although I note that Dublin, which must be somewhere close to Glocca Morra, does have a Sicilian joint. And Aer Lingus flies to Catania from Dublin.
Of course, How Are Things in Glocca Morra? is just another phony thing Americans use to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, which isn't quite as big a deal in Glocca Morra or anyplace else in Ireland. As I mentioned, the song was written by two Broadway stalwarts, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg and Burton Lane. The most famous version, and the one you're guaranteed to hear, is the Buddy Clark cover. And Clark, as I've also noted, wasn't Irish, either.
But for all its phony Irishness, How Are Things in Glocca Morra? does remind us of Clark's titanic talent. The guy was huge back when standards singers could be huge. And for a while he was more popular than Bing Crosby or even Sinatra. (By the way, Crosby did a pleasant enough cover of Glocca Morra, but Sinatra never got closer than Old Devil Moon and When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love, two other great tunes from Finian's Rainbow.)
Clark rocketed to solo stardom in 1947 thanks to the iconic Linda. And for more than two years after that, his buttery, melodious baritone and razor-sharp phrasing made him America's most reliable hitmaker. After Linda and Glocca Morra came Peg O' My Heart and several others. Ten more Clark singles hit the charts in 1948 alone.
During the first nine months of 1949, he recorded smash duets with Doris Day and Dinah Shore. Then, on October 1, 1949, a decade before The Day the Music Died, Clark perished in a private-plane crash in Los Angeles. But a posthumous release, A Dreamer's Holiday, went to the top of the charts, too.
Sixteen sterling Clark tracks are compiled on a download called, unironically, Sixteen Most Requested Songs. Given the nature of things, I can't get you a delicious sfingi, but some soft, soothing Buddy Clark tunes will help while you wait on the next tedious TSA security line.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.