How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.

As with life, this blog is developing and changing. It began with a lot of stories that occurred on my career path from Albany to Madison Avenue and back.

There were some similarities to the AMC series "Mad Men," and then I went even farther back in time with a somewhat fictionalized version of growing up in Troy's Little Italy.

And now, a new development. As my free lance advertising and marketing career winds down, I'm becoming more interested in the theatre arts that my father and his 3 brothers helped instill in me as I grew up.

As a result, I've volunteered to help promote the Theatre Institute at Sage, and now, to continue a long-interrupted desire to be behind the proscenium, I've joined the newly formed Troy Civic Theatre, and was actually fortunate enough to appear in their first production.

So, I hope you'll enjoy the new stories that will develop from this latest turn.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Troy to Frosolone

I recently came across LaPosta wines -- some Argentinian-Italians' creations that are highly rated.

It sparked a lot of memories of my mother's family, so I decided to recount the story of how I managed to visit the tucked-away little town they came from. Here's the first part of the story.

When Frank and Rose LaPosta opened their confectionery store in 1924 at 34 Fifth Avenue, on the southern edge of Lansingburgh, New York, just across 101 st Street from Troy, they didn't have to look far for scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon. They had a pair or two of forbici (the Italian word for scissors) that were forged in Frank’s hometown of Frosolone, Italy, with the name La Posta stamped in. Where those scissors are now is anybody's guess, but now I know there's another pair on display in Frosolone's cutlery museum. I know, because I, a grandson of those LaPostas, managed to get there and see those scissors in March of 2007.

Family stories are often hazy recollections of things parents say when the children are too focused on the future to care much about the past. But this much we know about the La Posta side of the family – sometime in the late 1800's, Frank left Frosolone, a medieval town in the southern central part of the Apennine Mountains for Hartford, Connecticut, to find work in a city that was as famous for making cutlery in America as Frosolone once was in Italy.

Frank and many of his townspeople eventually settled in Troy, a city that was famous for the bigger products of its iron foundries – bells, stoves, valves and of course, plates for ironclad ships that first did battle in our Civil War. We know there were many Frosolonesi in Troy, because Frank La Posta was a charter member of the city’s Frosolone Social Club, a fact proudly stated in his obituary notice in the local paper in late December of 1944.

He died when I was just two days shy of my sixth birthday., so I didn’t know my grandfather very well, but I remember sensing my mother’s sadness at the passing of her father. I grew up knowing Grandma better, because a couple of years later, my mother, father, sister Rosanne and I moved from our cramped quarter of the Visk home on Liberty Street to a two-family home my widowed maternal grandmother owned near her store. (My father’s family name was changed from Visco to Visk, probably due to the lazy pronunciation my family used, usually dropping the final vowels of Italian words. Although for a couple of years, the Troy City Directory listed my father’s mother’s name as Florence Wisko. Go figure. I reclaimed the original family name in the 70's.)

A few years later, we moved to the third floor of the building that housed La Posta’s. By then, everybody who came into the store called Rose “Gram,” just as her real grandkids did. But I regret not asking her about Grandpa and Frosolone and what was so special about the town that caused these Italian immigrants to form a club around it.

For a long time, I’ve wondered about that town, not even knowing where it was. I once asked an Italian student who I was helping to learn English about it, and he said it was an area near Rome. I found out recently that he was thinking of a place called Frosinone – which has no relationship to the town of my ancestors, even though of all the Italians I asked about Frosolone, only one – a rental car agent in Pompei – didn’t confuse it with the similar-sounding Frosinone, which is both a province near Rome as well as its capital city, with a population 16 times greater than Frosolone.

But, first things first. This is the story of how, to my surprise, I went to central Italy at all, about the amazing things you can see and do there in a week, and topping it all off, how an offhand comment to my traveling companion a week before we left found us planning a trip to Frosolone on our last full day in Italy to look for La Posta-made scissors. And how that quest became the high point of the entire trip.

Some background:

Rich Capparela has been a friend of mine for twenty-seven years and counting. Many of my friends become friends through our work – I’ve been an advertising writer and broadcast producer since I was nineteen, and I met Rich because he is a classical music announcer with a mellifluous voice, and I was one of the first in the business to hire him to add gravitas to radio commercials for banks and other retailers.

His “day job” back in the seventies was as a deejay at public radio station WMHT-FM in Schenectady, and as often happens with talent like his, he was offered a similar job in a much larger broadcast market – Los Angeles. At the beginning of 1980, a few weeks before he was to drive his little yellow Honda across the country, he was complaining to me about having to drive alone. I had taken a one-year-only job, as Communications Director of New York State’s Commission on the International Year of the Child, and it was winding down, so I was about to be free, without employment prospects. I said, “I can go with you.” I thought it would be fun. He thought so too, and we made our plans for our own, not very Kerouac-ian, “On the Road.”

We shared the driving, we found great hotels at half price AAA specials, ate well and saw some of the country, got into a little trouble around the Grand Canyon, avoided big trouble in Amarillo, and became good friends. Through many ups and downs since, both his and mine, we remained friends, even though he’s stayed on the West Coast and I on the East. I even timed a cross-country trip on Amtrak with my wife, Eileen, in order to arrive in time for his wedding reception in the early nineties. And he and Marcia occasionally come east to visit.

After several years at the public radio station in LA, Rich eventually found a better niche at a commercial classical station, and established himself as a commercial classical host of several symphony orchestras and has a successful recording studio and website (

So, now it’s 27 years later, and once again, he’s complaining to me about traveling alone, this time to Europe. It’s late in my career, I’m now semi-retired and working in an Albany advertising agency just two days a week, for a friend who’s flexible about my hours, and she encouraged me to say to Rich, as I did back in 1980, “I can go with you.”

Next: On our way.

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