Zucco Memorial Service at Angel Orensanz Last Night

Posted on: February 18th, 2010 at 6:33 am by

Last night was the funeral service for the beloved Zucco, the proprietor of Le French Diner who passed away last weekend of a heart attack.  One reader, Steven Gibaldi, attended and emailed us some of his thoughts.

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[Zucco 12/22/07, Courtesy of Steven Gibaldi]

Once again, Angel Orensanz on Norfolk St. provided the space and context for another event reminding us why many of us have an attachment to the L.E.S., despite the latest tidal wave of changes to the neighborhood. Last night, a memorial service was held for Zucco, the founder and operator of Le French Diner at 188 Orchard Street since 2005. Zucco died of a heart attack on Valentine’s day eve, falling to his death on the cold, hard pavement in front of his French truck stop.

He has fed the neighborhood, nurtured romance, tempered lovers’ quarrels and provided a romantic, safe-haven for New Yorkers fleeing the commercial din that now dominates the once gritty corridors of the Lower East Side. Last night’s memorial service was a vivid testament to his adopted city and the roots of a neighborhood that embraced his vision and style.

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Zucco’s community of baby boomer, expatriate French speaking transplants paid tribute to him in song and words, employing the moods and sounds of pan-indigenous rhythms and the minimalist aesthetic, so dear to the contemporary intelligentsia. Ceremonial sticks of sage were burned, atonal bowls were chimed and dissonant horns were blown, all in tribute to this multi-dimensional and complex man.  But the most poignant tribute to this restaurateur was when a pack of humble, Mexican kitchen workers, all colleagues of Zucco, approached the open casket, aglow in the French blue lights illuminating the floor and eves surrounding the audience, and proceeded to prostrate before him and recite a prayer in Spanish, in voices that were authentic, emotional and empathetic, without any hipster posturing or cool reticence.

The boxes of tissues, strategically placed around the circle of the casket, displaying the once vibrant body of Zucco, were soon in great demand. For here was the embodiment of a good man, a liberal French intellectual who earned the respect of his fellow kitchen workers, in practice, and not just with slogans as so many of the Paris ’68 generation and their progeny have been guilty of. This spontaneous display of solidarity seemed to release the tension, allowing those who came to pay tribute, the psychological space to get out of their seats and approach the body, to show emotion, and pay their last respects to Zucco, a man who made the L.E.S. a destination, a place to wax poetic about, rather than to bemoan for what was.

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