Neighborhoods Series: Little Itlay

“Check out the hair on the woman in the corner window. ”

Presti’s Bakery

I was joining Dave outdoors at Presti’s in Little Italy. I sat down my latte and pastry and tried to discreetly see the object of our attention. And there she was with bleached blond hair that was not only a beehive, but also perhaps a whole apiary. It was a masterpiece of hair architecture held together with teasing and hairspray. I was in awe.

Sipping and slouching the afternoon away, we watched people managing their way down the hill towards Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church. They had to go single file past trashcans, light poles, and bike racks. Dogs often went around one side and owners on the other.  People carrying bags or coffee were quite adept in balancing this while holding a cell phone between shoulder and ear.

Waiters in long white aprons stood outside Angelo’s Nido Italia Ristorante and showed a genuine smile as they said “Ciao” to prospective diners. Workers from other eateries came into Presti’s for long baguettes of crisp, yeasty bread then walked diagonally across Mayfield to disappear in an alley.

Alluring Smells and Outdoor Dining

Young women in impossibly high stilettos and even more eye-popping short and tight skirts tottered past. Groups of two or three college students from Case Western Reserve followed. It was hard for me to imagine these baggy panted, oversized shirted, backward cap wearing young men with the woman eight strides ahead of them.

Friends joined other friends at the table next to us. They’d stay and catch up or travel on after hugging and saying, “Call me” or “Let’s get together.”

We bussed our table and strolled up the street to window shop and, without noticing, we passed my old childhood memory: Mama Santa’s which is where I had pizza when it was a new food and not as ubiquitous as it is today. Of course, in my midwestern observation, Mama Santa’s is real Italian because it has the obligatory pictures of Venice, Florence, and Pisa on the walls.

Slowly strains of Frank Sinatra from an overhead speaker told us he had left his heart in San Francisco. But it didn’t matter to these Clevelander’s who still love him. There are several places in Little Italy to buy his pictures and postcards.

On this afternoon we strolled into a couple of galleries then across the street to Galeria Quetzal to buy a pair of baby booties. There were incense-scented clothes from the Andes and pottery from several Central American countries. We were the only customers so the cashier was eager to strike up a conversation. How do all these galleries survive? Even in October I could sense the quivering gearing up for the holidays.

Corbo’s Bakery would not get our business today. I like their cannoli but the atmosphere there doesn’t encourage people to linger. Mostly I’ve noticed that families buy their treats there and go out on the sidewalk to eat their cookies while reminiscing about getting the same type of cookie they had as a child.

Art and Coffee in Little Italy

Finally, we reach the corner of Murray Hill and Mayfield. If we had the time and desire, we would head toward the galleries there and sometimes Dave would see someone he knows from his art world days in Cleveland. The Murray Hill School has some shops and galleries, but not nearly what they had ten years ago. Today we decided to continue walking toward our car.

By now we’ve done our errands and refreshed ourselves with a dose of caffeine and sugar. It was time to head home.

We had parked on Random Street. That’s an apropos name for the way you can spend some time in Little Italy.