Talk of the Towns: 11.18.20
It had been a half-century since Grant’s Farm last opened to vehicles, and this fall it was for the first Halloween in a pandemic. Since virus fears and health recommendations pretty much put the kibosh on trick-or-treating, it was an experiment. The ghouls and goblins that popped up here and there scared many folks half to death, which was the point. Following the Halloween success, the South County attraction near Affton will swing open the gates for a holiday lights drive-through experience starting Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving. Winter Wonderland—the ever-popular drive-through holiday lights display at Tilles Park in Ladue that serves as St. Louis County Parks’ largest annual fundraiser—will cost you, but not as much as the Grant’s Farm drive-through event. (That said, the Halloween event sold out before it opened, so we recommend you act soon.) What could be prettier than festive decorations throughout the grounds and strung from period structures at this charming landmark, unless it’s the magical sight of a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer crowded onto your own roof? Well, we’d say the massive Clydesdales trump itty-bitty reindeer any day. Although inedible, the beautiful Tiergarten should look good enough to eat, all dressed up like a gingerbread house. A variety of the farm’s four-legged residents will be milling around there. Cars with kids, whether wide-eyed in wonder or not, will get complimentary candy canes. The experience runs through New Year’s Eve, with the farm closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
In the immortal NYC-accented words of one of The Three Stooges: “Da noive … ” It seems that Mark and Patricia McCloskey—residents of an exclusive, gated CWE neighborhood, Portland Place—are filing another lawsuit. They’re lawyers, after all, but there are two related legal actions (one potential, one filed) over a world-famous photo of the couple on their lawn pointing an assault rifle (his) and waving a handgun (hers) as protesters walk in the private street and along the sidewalk. (No shots were fired.) The large, diverse group was filing past the palatial home on their way to demonstrate outside Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house nearby on Sunday, June 28. The protest was but one of innumerable Black Lives Matter protests and marches nationwide in response to police killings of unarmed Black people, starting with the suffocation of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Who knows whether the McCloskeys are glad or annoyed to be stars of our town’s unusual BLM sidebar, but the saga has gotten more convoluted in the intervening months. Now to the legal kerfuffle(s). It seems the McCloskeys, who’d already capitalized on their notoriety by appearing at the Republican National Convention, recently had holiday greeting cards made featuring a photo from the CWE event. The photo in question was taken by a UPI lensman, and the wire service has considered a cease-and-desist order for use of the photo without permission. But the McCloskeys, not to be outdone, have filed a suit. They accuse UPI’s photographer of being on their property when he snapped the photo. There’s more, of course. Lawyers can produce reams of paper alleging this, asserting that, and claiming stuff like “defendant’s actions caused mental anguish and severe emotional distress.” And all this against a backdrop of the couple already facing city charges for unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering. It’s enough to make you dizzy and feel like you need to lie down. As we pointed out, the McCloskeys are nothing if not litigious. There’ve been property disputes over the years, one an ongoing, unresolved flap over a wedge of ground that’s either adjacent to theirs or maybe is theirs. And they destroyed beehives that belonged to the kids at Central Reform Congregation, just north of their lot, that may or may not have been over the McCloskey property line. A group of Portland Place neighbors has distanced itself from the couple’s actions, in writing. Y’know, with neighbors like these …
Warning! This item may make you feel like you’re about to dry heave. Your dog or cat already eats the bugs they catch, but Nestle has produced and is now marketing Purina kibble with processed insect protein in it. Really. You remember how former Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway came up with “alternative facts,” a supposedly mediagenic term that somehow was better than “lies?” Well, the Swiss food behemoth has produced pet chow based on “alternative proteins” to, according to a statement, make better use of the planet’s resources. It’s being sold in Europe, where insect protein is already an important ingredient in livestock feed. There are some chicken and fava beans mixed in with black soldier fly larvae. And everyone knows what fly larvae are, really: maggots. Eww?
Most any big city claims a Little Italy. But many are “meh” compared to the 50 square blocks of higher ground in the StL known as The Hill. LynnMarie Alexander can tell you all about the city’s beloved Italian enclave. In fact, she already has. She’d been “nogginating” on telling her neighborhood’s story for about five years and put pen to paper in January, and Reedy Press just published the result, The Hill: St. Louis’s Italian American Neighborhood. It’s as beautiful and substantial as any coffee table book from a fine art museum, as well as a well-researched and well-written volume. But with a last name like Alexander? People get married, you know. But she’s no “Amerigani” (Italian American in name only). Alexander was born and raised here. She’s fourth-generation Italian American, living in her great-grandparents’ home, which has been in the Puricelli family since 1907. She walks half a block to her job as the director/archivist of The Hill Neighborhood Center. Suffice it to say, she didn’t need to venture very far to do much of her research. (OK, OK, we can hear your tummy rumbling, but you’ll have to wait a few sentences before we get to the dizzying array of cuisine choices on The Hill.) Clay is integral to local history. Clay mines operated in Cheltenham District, which neighbored Fairmount District—The Hill today. Italians, among an influx of European labor, began to settle on The Hill in the mid-19th century. Local fire brick could withstand a locomotive’s extreme temperatures; other varieties were cream-colored, almost white. “We’re geologically blessed,” says Alexander. Blessed, indeed. Her family, neighbors and friends enjoy a community founded and influenced by their ancestors over four or even five generations. Bocce ball? Of course. Curious? They play at Milo’s, out back; leagues take themselves seriously while having serious fun. Marconi Bocce Club hosts international tournaments once a year. Alas, many immigrant communities across our country withered as new generations abandoned family ties and lost a sense of ancestral history in favor of university educations, professional careers and suburbia. But family, spirituality and kinship are an anchor on The Hill, where loyalty to home and neighbors is honorable and enviable. Today, young professionals are choosing to raise their children here, schooling them at St. Ambrose, the neighborhood Catholic parish. In its breathtaking new piazza, with a fountain from Italy and the marble quarried there, one may be inspired to prayerful meditation while taking in a majestic church reminiscent of the cathedral of Milan. While your soul may enjoy the massage, your gustatorial whims also will be satisfied. Why, there must be an Olive Garden here! Dici sul serio? The Hill is home to 27 Italian restaurants and delis, all family owned. “Those of us who live here go to a specific restaurant for a specific dish,” Alexander says. The neighborhood’s residential architecture offers an array of traditional shotgun homes, former shops and taverns rehabbed into houses, and old businesses adjusting to a new life in the digital age. This is, as they say, a very walkable neighborhood. So, where did Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola live across the street from each other? And who the heck is Toni Carroll? Guess you’ll need to find out for yourself. Alexander has one more book signing event this year: Friday, Dec. 4 from 5–7 p.m. at Abigail’s Gift Boutique, 5611 Hampton Ave. (63109). Meanwhile, visit hillstl.org.
Photo: Claire Ford, Reedy Press