Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Thursday, October 18
Last night Jerie called and we did some planning. The diabetes conference in Albany was scheduled for the first of November. We had to plan my arrival closely because if were too soon we would have to kill some time in a place where accommodations were very expensive. Jerie had been monitoring my budget and schedule and felt that I was slightly ahead of our projections. So, she suggested that I should tread water, figuratively, for a while.
In addition, we wanted time to visit the Erie Canal Village in Rome. During this season it was only open on the weekends. It has an excellent reputation so it was a must see. Jerie had planned for us to visit it on this weekend. Since the motel where I was staying was very reasonable and had excellent amenities, perhaps we could use it as our base camp for the weekend.
Yesterday I had visited the museum, so today I was at a loss as to what else I could do. Well, there always was the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
International Boxing Hall of Fame.
International Boxing Hall of Fame
I’m not a boxing aficionado so I was bewildered and slightly amused at the unusual kiosk that was in front of McDonalds on the main drag. It was really a large glass case which held two glitzy robes. They were the fighting robes of two Canastota natives: Carmen Basilio and Billy Backus.
Basilio was a two time Welterweight Champion. And in 1957 he went up a weight class and wrested the Middleweight crown from Sugar Ray Robinson.
In the ring.
Billy Backus was Carmen’s nephew. Inspired by his uncle, Billy became a fighter. Although his career was not as stellar, he too won a Welterweight title in 1970. Proud of their homeboys, the citizens of Canastota raised money and in 1982 built a display to showcase the exploits of their favorite sons. Success of that project inspired another dream which came to fruition in 1989, the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The complex had an auditorium and a large hall with full size cutouts of all the inductees. Included with each display of their visage is a history of their fights as well as biographical data.
But a more exciting room was the annex where the fans can buy posters, autographed photos and gloves, as well as other collectables.
The most exciting aspect of the museum was the ring in the center of the annex. It was a replica of the ring at Madison Square Garden. But the amazing news was that soon they would have the real deal. A month ago the ring in the garden was retired after being used 82 years. The museum has acquired the actual ring and it will be on permanent display in the coming year.
After visiting a boxing museum how could I not go to the restaurant named Graziano’s Casa Mia? With a name like that and a large logo of a pair of red boxing gloves on its sign, I wondered if it was connected to Rocky Graziano, the knockout superstar.
My friend Tony.
Mi amici Tony
My suspicion seemed to be confirmed by many, many of pictures of boxers and celebrity fans such as Humphrey Bogart and Orson Wells. As I was led to my table I queried the hostess. “No.” She said the place was named for Tony’s parents who founded the place over sixty years ago. The reason for all the pictures was that Tony was indeed in the boxing world. He was the trainer for Billy Backus. As a young man, Tony learned the cuisine art from his mother and uncle by working in their kitchen. When his parents retired, he changed careers.
My waitress was a cute young thing named Natasha. I didn’t know if it was because of her heritage or because her parents were fans of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show which had the spy characters of Natasha and Boris. It was the former. I asked her if she ever saw Rocky—no! She is young.
With the adjective “World Famous” plastered across the marquee, I was skeptical. To my surprise, the food was superb. After a crisp salad I had an excellent shrimp and scallop dish over pasta. The sauce was not trite marina sauce but rich white sauce. And the Chianti complemented the meal.
As I was enjoying the meal, the cook came out of the kitchen and approached my table to inquire about my satisfaction. He was pleased with my response. He introduced himself—Tony Graziano. He is the main cook and makes all the sauces. I’m really impressed especially since he is in his eighth decade. After he left the waitress appeared with a complementary carafe of Chianti.
Natasha asked me if I would like a dessert. They were homemade. I asked what they had. Tiramisu, cheesecake, cannolis. I gave her my best Marlon Brando imitation with the famous quote from the movie, the Godfather. “Take the cannoli and leave the gun.” She just stared at me with a blank puzzled look. She is very young.
As I was getting ready to leave, the couple at the next table stopped me. They had overheard me tell about my trek and wanted one of my cards. They were from Utica, New York but retired to North Carolina so he could play golf all year round. If they’re back visiting family in Utica, why were they in Canastota? They love Tony’s food. When the discussion turned to trekking, they suggested some trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hum, it’s something to think about!
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