Little Italy North

“Outsider” artist Aldobrando Piacenza

Here in the northern suburbs of Highwood and Highland Park, there has always been an abundance of talented craftsmen, and their imprint remains on many of the grand homes that line the North Shore. From stonemasons to bricklayers, carpenters and gardeners, these men carry an artistic eye, and are meticulous creators in their fields. But none that I know of has achieved the national notoriety of Aldobrando Piacenza (1888-1976). Aldobrando Piacenza is acclaimed as an American folk artist who inspired both art students and artists alike. In 2007, his replica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception sold at Christie’s …

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The game of bocce in Highwood

Among my favorite Italian places is the Highwood Bocce Club. Whether you play bocce or cards, enjoy a glass of wine or a cappuccino, the bocce club is the place to be. For young and wise alike, there is always something going on at 440 Bank Lane in Highwood. The history of the game of bocce as described by the United States Bocce Federation recounts an elaborate evolution of the game since 5600 B.C., when a similar game was played in ancient Egypt with polished stones. Somehow the Ancient Greeks learned to play the game in approximately 800 B.C. It …

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Modenese Society rolls with the changes

At the turn of the previous century, Highwood and Highland Park were very different places than they are today. The streets bustled with a working class that included Swedes, Germans, Irish and an early sprinkling of Italians. The Italian men that came to the Northern suburbs knew there was work other than coal mining, which enabled them to improve their family’s future. As Adria Bernardi states in “Houses with Names,” the first known Italian was a Venetian in Highland Park just after 1900. The Modenesi came shortly thereafter. One by one, calling for their relatives from back home because there …

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Sometimes you feel like a nut

It’s winter in Chicago. Cold and crisp, the air outside reminds us of the holiday season. And for many Italians that means chestnuts! For centuries, this lowly fruit was the main sustenance of our people and played an important role during December and January’s cold winter months. Since autumn is harvest time for chestnuts, winter always has been the perfect time to enjoy them. There are many ways to prepare these soft and tasty nuts. More like a fruit, they can be roasted, boiled, or dried and ground into a flour, opening up a flurry of culinary possibilities. Chestnuts and …

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Sono Modenese

We call ourselves Modenesi. The Italian side of my family, along with our many friends from the same mountains call ourselves by the name of the province of Modena, which is also the name of the provincial seat. I don’t know many “Modenesi” who are actually familiar with the city of Modena. I know I wasn’t. Recently however, I had the chance to acquaint myself with this beautiful city. My daughter, you see, has just moved to Modena for a new job. We are all very proud of her perseverance in searching for a position in Italy, even if it …

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St. James celebrates 100 years!

On Sept. 23, Cardinal George is scheduled to celebrate Mass and join in a reception at St. James Church, participating in the 100th anniversary celebration of the parish. Our Catholic community is proud to join in the celebration of the long history of this parish and its faithful members. Recently, Fr. Tom Baldonieri shared some of St. James’ history with the community: “In 1907, Reverend James D. O’Neill, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Highland Park, celebrated Mass for Catholics in the old Highwood City Hall on Waukegan Avenue. Earlier, Catholic settlers attended religious services at Fort Sheridan. But in 1912, …

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Bell tower vs. bell tower

Just when you thought your paesani were uncommon in their ability to discriminate among themselves, you find out that they are not at all unique among Italians, but acting out a phenomenon peculiar to the entire nation. This trait is so common in fact, there is a name for it: campanilismo. I suppose I first began to notice Italian-on-Italian discrimination as a youngster in Highland Park. It wasn’t the type of discrimination from without that older Italians were accustomed to. The discrimination I noticed related to differences between the families I knew. It was even more prevalent with my parents’ …

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Fond memories of Dr. Bernardi

Most Italians in Highwood or Highland Park think back on Dr. Hugh Bernardi with the fondest of memories. For decades, many of us sat on the vintage 1960s orange and aqua Naugahyde benches in his Highland Park office with one medical problem or another. He was such a character, profoundly intelligent, friendly and empathetic, a down to earth joker who made light of his patients’ ailments in order to take their minds off them. Above all he was a great diagnostician, unlike today’s doctors who commonly require thousands of dollars in diagnostic tests to tell us if our problem is …

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Land of opportunity

In her book, “Houses with Names, Adria Bernardi’s writes that the first known Italian who lived in the Highwood/Highland Park area was a Venetian named Agosto de Bon. He was already living in Highland Park in 1900. Highwood at the time was inhabited primarily by Swedish immigrants. What we know about ourselves as Italians is that we tend to stick together, to take care of our own. So it makes sense that our Italian ancestors congregated on the North Shore, bringing their family with them in search of a better life. Like many men in the late 1800s and early …

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Bastion of Abruzzese cuisine

Abruzzo is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. This hidden gem of towering mountains and lush valleys is home to a rich history that stretches from Roman times to the present. Along with beautiful churches, castles and monasteries, Abruzzo has folkloric traditions, art and outdoor beauty that make for a diverse touristic adventure. For thousands of years, shepherds have traveled from the peaks to the plains, following their flocks from one pasture to another. On the agricultural front, Abruzzo is an abundant source of fruits, vegetables, olives, capers and nuts. The kitchens of Abruzzo yield a Cucina Rustica that employ ingredients …

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