At Least We Can Eat

My Italian grandmother on my mother’s side Angelina Basso (Muz) played a big part in raising and influencing me. Unfortunately, my mom and dad were divorced when my sister and I were at a very young age. My mother chose to return to her parents where she and Muz raised and educated me. Muz was a young lady when she migrated from Genoa, Italy to this country. There were nine siblings in her family, she being the youngest and as a matter of tradition, the youngest was chosen to go to the New World to secure a fortune which would then be shared with the rest of the remaining family in the old country. Muz did have an advantage over many other immigrants; she spoke perfect English having taught the language in Genoa. When she arrived in New York she was met at the dock by a member of Tammany Hall who assisted her in finding a job and a place to live. She never forgot that; in fact she voted Democrat for the rest of her life and regardless who was running on the Democratic ticket she would pull the lever for that candidate. Once when I returned from college spieling the mantra of Ayn Rand Republicanism, she told me: ” I don’t know much about politics and we are small business people, but when the Democrats are in we do pretty good. When the Republicans are in, we do not do as well”. I then became a Democrat. She made more sense to me than my college professors. Although my grandfather (Louie Basso) was born in New York, his family came from a village outside of Genoa so he and Muz had some common background. Louie sold ice off a cart on the Lower East Side. Times were difficult for them (1920′s) and both were trying to find a business in which they could survive. Although neither one could boil water at the time, they decided to go into the restaurant business because they naively felt that they would always ” have something to eat”. They opened a small restaurant on the East Side of Manhattan on 53rd St. just off Park Avenue. (At that time the location was on the wrong side of town. The West Side of Manhattan was the place to be). They named the restaurant Siros and this is the place (with six tables) where Louie developed into an excellent chef. Muz, was the front person and felt it her duty to make every customer happy and a member of the family. But Muz was not happy with just six tables. She wanted to expand and looked for every opportunity to do so without Louie being aware of her wheeling and dealing. At one point she was in negotiations to buy El Morocco until Louie found out and put a stop to it. Siros became very popular with struggling artists, models and Broadway hopefuls. The price was right and the food exceptionally good. Muz always spoke to me with great affection for Georgie Jessel and Lucille Ball (then a young beautiful model). Times were difficult, money was scarce and Muz was generous in giving credit to the “regulars”. As it turned out, one of the customers ran up a bill of over $500 which in those days was a considerable amount. Unable to pay the bill, the customer told Muz that he had a deed to some property out on Long Island and that he would give it to her in payment of his bill. Muz accepted and put the title in the cash register and forgot about it. Sometime later, when cleaning out the cash register Muz found the deed and she and Louie decided to drive to Eastern Long Island to look at the property, a considerable trip in those days with the lack of freeways and parkways. They fell in love with it and it was unique. The gentleman who owned and built up the land, (in Westhampton) was an eccentric artist who made pottery for Tiffany’s. The property was about 14 acres, located on the only main highway with an inlet in the back which ultimately ran into the Long Island Sound and the ocean. Mr. Brouwer had built a castle with two giant musketeers at the entrance along with some fascinating sculptures (including a castle) in the surrounding woods. Growing up there I, along with my other little friends, always found delight in visiting an erotic sculpture of a naked woman chained on top of a raging bull which was hidden in the backwoods. (I was very popular among my peers for giving this tour) I spent most of my young life living in the castle with small little rooms which were a perfect joy for a young boy discovering exciting new things every day. Mr. Brouwer had a workshop next to the castle which my grandfather envisioned as a new restaurant seating six to ten tables. Muz expanded this within three years to accommodate seating for over 300 people, much to the consternation of Louie who one day walked out during rush hour on a kitchen staff of over 20, retreated to his garden, never to return. Over the years, Muz and Louie owned and operated restaurants in the villages of Southampton and Easthampton, both affluent resort areas. They were never to be hungry again.