Buona Festa!

Driving down the sidewalk, I wondered if I made a mistake trusting the sweet old ladies directing our car. But they insisted; parking on the grass would be closer and less of a walk to the festival on a fickle-weather Cleveland day. Why not? At least it would give my cousins, visiting from Alabama, something to talk about.

The sun, which we saw for the first time all day, quickly disappeared behind clouds. Rain fell once more as we stepped out of the car. But the on-again/off-again rain may have helped us. It kept the crowds down at the ever popular Feast.

Every August, the Cleveland’s Italian population celebrates their Catholic faith and Italian pride with the Feast of the Assumption. The main event takes place in Little Italy, along Mayfield Road on the city’s east side. While it is one of Cleveland’s not-so-hidden gems, I had never made it to the Feast before.

White canopies lined the street, representing all the neighborhood’s restaurants. Everywhere we walked the scent of wood-fired pizzas and grilled sausages enticed us to come over for a taste.

But we knew what we wanted first. A slice of pizza at Mama Santa’s near the foot of Murray Hill. “Some of the best pizza I’ve ever had,” I told my cousins. They agreed. “Now you’ve ruined pizza for me,” one said. The chains just don’t compare.

Satisfied with our slices, we wandered back along the tents, searching for something else. One piece of pizza wasn’t enough, despite its generous size. And this was the Feast…we showed up to eat.

Tent after tent offered cavatelli. Being not-at-all Italian, I didn’t know what it was. What I knew is, if every place sold it, it must be a popular choice among the locals. When in Rome…

The tent from Trattoria Roman Garden stood in front of us. In a flash, the girl behind the table served up a warm bowl of the pasta with Italian sausage on top. The pasta, homemade of course, tasted brilliant, though the sausage was a little dry.

Italian vocal music from Holy Rosary bled with a bass beat from one of the restaurant patios creating an odd soundtrack as we ate. Our hunger soon faded, but we wanted dessert too. So we walked more to digest.

A small carnival had replaced the church courtyard. Games of chance allowed people to try their luck to win stuffed animals, goldfish, or cash. A suspect looking, flippy carnival ride sat tucked into a back corner. It may have been my imagination but I think the riders crossed themselves before loading in, praying the thing would not fall apart around them. Being close to the church may have helped. The ride held steady…that time at least.

Twenty minutes seemed long enough to wait for our dessert. Like the pizza, this choice had been made beforehand. Back down the street to Corbo’s Bakery. Printed on the bakery’s window are Clemenza’s famous words from The Godfather. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” What else was I going to get?

As the rain picked up again, the four of us stayed under the bakery’s awning and ate. The crisp pastry of the cannoli shattered into my mouth with each bite, followed by its smooth filling. My cousins approved of this, their first cannoli, and of the day despite the weather.

Huddled together, the hybrid music still drifting along, as rain streamed down, everything seemed a distorted sense of perfect. A bowl of pasta and creamy cannoli among friends can make even a rainy day beautiful.


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