The Play of the Day, oh readers of mine, is the play of most of my days here in Cleveland.
One of my favorite things about the city is the Hope Memorial Bridge (more commonly known by its former title, the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge). Finished in 1932, this epic engineering feat crosses the Cuyahoga river between Ohio City, on Cleveland’s near-west side, and downtown, on it’s near-east. Posted at either end of the bridge are four epic sculptures known as the ‘Guardians of Transportation,’ or ‘Guardians of Traffic.’
Each one of these gentlemen, designed by Frank Walker and sculpted by Henry Hering, is a janus-headed figure grasping, between enormous hands, some type of vehicle. One has a carriage, one a construction truck, one an automobile and one an early version of a semi. These huge, stoic, art-deco (and pretty phallic) dudes are my comrades.
I cross the bridge on my daily trek to work. I usually say hello to the guardians on the way in or out of my neighborhood. These wildly handsome concrete pylons always prove a salve to my savage, commuting soul.
They are certainly a mammoth indicator of the city’s industrial apex, and of its ties to a particular moment in art history. But more than that, they are gorgeous pieces of public art that mean something to Clevelanders.* And while their design, which was meant to celebrate the progress of transportation, might have missed its speculative mark in terms of Cleveland’s particular historical trajectory, they none-the-less do carve themselves into the city in an arresting and spectacular way. And I think their power as Cleveland landmarks is as much about what they indicate in retrospect, as it is about what they were meant to mark at the moment of their construction.**
They never respond to my ritual salutation. But I love them. And their indifference does not negate my feeling that they watch over me, and the city, and perhaps all urban travelers, everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I am not the only resident who finds herself speaking to the guardians. I bet they’ve listened to many itinerant wanderers, as they head somewhere in this weird and engaging landscape.
*I have one friend who has a guardian tattooed on his calf. He cannot possibly be the only Clevelander who chose to memorialize his homeland thusly.
**I’ve written in this blog about some of the ways the history of an urban landscape, Cleveland’s more specifically, is sometimes veiled by its public art. The guardians cannot, because of their age and their position in the city, disguise what was misguided in their production. While this may become true for other ventures, the guardians were not built (as what might be called their contemporary equivalents) in the full flush of commodity capitalism. But, as with all speculation of this sort, I could be wrong. Maybe commodity capitalism is only just now beginning to find its real flourish and things like the outdoor chandelier in Playhouse Square will become friendly indicators of a certain moment in aesthetic history. For the sake of us all, I’m going to go ahead and hope not.
The Play of the Day, oh comrades of mine, is brunch.
I have always categorically subscribed to the notion that brunch, when effectively executed, is the hands-down best meal of the week. I believe in mimosas on Sunday any time at or after 11:00 a.m.* I think sweet and savory are more readily and enjoyably combined in a meal that is intended to serve as both breakfast and lunch. I am committed to the idea that meals other than dinner should last for over an hour and include both coffee and alcohol. I adore the groggy, lazy, laissez-faire attitude of the meal. In short: I am really into brunch.
Last Sunday I had one of the best brunches, perhaps, of my short life on this planet at a Cleveland joint in Ohio City called Soho.**
I had: Chicken Fried Pork Salad. The dish is what it sounds like, meaning amazing: why aren’t we always chicken-frying pork and covering it with greens and avocado? Plus, it was accompanied by three deviled eggs. These were deviled eggs of a spectacular variety–delicate and tangy and pretty. Perfect deviled eggs. Good lord.
My companion had: Shrimp and Grits. These were a high class version of the standard Southern delicacy. Perfectly butter-poached little crustaceans, a modest amount of andouille sausage, and asparagus atop the creamiest, loveliest grits. Oh my god.
Both dishes, and the scratch biscuits and rosemary butter that joined them, were totally, ridiculously, fabulously delicious. The fact that we wandered from brunch to the outdoor patio of Market Garden down the block on the first truly lovely Sunday of the season didn’t hurt things either.
Sigh. If only every Sunday could be spent thusly…***
*I blame this on my father who may or may not be the antichrist but certainly did lead me to believe that Sunday drinking is superior to Sunday prayer. But why not both? Brunch is the sort of institution at whose alter I can worship.
**The restaurant claims its name is short-hand for “southern hospitality.” I find its title neither clever nor particularly effective. But if Soho is poor at self-naming, it is really, really good at brunch.
***If you ever do find a Sunday to thusly spend in Cleveland, other fabulous brunching locals include the spectacular Flying Fig. They do a number there where it appears that they encrust and fry a poached egg. Uh. Yeah. Amazing. Also incredible: The Black Pig. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself there for their brunch, get anything on the menu with pork in it.
The Play of the Day, dear readers, is a Cleveland gem known as the Beachland Ballroom. I attended a show at this lovely venue with two visiting comrades on Saturday night.*
Our willingness to drive to the east side through the late-season snow** was rewarded not only with the sweet sounds of rock and roll, but also with a pretty good cross section of Cleveland hip(and-not-so-hip)sters to dance alongside and generally observe. The Beachland also boasts some decent cuisine: a bar in the back serves craft beer and tasty treats (including gussied up popcorn and house-made pierogis). I’m told their Sunday brunch is close to spectacular, too.***
The space itself has a very particular (and particularly Cleveland-y) sort of grungy charm. An old, brick building with great neon signage, it fits right in to its newly gentrifying neighborhood. High ceilings with ornate, industrial-age detailing (it was, after all, really a ballroom) make it an excellent place to feel both intimately close to the performers and not too terribly intimate with everyone else. And the sound is just plain dandy.
It is, in a phrase, the right place to rock in Cleveland. And I should know. I do a lot of rocking.
*The headliner was Typhoon. They’re good. I promise.
**Because this bastard Winter will not not be deterred from its maniacal, obsessive, relentless campaign to destroy me and everyone else in Northeast Ohio.
***Soon, I shall confirm this with field-based research.
The play of this most welcome of days, dear readers, is Spring.
The weather in Cleveland this winter has been, in a word, devastating. The season was existentially, soul-crushingly, mind-numbingly miserable. By the close of February I was very seriously considering drugging myself into hibernation.
But this week there was one long day of sun and above 40-degree temperatures. I ran outside. I wore a jean jacket. I shook and wept with relief. And today, despite the rain (yes RAIN, remember rain? it’s what happens to precipitation when it’s not freezing), it remained warm enough to serve as salve to my winter-weary heart.
Here’s the thing about people who live through these winters: when, finally, the first signs come that the relentless icy winds will dissipate, will in fact give way to some kind of warmth, they feel an unparalleled euphoria. They swoon. Drunk with joy, they wander the streets. They look each other in the eye. My guess is there’s a whole lot of (likely ill-advised) mating going on too.
These occasionally warm March days are, perhaps, a small reward for survival. But today, oh fine and beautiful friends of mine, I’ll take it. I’ll run with it. I will quake in awe of its astounding presence. And maybe when it snows later in the week, I’ll be steeled by the knowledge that the snow might actually melt.
After a somewhat disastrous 26-hour delay,* I arrived in Paris yesterday morning for two weeks of general wandering, eating, museum-going and an inordinate amount of people watching (to take place with hot café cremes in hand, on wicker chairs under heat lamps on the side walks).
I am thrilled to be back in this city: no surprise. What itinerant wanderer, particularly the sort with an urban bent, wouldn’t want to while away the short days and long nights of winter in Paris? None. And here is a partial reason for this: the fantastic, Proustian nostalgia we in the Western world have for Paris is not just nostalgia. Strangely, magically, perhaps even terribly, the thing itself–that scene in the French novel you read, the French film you saw, the memory you have of a childhood visit to the city or a visit not so far in the past–is still here. You can still find it. Everybody gets déjà vu in Paris because everybody gets, if they want to, the particular joy of actually having in some way been here, in this little cafe, in these particular chairs. Whether the memory is fiction or reality doesn’t seem much to matter.
Thus the play of the day: My friend and I, jet-lagged and weary, pulled ourselves together in the early afternoon to wander along the streets of le Marais and work our way to a cafe along Rue Rivoli. We sat and watched the Parisians (yes, still wildly attractive and well-dressed) meet with friends after work, or rush home with actual baguettes under their actual arms. We then slowly walked to a bistro near the edge of the quarter, Le Temps des Cerises. This place is perfectly Parisian. Extremely good-looking waiters (who are likely also owners) offered calm service (and were only very mildly, almost imperceptibly annoyed at my crappy French). We ate, I kid you not, French onion soup and escargot. We dipped fresh bread into melted parsley butter. We drank rosé. Basically we did what French people and tourists alike do: enjoy Paris as it has been for a very long time. Sitting in a tiny bistro with low lighting, small wooden tables pushed close together, sipping something that’s been made in France forever: this can’t be too terribly far from the Paris that Baudelaire wandered, the city Hemingway loved, the Paris Brecht took as his own.
Perhaps it isn’t that the city doesn’t change. It does. It has. It’s that we don’t. That picture of Paris shared in the collective imagination can still exist because so many among us–French and foreign alike–unabashedly adore it.
Oh man. I love this city. Don’t you?
*Chicago O’Hare, as it turns out, is not exactly the best choice of airports from whence to begin a whirlwind tour if your departure date is in winter. I know. Total shocker. O’Hare does boast some tasty sushi and craft beer, however, just in case you ever need to kill 6 hours wandering around within it.
Kind and gentle readers, comrades, friends!
The play of this oddly warm Midwestern day is a little bar called Now That’s Class.
Don’t let the name fool you. NTC (as I have decided to refer to it throughout this post, and in my Cleveland life more generally–unless someone stops me) is a dive. It’s a good, old, punk-rock drinking hole that sometimes hosts the last of the truly misanthropic rockers on its two small stages.
The place is covered in vulgar and political graffiti (which is awesome, though I was sad to learn that the space, a former gay bar, once had life-sized paintings of naked men on its walls now lost to visitors). There’s a make-shift half-pipe in one of its two rooms that is very clearly loved and well-used by the skater set. NTC also boasts a dilapidated back patio and a stream of rabble-rousing regulars who drink on the cheap and bring joy (or, my guess is, sometimes discomfort and possibly bodily injury) to patrons.
I showed up after a Browns game this Sunday for a beer and was wowed by the blaring Cleveland hip-hop and the welcoming if by-then meager crowd.* I was also wowed by the beer selection in the joint. And the devil-may-care aesthetics. This kind of place could not exist anywhere else quite like it does in Cleveland.
Here’s to punk-rockers, ne’er-do-wells, and ironically named dive bars. Here’s to Cleveland!
*I suspect that the gathering in this local haunt would have been considerably larger had the Browns won the game. Football, as far as I can tell, is a religion here. And, as with many, the faith inspires intense devotion and sometimes, especially in Cleveland, a lot of suffering. Its epiphanic moments, however, appear to be worth the otherwise excruciating passion Clevelanders go through for their teams.
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.