Pandemics and Pies: What They Teach Us About Life

When the coronavirus pandemic first began weaving its way through American society, it sent people scurrying to the supermarkets, filling their carts with everything they needed and didn’t need in preparation for a life of quarantine, locked down and hunkered down for an undetermined period of time. At the checkout counter, behind roll after roll after roll of toilet paper swiftly gliding down the conveyor, sat bags of flour. It wasn’t long before the only flour left on store shelves was the white powdery residue that had spilled out, marking where they once stood. People sought comfort in returning to the basics of baking. Soon kitchens across the country were wafting of fresh baked breads, cookies, and pies, harkening back to simpler times.

It was the work of a microscopic organism that forced people from the bustling streets and overscheduled schedules to shelter in place, to slow down, spend time with family, relax, read a book, do a puzzle, play music, draw and paint, and to breathe, breathe in the aromas emanating from their ovens. A wave of soothing calmness soon washed throughout the land.

Recipes calling for nature’s own ingredients: apples, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, honey, lemon, butter, and of course, flour, burst with flavor, tantalizing pallets, filling stomachs, and satisfying souls. Minus the additives and fillers, excessive sugar, and hair-raising doses of sodium, the all-natural, home baked recipes not only tasted good but didn’t threaten one’s health. Relying on old trusted recipes and sometimes altering them with a little of this and a little of that from pantry shelves, gave birth to new variations and new flavors. Perhaps there’s a deeper underlying lesson in this. Maybe we can learn something from that simple apple pie recipe and experimenting with it. Read more

A Letter to My Sister

Born one and a half years before me, you got to do everything first, well, almost everything. You crawled, took your first steps, celebrated your first birthday, said your first word – I think it was Dada, and even sat on Santa’s lap, all before I popped my head out into the world.

Music is in our blood

I always looked to you to see what was coming next in my life. I saw your hair turn from golden blonde to a dark brown, as did mine, except yours was darker but we both had wavy curls. When your first day of school arrived, you were ready to take on the academic world, wearing a maroon dress with a white lace collar, Mary Jane shoes and white anklet socks with lace  around the tops. With shoulder-length wavy hair carefully combed in place and clutching a tiny bookbag, empty except for a pencil and an eraser in the shape of a dog, you marched out the front door hand-in-hand with Mom, as Dad took picture after picture. Dad and I trailed behind with Mom leading the way, a whole half a block, to the two-story red brick elementary school. Running up the school steps, you whirled around, posing for Dad, whose shutter rapidly clicked. I wished I was running up the steps that day – I wanted to go to school with all the big kids. Instead, I went home, gathered my teddy bears and stuffed doggies, arranged them on the floor of our bedroom, plopped myself in front of them, and with crayons I wrote A B C and 1 2 3 on a piece of paper, and began teaching my class. My turn did come one year later when, wearing a blue dress, I ran up those same steps, spun a revolution and posed for our photographer father.

He wasn’t a professional photographer but it was his passion, just like his father, our most beloved grandfather. We all lived together in a two-family house with a small backyard in a major city on the east coast. Grandma and Grandpa lived on the second floor and we’d often see them smiling down upon us from their large kitchen window as we ran around playing or splashed in our tiny pool. I tended to run faster and tumble harder, the first hint of our slight differences among our commonalities. During the warmer months, they’d sit in the yard with us and that was always a special treat. Grandpa always wore a brimmed hat, beneath which his eyes twinkled and his smile radiated warmth. Read more

What I Learned from Bucky Pizzarelli

There is no one specific moment in time when I recall having first heard of or met Bucky Pizzarelli – it’s as if I’ve always known him. Growing up in Paterson, NJ, my grandparents, Gus and Jenny Triggiani, owned an Italian deli on the corner of Union and Preakness Avenues. Our family deli was several blocks away from Bucky’s parent’s Italian grocery store, also on Union Avenue. 

When I was young girl, my father, Art, who played tenor sax, would occasionally take me to hear Bucky perform, after which they would always greet each other with a smile and share some laughs. Both families, Pizzarelli and Triggiani were Italian immigrants who settled in Paterson, making their livelihood from food and music!

Following family tradition, I, too became a professional musician and married classical guitarist, Vinnie Musco. Together we established a music school, Westwood Music Studios. Vinnie and I often went to hear Bucky perform throughout New Jersey and New York and would always spend time with Bucky chatting about Paterson, music, and especially guitars. Bucky was the “rock star” everybody wanted to meet, and I carefully observed how he would always warmly greet his admirers with a big smile. Bucky was so happy to share music or even just talk about it with everyone from a young beginning student, to adults who played an instrument as a hobby, and other professionals. 

On stage, his smile radiated his joy and passion for music along with the notes resonating from his guitar – they were one. A clear memory I have of Bucky that stands out is the day he came to visit our music school, a quick 3-mile drive from his house. I waited outside, spotting him instantly when I saw a black Mercedes coming down the street, piloted by a man wearing the biggest smile you ever saw. He had a fun time playing the guitar with my husband and enjoying our second-floor view overlooking Westwood, NJ. An eighteen-wheel truck rumbled by and Bucky laughed, “Wow! Look at the size of that truck! They must be bringing in the baritone sax!” It was a great day filled with smiles and music.

In more recent years, we would visit Bucky at his house, sometimes playing music, sometimes not, but always smiling and laughing. As I reflected upon his passing, I realized that all those years Bucky had been teaching me important life lessons: to happily pursue your passions, find joy in all aspects of music, and to recognize the beauty in the music in everyone, whether a young student or a seasoned professional. Most importantly, he taught me to live life with a smile.

I know you’re smiling down on us, Bucky, and I’m smiling right back up at you. Thank you for everything and please say hi to my Dad for me.

Flying into the Future

Nancy Triggiani

It was my first venture to Europe and I was flying solo. My husband remained home to oversee our business and care for our only child, a furry two-year-old long coat Akita named, Romeo. Prompted, nudged, and encouraged by an Austrian friend who helped organize my trip, I found myself standing curbside at the departure terminal for Austrian Airlines, amid the crumbling ruins of Newark, New Jersey, kissing my husband goodbye. Having not traveled by air in many years, I didn’t know what to expect …. on either side of the pond!

Waddling toward the snaking check-in line, encumbered with an oversized towering backpack that could easily fit a compact electric car, and a smaller one that wasn’t so small, I eyed the other passengers towing their wheeled luggage with ease. As I said, I hadn’t flown in a long time, but I’m tough, I thought to myself – a former competitive judo player – I’ve got this! As the line inched forward, the others shuffled ahead with smoothly rolling suitcases at their heels, while I lugged and wrestled with mine, sweating, as though in the finals of a judo tournament. Reaching the counter, I handed my opponent over to the airlines clerk who, exactly like a judo official, weighed it in and attached an Austrian Airlines tag around one of the straps, placing it on a conveyor. I watched it vanish into an abyss, wondering if and where we shall meet again. Read more

To the Dear Old Man at the Consulate

Nancy Triggiani

Italian Consulate New York City

I don’t know your name but I wish I did. You shuffled in leaning on your three-pronged cane, escorted by a woman more than half your age. Taking small steps, you searched for a seat. The woman, spotting an empty chair next to mine, ordered you to sit. Dutifully and with effort, you slowly bent your knees, lowering your body into the chair. You looked at me. Why didn’t I ask your name? You asked the woman why you were there. Curtly, she replied she’d tell you later. You accepted it. Time went by. You again asked the reason for the visit but the retort was equally as short and uninformative. With dignity, you nodded. I sensed your kindness. Who was this woman I wondered, an aid just doing her job? A few more verbal exchanges between the two of you left me ill at ease. Why does she speak to you like this? Why didn’t I smile at you more? Why didn’t I ask your name? The clock continued to tick, as we all awaited our turn to meet with different consulate officials. You crossed your legs, accidently knocking over your cane. I reached for it but the woman grabbed it first. You looked at me saying, “thank you” for my attempt to heIp. Read more