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Category: Out and About

The art of ceramics

Photos by Anthony Machcinski Wall mural of tiles depicting artist’s students graces Harrison Public Library.

By Anthony J. Machcinski

After living in East Hanover the last couple of years, former Harrison resident Lorraine Cicchino returns to her hometown to showcase her work at the public library.

While teaching crafts for the Elizabeth Board of Education, Cicchino started teaching ceramics to high school students. This is where Cicchino fell in love with the art.

“I came to love this medium so much that I began sculpting and doing wheel work in all my spare time,” Cicchino said.
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Screaming Females to play Kearny Irish

By Anthony J. Machcinski | Observer Correspondent

Band members, from l., Jarret Dougherty, Marisa Paternoster and King Mike Abbate.

The Screaming Females, a fantasy combination of The Ramones’ sound and the vocals of Pat Benatar, hit the Kearny Irish Club on Friday, May 6, looking to please any fans who simply care about the music.

Coming out of New Brunswick, The Screaming Females started in 2006 and will play their 600th show this June.

“I just refused to let music out of my life,” said drummer Jarret Dougherty. “I had almost given up on a shot with a band until I stumbled across (King) Mike (Abbate) and Marisa (Paternoster).”

After talking to the two, who both were in the band Surgery on TV before forming Screaming Females, Dougherty joined the new group and has been along for the ride.

While most bands have an idea of their influences as they begin to produce music, Dougherty and the other members do not have a base for their music.  But with both parents being musicians, Dougherty has a great appreciation for the art of music.

“I have yet to meet a fan of music who only likes that genre of music,” Dougherty said, “I grew up around (the punk scene). Punk is about people doing things themselves. I saw that through my parents.”

However, the band has several influences that took shape as it toured around the nation. These inspirations were not only music based, but also helped the band from a business standpoint. This included scheduling places to play and dealing with record labels.

“One of the things that I tell people is that we’re influenced by bands performing around us in the punk scene,” said Dougherty, who listed The Urgs and the Hunchbacks as influences.

Since 2006, the band has been able to tour the world, all while recording four full-length albums. Despite the vast number of places they have played, Dougherty does not need crowds at the bands shows to believe that the performance was successful.

“We just want to play for people who care,” Dougherty explained. “You can play for a dozen people, and if they’re into it, then it’s a great show.”

Dougherty and the band have given their fans a lot to listen to. With those four albums in the books, and the band heading to the studio next winter to do work on a fifth, the Screaming Females have all the opportunity to grow a punk fan base that has died off in the mainstream over the last couple of years.

The band’s music is a blast from times past. As noted, the main vibes that flow from two of their main tracks, “I Don’t Mind It” and “I Do,” come from a mash up of the Ramones’ background music with the vocals of  Benatar.

Much like the vocals in the songs, the guitar sounds just as powerful. While the chords are not complicated, they fit into the punk genre. Abbate plays bass, and main guitarist and lead singer Paternoster keeps the guitar parts of the song simple while still managing to create tunes that stick in the mind.

Despite all the places the band has played and how successful they’ve become, Dougherty believes that it is the art behind it.

“We have always preferred playing in places where the people really are about the music,” said Dougherty, who elaborated that small bars and lounges do not bother the band, rather encourage it because of the artwork in them.

The band realizes that success has not come easy to them, but in the end, they are humble about how they got to where they are.

“We’re a hard-working band, we’ve gotten things for ourselves,” explained Dougherty. “We do it because we care about the music and it’s something we believe in.

The Screaming Females will appear at the Kearny Irish with No Pasaran, Ben Franklin, and Eula. Admission is $10 and is open to all ages.  The show starts at 8 p.m.

Filmmaker drives for success with ‘Red Corvette’

By Anthony J. Machcinski | Observer Correspondent

Five years ago, Kearny resident Frank Lisi battled cancer, a challenge no one everwishes to endure. This summer, after becoming cancer-free a couple years ago, Lisi will unveil his second film, “The Red Corvette.”

“There is a little bit of everything in this movie,” said Lisi, who not only is the producer for the film, but acts in it as well.

Acting is nothing new for Lisi. He attended the Penny Templeton Studio in the hopes of an acting career.

“I never wanted to be a director,” Lisi said. “I thought it was too much of a headache.”

However, at the studio, Lisi not only learned the nuances of acting, but also many things on the other side of the camera. Eventually, he became intrigued by the actors themselves.

“I learned how to love to work with the fellow actor and to get the best out of them. I like working with the actor directly,” explained Lisi. “The lighting and cameras are important, but I trust my crew. Pulling the best performances out of each actor, I get a thrill out of that.”

Lisi’s first film, “A Sicilian Tale,” won the prize for the Best Short Film Crime Drama at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festi-Val. Despite a change in genre, Lisi hopes that the success will continue.

“You have to change the genre,” said Lisi, who went from crime drama to m


of asuspense thriller with “The Red Corvette.” “I want to do a little bit of everything. I didn’t want a film that was beginning to end a Mafia film. I wanted to tell the story of two opposites attracting.”

However, Lisi knows that a flourishing movie is not a one-man production, rather, it’s a well-oiled V8 that will make “The Red Corvette” purr to success.

“Everyone has that passion for filmmaking,” said Lisi of his co-workers. “We could be on the set for 12 hours, and they would say, ‘Who cares? We’re making the movie’.”

With actors and crew who truly love the passion and not the money, Lisi was able to use his creative ability to achieve his goal of switching genres. Inspired by a real-life story, “The Red Corvette” was driven by Lisi’s motivation to find a movie that would attract a younger demographic.

“I have teenagers of my own,” said Lisi, “Violence sells. Sex sells. That’s what young people want to see, but the moral of the story still is kind of sad.”

The story is fueled by its two lead actors, Valerie Bauer, playing ‘A’ student Cindy Reese, and Katherine Mesa, playing mob princess Bella Fagone.

“I had a hard time finding someone for the Cindy Reese character,” recapped Lisi, “but from the moment I saw (Valerie), I knew she was the right woman for the role.”

Along with the two relatively unknown leads, the movie also features Vinny Vella, from “Casino” and “The Sopranos” fame, as well as ex-Kearny High School teacher Artie Pasquale, who also had a role on “The Sopranos.”

Once editing is finished in the summer, Lisi will send the movie to multiple film festivals, hoping for both “The Red Corvette” and “A Sicilian Tale” to be distributed. Unmotivated by the greed, Lisi still hopes to make a return on his films.

“It wouldn’t be bad to make a dime here and there to pay people what they should be paid for this film,” Lisi explained.

As for his own career, Lisi hopes to get in front of the screen more.

“I spent the last four years making two films,” Lisi said. “I’d like to land some nice character roles.”

Lisi has been trying to get cast in the next season of HBO’s hit show “Boardwalk Empire,” but does not want people to typecast him as the Italian gangster.

“In the future, I’d like to get more acting jobs, roles, and branch out,” Lisi said. “I’ve been stereotyped as a gangster, but I can play other things.”

Lisi realizes that show business is not the easiest to break into, but that has not stopped his determination.

“Whatever it takes, I’m going to do more auditioning and try to go into more films,” Lisi said.

“The Red Corvette” is currently in the editing phase of production and will be entered into summer film festivals with the hopes of bringing in more awards.


Kitchen Nightmares Into Kitchen Dreams

By Michael McDonnell | Observer Correspondent

Whether it’s serving authentic Spanish cuisine or helping to better the neighborhood, for the past four decades the Fernandez family has been setting their goals at improving their community.

The Spanish Pavillion, in Harrison, whi

ch is owned and operated by Jerry and Michael Fernandez, was featured on the Fox television network’s show “Kitchen Nightmares” on Jan. 21.

The premise of the show features Michelin star chef Gordon Ramsay offering his knowledge and expertise to restaurants that are faltering in one way or another.

Anyone who viewed the show could see

the Spanish Pavillion had its share of difficulties.

“I was a little reluctant at first to go through with it, but my brother, Michael is a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay and finally convinced me,” said Jerry Fernandez, who is a councilman in Sp

ringfield. “We had been stagnant for awhile, and sometimes you need someone to come in and kick-start you.”

Allowing the television viewer a glimp

se into the personal and business workings of a family-owned restaurant wasn’t easy. Since the show aired, the restaurant has experienced a surge of customers.

Admittedly $500,000 in debt and in a perpetual feud with his brother as to what direct

ion the establishment should pursue, Jerry had reservations about letting a TV crew in but was ultimately pleased with the outcome.

“I could tell he (Ramsay) was honestly concerned with how we were running things,” said Jerry. “I knew Gordon was there to help and really wanted to see us succeed.”

Tony Martinez, Jerry and Michael’s grandfather, opened the original Spanish Tavern restaurant in the Ironbound section of Newark in the 1960s. It was hailed as the first Spanish restaurant in New Jersey.

After 10 years Martinez retired, and in 1976 Jerry and Michael along with their mother, Balbina, followed his footsteps and opened the Spanish Pavillion.

“Harrison has always been our second home,” Jerry said.

The restaurant did well over the years and dished out authentic Spanish meals to customers as many similar restaurants sprung up in neighboring areas.

“The crew of ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ really did their homework,” said Jerry. “Gordon and the producers went out and tried to find what could set us apart.”

Within a 2-mile radius, there were 40 Spanish restaurants offering similar dishes to patrons. Chef Ramsay recognized that the Spanish Pavillion needed something new to grace the menu, something to set it apart from the rest, and introduced a tapas dish.

“It’s fresh and vibrant,” Ramsay pronounced on the show. “Something no one else in the area is serving.”

A tapas acccording to Ramsay’s book “Fast Food” is similar to a Chinese dim sum or a Middle Eastern mezze; something delicatable, smart and satisfying.

Since the television show aired Fernandez realized that the faithful customers over the years had still relied on ordering up the traditional favorites.

“We’ve made some big changes since the show aired but realized there are some staples on the menu the have kept us going for 34 years. Now thanks to the show we serve a new wave Spanish cuisine along with the traditional favorites that have kept our customers coming back for years,” Jerry said.

It was a cold Halloween night when the film crew arrived at the Spanish Pavillion.  A Monday.

Videotaping the episode took approximately one week. After cameras and lights were set up on Nov. 1, Ramsay arrived that afternoon.

“The director told us where to be and how to act when he came in,” said Jerry. “This was all new to us, but we were ready for whatever advice he was willing to give us.”

Footage was recorded Nov. 1, 2 and 3 before the crew revitalized the restaurant with a contemporary make-over and finally struck the set Nov. 4.

Did the Spanish Pavillion need help in revitalizing itself? Yes. Was the establishment  transformed because of Ramsay’s commitment to making it better? Sure. But did you see the show?

A little scary, eh?

Was the restaurant in such disarray as the episode displayed it? That’s questionable according to Jerry.

“Kitchen Nightmares” showed decaying food in the freezer, a live pigeon fluttering around the kitchen and a dead lobster in the lobster tank.

“In 15 years, we’ve never failed a health inspection,” Jerry said.  “There’s has never been a pigeon in our kitchen like there was on the show, and moments before the chef arrived, my manager and I noticed a dead lobster in the tank. We had no idea how it got there.

“You have to remember this is reality TV, but they piece it together for entertainment purposes.”

In entertainment, as in politics one must serve up what is best for the people. One must hope the offering will be satisfactory, taste good and go down easy.

As a Springfield councilman, Jerry most recently helped pass a resolution to curtail $1.4 million to local taxpayers by switching health care providers and working side-by-side with the Teamsters union.

“In whatever business you’re in, there comes a time to step back and accept change,” he said. “In the end, I was pleased that we appeared on ‘Kitchen Nightmares.’ And the Fernandez family will do whatever it takes to serve the community the best they can.”

The Spanish Pavillion is still going strong,  so don’t believe all that’s dished out for entertainment purposes. Go and taste it for yourself and make your own vote.