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Little Italy, Small World

Pittsburgh’s Little Italy is located in the neighborhood of Bloomfield, which gets its name from a note that George Washington made in his journal about the field of blooming flowers close to the settlement. Bloomfield saw an influx of German Catholic immigrants in the late 1860s and a wave of Italians around 1900, specifically from the Abruzzi region. The modern-day Little Italy still includes working-class Italian-Americans, but is also made up of various European descendants as well as African Americans, Asians, Indians and college students from around the globe.

The community celebrates its Italian heritage every year with Little Italy Days. You can watch celebrity bocce or enter a team in the bocce tournament, watch and listen to musical performances, and watch contestants ages 4-17 compete for the title of Miss Little Italy.  A real highlight of the of the festival is Tambellini’s Pasta Eating contest, which pits pasta-eaters against one another to see who can eat the most in a set amount of time.

You of course have food stalls, lots and lots of food stalls. The most important thing is the kinds of food you see represented. You will find Italian food (meatballs from a food stand — who can beat that?), but like the community, the festival has become more diverse. When you walk down the street lined with tents and stands you see something uniquely American. You see food from everywhere as if it was some sort of international potluck. The stalls have jerk chicken, teriyaki chicken, gyros, crab cakes, fajitas, mac and cheese, wood-fired pizza, fried chicken, beef bbq, kebabs, and Pittsburgh favorites pierogis and pepperoni rolls. You find all these diverse dishes, all these examples of cultural cuisine, all of these flavors of our amazing blended culture all in one place, all along a street in Bloomfield named Liberty.

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Otakon 2017

We (Andrea and I) find ourselves immersed in the world of anime once again. The convention we historically visited in Baltimore moved an hour south to a much larger venue in Washington, DC. We like the chance to share in a celebration of a common fandom, Japanese pop-culture and anime. The really cool part is that my job writing for Honey’s Anime means we get to attend for free. We also get to interview many of the directors and producers of the animated shows and movies. I was really happy to get the chance to interview Masao Maruyama, one of the producers of “In This Corner of the World,” a touching story of a young woman in the Japanese countryside during World War II. I recommend it as a story of for all ages about how war affects us all.

We also enjoyed the lighter side of the con, especially the cosplayers and the expansive shopping options. We love these chances to meet creative people who are so proud of their costume creations.

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Many hands make light work

The work at a vineyard is never done.  You have to prune, train, plant, pick all in the vineyard before you ever get to the winemaking process. A big part of that process is protecting the vines and their fruit from wildlife. We have a 12 foot fence around the grapes to protect them from the deer and traps, that capture not kill, the varmints that can go under the fence. We also have to protect them from aerial assault as the fruit begins to ripen. To guard the ripening fruit from being picked through by our feathered foes we need to fasten bird netting to all the rows of vines. The rigging of those nets can take hours depending on the man power. “Many hands make light work” is what my father said when we showed up for vineyard duty this past saturday.We thankfully had plenty of help this past saturday and it only took 2 hours.  The work is a bit tedious.  You have to unroll hundreds of yards of light netting that looks and feels a lot like a badminton net. If you’ve ever hung a badminton net you know that it can get tangled very easily.  We’ve worked out a system of folding and storing them so that doesn’t happen to often.  You then need to clip them both sides of the net together with plastic c-clips. You repeat this process as long as it takes because if the birds get the grapes before you do all you hard work you did in the months leading up to this day was wasted.

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A Ducky Tour

This past week, my coworkers and I took an hour-long tour of downtown Pittsburgh aboard a 1942 duck boat.

I had seen the Just Ducky tour vehicles around town since we moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, but hadn’t been aboard one. This team-building adventure was just the opportunity I needed to take the plunge.

The tour began with a loop around downtown Pittsburgh (on land), highlighting sites like the city’s oldest churches, its many performing arts locations as well as its many sports stadiums. Next, we hit the water.

We started in the Monongahela River and got a new vantage point on many of the city’s famous bridges. Then we rounded the point and crossed into the Allegheny River, where we did donuts (at a wild six miles-per-hour).

It was a lovely afternoon and an enjoyable excursion with my coworkers. The one-hour tour felt like the perfect length; enough time to see the sites and hear about the city’s highlights from our fast-talking tour guides, but not so long that there was even a moment to get bored.

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From First Flight to the Moon Landing

I often have trouble relating to people, especially the younger they are, the miracle of the moon landing back in July 1969. The miracle of the moon landing was one created by a country, a brilliant team, and three brave men who dared to go where no one had gone before. The footprints left in the regolith by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are not the amazing event that leaves me in awe the most.

We, the human race, were truly bound to the breast of Mother Earth without the mechanics or the natural ability to leave her surface until Orville and Wilbur Wright engineered the Wright Flyer in 1903. The creation of mechanically powered flight allowed us to go beyond gliding on the winds with gravity pulling us down, down, down. Now we could pull away from that bond and fly higher and higher. The Wright Flyer was fragile, constructed of spruce, glue, and canvas, yet it carried us as a people into a new age.

The Junkers J 1, the first metal plane (steel since duralumin, a strong aluminum, was just invented and not available), was built just 12 years later and resembles the shape of most of today’s modern aircraft. The average plane at the time was still built of canvas and wood, but the Junkers was a proof of concept that metal would be the future of flight. The creation of the liquid-fueled rocket by Goddard 23 years after first flight wouldn’t find much practical use at the time but would fuel the imagination and academics in the future.

The second world war happened and out of military necessity we built planes that went faster, higher and were larger than we had ever imagined. Each of them was driven by the propeller, an automatic windmill pulling the plane forward.

The war also gave birth to the Jet Age with the creation of the Heinkel He 178 V1. The German aircraft was far ahead of its time and the mass production technology gave it an extra boost.

The Jet Age begins in the 1949 with the development of the commercial airliner and truly opens the world to travel with speed and efficiency.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the American people to put a man on the moon within the decade. He asked us to figure out how to build a rocket, not have it blow up, put a man on that rocket and send him to space and have him return alive. Oh, and land on the moon in 9 years. And we did all of it.

We broke the bonds of gravity and ascended to another world in the span of 66 years.  The average life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years, so in the span of a lifetime we went from the earth to the moon. Landing on the moon was a man-made miracle, but the achievement means so much more.

 

A couple of side notes:

Ada Roe was born in Islington, England in 1858, when the Ottoman Empire still existed. At the time, Victoria ruled an empire the Sun never set on, the horse and buggy was main transportation and the Civil War in America was still 3 years away. She died in 1970 after seeing the world change in ways we can hardly comprehend.

Kennedy’s Moon Shot Speech is my favorite political speech of all time for one reason. Not for its prose, not for its topic, not for its patriotism, but because “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

How many politicians have ever gone out and said the simple reason we are going to do something is because it is hard? He sums up the will of the human endeavor in one sentence and it is amazing.

 

 

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Pepperoni Rolls

We’ve learned a lot of things about the unique culture of western Pennsylvania during our time here, like perogies are so revered that they’re made into life-sized mascots that do laps at the ballpark. We also have found that the pierogi isn’t the only culturally significant food. The whole coal mining region is in love with the pepperoni roll, and no we don’t mean those cheap, bite-sized morsels that Totinos sells in the freezer section.

We refer to something a lot more filling, so much to that end the US military has added them to their rations for their compact size and high nutritional value. The history of the pepperoni roll begins in Fairmont, West Virginia in 1927 at the Country Club Bakery. That’s a fact confirmed by Amanda’s family, who have West Virginia roots. The simple rolls don’t need to be refrigerated for storage and could readily be packed for lunch by miners, so they gained great popularity and became a staple of their diets.  The coal industry today only employees 51,000 people, but the legacy of the food they loved lives on at bakeries everywhere in West Virginia and western PA.

The rolls can be small and greasy, more akin to a croissant wrapped around some pepperoni slices, or more substantial like the size of a half a loaf of bread baked around pepperoni and cheese. We have tried multiple versions and prefer the ones from the Italian stores (that seem like a small loaf of bread baked around pepperoni slices and mozzarella cheese).

We were supposed to go home to Maryland to visit family this weekend, so we had stocked up on pepperoni rolls to share. I’ve been under the weather, so we had to cancel those plans. Don’t feel bad for us, though, excess pepperoni rolls are a delicious problem to have.

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Sweat Equity

Last week we mentioned that about a year ago Amanda and I, along with my sister and brother-in-law, bought a 40-foot sailboat.  The Morgan Ketch (a type of sailboat) is currently at anchor in the pasture of my parents’ farm. We spent less than $10,000 on the project boat, so as you may guess it requires extensive repair work. My brother-in-law, Matt, is shouldering most of the burden as Amanda and I are currently living in Pittsburgh — 200 miles away. The summer weather being almost ideal for work on the boat, I decided to make a day trip of the 3 1/2 hour drive to my parents to put in some sweat equity. Matt had already  painstakingly found all the soft parts in the roof of the cabin and cut and chiseled out the rotted parts and replaced the wood.

The next part was to cover the new wood with fiberglass, cover it with resin, let it dry, put in some filler, cover it with resin, let it dry and then repeat the process until the new area is raised slightly higher than the surrounding surface. The process is tedious, painstaking and needs to be accomplished quickly because the resin dries very fast. I said earlier the summer weather was ideal, since working in the winter cold simply sucks. It was rather warm since the two of us were working on top of a boat in the middle of a field with no shade, wearing long pants (fiberglass and bare skin doesn’t mix), respiratory masks and latex gloves.

The thermometer was reading 80° in the shade so it must have been 90°on the boat. We probably dropped a few pounds just by sweating.

But it felt good. I like the feeling that was making a physical contribution to this joint venture. I look forward to taking pride in pointing out the areas we prepared when the vessel is finished. I just think there’s something about doing the work yourself that makes the finished product that much more impressive.