Every Italian town has a castle and Sant’Angelo Lodigiano is no exception. Its restored castle is full of fine art, furniture and valuable antiques. But the public square is the heart of the town. Here the art on ochre walls is, well, il migliore. The Best. It’s a source of pride for the Lodigianese who drink coffee and eat their colissoni here. The town is home to Sant’Angelo’s favorite daughter and son.
The Nun and The Nugget, so to speak.
The coffee bar is a happy space, doubly blessed. On one wall is a portrait of Francesca Cabrini, born here in 1850. The cafe service is nicely slow, all the better to tell the story of how Francesca went to New York to help with the education of Italian immigrants. Children cycle by the plaque that honors her, women snap peas and take in the morning sun, and men set up folding tables to play cards. The sign says that the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the order Cabrini started with only six sisters, grew to over a thousand. The sisters worked in eight countries ~ in convents, schools, and hospitals across the United States, Central and South America. In the sleepy square, bells ring out just as they did on the day Pius XII named Mother Cabrini the Patron Saint of Emigrants.
Italians, whose love for commemorative plaques is legendary, pay tribute to native son Danilo Gallinari with full size posters on the opposite wall of the bar. Across an ocean, Gallinari feels at home in New York’s Via Della Pace bistro, where homemade gnocchi float in Gorgonzola sauce and the owner makes a dish named for him, Veal Per Il Gallo. Il Gallo,The Rooster, is his nickname from his playing days in Italy. On a shelf above the bar is the blue and orange Knicks shoe that he wore in a three-point shooting contest at the 2010 All-Star weekend.
During games, the piazza in Italy rings with shouts of Gallinari’s motto~ a tutto motore ~ “full throttle.” When he isn’t busy shooting three-pointers in the NBA, Gallinari comes to Sant’Angelo Lodigiano to visit. But a Knicks trade tore him away from his famiglia Americana in NYC, and so the Lodigianese must look farther to the west. As far as Denver, where Gallinari now plays for the Denver Nuggets.
The Italian community in Denver is smaller than in New York. There’s plenty of Italian restaurants, though, like Barolo Grill on the East Side that’s a favorite of celebs and personalities. I hear the gnocchi is pretty good. And if Il Gallo takes time for a side trip to the mountains, he’s sure to come across what used to be a summer camp for Denver orphans there. Today it’s a chapel and visitor center, a shrine memorializing The Queen of Heaven Orphanage and its founder, Mother Cabrini. I wonder if Gallinari heard about her ministry for the children of immigrant miners when he was growing up in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano. The story goes that the Lord directed Mother Cabrini to plant her walking stick in the earth. At the instant she broke ground, a spring of water poured forth. And it never stopped.
The coffee bar chatter in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano hasn’t stopped either.
Meet Alessandro Matri, Primo punto.