Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eating on Fleet Street



Fleet Sreet is the main thoroughfare of Slavic Village, which was a mainly Polish section of Cleveland. Not too far from the valley of steel mills just south of downtown, it was settled in the late 19 th and early 20 th century by immigrants from Central Europe, who flocked to this area  to work in the mills and factories that made Cleveland one of the largest, and most diverse cities in this region. Cleveland was a collection of ethnic villages, few of which remain, since white flight to the suburbs in the prosperous post-war years.
Slavic Village remains as a smaller version of its  slice of Europe in Northeastern Ohio. It's centerpiece is the magnificent St. Stanislaus Church. Most of these neighborhoods have, or had, beautiful churches, built by money from the working class immigrants to glorify the old religions of their homelands. Some are now empty and sad, but St. Stanislaus remains strong.
Slavic Village has suffered from being in the Rust Belt of dying steel mills, and the housing has fallen victim to the rash of predatory lending. The business district was affected by this, too, withe little grocery stores and bakeries unable to cope with the change in population.
However, there are still restaurants specializing in real, honest Polish cuisine, and not just pierogies. We have been to a couple of them, and scoped out a couple more which look promising. They are neighborhood centers, old, warm and friendly. The juke box leans toward music of the 40 s and 50s. The Red Chimney, the outside of which resembles a Swiss chalet, serves individual meals, while the Seven Roses has a luncheon buffet, with more food than I could ever eat. The proprietress, who looks like the cook on "Orange is the New Black," complete with the dyed red hair, and her friend were sitting in a corner, chatting in Polish. A young waitress, also Polish, directed us to the buffet. This is a very large place, set up for banquets and parties. They were in the process of getting a Christmas tree decorated  for the season of parties.
The food was delicious, and mainly spiced with dill. There were cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, greens, latkes, and things I didn't recognize. The proprietress came over to ask how we liked it, and was pleased with our answer. She sent over some cookies-kolaki? She made money off us, because there was so much food we didn't 't even try to eat. I found out that the restaurant is a destination, with people coming in from the suburbs, especially those of Polish descent.
There's a resurgence in the Rust Belt. The mills are back. Young people are coming back to remake the cities in new ways. Downtown housing, walkable neighborhoods, high tech professionals, repurposed old buildings, specialty restaurants, brew pubs, artists and galleries, and creative types grabbing up cheap properties to make new neighborhoods - it's pretty exciting to see what's happening around here. Places like Slavic Village will benefit, and perhaps some of the other old ethnic neighborhoods will be revived.
I like having the benefits of living so close to a city, where we're only 45 minutes from the museums, theaters, concerts and discovering  these pockets of old Cleveland that have survived, complete with their delicious food.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can There Be A Conversation?



I have not responded to the most outrageous manifestations of racism that have occurred over the past months. And that is what it is, I believe. It is also classism, for that is also part of the story. It is difficult  to discuss in a country where there is not supposed to be such a thing as "class," in spite of the fact that there is. It is also not easy to have honest dialogue about it or race.
Take the police, for instance. My only contacts with the police involved minor traffic incidents. It is extremely intimidating to hear a siren and see flashing lights in you rear view mirror. But I am white and an older woman, and the police have generally been polite but brusk. I've dared to argue a couple of times, but I was never been pulled out of my car and made to put my hands on the car roof. I am white. And when you think about it in this gun crazy country, a policeman stopping a car is generally more at risk than the occupant of the car.
I find myself wondering what kind of people want to be police? Is it a sincere desire to be of use in the community? Is it a family legacy? Is it a desire to protect the neighborhoods and the people? Is it a way to demonstrate one's willingness to take risks?
Is it a desire for power? Is it a way to carry a gun legitimately?  Is it the uniform?
Then I I wonder about the selection process. I know there are educational requirements.Are there  tests to weed out things like mental instability?  How subjective are the observations during training as to the suitability for this important profession? How do they deal with racial issues during and after trading? And why are so many of them built like steers?
Those kinds of questions need to be explored honestly, since the recent tragic deaths of unarmed Black men and a CHILD were caused by the people who are supposed to protect the people of communities they live and/ or work in.
Another, more difficult conversation is about the poor, Black communities, which are in chaos, with high rates of school violence,  kids dropping out before graduation, leaving young Black men with few or no skills to find jobs, young single mother teen-age girls trying to survive and trying to keep their children from being  killed, trapped with few job skills, inadequate child care, and all the ills of poverty. It's hard enough rearing a family alone, but if you have little hope, you are vulnerable to all sorts of personal and public dangers. There are people who survive bad beginnings, but there are too many who don't. Poverty debilitated the spirit as well as the body.
When my friend Susan and I did one of our storytelling workshops in Cincinnati a few years ago, two of our students were women who taught in kindergartens in the inner city. What they said about some of their students has stuck with me: children were showing up for kindergarten with minimal language skills. They were not talking about immigrants,  they were talking about American children who could not put a sentence together at the age of 5. How were these children going to able to tackle little black squiggles on white paper, when their oral language deficit was so great? (I am waiting for someone to do a doctoral dissertation on this issue, which might help to explain why so many inner city schools are dealing with so many kids just giving up.)
It's hard to talk about this sort of thing without sounding racist, even though it's evidence based from many studies, but it's the sort of thing that needs to be addressed to relieve the anomie that persists in poor Black communities. Can we talk about this ?
This is in noway to blame what has happened to those recently blatantly murdered by "law" officers. I wrote about this to demonstrate how hard it is to discuss race issues honestly.
George Bernard Shaw's  "Pygmalion" was about class, the rigid British system of his day. It was not a love story about Eliza and Henry, but  a demonstration of that rigidity and the upper class demand that everyone behave like "" us." It was Alfred Doolittle who took Henry Higgins down with his speech of  " middle class morality" that was seen as the ideal way of life. All people should not have to live the same way, and cultures are different even in the same communities. However, everyone wants a safe and healthy place to live and rear their children, everyone needs the food of hope. Everyone wants their sons to live.
I don't know the answers, but there must be some, right?


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let The Holiday Season Begin



We had a very fine Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, Polly wasn't able to come home because she is with dog. We missed her, and I was forced to get back into the kitchen for the first Thanksgiving in several years. John did the pies and the turkey and I did the fixin's.  Everything turned out well. We had planned to watch a movie after dinner, but we ere a bit dazed by the food and the labor involved.
The next evening John provided a wonderful treat at Cleveland' Playhouse Square to watch "The Nutcracker," with the Joffrey Ballet, accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra. It was in one of those great old restored theaters, the State,  from the twenties, an elegant venue from the days when movies and vaudeville were an Event. I've written about these theaters before, which comprise one of the largest theater districts outside of New York. Saved from destruction by some terrific people, the area is a center of entertainment attended by people from all over the area. Besides that, this performance was absolutely magical, beautiful, and a total delight. We've seen the Joffrey a couple of times with the orchestra at Blossom Music Center, their summer home. Superb all around. Nothing like having one of the world 's greatest orchestras  for your pit band.
One night we did watch the weird  and hilarious "Lemony Snucket," a tour de force for Jim Carrey. I can only take him in small doses, but he is very good in this movie, playing a truly vile villain in several guises. The movie looks like a Tim Burton flick, but is by some other genius with a great grasp of color, texture, humor and grisly fun. Meryl Streep was her usual expert self in a very different kind of role for her, and very funny.
Sunday a friend and I went to see "A Theory of Everything." My eyes glaze over at abstruse scientific theories and I have absolutely no grasp of cosmology and how it works ( other than the funny stuff they do on my favorite sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory)' but this is a film about a man. My friend said after the film, that she, for the first time, saw Stephen Hawking as a human being. I agree. I think because we see the twisted body in a wheel chair, we don't think of him as a sentient human. In the film we see the person within, the person who was a witty, brilliant young man, the person who is still there. It's very well done.
Tonight we went to see and hear Apollo's Fire, an incredible Baroque orchestra, do their Celtic Christmas concert. The music is medieval, and includes singing, choral pieces, dancing and a bit of tomfoolery. It was at the Kent State auditorium, which was packed. For a small college town, Kent is a great place to live, with access to all sorts of great events.
Tomorrow morning we're going up to Cleveland to hear the Baldwin-Wallace University ( where  my husband used to teach) Men's  Chorus do their Christmas concert at the studio of WCLV in Playhouse Square. This will be the second year they are doing this and this is an excellent group. Who knows, we may have lunch at Otto Moser's, an over one hundred year old restaurant that used to cater to the vaudeville players of old. It's been moved from its original location, but the moth-eaten moose head and the old fly-specked show bill posters are still there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Music and Memories


While sitting in the old University Auditorium yesterday, listening to a wonderful performance by the Kent State University symphony orchestra, I found myself thinking of all the fine things I have heard and seen there over the years, especially during my time as a student from 1948 - 1951. The program yesterday was of French compositions from the late 19th  century :Faure, Saint-Saen's, Ravel and Chaubrier.  It is rather dreamy stuff, which must be why I started thinking of  the past while the music floated through the air.
One of the first events I remember was the Fred Waring orchestra and his famous chorus. He had a popular radio program, sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. His forte was his choral arrangements of popular songs. (He also, it turned out, invented the Waring blender, but that was later.) I believe we were part of his live broadcast, which was exciting in those days, when radio personalities were stars.
 He may have been on a college tour to hold auditions for his famed chorale.
The next even I remember was the appearance of the Cleveland Orchestra. Although George Szell took over in 1946, I think the conductor that night was Joseph Gingold who was the first chair violin in those days. It was such a thrill to have this orchestra right on our campus. I decided  to take my glasses off to see what  the group looked like blurred so I could do an impressionistic watercolor the next day in class. The above illustration, 60 some years old, is my myopic vision of a musical institution which I would come to love many years later.
Perhaps the most memorable events of all was the time that Menotti's opera "The Medium"  was presented by Cleveland's noted Karamu Theater, a part of the Karamu Settlement House, an inter- racial treasure on  the East Side. Karamu offered theater, dance and art classes to the people of the inner city, and it's still going string after almost one hundred years. The medium was played by an African- American singer named Zelma George, who, in real life was a social worker. She was astounding. When Menotti got word of her performance, he invited her to play the role in New York,
and later at one of his Spoleto Festivals. When the performance ended, the audience went wild,cheering, shouting, and clapping, with a standing ovation that lasted a long time. Students in those days always packed the old auditorium, taking advantage of these free cultural events. On the way out, I ran into a rather snotty English professor, who was just amazed at the students' enthusiastic response, and wondering why they did so. I just stared at him. Of course it had been excellent, but students actually liking an opera?
The famed Juilliard Quartet came and the students packed the theater again. During those years, the radio networks NBC and CBS each had its own symphony orchestra, and presented regular classical music programming, so many people knew groups like this quartet, as well as "stars" of that genre. There was this kid who always sat in the front row. He may have been a facility child for all I know. During the Juilliard's performance, one of the violinists had a string break. When he discarded it and put on a new one, this kid jumped out of his seat, scrambled to the edge of the stage and grabbed it. It may show up on "Antiques Road Show" any day now.
Another favorite of mine was the poet Ogden Nash, well known for his wit and word play. I had been a fan in high school, and had a couple of his books. It was fun to hear him, in his dry, mid-Atlantic drawl read his funny, clever take on the catsup bottle and why his Cousin May fell through the parlor floor today.
One somewhat sad thing happened. Jose Iturbi was one of those musicians who was a classical pianist/radio and movie stars. He was in a lot of those really cheesy MGM  musicals with those shrill, reedy sopranos like Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson. I guess he was too big for Kent State, but we got his sister Ampara, also a pianist. She looked like a female version of Jose -not a good look for a woman. Unfortunately, she got lost during Chopin's Fantasy Impromptu, noodled around until she found her way out, and finished it in good time, a musician's nightmare. Nobody laughed that I know of, especially the music majors.
Now the University Auditorium is called Cartwright Hall, and is one of many performance venues. There is no longer an artist/lecture series, but there are plenty of concerts,  plays and interesting guest speakers through various departments.
Many significant  performances linger for me when I am there.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost, Stolen, or Strayed



Once again the Christmas rush is upon us, with the media full if messages to get out and shop. And, of course, Black Thanksgiving  afternoon, so that people don't have to linger around the table being thankful for all the things they've already got. The current holiday season is Hallowe'en and Christmas, with a day in between when the banks and the post offices are closed for some vague reason.
I attribute this to the present day need for instant gratification. You get candy on Hallowe'en and more candy and more stuff you already have more of than anyone really needs on Christmas. On that holiday in between you just get a lousy turkey dinner and a lot of football  games and nothing much to add to your stuff. And then you get to shop!!
When there was life in the slow lane, when we could spend time just appreciating the day. If we  anticipated what was to come, we still savored Thanksgiving as a family holiday, and Christmas was a long  time away.
We did not put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, nor did we trim the house with boughs of holly after Thanksgiving dinner.
There's no going back, of course, so one must bear with it, and be thankful for the past and those memories.
The first time I was in London, it was the first week of December, and there was no sign of Christmas yet. Startling! By the second week, the stores  were suddenly bedecked for the holiday and  theChristmas season was on. They don't have Thanksgiving there, of course, so there was no need to rush the holiday season. That was over twenty years ago, so maybe they've caught up with us by now.
On behalf of those Pilgrims and the Native People who helped them put together  a mighty fine feast, I resent the minimizing of Thanksgiving in the name of commercial greed. The day  still matters, and I suspect that most of us still enjoy it with family and friends in spite of the efforts to skim over it by
the lure of discounted "stuff" at the mall.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Snow Falls, Autumn Lingers



We had our first snowfall today here in Northeastern Ohio. It didn't stick, just a dusting. I was at a meeting late this morning, on the second floor of the library, so I couldn't see the ground, and the snow was coming down in thick flakes, looking as if it was the middle of January. I expected to see a white world when I left, but instead the streets were just wet and bare, and the grass was hardly covered.
November is not too early for snow here. I can remember heavy snow in October in years past. When my children were small, it seems as though I was booting, mittening, hatting and scarfing them all from October until May, the sort of task that usually ended up with at least one of them having to go to bathroom and my having to unpeel everything and then put the kid back together. Winter always lasts longer than the other seasons, and preparing children for outdoors makes it even longer. Makes me tired just thinking about it. (But I wasn't in my eighties then.)
In spite of the snow, while my maple and oak trees are bare now, the trees in Dix's Woods across the street still gleam with gold. Some are bare, but others seem to be reluctant to she'd. It's nice to see them, even on a gray day, and especially on a sunny one. This has been a glorious autumn, warm, sunny and brilliantly colorful. I've been treated to lovely rides through the countyside by Sally and John. I still miss driving alone, listening to Mahler and Mozart and James Taylor while trying to get list, but I can't complain. I can still enjoy gawking at the scenery, especially this year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When to Rake



The chief raker at this house is son John. His custom is not to rake until the last leaf has fallen. We have three large trees in front of the house: one pin oak, which sheds leaves and numerous acorns, two large maple trees, which provide the golden aura during late October. There  is also Dix's Woods cater-cornered across the street from the yard. That's a lotta trees. The yard gets completely covered, several inches deep, tracked into the house along with the odd acorn, the one that the black squirrels somehow missed. The rain gutters are stuffed with the colorful detritus, and sometimes if they are not cleaned out in a timely manner, small trees appear along the eaves.
This year, Sally decided to get some exercise, grabbed a leaf rake the other afternoon and started raking up the leaves while there were STILL LEAVES ON THE TREES! One of the visitors from abroad, not having any leaves back in Deutschland to rake (that's taken care of by management of the apartment)', found another rake and amused himself by clearing away another patch of ground.
By the time, Sally was running out of steam,  and the chief raker returned from work. What could he do? Leave the yard half- raked? Shake the trees until all the leaves were gone? In spite of his system being undermined, he pitched in and piles of leaves were soon placed along the curb, ready for the city's service department to suck them up with their giant vacuum cleaner.
There will, unfortunately, be more leaves to rake and a person does not wish to appear ungrateful for the raking done (too soon),  but the years long chain of waiting for the last leaf to fall has been broken.
Rats!
(I speak  for the chief raker, even though personally I like having the yard cleared early.)