How Are Things in Glocca Morra This Particular Day?
THURSDAY, MARCH 17, 2022 -- There is no good news about travel because you can't talk about travel just now without remembering that Covid is still messing with the market and Putin's thugs are turning a part of Europe into a killing field.

I am leaving for some (I think) hard-earned R&R on Tuesday night, which is cool, except that will put me at Amsterdam Schiphol on Wednesday morning, just as KLM and several other Dutch carriers are planning to buck the Netherlands' regulations and stop enforcing the country's mask mandate. I will have to hit the ground reporting, which isn't exactly the fun I was expecting at the start of my (I think) hard-earned R&R.

So you'll forgive me if I ditch the travel talk this week. To be honest, on this particular St. Patrick's Day, I'd rather talk saints and songs and singers and sfingi. With your kind indulgence, I'll do just that ...

I have always believed that the best thing about St. Patrick's Day is How Are Things in Glocca Morra?, the most insanely beautiful song about a mythical Irish village ever written by two New York Jews. It doesn't matter if you prefer the 1947 Broadway original from Finian's Rainbow by Ella Logan (she was a Glaswegian), the definitive popular vocal by Buddy Clark (born Sam Goldenberg from Massachusetts), the moody tenor sax rendition by Sonny Rollins (a black guy from Harlem), the crooning cover by Dick Haymes (a refugee from Argentina), the 1968 movie version fronted by Petula Clark (she's from Surrey), the crisp, cracking version by Julie Andrews (also from Surrey) or the astounding medley from Barbra Streisand (a Jewish girl from Brooklyn). I find it's always a joy to hear Glocca Morra well and frequently played on St. Paddy's Day.

Yet if it is good eats you want around the Ides of March, allow me to point you in the general direction of Saturday, March 19, St. Joseph's Day. It happens to be my onomastico (name day). Southern Italians in general and Sicilians in particular go all out on St. Joseph's Day because he is one of Sicily's patron saints. The holiday fare varies by family and region, but there is always pasta with bread crumbs (to signify the sawdust on the carpenter's floor) and fava beans (because they survived a brutal Sicilian drought of ages past).

March the 19th was a really big deal in my family of non-frequent flyers because almost everybody was named after the guy who forgot to make reservations at the Bethlehem Holiday Inn Express. My father was Joseph. My godfather was Joseph. My godmother was Josephine. Several uncles and cousins were named Joseph. One of my sisters married two guys named Joe. For most of us Joes and Josephines, St. Joseph's Day was more important than our birthdays.

The dessert of choice: St. Joseph's zeppole and sfingi, available only during the Lenten period and called Bignè di San Giuseppe in Northern Italy. But not even my came-from-the-other-side relatives baked 'em. In my family, at least, this was a store-bought treat. I recall boxes and boxes in our home on St. Joseph's Day, each from someone's preferred pasticceria. And because my neighborhood was ethnically diverse, lots of Jewish and Irish and Armenian friends were around to partake of the pastryfest.

Most of them preferred the zeppole, a round, deep-fried fritter dusted with confectioner's sugar and filled with a sweet, eggy, yellow cream. But I was a sfingi guy. Although the shape varied from baker to baker, sfingi is stuffed with a dense, velvety, white cannoli cream crafted from ricotta cheese, sugar and vanilla. If happiness is just a thing called Joe, sfingi is what made this Joe happy. Sfingi is pastry worthy of a saint who, after all, is best known for being the stoic husband of a virgin mother.

Truth to tell, I'd like to live in Glocca Morra some fine day. It's not Italy, but it sounds perfect. How can a place with a River Shannon breeze, leaping brooks and weeping willows be bad? How could I not want to live where a lassie with twinkling eyes gets sad and dreamy when she doesn't see me there? There is also the implied promise of cozy pubs, brewery-fresh Guinness and Smithwick's Red Ale. The flights to Ireland are blessedly short and, even in these pandemic-crippled times, fairly plentiful. And Aer Lingus often offers special deals to JoeSentMe members regardless of our respective ethnic origins.

Before I moved, though, I'd have to check to see if Glocca Morra had a Sicilian bakery. Although I note that Dublin, which must be somewhere close to Glocca Morra, does have a Sicilian pastry shop.

Of course, How Are Things in Glocca Morra? is just another phony thing Americans use to celebrate St. Paddy's Day, which isn't quite as big a deal in Glocca Morra or anyplace else in Ireland. As I mentioned, the song was written by two Broadway stalwarts, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg and Burton Lane. The most famous version, and the one you are guaranteed to hear, is the Buddy Clark cover. And Clark, as I've also noted, wasn't Irish, either.

But for all its phony Irishness, How Are Things in Glocca Morra? does remind us of Clark's huge talent. The guy was big back when standards singers could be big. And for a while he was more popular than Crosby or even Sinatra. (By the way, Crosby did a pleasant enough cover of Glocca Morra, but Sinatra never got closer than Old Devil Moon and When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love, other tunes from Finian's Rainbow.)

Clark rocketed to stardom in 1947 thanks to an iconic tune called Linda. And for more than two years after that, his buttery baritone and razor-sharp phrasing made him America's most reliable hitmaker. After Linda and Glocca Morra came Peg O' My Heart. Ten more Clark singles hit the pop charts in 1948 alone. During the first nine months of 1949, he released smash duets with Doris Day and Dinah Shore. But on October 1, 1949, a decade before The Day the Music Died, Clark died in a private-plane crash in Los Angeles. A posthumous release, A Dreamer's Holiday, went to the top of the charts, too.

Sixteen sterling Clark tracks are compiled on a download called, unironically, Sixteen Most Requested Songs. Given the nature of things, I can't get you a delicious sfingi or end the slaughter in Ukraine, but some soft, soothing Buddy Clark tunes will help you make it to spring on Sunday.

I promise I'll be back next week from my R&R hideaway with more about our dreary lives on the road.