These potato dumplings, traditionally served as a first course, are small bites of heaven. Although most people associate this dish with Italian cuisine, versions of this dish exist around the world; Croatia, France, and South America all have variations of the dish. The word “gnocchi” is derived from the Italian word “nocchio,” meaning a “knot in wood.” Most Italian chefs say that the secret behind perfect gnocchi is the right potato. The best are ones high in starch and low in water content, such as the russet potato. The less water in the dough, the less gummy it will be. It is said that the gnocchi is perhaps one of the oldest recorded dishes that can be found, and when you actually try them there is no wonder why they have survived for so long. These delightful Italian little dumplings are and absolutely fantastic dish, and they can be found in several variations. As with many Italian dishes, region can play a large role in the type of gnocchi you can find. Each version tenderly preserved through time with a recipe that can easily stem back to the early 1300th century Tuscans. This is a very simple recipe to make, and while it is easy you can find many that will put a twist on this recipe to make it their own. The Gnocchi is a recipe that is very old, and apparently it does have quite the clan. There are more Gnocchi variations than you can shake a stick at, and all of which are dependant on where you are in Italy. I am introducing you to a southern Italian variety from Naples made with potatoes and another variety popular in Florence, Italy made with ricotta cheese and spinach These dumplings in their early stages are often confused with pasta, but truth be told they are actually even older than pasta itself. The similarities are not reserved for the appearance either, as the dressings for the two dishes are quite similar as well. It is clear however to those that are experienced that Gnocchi and pasta are not the same dish. Someone unfamiliar with the ways in Italy or the general foods can easily become confused and assume that they are in fact one and the same.
March 15th, The Ides of March
For those of you who are not aware of the significance of the Ides of March, according to the Roman calendar, it is the date signifying the beginning of spring and there was a huge celebration in the city of Rome. The Soothsayers warned Julius Caesar to “beware of the Ides of March,” which of course he didn’t listen to and was stabbed to death by his best friend Marcus Brutus. Thus the phrase “et tu brutus”. So I thought we could celebrate with this Roman holiday with Caesar Salad , a tribute to Caesar. And a popular Roman pasta dish called Buccatini al’Amatriciana.
2011 will be 50 years that we have been in business. It is confusing with all the different Coppola’s in the area. We happen to be the original one. The success of the original restaurant allowed the family to expand.
Originally we were located on 273 Main Street and then moved to the current location. It wasn’t by choice. The city of Poughkeepsie as part of their urban renewal knocked down several buildings. Ours was one of them. So we were forced to look elsewhere to continue our business.
So in 1979 the city of Poughkeepsie forced us out of our building and we moved to upper Main Street in the town of Poughkeepsie taking with us alot of history. We have had the same phone number for 50 years. We are still operating under the same corporation started in 1961.
Throughout the years we have modernized our facility and gotten many facelifts. But for nostalgia sake we have kept some artifacts for reminders of the roots of our success. Keeping some of the original plates and some of the original pots is a daily reminder.
We have an antique scale that we used to weigh all our meats on. We have the original industrial size mixer. It still works. Amazing that things made 50 years ago are of such good quality. We even brought our steam table with us and built the kitchen around it! Some of the original chairs do come out from time to time. If you look on our brick walls we have gold statues that we brought along with us. Those from from the Rialto Theater that we started in 50 years ago.
Throughout our many years in business we have weathered the ups and downs of the economy. Right now we are experiencing another valley. But because of the lessons taught by my father as he started a business from scratch (which was built on hard work and perseverance) we will climb up this valley too. I will be writing on this blog different memories from our experiences in the business. So stay tuned. Not focusing primarily on our family history but I will write about some of the interesting people we have met along the way.
Beginning as an Italian restaurant in an old abandoned theatre in 1961 not only brought Mediterranean cooking to the Hudson Valley, but Coppola’s Restaurant inadvertently inherited the theatre roots of the building. The theatre used to be called The Rialto Theatre which opened in 1920. It was owned by Bardavon Theaters Corporation (the same owners of the Bardavon) until 1925, having several owners thereafter. The Rialto was a 1600 seat theatre, a much bigger theatre than The Bardavon 1876 Opera House. In 1921 it advertised in the Poughkeepsie Eagle with the slogan “At the Rialto Nothing But The Largest and Best.” Tickets prices were between 17 cents to 55 cents and they hosted burlesque shows like The French Frolics, NY Broadway shows and in 1924 they hosted Fitch’s 19 men with singing, dancing, comedic acts and even women impersonators. One paper said it was the “best attraction in many moons!” So needless to say when three brothers and three sisters opened up the first Coppola’s Restaurant in 1961 it literally had a “hard act” to follow! But these Italian immigrants from Monte di Procida and Ischia brought to Poughkeepsie a restaurant where getting a table on a Saturday night was like getting seats to a sold out show! In the early years in true theatre form Coppola’s Restaurant served many celebrities with the likes of Pat Carrol, Dennis Day, Barbara McNair, Ernest Borgnine and of course our own local James Cagney who followed us to upper Main Street.
Sadly when Poughkeepsie Urban Renewal condemned the building my parents begrudgingly moved to upper Main Street. But we couldn’t leave the theatre roots behind so we brought the Rialto Theatre statues along with us. Moving to upper Main Street provided us with more than just celebrities, we even got the whole drama department from Vassar College. I consider those statues theatre magnets because by moving to Arlington we attracted quite a few celebrities, John Travolta, Martin Sheen, Bill Duke, Liza Minnelli, Matthew Modine, Ralph Bellamy, Mark Lynn- Baker… etc etc. But not just actors but sport figures as well with the likes of Joe Pepitone and Floyd Patterson. But who did we end up valuing the most? Our most loyal customers: the Vassar Drama Department, of course! Coppola’s Restaurant was the stage to the drama professors! There was Professor Evert Sprinchorn, also chairman of the drama department and author of several books. Professor Sprinchorn was very quiet and always looked the part of professor with his tweed jacket. Professor William Rothwell was my favorite! Not only did he teach at the Vassar College Department of Drama but he was also chairman of the department. He translated several operas from French and Italian into English for staging at Vassar and he also directed many plays, operas and musicals. Professor Rothwell was quite a character at Coppola’s. He would often come in leather jackets and riding boots. And it wasn’t all for show! He was an avid equestrian. Speaking in his Shakespearean voice as if he was reading from Hamlet, he would say to my brother “Coppola, I had such a good workout riding and I am so sore!” My brother, Nick would look at Prof. Rothwell up and down to his tall black riding boots and would razz him by saying “Rothwell I think I had a bigger workout than you at a bar fight last night.”
With his rich, dramatic accent, one would never guess he was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri! One student described the professor as a teacher whom not only did he learn stage-blocking techniques but also learned that at parties at his house, one never sits down during cocktails. I can just imagine Professor correcting the young student on etiquette. It was always such fun with Prof. Rothwell, he just loved to mix it up with us. I had the pleasure of meeting Meryl Streep one year and I was so excited to tell Professor Rothwell. I knew he was one of her professors at Vassar. So I asked him what he thought of her while teaching her. He said that they knew early on that she was destined for greatness. “Merryl stood out from all the other students!” the professor exclaimed in his deep rich voice.
Along with the professors we also were privy to get to know Genevieve Kenny. Mrs. Kenny and her family frequented Coppola’s restaurant since 1961. She served as administrative assistant in Vassar’s drama department for 43 years until she retired. She was there longer than any of the professors. Some have even said with tongue in cheek that she ran the drama department. Mrs. Kenny performed many jobs there including acting on stage. No wonder she and her son readily volunteered to star in one of our TV commercials! So proud to have a professional included!A lovely woman who is always perfectly coifed and smartly dressed, an inspirational character that starred on the Coppola stage right to the last day we closed!
Let’s not forget we also need a theatre photographer. Dixie Sheridan, another of Vassar’s finest, was a staple at Coppola’s. During the time that she was a constant at Coppola’s (Baked Ziti and Eggplant Parmagiana were her favorites) she was employed at Vassar, her alma mater, as editor, writer and photographer for the Vassar Quarterly, assistant to the president, and vice president for college relations. She is now a NYC freelance photographer specializing in the documentation of performing arts and also has a specialty in theatre productions. She is quite renowned and has had her photo archive of theater productions at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Art for years, which has recently been acquired by the New York Public Library. Our loyal bartender Leo McCabe took pictures of Dixie and proudly kept it in his Coppola’s photo albums!(We inherited the albums after he passed away) I wonder if he knew that he was photographing a famous photographer?
The statues are sitting ominously in our restaurant all alone now. I have been writing to a few historical societies hoping to find a home for them. They deserve to bring others the same pleasure and prosperity they brought my family. The Rialto statues need to be kept working calling out like sirens drawing in the theatre. The Theatre Historical Society of America have actually in their possession the only print of our very own Rialto Theatre drawn by Anthony F. Dumas in 1924. I thought the statues would feel right at home there. I am checking with museums here in Poughkeepsie as well, to see if they have room for those poor lost souls. I want to leave these statues to someone who appreciates the power they possess, the power to attract fame and fortune! Hmmmm… maybe I should hold on to them a little longer!
These last few months I often think about my dad’s brother. He was one of the original 3 brother’s that opened up the first Coppola’s Restaurant. Zio Vincenzo just passed away in June joining my dad. I thought I would dedicate this blog entry to him. I close my eyes and try to envision my uncle. I’ll start with his name – I grew up calling him Zio Vincenzo as did all of my American born cousins, but I was always perplexed because everyone else in the family called him Viiishhie!!! And it was always long and drawn out like an exclamation. Viiiiiischie!!!!! Kind of like – the chorus of a song. But, as I think about it now… Zio always seemed to talk in poetic verses, and maybe people were inclined to respond with a chorus. I used to think that all Italians have conversations using rhymes and little jingles. But I realized that it was only Zio Vincenzo that talked that way and it became contagious. One of my favorites of his was his morning greeting when he would find us kids still laying in bed. It was common for his family and ours to be spending the summer months in Italy. Amidst those happy sounds in the morning with the roosters crowing and the venders yelling out their wares, Zio would belt out a greeting “A sera varca varc e a matina non si trovano i barch… (If the boats rock all night and you won’t be able to find them in the morning) and my father would joyously greet him back with a Viiiishieee!!!!!!
Now for all of you that don’t understand Italian or should I say Napolitan or could I narrow it down even more and say Montese. It’s an Italian lingo that has evolved in this little mountain town in Italy called Monte di Procida which overlooks the bay of Naples. The Montese cadence is rhythmic and the words are comedic but the meanings are profound. Zio always spoke in Montese, in a sing song sort of way with a big smile on his face. He would sing all his words, all his greetings…his jingles made us all feel so warm and special. Let me tell you about another one of his sayings. I was very shy when I was little and I didn’t talk much in company. Zio Vincenzo would whisper in my ear “chi tenn’ a lingua va in Sardegn.’ The literal meaning of this in English makes no sense – If you have a tongue you can get to Sardenia. What he was telling me was that” if you speak up anything is possible.” Grazie Zio, I have put in action your words of wisdom on a regular basis and have likewise encouraged my children.
And of course he couldn’t drive through Pozzuolli without saying “Pozzouli puzzelent pur l’erba e feting.” And I loved watching him stand his ground with my dad at his side while making a point to some “paisano” who took his parking spot. “Ma com`e stu faat” (What’s the story)… as they both sing songed the poor guy into moving the car. No one had a chance with Zio’s fast tongue and wit. And then my Dad with a big broad smile would look at his brother and they both laughed.
I can only imagine what my father is saying to Zio Vincenzo as they both see each other in heaven, “Viiiischiieee, I fatto buon che mi si venuto a trova! ( I am glad you came to find me).” And Zio Vincenzo would say….. “a facia e sta pizz’ Peppi non mi faceva fa sape che ca si mangia boun! (Why didn’t you let me know that the food here is good!!)”
As I remember Zio Vincenzo I decided to really dig deep in trying to understand this dialect and what exactly it is. I would like to get to the bottom of the Montese /Napolitana lingo. Is it like here in the United States where each part of the country has different accents? But in dialect the words really vary. As I was trying to write down my uncle’s expressions in dialect I found it really hard. As I tried to spell them out according to sound, I found that they didn’t really look like Italian!
I have to say that traveling through Italy during summer vacations when I was a young girl not only did I get introduced to wonderful food, but I learned so much of the Neopolitan language. My parents are both from Campagnia, the mid through southern part of Italy. My dad and his brothers were born in Monte di Procida while my mom and her family were born on the island of Ischia, a 45 minute ferry ride from Monte di Procida. I will have to write more about Ischia later. That’s a whole other fascinating story!
Napolitana is just one of several dialects in Italy. Napolitana ( Neapolitan) along with the other dialects though out Italy is not a variant of Italian but rather has its own grammar, orthography, proununciation, and vocabulary. So the Napolitana dialect is not at all like the regional accents here in the US. Dialects are actually separate languages of their own. The base of Napolitana language is from Latin but is also mixed with the languages of the people who inhabited and dominated the city of Naples: The Greeks, Normans, French and the Spanish. In modern Italy, dialects are still the primary spoken idiom, although the standard Italian is virtually the only written language.
No wonder it didn’t look like Italian as I tried to write down my Uncle’s expressions! But I am proud to say that the Neapolitan dialect,or Napoletano as they say in Italian, is the best known dialect aside from the standard language. It is mostly due to its heavy use in popular Italian songs!
Napolitana has a long history being not only an official language of the kingdom of Naples in the 1400s but also has a vast collection of literature between poems, books and plays written through out the centuries. Along with the long and prestigious literary tradition, it’s the famous musical tradition that most people are aware of. Even Rosemary Clooney sang the famous Mambo Italiano! It is still heard often in our American musical history even in the current pop music of Lady Gaga which “ Mambo Italiano” was featured in the beginning of her hit song ‘Born this Way.” Another recent song that was turned into techno is “Tu vuò fà l’americano” (English: “You pretend to be American”, or more idiomatically, “You’re an American wannabe”). It is a Neapolitan song by Italian singer Renato Carasone. The lyrics are about an Italian who imitates the contemporary American lifestyle and acts like a Yankee, drinking whisky and soda, dancing to rock ‘n roll, playing baseball and smoking Camel cigarettes, but still depends on his parents for money. The song is generally considered a satire on the process of Americanization that occurred in the early post-war years, when southern Italy was still a rural, traditional society. You know now that I think back – maybe that’s why the villagers in Monte di Procida would ridicule me by singing that song to me! But I didn’t take it as an insult. I realized I knew enough Montese that they didn’t know I was really an American born Yankee! I am sure if you have ever eaten at our restaurant on any given day these two songs were played quite often. I never got sick of listening to them!
Sadly this infamous dialect was also considered the language of the ignorant because after the Italian unification most Neapolitans did not understand standard Italian. The newspapers in Napoli wrote in Napolitana so they could understand the laws of Kingdom of Italy. This dialect remained the common language of the populace until the 1950’s as literacy increased and standard Italian became more generally accepted as the national language. I became fully aware of this myself growing up. My parents and their brothers and sisters came to America in the ’50s. I was the first born American in a household that the only language spoken was Napolitana. So through the years as we visited Italy I became increasingly embarrassed that I could only speak the dialect. I found that for most Italians their first contact with the standard language comes in primary school and then it becomes natural for them to go back and forth between dialect and standard Italian. So when I went to college I made sure I minored in Italian to learn the standard Italian language. I was so surprised to find such differences in grammar and vocabulary. Believe you me! I turned a bright red many times as I would raise my hand to answer a question in Mrs. Gioelli’s class at Marist. I found out that “io sacho!”is dialect for “Io so!” in standard Italian. I learned quickly that my typical Meridional dialect (Central to Southern part of Italy), has so many deviations from standard Italian. A couple of examples is that chi in napolitana- takes the place of pi in standard Italian-; thus chiù is (più in Italian), and chiove is (piove in Italian). Also I found that unaccented vowels are often pronounced as an undifferentiated vowel, similar to the English schwa. The articles (excepting il’) in Napoletano are clipped to bare vowels: ‘o libbro (in Italian it’s il libro), ‘a casa (la casa), ‘e piatte (i piatti). Overcome by so much to remember I would inadvertently blurt out something in dialect in class and my professor (this little old white haired Italian woman) would double up in laughter. I can still hear her cackling in my head. I learned very quickly that my dialect was not Italian!
I am now able to switch back and forth depending on where I go in Italy. I always speak Napolitana in my father’s village of Monte di Procida but know enough to switch to the standard Italian when I go elsewhere. When I first get to Italy I am quite rusty. But after a few days my tongue loosens up and I become one of the natives! Hahaha…I wish!
I thought I would share with you some more of the comedic expressions that I grew up with!! If you could all permit me to be so bold……some of the phraseology is a little racy! J
Una cape squatrate che devo fare rotundo!
A square head that needs to be made round
I had to laugh when I heard my Aunt use it to describe getting my cousin tutored!
Chi ten’ a lingua va in Sardegna!
Who has a tongue can find their way to Sardegna!
By speaking up you can get anywhere!
Buono buono, la terza volta buono si fesso!
Good once , twice , the third time good you are an idiot!
My mom would tell the story of her teacher in ischia who happened to be a Franciscan monk. Whenever he lost his patience in class he would often use this expression. He always gave the class 2 chnaces and then he would blow up that he wasnt going to be an idiot and give them a third chance!
Che si dic….
What do you say?
This is a typical greeting in Monte di Procida. Sort of like the way we use “what’s new?”
Ta gia fa a cape con cipolle!
I am going to fry your head with onions!
My Nonno (grandfather) on my mom’s side,an Ischitano ,would say this all the time when I was being a bratty kid
Mi fa sci ra denti gl’occhi!
You are making it come out of my eyes.
When I was little I took this expression literally when the grownups would say this to each other in raised voices. I used to watch their eyes to see if anything really did come out of them!
Va fa il paese di policinella!
Go relieve yourself in the town of clowns.
My dad would use this expression when he was trying to be descreet around us kids)( You want to hear how naive I am? I always this expression was vulgar but I didnt realize that it meant go to hell
Va fa Napoli!
Go relieve yourself in Naples! (It actually means go to hell)
For some reason this expression was considered way worse than the above expression. I can’t figure out why because they really mean the same thing!) I really am surprised that the a Napolitan would use this expression because it originated in Sicily describing that the worst place to send someone besides hell is to wish them to go to Napoli!
A putanna di mammete!
Your mother’s whore.
Now this is one of the worst of the worst expressions. To this day my mom denies ever saying it to me. I tease her by telling her that she said this so many times to me that I used to think it was my name! She throws a fit when I tell her this! Hahaha…….
The 1920 Rialto Theatre statues that have adorned the walls of the Original Coppola’s Restaurant for over 50 years have been donated back to the theatre from whence they started.
My family’s journey started in 1961 when my father and his two brothers, along with my mother and her two sisters, having just arrived from the Naples region of Italy, opened the first Coppola’s Restaurant in the old abandoned Rialto Theatre on Main Street in Poughkeepsie, NY. Immediately becoming a success, drawing in a menagerie of people from town folk to celebrities, Coppola’s became the talk of the town.
The family eventually branched out to open other restaurants but Joe and Maria Coppola, my parents, stayed in Poughkeepsie. In 1979 Poughkeepsie Urban Renewal condemned the historic building at 273 Main Street forcing my parents to move to 825 Main Street. My parents enjoying their success in Arlington gave back to the community with annual Christmas parties for various children’s homes. Fifty years in business Coppola’s Restaurant received many awards for its fine Italian cuisine.
Jim and I are proud that we were able to hang on to that aura of family and thankfulness that my dad passed on to us when he died in 1994. Not only were we able to provide our customers with the same great food experiences that 6 Italian immigrants started 50 years ago but we also provided our customers with a canvas for memories! In turn our customers gave us a greater understanding and lasting memories of our heritage!
And now that we have closed our restaurant doors we are so grateful that our customers have opened their doors to their homes to introduce our 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce on the family dinner table.
As we approach July 31st, the day that we close the doors to our restaurant, customers are having the need to not only come in and have one last meal but also share their stories. One customer, that I will refer to as Mr. Bill, gazed at our wall of paintings depicting different cities in Italy. He had a wonderful smile on his face as he reminisced about visiting Italy with his Dad as a 16 year old. Recounting his dad’s WW2 time in Italy his eyes teared. Mr. Bill’s dad was a colonel in the 15th Air Force in Italy. The US Air Force was there to support the invasion of Italy for the strategic bombing of Germany. The air force took priority over the troops on the ground using much of the limited transportation in Italy. As Mr. Bill unraveled his Dad’s travels through Italy he explained to me about the battle of Huskey.(JULY 1943 Operation Husky – the Invasion of Sicily was the start of the Allies assault on German occupied Europe. Churchill described Sicily and Italy as the soft underbelly of Europe but there were many hard fought battles there before the job was done.)
As Mr. Bill spoke of his fond memories it brought to mind some of my own stories that my Dad would tell his children. My Dad was just a young boy growing up through World War 2. Living in Italy during that time was not a good experience as the German’s took over the country. Monte di Procida where my dad grew up is a town on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Evidently it was a great spot that served as the German’s look out. One day my dad came upon an unmanned machine gun set up overlooking the bay. Of course what would a curious young boy do! He decided to try out the guns when all of a sudden the Germans came running! It amazed me that he survived this experience as well as the ugly war.
But the story that was told with the most frequency was the one about the American soldiers that altered my dad’s life forever. By the end of the war jobs and food in Italy were scarce. There was poverty, destruction and schools were not in session for 3 years. After the Americans pushed the Germans out of Italy, my dad and a few of the townspeople would take the bus to the American Naval Base to look for work. My Dad was a mere 12 years old. Even though he was so young, the American soldiers knowing the devastation in the nearby towns and the plight of the Italians, gladly took him in and gave him odd jobs for food and money. My dad beaming with pride would bring home money and food for his family. The generosity of the Americans made a lasting impression on my dad. So much so that he came to the United States in 1954 to start a new life.
And that brings me back to Mr. Bill. When Mr. Bill was 16 years old his Dad the 15th Air Force Colonel brought his family to visit Italy. They started from northern Italy and made their way down to Sicily. When they reached the Amalfi Coastline they were in awe of one of the most beautiful coastlines in all of Europe. The Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana is a stretch of coastline on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy. The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination for the region and Italy as a whole, attracting thousands of tourists annually.) It was lunch time so the family stopped in the town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. In fact there’s a short story written by John Steinbeck called “Positano”. If you would like to read about the Italians in Positano it’s a vivid depiction that captures Steinbeck’s experience there!
( www.fortunecity.com/littleitaly/amalfi/84/positanosteinbeck.htm )
They reached Positano 2 o’clock in the afternoon. As you can imagine they were all quite hungry. As his Dad knocked at the door of a trattoria, he didn’t realize that the trattoria was closed and they were having a siesta. His dad not knowing much Italian was happy that the owner spoke English. The trattoria owner understood quite well that Mr. Bill’s dad was bringing his family to all the sites in Italy that he saw when he was an American Colonel in World War 2. Well Mr. Bill’s dad didn’t need to speak any further. The owner quickly yelled out to his wife and family that a great feast was to be made. And with a flourish as everyone gathered around cooking, setting the table, and filling the jugs with wine a big feast was prepared for the Colonel and his family. And with loving eyes Mr. Bill exclaimed with a catch in his voice that when his dad reached into his pocket to pay. The host said, “ No! It is our honor and privilege to provide you and your family a meal.”
I wouldn’t have understood this gesture if it wasn’t for the stories my dad told me. The trattoria owner was just trying to give back to the Americans for the kindness that was shown. I am sure he had his own special story from WW2 and he wanted to reciprocate.
As I watched Mr. Bill walk out the door of Coppola’s Restaurant for the last time I came to the conclusion that our service to the community hasn’t been just about the food. It’s been a reminder of family and good times. Jim and I at Coppola’s are proud that we were able to hang on to that aura of family and thankfulness that my dad passed on to us. Not only were we able to provide our customers with the same great food experiences that my Dad and his brothers started 50 years ago but Coppola’s also was able to provide customers a canvas for memories! In turn, our customers gave us a greater understanding and lasting memories of my parents heritage! And for that we want to say thank you for 50 wonderful years!
Synchronicity is an experience in your life when 2 or more events that have absolutely no relation to each other occur together in a “meaningful coincidence.” – Carl Jung
I want to tell you about the oddest coincidence that happened in our restaurant a few years ago. While my oldest son was attending the Naval Academy pulling an all-nighter working on a paper, he called me up at 2am. He needed a sounding board to go over the paper with me because it wasn’t flowing right. His paper was on the French Jewish Resistance during WW2.
I was a business major and clueless on history. I couldn’t help with adding factual information but I just listened while he talked himself to organizing his paper. Mind you this was occurring at 2am and although woken from my sound sleep I was more than happy to be able to help my son. I was fascinated learning all about the French Jewish Resistance in the wee hours of the morning.
I learned that France was conquered by Nazi Germany in June 1940 and was divided into two parts: the northern region, which was under direct German rule, and the southern one, where a so-called Free French regime. The persecutions of the Jews followed a similar pattern to the persecutions in other occupied countries. There was the creation of detention camps, and massive deportations of Jews to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Out of a community of about three hundred thousand Jews in France on the eve of the war, 76,000 including 10,000 children, were deported. Most perished in the camps. Only about 3 percent returned. It could have been even worse if it wasn’t for the French Jewish Resistance. They rescued thousands of adults and children by providing them with hiding places or forged papers, and organized convoys to Switzerland and Spain. They formed guerrilla organizations in the main cities of France and in the mountains. They maintained a network of secret agents who transferred money from Switzerland to France and supplied it for the various underground activities and needs.
Here’s where Synchronicity took place at Coppola’s. It was the very next day at work. I sat 2 people at a nice table by the window. Explaining to me in their French accents (BTW I love French accents) that they were meeting for their annual get together. As they oo la la’d sharing their story that they met for the first time during WW2 in France. The woman told me how she was part of the underground in France that ushered the Jews to safety. Every year she meets up with her friend that she helped during WW2. I was floored! What was this! I just learned about this the night before. Was this coincidence? Was this ESP! No! It’s synchronicity!
I had the most eerie feeling as I listened to their story with my mouth wide open! Had I not listened to Joe that night reiterate his paper about the French Jewish Resistance I would not have had the nicest conversation with this interesting couple. I stood captivated. If I had it my way I would have been sitting down with them listening to their conversation. But then again – I wouldn’t have understood a word since they were speaking in French. I also had to remind myself that they came to have dinner and visit with each other. I don’t think they would appreciate me acting as if I was also part of the French Resistance.
It never ceases to amaze how interesting our customers are and how interesting their lives are. What an eclectic mix of characters and how their lives intertwine with mine! What reasons are there for accepting synchronicity as an explanation for what happened at Coppola’s Restaurant? What it explains is that I was able to find meaning and significance where there is none. Having been born into the restaurant business, my whole life has evolved around it. So much so that a mere coincidence of lovingly being my son’s sounding board one early Thursday morning resulted in having a wonderful meeting with The Jewish French Resistance the very next day at Coppola’s!
Since this picture has been hanging on a wall in Coppola’s Restaurant men’s room it has stirred up so much commotion. This is a picture of General Patton on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and invaded Europe. The Rhine River was Germany’s ancient line of defense; when American troops crossed the Rhine on March 7, 1945 at Remagen near Cologne, it was all over for the Nazis. General George S. Patton showed his contempt for the Germans by relieving himself into the river.
In the early 1990’s a loyal customer, Jim Quinn (who passed away last year) brought in the picture because he said our men’s room needed something to spice it up. As a woman I found this extremely odd but it’s a men’s room and what do I know! Suffice to say that not only has this picture become a conversation piece but it has also provoked people to steal. The picture has been stolen so many times that we keep copies so we can keep replacing it. But regardless, it has stirred up so many interesting conversations.
I only bring it up today because last night an out of town gentleman (here for the Vassar College Graduation) after returning from the men’s room needed to speak to someone about that picture. As my face was getting flushed from embarrassment I just couldn’t get the words out on what General Patton was actually doing. The customer was an older stately gentleman and I kept stumbling for words. It was at the end of the evening so I directed him to the kitchen to speak to Jim. The reason I found this typical question so unusual this time is because he wanted to tell his story about that picture. He was actually there! This white haired gentleman was one of the engineers from the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion that crossed that Rhine River many times during WW2. Well, I had to look up what exactly did an engineer do during the crossing of the Rhine River sixty six years ago. After reading about the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion, I was extremely impressed and couldn’t wait to write you all about it. i thought I would take an excerpt from the information I found so you can be equally impressed!
“It was during this week, in late March of 1945, that the U.S. Third Army under Gen. Patton, began its famous bridging and crossing operations of the Rhine. After the completion of the Battle in The Ardennes, Patton and his Army turned to the south and east attacking toward the Rhine. Without the luck of the 9th Armored Division, further to the north, who were able to capture the only intact bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, Patton’s Third Army faced the necessity of bridging the wide river with their own resources. There had been a total of 22 road and 25 railroad bridges spanning the Rhine into Germany, but with the exception of the Remagen Bridge, they had all been destroyed.
In a special order to his men, Patton stated that from late January to late March, “You have taken over 6,400 square miles of territory, seized over 3,000 cities, towns and villages including Trier, Koblenz, Bingen, Worms, Mainz, Kaiserslautern, and Ludwigshafen. You have captured over 140,000 soldiers, killed or wounded an additional 100,000 while eliminating the German 1st and 7th Armies. Using speed and audacity on the ground with support from peerless fighter-bombers in the air, you kept up a relentless round-the-clock attack on the enemy. Your assault over the Rhine at 2200 last night assures you of even greater glory to come.” (After Action Report, Third U.S. Army, page 313)
The first unit to cross was the 5th Infantry Division that used assault rafts to cross the raging Rhine at Oppenheim (west of Darmstadt and south of Mainz) in the early morning hours of March 23. The 150th Engineer Combat Battalion (EC inflated the floats for the bridge in the rear area, moved them to the river in trucks, and by daybreak had assembled them into rafts. By 1880 that evening, a class 40 M-2 treadway bridge was taking traffic. The following day, a second 1,280 foot class 24 bridge was completed in the same area. It was later upgraded to a class M-40 bridge. Without the benefit of aerial bombardment or artillery preparation, units landed quickly and established a beachhead that was seven miles wide and six miles deep in less than 24 hours. Several amphibious tanks of the 748th Tank Battalion crossed with the men of the 5th ID.
When daylight came, the Luftwaffe attacked the enclave with 154 aircraft in an attempt to dislodge the foothold on the east bank. Effective anti-aircraft fires brought down 18 of the attacking planes and destroyed 15 more.
By March 27, five divisions with supporting troops and supplies had crossed the three bridges constructed at Oppenheim. The entire 6th Armored Division crossed in lass than 17 hours. During the period of March 24-31, a total of 60,000 vehicles passed over these bridges. After consolidating on the east bank, the Third Army continued its drive to the east, capturing Darmstadt on March 25, and arriving in Frankfurt the following day.
Working as a well-coordinated unit, the Third Army relied upon trained veteran soldiers, dedicated leadership, an excellent working relationship with the XIX Tactical Air Command, a logistical train that moved all classes of supplies and personnel replacements quickly to the front.}
* See Barry W. Fowle, editor, Builders and Fighters: U.S. Army Engineers in World War II, Office of History, US Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Belvoir, VA, 1992. See especially Fowle, “The Rhine River Crossings,” pp 463-476]
I don’t know if it was coincidence or not but after we closed Jim Quinn’s son came knocking on our door and wanted to come in with along with Jim Quinn’s grandson to have a drink at the bar. When he knocked on the door I had no idea who he was but he had such a familiar face that I couldn’t turn him away. Jim came out to greet him and that’s when I realized who he was. Who knew that General Patton relieving himself at Coppola’s is still keeping Jim Quinn alive in all of our memories. If anyone knows Jim Quinn, I am sure he is smiling while he and his best friend Howard Cramer are looking down at us sitting in their armchairs sipping their Manhattans.
In honor of all WW2 vets for Memorial Day my son sent me this youtube video:
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. So many things are happening in the restaurant. All good though! We have been busy dressing up the place. I will let you know when we are all done, complete with pictures. But first, let me tell you what happened this past Sunday. It was a busy day. We had a huge party in the front dining room and our back dining room was quite full too. I received a call from one of our patrons that they were coming in at 6pm and wanted a quiet table. I was like yes of course!! Meanwhile as I was looking around me at the front dining room full of a large family with all their toddler children running around the tables screaming and laughing…I asked, “would you like to sit in the back dining room so it will be more private?” She blurted “Yes, please! We are bringing in G. Gordon Liddy!” I exclaimed with enthusiasm, “We’ll be ready!” as I looked around at the chaos. Well a couple of hours later the restaurant settled down and the ‘G’ man and his entourage enjoyed a quiet dinner.
I didn’t realize there is so much more about G. G. Liddy than just the Watergate Scandal. I was telling one of older customers Mr. Ciferri, a ninety year old, that G. Gordon Liddy came in. Mr. Ciferri started reminiscing about Liddy. I love to get the older people going. You learn so much from them!
Ciferri is from Millbrook, NY and remembers quite well when Liddy was assistant district attorney in Poughkeepsie aggressively going after Timothy Leary, in Millbrook. Liddy was married to Francis Purdy, a Poughkeepsie resident, for 53 years till her death this year. Mr. Ciferri described Liddy as bold and unafraid. One time Liddy took a blank gun and shot it in a courtroom for dramatics. Ciferri also described him as a man that took his sentence for the Watergate trial like a true man. In the Washington Post, the reporter said that G. Gordon Liddy “had maintained a calm, generally smiling exterior throughout the trial. He stood impassive, with is arms folded as deputy court clerk LeCount Patterson read the jury’s verdict, repeating six times ‘guilty’ for all eight counts against him.”
I recognized Liddy when he came in right away. Wearing his leather bomber jacket sporting his bald head wih dark eyebrows and mustache but I was surprised with his quiet demeanor. He actually came in with his long time friend Peter Maroulis. Mr. Maroulis was once his law partner and actually defended Liddy in the Watergate trial. An excerpt form the Washington Post revealed, “Before being jailed by deputy U.S. marshals, Liddy embraced his lawyer, Peter L. Maroulis, patted him on the back, and in a gesture that became his trademark in the trial, gave one final wave to the spectators and press before he was led away.” Thirty-nine years later Liddy and Maroulis have remained good friends!
After getting out of jail in 1977 Liddy became a writer and a radio talk show host. The G. Gordon Liddy Show was broadcast on 232 stations nationwide. His autobiography, Will, was published in 1982. Liddy has also appeared on several television shows including Miami Vice (1985), Password (1992) and Politically Incorrect (1997). In 2002 Liddy published When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country. This was followed by Fight Back: Tackling Terrorism Liddy Style (2007).
G. Gordon Liddy is always being referenced. Just the other day on the O’Reilly Factor they mentioned G. Gordon Liddy shooting a gun in the court room. This seemingly quiet 80 year old man that my husband and I have met is not to be forgotten to easily. Hahaha… maybe not so quiet! And he is the face for buying Gold in Rosland Capital ads. Isn’t it amazing that in a small “mom and pop” restaurant like ours interesting people come eat here. Since writing this blog I have come to realize that Poughkeepsie is no ordinary town and Coppola’s is no ordinary restaurant!
PS……One of our waitresses, Terry, informed me that her mom was Peter Maroulis’ secretary during the ’70s when Mr. Maroulis was busy defending G. Gordon Liddy… isn’t it so peculiar how people are so intertwined!!