In our second Notable Narrative for June, cook Ines De Costa makes soup at a social club in the ailing city of Fall River, Massachusetts. New York Times columnist Dan Barry uses her preparation as a structure for narrating what’s amiss and what’s special in this former textile town. While “Vovó”—Portuguese for “grandmother”—chops and cooks, Barry draws several locals, including the town mayor and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, into his story.
Barry keeps things cooking with clever imagery, such as Vovó’s body “transformed by spinal degeneration into the shape of a cupped hand.” But the elegance of the vignette resides in the sharpness of the sketch and the sound of his words. Barry writes that before coming to work, Vovó sleeps in a hospital bed and then rises to begin “her morning ritual of praying for you, me, everyone.” At St. John’s Athletic Club—where she makes the soup she sometimes gives away—Barry treats us to “knife-blade clicks in the kitchen and billiard-ball clacks in the bar.”
Barry’s tone flirts with nostalgia, but he works to make De Costa’s character more complex than a saintly senior who donates money to Calcutta orphans. (Asked if she occasionally drinks, she snaps, “Hell, no.”) And he steps aside to let the town mayor suggest that in this world, Vovó and others “you never hear from” bear more than their share of our burdens.
Read “In a City Under Strain, Ladling Out Fortification,” by Dan Barry