For the most part, the Molfettesi are urban people. Their homes back in Italy consist of tightly packed apartment buildings adorned with green shutters and modest balconies. Today, the city is equipped with shopping malls and outlet centers, but the inhabitants of the past needed only to navigate narrow medieval streets to obtain their daily wares. Everything they required was in walking distance or easily reachable with a Cinquecento. Therefore, it should come to no surprise that when early Molfettesi immigrants crossed the Atlantic to settle in the United States, they chose the diminutive cityscape of Hoboken, NJ. Just a square mile long, Hoboken resembles Molfetta for the fact that its inhabitants vie to live in brownstones and other tightly packed quarters.
However, Molfettesi are also country people. During holidays and special occasions, the residents of Molfetta often opt to go onto rocky beaches of the Adriatic or into the olive groves that occupy the Pugliesi interior. In Campagna (countryside), Molfettesi men coaxed olives, almonds, figs and assortment of citrus fruit out of the unforgiving soil in order to share some surplus food with their families. Therefore, it is not surprising that Molfettesi living in New Jersey looked to mimic the Campagana experience in the New World. The problem was… that for the early Molfettesi immigrants, U’attène (the father), seldom had days off. A day trip to a beach in Connecticut or to Wolf’s Pond in Staten Island would often have to suffice as a family vacation.
One of the places many Molfettesi immigrants ventured when seeking some outdoor fun were the recreation areas underneath the George Washington Bridge. An easy drive from Hudson County with prime location near the water was probably why the Palisade Interstate Park was a favorite picnic area. The scene would include women cooking pasta over charcoal grills, men playing horseshoes and then napping while little kids ran around until the sun went down. Of course, if an important soccer game was on, the men-folk also somehow managed to rig electricity to supply a handheld television.
On June 2nd, 2012, members of the Molfetta Heritage Club paid homage to an old “Molfie” tradition and held a BBQ underneath the George Washington Bridge. We ate some food, laughed, ate some more, told stories, had some snacks, played some games, ate, and then closed out with some food… Special thanks to Robert Gigante for organizing this get-together. Let’s do it again real soon!