Filled with the desire to set out to do something out of the ordinary, I found out that Modern Pastry has GF versions of cannolis, a traditional Sicilian dessert, so after getting out of work late on a Friday night, I walked over in the rain, just to stand in the line in the brightly lit shop with my dripping umbrella to order one of these beauties. This was my daring adventure. (Gaetano chose coming to America, I chose a wheat free pastry. I guess we all start somewhere, right?) The lady behind the counter told me somewhat apologetically that the only GF option for filling would be traditional ricotta cheese and sprinkled with tiny chocolate chips, and would that be alright? Yes. Yes, it would.
I sat and ate my long dreamed of treat in their tiny cafe at a table by the window, where sweethearts sat sharing cookies and coffees, and people on the other side of the window walked by on the wet pavement in the rain, taking shelter under awnings and in doorways as, I imagined, they tried to decide which restaurant to try that evening.
I was alone but I didn't feel lonely. Being in an Italian bakery or restaurant always feels a bit like being back in my Grandma's kitchen, where sauce and meatballs bubbled away on the stove and containers of cookies waited on the counter to be discovered and nibbled with tea. There were so many kinds of cookies, different shapes and colors and sizes and flavors, and as a kid, it always felt like getting to sift through a treasure box to find that one special gem that was calling out to be yours. Not unlike the glass cases of cookies, tarts, chocolates, and carefully curated delights in the bakery.
As I sat in the cafe, eating every last crumb of my cannoli, I felt stunned all over again by the courage, the determination, and the sheer imagination it must have taken for my great-grandfather to make the trip across the Atlantic all alone. Not being able to read or write English, literally carrying less than $40 in his pocket. All for this dream that would have been impossible to be sure of at the time. Did he feel lonely? Scared? Thrilled? I was in awe of the faith that must have taken for him to believe that he have the ability to make a life for himself and his family that he could not yet see. Don't we all need some of that gumption in our lives, now and then?
After I packed up and left the bakery, I walked past a group of young men standing outside a restaurant nearby, smoking cigarettes in the downpour. They were chanting something at the top of their lungs, being loud and obnoxious. As I passed by, one of them started to walk alongside me, aggressively continuing to shout. I behaved myself and ignored him. This seemed to increase his determination to make me uncomfortable, and he continued shouting. As he got closer to my face, he started to walk in front of me, attempting to block my path.
I normally ignore people in these situations. I keep quiet and keep walking. As a woman, I'm usually too scared so start talking back to someone who picks on me like this, whether it's another woman, or like in this situation, a strange man. So how shocked was I to find myself, without any warning, turning my face to his, and with a huge bellowing voice, shouting,
And not in a tiny "Can I please pass by?" kind of way. This was a huge, growling, roar that had a different message. "You will move out of my way, and if you don't---well, I suggest you don't find out what will happen if you don't."
"Excuse me!" My arm shot out in front of me, gesturing to the path I was attempting to continue walking down, and my eyes could have burned a hole in his face.
Whoa. He stopped, shouted some curse words at me, and fell back to his friends. I walked on, breathing, shaking, and looking back over my shoulder a few times to make sure he wasn't going to walk after me. I was shaking partly out of fear, the fear of what could have happened if he hadn't just slunk back, and partly out of awe at what I had just done in that moment.
I don't know how much this recent discovery of my great-grandfather's kick-ass courage and pioneer spirit factored into my sudden assertion of myself. Don't get me wrong. I didn't push that man or call him names. I had technically been polite--I did say "Excuse me" after all. All I had done was the incredibly small and simultaneously enormous act of letting someone know that I am here. I have a right to be here. To be allowed to pass through, to keep walking down my path. To see what is around the corner without being thrown off course by someone who means to intimidate. I guess we all have the ability to get a hearty dose of gumption and courage in the moments when we need it most.
What in the world does this newfound family history knowledge and experience mean for my life as an actor and writer? My great-grandfather listed his occupation as "laborer" for many years, before later identifying as a "grocer" with his own store in Rochester, NY. I haven't the slightest idea whether or not he had ever seen a play, or had a favorite book. I have no idea whether he chose to spend his few, hard-earned dollars on a symphony ticket, or whether he may have been considered that a luxury.
But I do know that he had an imagination. Enough to imagine a different life, to take that vision across the sea, and work hard to try to make his dream a reality. If he had the audacity to dream big in that way, then doesn't it mean that the same brand of imagination and daring spirit is in my DNA as well, even if its expression feels dim some of the time? In the end, it doesn't matter to me whether he liked the theatre or ever entertained the idea that an actor could be a profession. How can we push creativity into such a small box, requiring it to play out onstage or on the page? What could be stronger proof of our creative birthright than the fact that we come from a long line of human beings with not only the desire, but the ability to be brave and bold and ballsy when it comes to going after a dream?
And seriously. If you're in Boston and are Italian (or not), and need a gluten free cannoli--and quite possibility a chance to exercise the gumption you have been gifted by those who came before you, I highly recommend checking out Modern Pastry.