Autumn on Cleveland’s Near West Side–Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

31 Oct

A small splash of color on my street

Did the Halloween eye result from the Curse of the Mummy Pumpkin?

Seasonal. That’s the word that kept flitting about in my mind today. It’s been a true autumn day, and a real Halloween (that’s opposed to a sprinkling of unseasonable 60 degree Cleveland Halloweens in the past decade). Admittedly, the foliage is wonky; plenty of trees are still green and vigorous, and relatively few are colorific. Still, there’s a rich, earthy scent in the air, a golden glow around dusk(when it isn’t raining), and enough of a chill in the air to keep the RTA fairly spare of bus stop malingerers. I don’t remember many Halloween decorations in my PA childhood–with the exception of a tp’ed house, soaped windows, or chalked sidewalks (we had both Chalk Night and Mischief Night the two days before the holiday, and I would trick myself out in dark clothing, armed with the hose, ready to face any miscreants who might be walking by, egg in hand. Unfortunately, my night as protectress never garnered any young hooligans). Of course, we did have real pumpkins with real candles–I have a fabulously malicious demonic pumpkin right now, courtesy the art students’ organization at CSU–though he is not a lantern, I love him nonetheless.

The Thrifty BonVivant earlier this week, looking mysterious for Halloween--eye intact

The shudderingly gruesome Halloween Eye

I discovered my first year on the Near West that kids in this neighborhood don’t trick and treat–they go to the now-renovating Zone Rec Center for a big party (in fact, I can hear the little ghouls passing right now). Is it because of chainlink fences and nasty dogs? Too high a percentage of registered sex offenders? They sound cheerful, but I miss seeing costumes. No matter–I’m going out in a minute to light the grill and enjoy a last non-shivery barbecue. But I’ve already had plenty of Halloween today. This weekend I discovered a…ughh…lumpy pimple near my eye, along brow bone skin. Did I remember my mother’s dictum to “just leave it alone”? Of course, but I ignored it–though I was not too interfering with it. But it hurt, and I took advice to regularly clean it with alcohol (being careful not to get it in my eye, of course), and dab peroxide on it. This would weed it out! I complied–ouch. But it was a mistake. By yesterday, the skin below my eye and the lid had swollen, and had not receded  by this morning. Since I couldn’t get to a CVS Minute Clinic yesterday–talk less of Kaiser–it was time to visit the clinic at work this morning. My doctor checked me out thoroughly, told me to listen to my mother, and said it wasn’t really an allergic reaction–that my body had perceived my gentle prodding as trauma, and promptly padded itself with edema, much like a boxer who’d taken a punch. A mild antibiotic (for the gross and disgusting pimple) and cold compresses were advised. Nonetheless, said swelling has presented me with a built-in, evil makeup job a la Lon Chaney. I could definitely scare children with this temporary eye. Look at the picture!!! Still shaking?

But to fiendish bank robbers, isn't every day potentially a holiday?

Ohio City's Market Ave--treat for the eyes in sun-dappled summer, snowy winter--anytime.

But the medical jaunt had me out and about, and I decided to see what Ohio City was up to on a fine Halloween. Ohio City Burrito‘s skeleton sign looked mighty chipper, and even the warning on the Ohio City Savings door was tricked out in seasonal colors.  A festive lunch was in order! And what better place than Great Lakes Brewery, just as it opened. Actually, I was there before it opened, as were quite a few other people. A chilly day and 11:15 in the morning, and customers are already clamoring? Oh, you’re doing something right! The Brewery’s a great choice for Fall. Not only does it have a cozily warm atmosphere (the indoor/outdoor room has a lovely fireplace in cold weather), but the street view is enchanting. Its short, narrow street, Market Avenue, is terrifically inviting. Part of that has to do with its destinations: the Cleveland Film Society, The Flying Fig restaurant (had a great duck dish there last winter), the Market Avenue Wine Bar (another cosy place, best a deux), and a cafe I’m dying to try. But even before all these were in place, it was still inviting. It’s the proportions, the architecture and the view, for it looks onto the Market Square Park (which is under mysterious reconstruction right

When colors and textures align, it's time for placemaking! Djenne, Mali

now–however, a small cement stage has already been created on the north side). It’s not that the architecture is so spectacular in and of itself, it’s that it has a consistency of color and texture–old red brickwork. All the best places have that kind of consistency, with variations in shape, proportions and details to keep things interesting. In Italy’s Assisi, everything is made from the same pink stone. In Mali’s Jenne, the buildings earthen walls match the ground, and seem to emerge from it organically. This is something contemporary architecture can rarely match, because its growth patterns and standard materials are so different. But when you stumble on it in a city, its allure and charm ensnare you.

James, one of Great Lakes Brewery's kindly yet gruesome (today) waiters

Oh, and seasonal? It was a tough choice between a glass of Nosferatu ale (and the extremely pleasant and competent James was my waiter, all tricked out like Nosferatu himself) and the now-available Christmas ale, but the latter’s lovely red tones won out. Matched with a margherita pizza, a splendidly hearty choice. Side notes–why do most American versions of the margherita use sliced tomatos? That’s not the Italian way–though it tasted just fine. Why margherita? After Italy’s one-time Queen Margherita and the patriotic colors oThe pleasures of the season at Great Lakes Breweryf the Italian flag: red sauce, white mozzarella, green basil leaves. Which makes me digress once again–a first date took me to Luxe some years back. I love Gordon Square‘s Luxe (my favorite Cleveland restaurant, which I persist in pronouncing the French way, counter to the restaurant itself). I’d been raving about Luxe. In my verbal anticipation, I kept repeating on the way, “Oh, I can’t wait till I have a margherita!” When we were seated and the waitress came for our order, I puzzled him when I asked for iced tea. Words and their confusionistic power! Anyway, the pizza at the Brewery is delicious! Luckily for me, the waiter tried to tempt me with cheesecake, which I don’t like. In checking the website, however, I see there is now, courtesy of Mitchell‘s, a new seasonal ice cream to be had: Christmas Ale Gingersnap Ice Cream. Now, I know I will be putty in its hands–and will visit it on my

Yes, they have taffy apples, too. But there's a reason the lipstick color is called "candy apple"! One of the red beauties is now mine, all mine.

next round of seasonal lists.

After lunch, a quick round at the West Side Market. I needed my dried peaches from the dried fruit girls–far better than dried apricots, and for under $17 you can get a huge quantity that will last even the profligate  bon vivant for over a month. I also needed a Halloween candy fix, and only one thing would do–not the Midnight

Heart-warming mice at Campbell's Popcorn in the West Side Market

Milky Ways that I could get anytime (frozen….mmmm), and that aren’t available at the market anyway. No, it’s a red candy apple or nothing. For some reason, these are hard to find in Cleveland, which apparently prefers caramel (or as we used to call them) taffy apples. But Campbell’s Popcorn, an indoor stall near the Lorain side), has them year round, and one is awaiting me on the counter right now, its glossy cinnamon crust calling a siren song. My eye was caught by their adorable cookies–particularly the mice with almond ears. There are some real artists in the world of Cleveland pastry, and I will update you on their offerings as the seasonal marchdown continues.

A Halloween feast for the eyes at Campbell's Popcorn

What then? The bus stop and home, James. I see Ohio City has fixed some Halloween/Thanksgiving decorations along Lorain in the form of cornstalks. It really is a beautiful thing to mark the seasons, and is yet another reason W. 25th is a great destination for a stroll and several stops. If only there was destination entertainment there…just think if the wine bar or cafe hired Cleveland Institute of Music students or CSU music majors for regular background performances? I know I’d want to linger to hear a violinist one night, someone singing bossa nova another, a klezmer clarinetist a third. Or put that trolley in and make it easy to jump from lunch to a movie at Gordon Square’s Capitol Theatre, or from dinner to a play! In the interim, Happy Halloween! Rustle a leaf pile and breathe that bracing air.

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