Papa and Muz

Written By: Joy Cummings

One of the most successful restaurants my grandparents had operated was Casa Basso, located in Westhampton, Long Island, a popular resort area for New Yorkers. This village was the closest of the Hamptons from midtown Manhattan (about 160 miles by car). Casa Basso, affectionately known by its loyal customers as Basso’s, was extremely popular with people coming out from Manhattan. A family place, it was not unusual to have three complete sittings on weekend evenings (the restaurant, at its peak, much to the chagrin of my grandfather Louie, had seating for over 300 people). Basso’s attracted many celebrities along with a mix of prominent customers, successful businesspeople, artists and show types. All were treated by my grandmother (“Muz”) as members of our family. In many cases, they were former customers of past restaurants owned and operated by Muz and Louie. One loyal customer was a Mrs. Brady, a wealthy widow from the Manhasset area of Long Island, where she lived on a. beautiful 300 acre estate. Mrs. Brady was a generous benefactor to the Catholic Church and consequently would have in her company an array and assortment of Cardinals, Bishops and prominent clergy. As it turned out, on Mrs. Brady’s death, it was learned she had left her magnificent estate to the Jesuits for a retreat center. It was her practice to junket out to Westhampton and have a leisurely lunch at Basso’s during the middle of the week when it was quiet and in contrast to the usual large dinner crowd of customers. Naturally, Mrs. Brady would be accompanied by an entourage of clergy. Mrs. Brady and Muz had known each other for many years and she would always insist that Muz sit down at a large circular table reserved for special guests in the main dining room so as to converse with her and her luncheon guests. On one occasion (in the late 1930s) Mrs. Brady introduced Muz to a priest at the table who was the head of the Vatican diplomatic corps and was visiting America from Rome. According to Muz he was distinguished in appearance, yet a somewhat cold person. As it turned out, this diplomat priest was visiting America to “quiet” the very public “radio priest”, Father Coughlin, who was a well- known isolationist at the time when our involvement in European affairs was at public issue and debate in this country. (Apparently Rome did not take kindly towards priests involved publically in national politics). Muz and the diplomat discovered they had something in common. They had come from the same area in Italy and my grandmother spoke the diplomatic dialect of that country. They became very engaged in conversation and both reminisced about their childhood. The priest and my grandmother retired to another dining room to converse further with some privacy. Muz later told me that their conversation involved small, insignificant reminisces about growing up in the villages in the area of northern Italy. To the surprise of Muz, the diplomat priest was named the next Pope (Pacelli, Pope Pius XII). My grandmother promptly named the dining room that they retired to for their conversation “Vatican City”. So from then on, when one wanted to know where to sit new customers, if told it was Vatican City, one knew exactly which room to seat them. During the war, occasionally Muz and Pope Pius XII would exchange notes through the diplomatic pouches (I have been unable to locate these written notes). By coincidence, one of Basso’s regular customers, a prominent New York attorney, secured an audience with Pius XII after the war to seek help with introductions to local Italians around the Lake Como area who could provide information about his kid brother, a young OSS major parachuted behind enemy lines. The, young major, along with two enlisted men, were dropped with a large amount of gold bullion to organize the partisans against the Germans. Unfortunately, the officer was found dead under suspicious circumstances with the gold bullion missing and the two enlisted men, were discovered, after the war, living respectively in Italy and Puerto Rico in lavish styles. Pope Pius XII, in an effort to provide assistance, happened to suggest, much to the astonishment of the Basso customer, that he speak to an Italian American woman who was familiar with Lake Como area and the locals. The Pope added that she now lived on Long Island and operated a restaurant in which the Pope had visited . The attorney and Muz had some worthwhile exchanges on his return to the US. But that’s another story.