Thanks to cousin Tom and his friend Diane, we have been introduced to The Ironbound, a neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey which is today like a little corner of Portugal. The Portugese flag in The Ironbound We visited there on a sunny Sunday afternoon, just as the World Cup championship game was mesmerizing many of the residents.
The Ironbound got its name because it is bounded on all sides by railroad train lines. Another possible reason for the name, which has been traced to the beginning of the twentieth century, is the presence of ironworks and forges. These industries employed wave upon wave of immigrants. Portuguese settled here Symbols of local trades up through the 1970s and are still arriving, although their numbers have peaked. More recently, newcomers from South America, notably Brazil, have moved in. Throughout recent memory the Ironbound has been a working-class neighborhood, and the old multi-family homes are well-cared for, embellished by fresh facades built by Portuguese-American masons. We admired the tiled entrance to a local church, which bears symbols of the many crafts and occupations of the neighborhood residents.
The sidewalks were thronged with strolling pedestrians, some stopping for refreshment from the ice-cream wagons that occupied nearly every corner along Ferry Street. But the real crowds were inside the many restaurants and coffee shops, all with television sets tuned to the same channel.
Although we were taught in school that French, like Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, was a Romance Language, there is no Where we ate a seafood feast romance in the Portuguese feelings towards France. One hundred per cent of the World Cup watchers in the Ironbound were in favor of Italy. Some of these, it's true, were real Italians who had come to this vibrant neighborhood to enjoy the game and good companionship; most were families of Portuguese Americans. Their chance for second place will come today, when Portugal plays Germany.
We headed for Seabra's Marisqueira. The term "sea food" doesn't begin to describe this place. At the bar just inside, mounds of shellfish over ice awaited the hungry. Half-way to the rear dining room we Part of the fish on display passed piles of salmon, grouper, sea bass, and other fish, plus a big bowl of tiny cockles. A case chock-full of lobsters stood nearby. The fish was rich and tender, a Portuguese seafood stew was crammed full of scallops, shrimp, mussels, lobster, and clams, with flat white beans in a rich broth. There was enough to feed an army. The customers were entire families; children were everywhere.
We walked off our Sunday afternoon dinner and continued our talking, only peripherally aware that the game was continuing, past 10:00 p.m. in Germany. We spotted a seafood market, with long troughs for cleaning and chilling fish, and Mirabile! boxes of dried salted cod lined up next to a A bowl of cockles work table. Our memories were drawn back to Newfoundland, where salt cod was the only commodity of economic importance for centuries, and where, just a year ago, we had enjoyed a leisurely Sunday breakfast in the company of some Portuguese fishing boat captains. We learned that the market for salt cod still exists, more than 500 years after Basque fishermen created it.
The Riviera Bakery had two large-screen television sets, and as we entered for pastry and cappucino the emotions were rising to a fever pitch.
When the Italians scored the winning point, the bakery erupted with screams and laughter. One man in his fifties jumped up and began a triumphant dance around the bakery, clapping his hands together under his knees, all the while keeping up a long commentary in mixed Portuguese and English. He had a bevy of attractive teenage daughters who joined him leaving the shop.
Within a few minutes of the end of the game, Car with Italian flag traffic on Ferry Street was at a standstill, as cars filled with youngsters holding the Italian flag were everywhere, honking and screaming, ignoring traffic lights, waving to the crowds.
The entire experience was edifying and delightful. When we left New Jersey, in the 1950s, Newark was a city to stay away from, full of crime and danger. There still is some danger, as in every city, but none at all in The Ironbound on this sunny late spring afternoon, and nearly none, Tom assures us, in The Ironbound night or day, as these warm immigrant families enjoy the prosperity that has come to reward their hard work.