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Believe it or not, Carmine Santa Maria is Italian

Carmine goes to the topping off ceremony of il Centro — and gorges on all the food!

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I’m madder than Dorothy Gale after she realized that all she had to do to go home the whole time was tap her heels together over the fact that sometimes it ain’t that easy to get home — especially if you don’t have one.

Now, you all know I’m talking about all those people who lost everything in this hurricane, and I can’t tell you how sad I am every moment of the day that no matter what I do, I can’t replace each and everything those people lost.

But while all this was going on, a good thing was happening on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst — otherwise known as Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard — where the first-ever home of the Federation of Italian American Organizations of Brooklyn — otherwise known as “Il Centro” — was topped off just a week before the storm hit.

Look, I don’t need to tell you that I wouldn’t have missed this event even if the storm was raging right outside my window at the beautiful Harway Terrace. Fortunately, though, that wasn’t the case, and I was able to ride on over there atop my trusty steed Tornado, who shepherded me to my front-row space next to all the dignitaries to cheer this monumental achievement.

The new center comes 32 years after the Federation first graced Brooklyn with its presence — a time during which it has tirelessly devoted itself to serving the community. It is the first Italian-American cultural community center in New York City, and it will preserve the great Italian heritage, build ties with other cultures in the community, and encourage our children and proud citizens to become immersed in their own heritage. It will expand the many services the Federation has expertly provided for free for three decades — and of course, those services include dance lessons taught by yours truly.

Okay, enough of the greatness of the Federation, let me take you to the crowded topping-out ceremony, which means they reached the top of the building and it won’t go any higher. As usual, my lovely wife Sharon got to our destination first, but Tornado successfully chugged me along Bath Avenue, dreading the extra weight he knew he’d have to carry after I partook of the refreshments at the after-party.

I actually had the best seat in the unfinished house. Congressman Michael Grimm was speaking when I arrived, followed by state Sen. Marty Golden, Councilman Vincent Gentile, and Assemblymembers Peter Abbate and Alec Brook-Krasny. My boss Assemblyman William Colton was up next, and he proudly stated that his mother was Italian, which makes him Italian in my book. I missed Borough President Markowitz’s proclamation ceremony, but I saw Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes, Councilman David Greenfield, and this year Brooklyn Columbus Parade Grand Marshalls Nick Miraglia, Bill Guarinello, and Isabel DiMola.

Now, while watching the ceremony and not listening to the speakers, I was recollecting my 20 years with the Federation — remembering the two unforgettable trips Sharon and I took with its members to Sicily in 1994 and ’96. I remember doing all that publicity for the Federation and the Columbus Parade, and of course meeting all those wonderful people.

The late Dr. Parisi totally immersed himself in the concept of Il Cento, his associate, the charming Dr. Patel, also was as devoted to the Federation. The late Gaspare Valenti, a founding member, will always be remembered for his smile and enthusiasm.

If I were to mention the hundreds of wonderful friends we met through the Federation, it would be like a “Who’s Who of great Italians in Brooklyn.” You would think that the Federation has a staff of hundreds in its office, instead of just Rita, Angela, Sarah, Mark, Jim Grundy, and Alma and Joe Rizzo working alongside director Nancy Sottile. But I gotta mention the Hon. Jack Spatola, chairman of the board and president Frank Nacarrato, two of the nicest and most efficient gentlemen you’d ever want to meet.

After the ceremonies with the Italian and American flags being raised on Il Centro’s roof, I rushed to Brienza’s Academic Advantage where my Parkview Diner buddy Frank Capaldo greeted me and situated me and Tornado, smack-dab in the center of the office where the catered food from Frank & Sal’s was waiting to be devoured.

All I can tell you is that Tornado was not a very happy camper with my added weight going home. I guess he wanted hay instead of the pizza I fed him.

Auguri IL Centro per cent anni!

Screech at you next week!

Read Carmine every Saturday on BrooklynDaily.com. E-mail him at DiegoVega@aol.com!
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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