Under siege in Little Italy

Rosalia M. Scalia

July 17, 1992|By Rosalia M. Scalia

EVERY morning my neighbor Fannie Spinnato sweeps the gutters of High Street from the Pratt Street corner of Velleggia's Restaurant to Stiles Street. Sometimes when the weather is warm, she'll pull her garden hose through her opened basement window and wash down the pavement as far as her hose will stretch.

Because High Street is one of the major thoroughfares in Baltimore's Little Italy, and because the neighborhood annually attracts thousands of tourists in search of pasta and veal and quaint Italians living "like they do in the old country," trash tends to accumulate. I've examined it often; it consists of fast-food wrappers and cups, usually from eateries at some distance; empty beer and soda bottles and cans; and the contents of automobile ashtrays.

Very recently, according to Fannie, the trash has included increasing numbers of used condoms.

Disgusting, no? Yes, but it's not the worst.

Worse is being insulted by outsiders who consider Little Italy residents annoying obstacles in the pursuit of pleasure.

While I was trying to unload groceries in front of my home one day, a woman I'd inconvenienced accosted me verbally. Her car was parked in front of my house. Mine was double-parked, and she had to voice her objection over the amount of time it took me to walk inside, deposit my grocery bags in the kitchen and return to move my car so hers could be freed.

Other drivers use the "Braille method" of parking. Anxious for a space on nights when Little Italy restaurants are packed, they wedge Buick-size cars into Volkswagen-size spaces by banging to and fro, damaging their own and two other vehicles in the process.

When I protested one night, a driver declared, "I don't see any damage, lady. Now where's Sabatino's?"

Another evening, a man knocked on my door and asked me to "keep an eye on" his new convertible to make sure "nothing happens to it." And still another man scolded my children for playing too close to his auto -- parked squarely in front of my house.

Other examples of disgusting or rude behavior include drunken couples who choose to argue violently at 3 a.m. directly beneath my window and revelers who sing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" or "Happy Birthday" or the "Gilligan's Island" theme song at the top of their lungs, usually in the middle of the night.

But even that's not the worst. The clearest example of rudeness and plain disrespect for people who live in Little Italy (and I know this applies equally to Fells Point and other "colorful" neighborhoods discovered by suburban yuppies) occurred two weeks ago at 11 p.m. on a Sunday.

A young man, who had parked his very expensive red convertible roadster right in front of Fannie's house before dinner, returned two hours later and urinated on her steps before getting into his car.

The street was not deserted: A group of patrons was leaving Da Mimmo's Restaurant across the street, and a friend and I were sitting not three yards away, chatting on my stoop.

There are 12 restaurants with restrooms within a couple of blocks of my house. But when we yelled at this rude young man, he looked back at us as though we were rudely invading his privacy. When he finished his deed, he got into his car, slowly drove to the spot by my stoop and glared at the two of us. We must have inconvenienced him terribly.

I think of this man so brazenly exhibiting his disrespect for my neighborhood, for my friend and for me.

I think of those individuals who think nothing of tossing garbage and used condoms into the gutters, where urban kids chase after rolling pinkies.

And I realize that the act of "saving the cities" must begin at home -- with ourselves, with neighbors like Fannie who diligently refuse to give up and who, having pride in their neighborhoods, are likely to have pride also in the neighborhoods of others.

Rosalia M. Scalia works for Loyola College and writes children's literature.

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