There Are No Strangers

On any day or evening at Fanelli’s in Soho, you’re likely to find a cross-section of Europeans curious to see what one of New York City’s oldest taverns is all about. It’s written up in most of the guide books; the old-world charm and simplicity of the space woos in a steady flow of regulars and tourists who’ll come in for a pint or some decent pub fare. The majority of Euro-visitors are either Brits, Italians, or Germans. Some years ago, a guy from Oxford sauntered in to have a beer and catch a glimpse of the Yankee game on the conspicuously small and silent screen. He knew baseball and music well and today I can call Chris Ward a friend.

On another particular evening, a man sat next to me at the bar. I recognized his accent, an Italian one that usually cues me into conversation. It had been thirty years since Paolo Sirianni last visited New York. A man of 60, and recently unattached with a son back home, he found two apartment shares on Craig’s List during his three-week visit—one in Williamsburg, the other somewhere uptown. With only three days of his vacation left, Mr. Sirianni needed to buy a pickup for his banjo and the only place he could find it was at the world-reknowned Mandolin Brothers, which happens to be about ten minutes from my apartment on Staten Island on Forest Avenue. The place always reminds me of the time George Harrison, after attending a lunch banquet nearby, made a visit there in 1991. Within minutes, word had spread up and down the block, and soon, George Harrison got the hell out of Dodge.

Mr. Sirianni plays guitar and can sing a bit too. In his hometown of Poggio Mirteto, just north of Rome, he likes to paint, sketch, and make photographs. After he picked up his pickup at Mandolin Brothers, I met Mr. Sirianni at the corner of Victory and Forest, showed him Silver Lake Park, then spent time sifting through each other’s photos online, and talking music, notably his appreciation of the accordionist Richard Galliano. We even improvised a little percussive noise together on the conga and djembe.