Little Italy Just Got Smaller


Theme: When something changes – good or bad. A twist of events, an unexpected turn of events, a change in the wind, weather, love, whatever.


Written by Melissa

My friend Eva had taken me on a date to her favourite little Italian in the West Village. We walked in, her face dropped. The red brickwork New York is charmed for, painted white. Opposite the entrance, a block red stencil of a giant rolling pin standing out like Stalinist propaganda. Wire grids laden with forks hung over our heads. The excitement of being in Mamma’s dining room eroded from Eva’s eyes while being seated. The once hand-written paper menus replaced with laminated plastic typescript. I imagined what was happening between Eva’s fingertips and her parietal cortex as we were assured zilch had altered in the kitchen. But nothing special arrived with our plates of Specials.

It was a disheartening end to Eva’s patchwork adventure. We’d been staying in her adorable apartment in Harlem, with original features including a heating system that struck up like a brass band at two in the morning. Everything Eva does is a deliberate choice to make experiences special, so each moment can become a treasured memory. Her pancakes with homemade apple sauce. The woollen blankets that covered my airbed. The books she would lay by my bedside as she slipped out each morning to work for her magazine. Moments are important to Eva and I could see the changes to this restaurant were a disenchantment.

We had just heard John Freeman talk about the role of the critic; that every writer makes mistakes and any critic can take to pieces someone’s prose like Edward Scissorhands attacks a water bed. Rather look for interweaving meaning, capture essence; find a treasure that may lay outside the printed page that tells the reader so much more about the context in which the writer writes.talesofacity

As I listened to him, I tried to imagine this man’s journey, the hours spent turning page after page, thinking hard, typing harder. Freeman cares and he’s surprisingly optimistic about things while spelling out the realities, noting the protests about police brutality which were happening just a few blocks away.

I bought his current book, as editor, Tales of Two Cities. Freeman hopes things will change. The book, a collection of essays and prose on the growing disparities between New Yorkers. The gaps between rich and poor have never been so extreme.

Between 2002 and 2012, the median rent has risen 75%. Rent in New York City is now three times the national average. As a result, nearly one-third of New Yorkers pay more than 50% of their annual income in rent. Forget about not being able to afford to own; many New Yorkers cannot afford to rent.

I thought of Eva and how she struggles to make the rent despite producing one of the most impressive magazines I’ve seen in a long, long time, the case for so many talented journalists, writers and artists.

Needing to earn money to pay rent and bills – both artificially inflated in my mind – is what holds so many of us back from fulfilling our dreams. We’re bound to the costs of living in expensive cities. And yet they hold so much magic and possibility, or is that an imagined dream we’ve bought into? That Hope that keeps us peddling away? While the fastest thing changing is our birthdays.

I was in Eva’s town to see my family’s oldest relative at her home in Queens. Something propelled me to go to her. We ate ravioli I’d brought from Di Palo’s – her ninety-three year old hands unable to cook the Maltese and Italian food we grew up on. I told her I loved her. Eleven days later, my Great Aunt died. Irreversible change.

I looked at this new-old restaurant. A huge red cockerel opposite me. Its charm was its un-stencilled self. Its exposed brickwork. Its handwritten, dog-eared menus. It took all that it had and recast itself in the mind’s eye that rustic is the new black. And imploded. The place had had it. People knew it. Now it was trying to be quaint and quirky and failing miserably.

Eva has poignant memories of a first date. Her shoulders slumped. I assured her the change in décor means those moments she experienced are now solidified into the authentic sentimental. That place isn’t coming back. I look at the painted bricks. Neither were we.

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