Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
No, it’s not Tuscany, which I am used to visiting twice a year and missing terribly. But recently, my partner and I went on a road trip to Cleveland, about four and a half hours from Indianapolis. I had previously driven through the city on the way to New York a few years ago and glimpsed the charming Italian American neighborhood. Its welcoming white, green, and red banners and sidewalk cafes planted a seed in my heart to one day, spend some time there.
Sometimes, restrictions are opportunities for pleasant surprises.
We stayed at an AirBnB in the heart of Little Italy, on a quiet street that is lined with mostly small homes that were built by Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century.
It warmed my heart to see the loving care that modern residents are taking of the small front yards filled with morning glories, hydrangeas and holy statues of saints, front porches filled with 1950s/60s era chairs which gives this an air of “almost, but not quite forgotten” past when neighbors were people one actually encountered on most days and who watched out for one another.
We ate, drank, shopped and wandered our way up and down Murray Hill and Mayfield, the main streets of Little Italy. The neighborhood is filled to the brim with historic restaurants serving southern Italian classics like veal parmigiana, braciole and lasagna. If you like that sweet, garlicy marinara, this will feel like heaven to you. Most have charming patios for alfresco dining. And the live piano music at over 100 year old Guarino’s was a lovely change from the loud piped in music found in most restaurants.
“Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli.”
And then there are the family owned bakeries with very long histories: Presti and Corbo. Both have served the community with authentic Italian pastries and bread since 1906 and 1948, respectively. Corbo’s cannolis are filled on order, but it you are doing take out, they will put the ricotta filling in a plastic tube for you to fill when you’re ready to eat them. They were delicious. Not trying too hard to impress. Delicately sweet ricotta with a few chips of chocolate. The shells were crispy and well, it’s hard to find a great cannoli on this side of the Atlantic, isn't it?
The moon was almost full during our visit, so it was impossible not to venture into a small shop called Moonstruck. Filled with oddities, vintage fashion and home accessories, we bought a set of glassware that will make us feel like Nick and Nora when we are home, imbibing some delicious cocktail.
Speaking of imbibing, the Little Italy Wine Shop is a must visit. A fabulous collection of wines from all over Italia and shelves of books the owner, Matteo Silvaggio personally recommends. We bought an excellent Amarone and Vermentino.
The Holy Rosary Catholic Church dominates the neighborhood and we stepped in from a Saturday afternoon rain shower to have a look. It was built as the Italian immigrant church in 1892. By 1908, almost 1,000 families were members.
Nearby Alta House has an interesting history as well. No, it’ doesn’t mean “High House”, as one might suppose. Alta was the name of John D. Rockefeller’s daughter. It was Rockefeller who funded the Alta House in 1895 as a settlement house, to provide resources for incoming immigrants, including as a daycare and kindergarten.
How did John D. Rockefeller come to be the benefactor? An Italian immigrant stone sculptor named Joseph Carabelli became friendly with the industrialist. Carabelli, a northern Italian immigrant, (unusual since 99.9% of his fellow countrymen emigrated from the south), started a monument company and became involved in politics, being elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He aimed high by asking Rockefeller for the money to start Alta House and it resulted in their friendship. Carabelli carved Rockefeller’s funeral monument in nearby Lakeview Cemetery.
Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens
This is not to be missed. Part of the almost 300-acre Rockefeller Park not too far away from Little Italy. More than 30 different countries have gardens within this park, including The Italian Cultural Gardens.
I was stunned by the beauty of this park and the Renaissance Italian garden, created in 1930 is grand and beautiful, as it should be. Based on the Villa Medici, it’s the next best thing to actually being there.
One on end is a sculpture of Dante Alighieri and at the other, his traveling companion to Inferno in The Divine Comedy, the Roman poet, Virgil.
Around the enormous fountain are cameos of several icons of the Who’s Who of Italian and Roman culture: Galileo, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Ovid, Donatello, Bernini. Tribute is also paid to Petrarch and Verdi.
The Cleveland Ballet and The Cleveland Opera hold events in this Garden. I will definitely make a trip back here when those public events resume next year. Speriamo!
More Italian Culture in Cleveland
The Cleveland Museum of Art is an absolute treasure. I had no idea it contained so many important works of art. Renaissance, Impressionist, Contemporary.
Two Italian Renaissance works of note: Carvaggio’s Martyrdom of St. Andrew and Andrea del Sarto’s Sacrifice of Isaac.
Cleveland might be my new favorite Midwestern City. Its architecture, gardens, culture, waterfront, not to mention its museums (including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is also a must see) makes this city a fun, educational and inspirational destination for a full weekend.
There is much beauty and inspiration in the world, near and far. Maybe the question for ourselves these days, when we are feeling our wings are being clipped is to ask, "What can I do?" Rather than pine for what is not possible, at least right now. Wishing you all a healthy and happy remainder of these lovely Summer Days.
Obstacles do not block the path. They are the path." - Zen Proverb