Dearest Comrades! Esteemed Readers! Kind Visitors!
I now live in beautiful and bizarre Cleveland, Ohio. Consider this the inaugural post from this charming rust belt metropolis referred to by locals, fondly, as ‘the CLE.’*
As a way to launch what will be my cataloging of all things compelling about Cleveland, let me begin by briefly listing those experiential phenomenon to which I am now growing accustomed that make it unlike the other cities I have explored over the course of this blog and my short life on this planet.
1.) Cleveland is quiet. Due to a post-industrial exodus from the city center that made the metro area a sprawling expanse, Cleveland-proper neighborhoods tend, it seems, to be quiet places. Excluding Friday and Saturday evenings, you can stroll down nearly any residential street and many commercial strips without crossing paths with another pedestrian.
2.) Cleveland is segregated. This is linked, of course, to the previously mentioned exodus. Many of the suburbs in this city were a result of white flight. This has left the city unfortunately divided, geographically and culturally, between white and black neighborhoods. Though, from what I hear, this is changing.
3.) Not entirely unlike Los Angeles, Cleveland is divided into factions of folks hailing from the West or East sides. The West side is said to be more ethnically diverse (many of the steel-workers who helped the city thrive during the industrial era were European immigrants, largely working and living on the West side). The East side is diverse as well, but primarily a mixture of black and white folks (though the deeper into East Cleveland you get, it seems, the more African American the community: see above). The West side is said to be more characteristically Midwest, in cultural terms, and the East more characteristically East Coast.**
4.) Cleveland has to contend with its sprawl, not unlike Los Angeles. The distinction, though, is the forces that caused its geographical expanse. The demise of the industrial economy is felt, to this day, very distinctly in this city and is visible in the way the city-proper suffered a long period of vacancy after the shut-down of many of its industrial plants (primarily steel, though many others which were related to its production). ***
5.) Cleveland is magical. It is proof I think, having lived here but a month, that legitimately phenomenal and inspirational activity is ongoing in cities across the U.S.–regardless of the reputation or stature of these varied urban landscapes. It is strange and engaging and it has an ethos all its own. I recognize that I know but little yet of Cleveland, but I’d bet you anything, it is a city I will soon be proud to call my own.
6.) Cleveland has been active in seeking creative solutions to what were the long-time economic, cultural and social ills that came with the demise of the industrial era. This has, of late, meant that the city is undergoing a kind of rebirth. While most will suggest that this renaissance has been a boon to the city, it is not without its costs. Gentrification, as always, changes the character of neighborhoods and new industries can bring great economic benefits just as they come with devastating cultural costs. I am in the process of trying to suss out just what this particular moment in this city’s development history is doing to its cultural geography.
7.) Clevelanders love to eat, and they eat well. Because of the incredible waves of immigration that came into the city during its industrial heyday (not unlike those that made Buenos Aires so rich a city), and those that sought work in the U.S. long after, you can find cuisine of just about any regional bent. Polish and Ukrainian are something of a mainstay in my neighborhood. But the city boasts a fine ‘Asia Town‘ too. And then, of course, there is the foodie and farm-to-table revival that has made its way to Cleveland for its cheap real estate and proximity to Ohio agriculture, making the city home to some of the finest restaurants (and the cheapest, as far as I can tell) in the U.S.
The point, oh readers, is that Cleveland is, despite its many naysayers, extremely compelling. A good place, indeed, for an itinerant wanderer to land.
*CLE is the airport code for Cleveland Hopkins International. Said airport is not, however, technically in Cleveland.
**In Los Angeles I was a hardcore east-sider. It has been something of a challenge moving to Cleveland from such a standpoint, given that here I live on the near West side. Angelenos who love me may thusly feel free to send propaganda claiming either West or East side loyalty.
***This means, in part, that I cannot defend the same benefits of sprawl in Cleveland that I was willing to celebrate in Los Angeles. More on this, no doubt, in later posts.
It would be fair to say, given my deep attraction to things edible, that my final weeks in the city of Los Angeles were unsurprisingly food-driven. Also predictable as a relatively young epicurean with a tendency toward hyperbole: I more or less spent the last month of my tenure as though each meal might find me, mid-bite, with the soft whispers of the Judas that was immanent departure tickling my ear. I returned to most of my favorite restaurants* (both low and high brow and everywhere in between). And, being as I am an itinerant adventurer, made sure to find tables at a handful of new spots.**
The play of the day is a fond memory now: an exquisite supper at one such new restaurant, Alma. So glorious, dear comrades, was this dining experience that I would choose it among them all as my last. I will recall the meal recorded below fondly whenever I think of the foodie wonderland I want so badly to call home; that wild city to which I wish always to return; my sweet, my lovely, my lush culinary jungle, my Los Angeles.
Here is what we ate:
1.) smoky eggplant dip, puffed onion
2.) snails, fingerling potato, bérnaise, pickled garlic
3.) seaweed & tofu beignet, yuzu kosho, lime
4.) English muffin, uni, burrata, caviar, liquorice herbs
5.) young squash soup, mussels, red ale
6.) pigeon, celery root, pear, cabbage
7.) lavender roasted duck, corn, mido, chanterelle, blackberry
The restaurant is small, sparsely decorated, lovely and downtown. It also lacks air conditioning and was, mid heat-wave, well, hot. But I’d eat that meal again over molten lava. If ever I’m sentenced by God or man to die, let me first wander through those ephemeral seven courses as one would hope to wander the seven heavens after the reaper really comes.
It was the perfect send off.
Good bye, oh my beloved city. Wait for me, I beg you.***
*Such as, but not limited to: Zankou Chicken, Bludso’s, The Park, Wat Dong Moon Lek, The Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, Sqirl, Barbrix, Proof Bakery, El Buen Gusto, Canelé, Umami Burger, Mother Dough, Cortez, and the backyards and kitchens of my culinary-minded friends.+
***Next post: Cleveland, Ohio. Readers, a new adventure has commenced!
+ See previous post.