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Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Stocking Store


Long before thigh highs and panty hose women wore stockings.  Before nylon stockings they wore silk and  thick cotton stockings.  The cotton stockings were so thick you could darn them when they got a hole.  They were so thick that they didn’t run.  It is only in recent history, or more accurately the last fifteen or twenty years, that having bare legs, when donning formal or business clothing,  was considered acceptable.  Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I really think that stockings complete a look.    Stockings and heels go together like ham and eggs, or Hall and Oates.

Stockings do a job.  They hide nicks from shaving, keep you warmer in winter, even out skin tone, complement your dress or gown, and most important they minimize  chubby calf and thigh jiggle.  They can be serviceable, sexy, and down right erotic.

The more modern counterparts  have their purpose as well.  Panty hose smooth out the body line under a form-fitting dress.  Thigh highs with lace tops are user-friendly and allow easy access to your panties for all sorts of reasons.  The dark stockings invoke visions of Mrs. Robinson in the Graduate.  Who can forget Anne Bancroft stretched out on the bed seducing Dustin Hoffman with the help of  her black silk stockings?

On 116th Street  between third and lex was the “Stocking Store”.  You walked up about three steps into a store no wider than eight  feet, housing a long counter which divided the establishment seventy/thirty.  The seventy percent was allotted to the store owner, his glass counter, and back wall.  The back wall held literally hundreds of half-inch boxes each containing three pairs of stockings.

Silk stockings were a closer fit then today.  You bought them by the size of the foot in half-inch increments,  and the length of one’s legs, short, medium and tall.  The more expensive, the more sheer the stocking.  Styles went from reinforced toe and heel (most serviceable) to cuban heel (the reinforcement although sheer was a bit darker  design that covered the heel and then thinned out to ease up the back of the foot for about three or four inches.)   They also offered nude toe and heel to wear with sandals.  Seamed stockings (most common), or seamless, which was just coming in style when I was starting to buy stockings, made up all of the stock.

My mother told me that during World War II when the country needed silk for parachutes, it was very difficult for women to buy stockings.  If a young lady went out for the evening she might  draw a seam up the back of her legs with a dark kohl pencil.  Everything was fine unless you smeared it.  Shortly after the second world war nylon stockings came into vogue.

When you went into the stocking store to make a purchase you had to make several decisions.  Size, gauge and shade.  You can imagine all the shades, nude, tan, beige, white, light gray, dark gray, off black, midnight black, red, blue, were among them.  Gauge went from opaque to so sheer you could read through them.  At one time red shoes and red stockings, or blue on blue was a look and a luxury because they could only be worn with their mates.  I’m glad that fashion went the way of the Dodo bird.

Once you made your choices the store owner would open the box to remove one of the stockings.  He then gently slid his hand into the hose and spread his fingers so you could determine if the stocking was alluring enough.   They were usually about sixty nine cents a pair.

All these leg coverings were held up with garters which were attached to a garter belt or girdle, panty or open bottom.  The girdles were always  instruments of torture and you rarely bought them in a true stocking store.  I haven’t worn a girdle since the appearance of panty hose.

The only other items you could buy in this house of silk and nylon were gloves.  Short, lace, white  gloves to black opera length, every color and style  in between were shown in his glass counter.  Some gloves so long that you didn’t take them off all evening but rather unbuttoned them at the wrist, slipped your hand out and tucked the fingers of the glove inside the wrist of the glove.  So elegant.  The buttons were made of pearls or material covered.

Today the ‘Stocking Store’ and the shopping experience it afforded the women of the time is long gone.  We buy panty hose, thigh highs, and yes stockings in a department store ,or lingerie store, or even Rite Aid.  But I don’t think it’s quite the same.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Window on the World


You would not have thought it but just looking out a window could not only become a hobby, it could also provide a treasure trove of information.  Some of this information you might not wish to be privy to.  Remember Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window?  What he observed almost got him killed.

In the old neighborhood this activity, looking out the window, became an event just short of Olympic.  It was called ‘Hanging Out the Window’.  Maybe it could eventually become a triathlon event.  The three legs being, Endurance for hanging out observing, Endurance for kneeling on a footstool, Endurance for resting on your elbows.  You needed to be proficient in all three to do it correctly.  Time engaged in this activity could determine the winner.  I knew some champions.  They were in fact members of my own family.

Oh, you also needed an apartment that faced the main drag, 116th Street.  Besides the window having to face in the right direction several old pillows were necessary to cushion the hard foot stool, and the window sill.

Watching out the window there were so many stories on the city streets unfolding all the time.  Walter Winchell use to open or close his show saying there were eight million stories in the big city (New York).   One city block, with its tenements and brown stones, housed as many people as a small town.  And like a small town everyone knew their neighbors’ business.

There was the town crier in the person of Mary.  She would wash windows inside and out for twenty-five cents each to supplement her home relief (welfare) check.  Mary knew every Goomada (Mistress) on the block because they were the ones who could most afford to have their windows washed.  She knew who was keeping them, who the gentleman was married to, and when they had a fight.  She was quick to share all this information with anyone who would listen.

However, any ordinary window hanger knew who the Goomadas were.  They were easy to spot.  They were the curvy women who strutted in their high heels walking their toy poodle.  They either had shoe polish black hair, or unrealistic platinum blonde.  (The Goomada not the poodle.)  The hair was teased high, the dress form-fitting, and the stiletto heels backless.  The obvious ladies would cause a buzz among the housewives when they sauntered passed.

Sometimes you would see a good fist fight between a Mistress and a Wife when the irate wife had finally had enough and reclaimed her man by pulling the hair out of the head of the Mistress in front of the people on the street, and the window hangers.  There were occasions when upon the end of the physical disagreement there was loud, spontaneous applause from the on lookers.  This when the wife won the battle, and the Goomada had been really making a spectical of herself  by rubbing the wronged wife’s nose in the affair.  There were rules and everyone was supposed to keep to their proscribed roles.

Once in a while the husband/lover would have to get involved and separate the two loves of his life before they did some real damage to each other.  Then it got really good because they usually turned on him.  At that point other women who were watching from afar would jump in to save the man before the ladies in his life killed him.

Another fun activity was to trace the steps of the number runners all day and all night.  In and out of buildings and stores they would take the bets.  After the ninth race, and the number of the day was determined,  these entrepeneurs would run around paying off the winners.  They were all neighborhood guys and you often wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier to get a regular job for forty hours a week then to do all that running around for the numbers game, and having to run from the cops too.

From the window you could watch young toughs turn into would be gangsters or real gangsters.  Those men would eventually disappear from the landscape.   Either they got killed and their bodies dumped in the Bronx, or they would go to jail for a period of time.   Women wailing for their lost sons could be heard when you were hanging out the window.  At those times everyone wept for the mother’s heartbreak.

There were happy events to see as well.  Brides taking pictures in front of the building where they grew up, new Moms and Dad’s  pushing a sparkling baby coach and people congratulating them and cooing over the new addition, kids jumping rope and playing hopscotch, soldiers returning from the army, children in their communion outfits, and families all dressed up going to church or visiting relatives.

We saw all of life while hanging out the window on 116th Street.  Who needed a television?

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Let’s Go To The Movies


We lived in a six floor walk up with a black tar flat roof covered in sheets of tar paper just above our heads.  In the summer time the apartment was sweltering.    All the top floor apartments were hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.  There was no real exchange of air.  Windows were on the west side of our apartment facing the alley between the buildings,  and in my parents bedroom the windows faced north.  No cross ventilation at all to give any relief.  In order to create some kind of cooling the neighbors all tried to cooperate.  Front doors were left open all day to capture a little bit of breeze.  The scant breeze came in the south-facing front windows of one neighbors’ apartment, through the hall, and out the north windows of another apartment.   Four apartments opened onto a common hall.  People actually got annoyed if someone closed their own front door. 

There was also a big window facing the alley on each landing of the stairs, however almost no air came through them.  The window weights were broken on many.  On those windows you needed two adults to push them open and someone to wedge a stick in the opening.  We lived this way for five or so months out of each year.  Since we were on the top floor rarely did anyone who wasn’t living with or visiting one of the four families go up  to the sixth floor.  In some ways we were better off than people who lived on the lower floors.   Next stop the roof!  Our midnight patio.

Family privacy was sacrificed for the privilege of breathing.  Therefore people became pretty good friends. We were only eight feet away from each other’s home almost all the time.  All day kids hung out in the hallway playing or sitting on the steps.  Children walked in and out of each others apartments without invitation if they were young enough, and often ate with whose ever apartment they were in.  Can’t let the baby see something and not have a taste was and is the mantra of most Mothers.

Because of these circumstances my Mother and Jenny across the hall became fast friends.  Jenny was older than Mom, but it didn’t matter.  They chatted and gossiped over coffee at each other’s kitchen table every weekday afternoon.  Jenny’s youngest daughter, Theresa, was seven years older than I and once in a while she would take me to the Cosmo.  The Cosmo being a movie house on 116th Street between Third and Lexington.  It was a pretty small theatre with no balcony that I can remember.  Everyone sat in the orchestra.  That also made it easier to run up and down the aisles during slow parts of the show and before the matron yelled at you.

This one day Theresa offered to drag me along with her to the movies.  I was so excited.  Hanging out with the older girl made me feel important and grown up.  I was about eight years old.   Little did I know that I was the beard; she had made a date to meet her boyfriend, Vinny, in the movie house.  I was her cover.  How could she misbehave with me along?

I’ll never forget  what  main feature was run that day, ‘The Blob‘, with Steve McQueen as the lead teenager who saved the town.   Two movies, one being the main feature, newsreels and about six cartoons was the usual presentation at all movie houses and that is what we got.  Going to the movies was a five to six-hour event.  When you left the Cosmo you stopped at the small food stand next door and bought a potato knish to eat on the walk home.  Their counter faced the sidewalk.  You didn’t even have to go inside to make your purchase.  I can still smell and taste those knishes.  Yum.

This day we went to the movies, which was pretty empty.  Theresa sat beside me until Vinny showed up.  As soon as he came I was told that she would sit in the row behind me, next to him, and I would be just fine.  Well this was a double feature horror flick and I had to close my eyes through a lot of it.  Theresa and Vinny, true to her word, sat right behind me.  But instead of watching the movie they were making out hot and heavy.  I didn’t much care because they bought me popcorn and to her credit Theresa would lean over the seat every once in a while and ask if I was ok.  The only problem was they were having such a good time I sat through two viewings of the Blob plus the other sci-fi, newsreels and cartoons.  I could probably still recite some of the dialogue for you. 

We were at the movies about eight hours all toll and my mother was a wreck when we got home.  She wanted to know why we were gone so long.  Theresa never asked me to lie and I didn’t.  I told my Mom and hers that we sat through the main feature twice.  Even at eight years old I knew to cover my friends.  Still they were a bit suspicious, but I never admitted a thing.  I think this was the last time Theresa was permitted to take me to the movies.

This is only one of my movie adventures – those that occurred when I was older were somewhat different.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

How I Met Your Father


Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they met the person they would eventually marry.  I imagine my story is pretty typical, but I will share it for those that might have an interest.

My best bud, Susan, and I heard there was to be a party in the Bronx.  It was a summer, Saturday night, we were fifteen and raring to go.  Just like drums in the jungle, news of a party traveled from Throggsneck to East Harlem with lightening speed.  We were going up to Edison Avenue without a care that we weren’t personally invited, nor did we know whose party it was.  It didn’t matter.  We hooked up with some guys,  hopped on the IRT Lexington Avenue subway, then rode a bus to our destination.  The group of us, four or five people, were party bound.  The guy who was to be my date bought me a six-pack of beer, which I carried with me like a trophy.  How romantic.  I must say he was a sport.   He and I had just met.  I remember he was very tall. 

When we arrived the party could be heard half a block away.  It was in full swing.  Some of the guys were surrounding what turned out to be our host, drilling him for information about his orders, and where he was being deployed to.  It turned out the reason for this chaos was a farewell party for a young soldier.  He was telling his friends that he had just been ordered to carry a side arm.  He was going to a place called Saigon.   Our host was eighteen and being ordered to carry a gun for this mysterious mission.   No one knew where or what Saigon was or how it would turn into a tragic war.  It was the summer of 1961.  We were all really young.

I was feeling pretty cute in my black bandstand skirt (short a line shirt with four big buttons on it.  Made popular by the Dick Clark show.) and my hair in a long ponytail.  It had been tortured straight with beer can sized rollers.  Apparently, a lot of the guys there thought I was cute as well.  I was dark (remember this was the end of summer and I had been tanning for three months) while most of the girls there were fair with Irish blue-eyed appeal.  To the Bronx boys who were  mostly Irish descent, blue eyes were same ole same ole.  I was decidedly different.

We were packed into a small one family house and it was rocking.  I quickly lost the people I had come with.  Being who I am and always was this just gave me an opportunity to wander around and meet someone new.  I inched into the kitchen area and put my trophy beer down on a counter.  It was not two minutes before an arm came around me and put his hand on my beer.  With the speed of a cobra I put a death grip on his wrist and turned only to look into a pair of the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen.  Now those eyes were decidedly different to me.

He smiled really big and charmed me out of a couple of beers.  How could I refuse even knowing that he was in fact stealing my beer.  He was so cute and his name was Jimmy.  After sharing one or two Budweisers we got separated and the guy I came with found me.  We hung out but I am sure we both knew there was really no attraction.  It wasn’t long that Jimmy found me once again and we slipped out to the side yard.

The music could be heard out there, and there were couple after couple standing against the wall making out.  Standing to make out was how it was done in those days.  This way besides kissing you got to rub against each other too.  Well, since that is what we were there for we began making out as well.  I really liked him instantly except for the fact that he kept trying to pull up my band stand skirt and I had to keep smacking his hands down.  Finally it was time to go.  He was pretty drunk by this time.  Jimmy insisted on escorting Susan and I back to Harlem.  On the train he proclaimed loudly to everyone that we were on our way to Maryland to elope.  He was very cute.  Certainly, I gave him my phone number and we got him back on the train to the Bronx right after we arrived at 116th Street.

Susan and I talked and walked down the Avenues to home.  I told her right then, I’m gonna marry that guy.  She laughed and reminded me, he’s not your type, and she was right.  That was fifty years ago. 

My Jimmy is sitting in the next room!

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Feast


Marching a religious statue through the streets surely was a tradition brought from Europe.  For the people of East Harlem, July 16th, the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was waited for with as much if not more excited anticipation than they felt for the arrival of Christmas.   Devotees walked barefoot behind the float and Perry Como was broadcasted from the church, his beautiful voice singing Ava Maria.  We listened from the roof top.

At its height the Feast ran from ten to fourteen days.  Streets were decorated from 106th Street to 125th.  Gaudy tinseled  street crowns appeared a day or two before the official beginning of the celebration from Pleasant Avenue to Third Avenue with the decorations becoming more elaborate as you got closer to the church on 115th Street between First and Pleasant.  They were lit on the first day of the celebration and didn’t darken until the last weekend.

The Italian immigrants carried traditions from the old county.  To honor the Blessed Mother they would hang their best bedspreads out of the front window.   When the float carrying the icon passed , the Virgin would be honored by embroided beauty instead of the old, tired, brick of the tenements.  When I was a teen I would climb out on the fire escape and tie crepe paper streamers all along the rail for the parade.  My Grandmother was so happy that I did it for her.

Truck rides, ferris wheels and half moons among them, were set up from north to south on Pleasant Avenue in front of Benjamin Franklin High School.  It being summer no need to worry about interfering with school sessions.  Pleasant Avenue was  also bordered on the south by Jefferson Park, therefore they could close down the  street for two blocks, 114th to 116th Street.  No through traffic.  On the side streets  were all kinds of games of chance, although very few people ever won anything of real value.  There were vendors selling macadamia nuts on a string, blocks of torrone candy that was cut with an axe (torrone is a nugat candy with nuts in it.  Every time you bit into a piece the chances of breaking your teeth were fifty-fifty), pastry stands (cannolis, cream puffs, st. Josephs, Napoleons etc.), zeppola stands (a fried puff of dough sprinkled liberally with powered sugar), calzone and pizza stands, clams on the half shell,  and of course the piece de’ resistance, sausage and peppers.

Men and women  took off days from their regular nine to five jobs, set up a tent and became a street vendor for a couple of weeks.  They put on aprons and called each other Cheech.   The streets were filled with the aromas of boiling oil for the calzones and zeppolas.  Peppers and onions sizzled on grills waiting for the sausage.  No one worried about trichinosis.  I don’t recall anyone dying.  After all it was for the saint, the Virgin Mary.  Automatically, you have an immunity to disease from food bought at the Feast.

There were also vendors who walked around selling toys on a stick.  Every year I got a thin plastic doll with painted on hair and a betty boop face.  Her dress was a couple of layers of brightly colored tulle and she was beautiful on her stick.  When you brought her upstairs she lived tied to the post of your bed until she got so dusty you threw her away.  One year we stuck her on the top of the lamp shade, but the plastic was so thin it melted from the heat of the lightbulb and set the doll and lampshade on fire.  Fortunately we were alerted and my aunt Connie put it out before anything else caught. 

Aunt Frances and Aunt Mary with their husbands Uncle Henry and Uncle Tommy  and their five children came from Brooklyn, to enjoy the main feast day.  There  in that small apartment was also Aunt Connie and Aunt Butchie, my mother’s other sisters.  Sometimes Uncle Donnie, my Father and Uncle Christy.  Grandma and my Mother (who did all the cooking for this event) my kid sister, Christine and of course me.  They would have to take apart my Grandmother’s bed so a table could be spread from the parlor into the bedroom.  Everyone had a seat at the table.  The traditional feast fare came out in abundance accompanied by a couple of gallons of red wine.

As I got older I would march along side of the float taking donations and handing out scalpulers to the faithful.  Later in the evening I  danced in the streets with my friends.  Different candy stores pulled out their jukeboxes and dancing would go on till the wee hours of the morning.  All the rules went out the window during the feast.  I remember one time joining in a huge circle dance (the cross town bus waited until we were finished.  The driver was a neighborhood guy) to the song, That’ll be the Day.

By anyone’s standards we were poor.  We lived in the slums.  However, no one can ever claim to have had the fun that those two magical weeks brought to  the steaming sidewalks of summer in East Harlem.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Stop Rescuing My Dog!


We all know that Pomeranians are cute and if you are lucky they are also affectionate.  They have a reputation for being little bitch lap dogs that must be held and pampered.  Not my Teddy.

He is a seven pound, raggy, eighteen year old,  junk yard dog.  Just like an old man, he is grouchy, doesn’t always smell great, hates getting a bath, runs when his brush comes out.  We try to keep his hair short, but with the thick undercoat of all Poms it knots all the time. 

Again like a little old man, he doesn’t see well, is deaf as a door knob and growls when you want him to do something he doesn’t want to do.  He sleeps at least twenty or so hours out of twenty-four.  And he gives you a lick and a nuzzle when you least expect it.

There is one more similarity he has to his human counterpart.  He loves routine.  Since we have lived on this small dead-end street longer than just about anyone else, Teddy is the mayor of the block.  He goes out by the front door and comes home in the back through his doggy door.  We like this set-up and so does he.  So what’s the problem you ask?

Kindly do gooders keep rescuing him from the streets, put him in their car, drive anywhere from a few blocks to several miles away, then call us up and report that they have found our dog.  A dog that was just fine if they had left him alone.

One time we got a call before we knew he was missing.  A woman claimed she had found a small puppy, his phone number is around his neck, and that she would bring him home to keep him safe and we could come get him the next day because she wasn’t going straight home.  Fortunately we were pacing and looked out the front window while still on the phone.  There was the woman, holding a very unhappy, squirming pom, while she spoke to me.  I said put the dog down.  Boy was she surprised.  Again I repeated, put the dog down.  She reluctantly did and he came scrambling up my driveway.  I opened the door and he jumped in.  Since I was still holding the phone and so was she, I thanked her and hung up.

Another time, we were on vacation and my daughter and her husband were good enough to watch Teddy for us.  Sure enough he got out from under their gate and was rescued by someone who read the phone number did a reverse phone book and brought him back to my home.  I was still on vacation.  A neighbor across the street recognized Teddy as ours and took him.  Being kind he left Teddy in his yard and went to buy dog food.  Meanwhile my son-in-law was frantically searching up and down his neighborhood.  Finally, in desperation he decided to drive to my house to leave a note on the front door in case anyone should find Teddy.  Sure enough when he pulled up to the house Teddy was sitting on the front porch waiting for him.  He had escaped from the neighbor’s house and came directly home.

There are countless other times that people have tried to rescue our little old Teddy.  Please stop.  Maybe there is a lonely Lab or a lost Newfoundland that needs your well-meaning assistance, but as for us and our eighteen year old Pom, Teddy, we are all just fine!

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

What language is she speaking!


When you are in a bilingual household from birth it never occurs to you what language you are listening  in.  When you process what you have just been told you either think of it in English, or the second language whatever that might be.

In our house that second language was Italian even though my father was Greek/American and didn’t understand one work of Italian.  Although, if my grandmother was being less than complimentary he always got the drift.  One might not know what the words are, but the meaning comes through loud and clear.  Even my Uncle Christy, my father’s brother, knew when my grandmother was not happy about something.

My mother and grandmother most often spoke Italian to each other.  To me,  my mother spoke perfect English as she came to America when she was just one year of age.  Grandma on the other hand spoke to me in Italian and broken English.  The result of her being in the United States from the time she was twenty-two years old;  she could no longer speak Italian without throwing in a, “you know, or ok”, or another American short cut that we all allow to slip into our daily speech patterns.  One time relatives from Sicily came to visit and the conversations between Grandma and her nephews was not what you would call smooth.  Every time she threw in an English idiom they would stare at her blankly.  She never even realized she was doing it until one of my aunts told her, “Mom, you are not speaking all in Italian.”  This only served to piss her off.  If she knew what she was talking about, every one should.  She always thought I was smarter than my cousins because I understood Italian and they didn’t.  Never mind that they didn’t grow up in the house with her, but in an all English-speaking home.

Despite all my hookey playing I was educated in the United States where everyone spoke English in school.  I learned to read and write English fairly well and have kept those skills to this day.  But there were some words that never come up in school, therefore when you have learned a word in your home, from your parents and grandparents, even though that word was the Italian or Italian slang for a particular thing, then that’s the only way you know how to refer to an item.

It never occurred to me that I didn’t know the English word for some things.  I never thought about how it looked to others, those who didn’t understand Italian, that when my grandmother spoke to me in Italian and I replied in English, they thought it odd that I was making sense out of another language.  Even my father would smile at some of these interchanges.

I will give you some examples, but I must spell the Italian words phonetically.  Keep in mind that it was a dialect spoken in Sicily at the time Grandma left her native land, in nineteen-twenty-one.  Even after all these years, thirty-nine since her death, I find myself using these phrases at times just to feel the touch of the women who came before me.

When one was wiping their mouth or drying the dishes with a dish towel it was a mapine.  Everyone always needs a mapine at dinner time and after dinner.  Even my father started calling it a mapine.  Since you only use a mapine in your own home this word never caused me any grief.

I was a young bride of eighteen years old and stocking my kitchen with all the necessities of a good kitchen.  I went into the hardware store in the Bronx where my new hubby and I set up our first apartment.  This was not an Italian neighborhood.  Walking up and down the isles for a few minutes I couldn’t find what I was looking for.  Like any bright teenager I sought out the storekeeper, and asked for a schulapasta.  He looked at me like I had three heads.  After some mimeing, and explaining that it was the drain the macaroni thing, he instructed me that it was called a colander.  What the hell!  What a stupid name for the drain the macaroni thing.

Another problem which I kind of figured out for myself when I was much older was Demi  tasse`.  This only came to light after Jim and I had enough money to go to better restaurants.  At  dessert time the waiter appropriately asked if we would like coffee.  Jim ordered a cup of American coffee and I ordered a Demi tasse`.  Nope that’s not what it is.  Nor is it black coffee.  All that means is American coffee without milk.  Its Expresso, well la de da.  When I thought about it I realized that Demi tasse` means a little cup.  Grandma always referred to Expresso by saying do you want a little cup, which Expresso is always served in.  However, she always gave me a double before grammar school in the winter to warm me up.  Oy Vey!!

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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