In the last twenty years, we have experienced a great change in the Italian population of Carroll Gardens.
One of the most visible signs of this was the disappearance of many Italian Social Clubs from the streets of the neighborhood. One such club was the Licata Social Club. Located on Henry Street off of Carroll and President streets, the society was home to generations of people from the port town of Licata in southern Sicily. The society held many events in the community including a grand procession for the feast of its hometown patron Saint Angelo (buried in the town of Licata).
Licata holds a special place in history as the Allied landing point during the 1943 World War II invasion of Sicily. As a result, after the war many people from Licata immigrated to the US having built relationships with soldiers and learning their, now our, language.
Everywhere you look in the town you find the name Saint Angelo. There is enormous pride in this hometown saint; even the local bank is named after him, although the population continues to have far greater faith in the Saint than the bankers.
The connection between Licata and Carroll Gardens is freely acknowledged in Licata and even the pastor of the Church where the remains of St. Angelo are kept spoke of it. As soon as I told him where I was from, he was quick to tell me that one of the few replicas of the statue of St. Angelo was sent to in Carroll Gardens.
Like Carroll Gardens, Licata has recently become home to many new restaurants. During my stay in Licata I had the great fortune to dine at Chef Pino Cuttaia’s restaurant Le Madia. Le Madia was given a two star rating by Michelin in 2011.
Chef Pino was a gracious host who was just as interested in the type of foods we wanted to eat as he was in the reasons for our visit to the town. He hand tailored a spectacular meal for us filled with local ingredients and perfectly imagined and realized twists to traditional dishes.
Recent arrivals to Carroll Gardens, as well as old timers, know of the town of Pozzallo. It is a port in Sicily of azure beauty. The patron saint of Pozzallo is Our Lady of the Rosary and many people have a great devotion to St. John the Baptist. These images can be found together in the Chapel of Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen Church.
Carroll Gardens continues to be home to the people of Pozzallo who maintain a meeting place the “Pozzallo Club” on that portion of Henry Street recently baptized as “Citizens of Pozzallo Way”.
We traveled from Northern Sicily by car (my wife, daughter, mother-in-law and I) to visit with my late father-in-law’s family in Pozzallo. My wife is half Pozzallese but we won’t get into that here. The town is situated on the southern coast of Sicily, and on a clear day Malta can be seen from the shore. It is a beautiful town with well-maintained homes and clean streets that tell you of their well-justified pride.
Pozzallo has been awarded the coveted blue flag as one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Europe for no less than seven years running. All Pozzallese are proud of their beach, fresh seafood and special Pozzallo Pizza. This Pizza is found throughout Carroll Gardens, but only in private homes. The Pizza a Pozzallo is a hybrid between a calzone and a pizza. It is one of my favorites.
One thing that jumped out at me was that the local coffee shop on the main street of the town bears the same family name as the owners of our very own on Court Street. After one look at this beach town one has to wonder why anyone would leave paradise for the hard pavement of Brooklyn?
We all know that it was economic opportunity and the chance of a better future that were the catalysts for emigration. In Pozzallo, a majority of the workforce is still employed as sailors and longshoremen. Those who came here traded one working waterfront for another. The men from Pozzallo used the skills they had learned in the much smaller port in Pozzallo to keep the once vibrant Brooklyn port humming. They sailed, repaired and unloaded ships.
I brought back knowledge of the people of Sicily, their culture, faith and history. I learned that those who came to Brooklyn did not come because they wanted to get away from life in their towns, but out of a need to find a way to feed their families and get their children opportunities in life. They brought more then just their names and recipes with them to Brooklyn; they brought their perspective on life, their idea of what a community looked like along with the values of hard work, family and faith.
They have left their mark on the streets of our neighborhood, on the facades of the buildings, the goods in the stores and the plants in our backyards. I invite all of you to visit these towns and discover your own Carroll Gardens in them. Let’s rediscover the towns of Italy in Carroll Gardens by eating a fig off of the backyard tree, or sitting outside in front of the building lingering over a coffee on a breezy night. Although I enjoyed my time in Sicily, I discovered that I shared one other important thing in common with the immigrants to Carroll Gardens who longed to return to the Hill and Beach towns of Sicily, there is no place like your home town, and I am glad that I’m back in our Carroll Gardens!