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Another Portland Blog

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Little Italy in Portland?

I've been living in the dark these past few months. I cancelled my subscription to the Oregonian, thinking I could instead navigate its free, labyrinthine website for its coverage instead of shelling out $14 a month for a print edition. Of course, I haven't clicked over there in weeks and finding a copy of Willamette Week, the Mercury or the Tribune in SW Portland is like trying to bump into a Bush supporter on Hawthorne. I hate reading newspapers on the internet (no photos or movie listings).

Long story short, I have no idea what's going on around this bustling backwater burg anymore. Take, for example, the presumably ongoing controversy surrounding Saturday Market. Last time I heard, the market was about to be kicked out of its current location surrounding Skidmore Fountain to pave the way for a bland extension of the Pearl District (which I predict will eventually engulf all of downtown and the entirety of Portland by 2040). Now comes word via this website that the area may be converted into a cultural district.

Including myself, I suspect that there's a lot of people in Portland that want Saturday Market to stay put, even if they only go down there once a year to buy incense or a vase for their mother's birthday. But a Little Italy? In Portland? With cobblestone streets, putt-putting Vespas, sidewalk bistros, wannabe mafiosos lounging in said sidewalk bistros and Drea de Matteo clones strutting around? Hot damn!

Now a Little Italy, done-up Portland style, is probably going to be a lot closer to a white-washed Bridgeport Plaza than the real-deal one in NYC or the fantasy-combination of The Godfather, SE's old Monte Carlo restaurant and the million other Italian cliches I have pictured in my head. Have a look at the proponents' conceptual drawing. Pretty neat, in a Marie Antoinette's Versailles country village or New Orleans Square in Disneyland sort of way. Here's part of the description from their website:

Surrounding your every step in Old Historic Portland, you will experience the sights, sounds and smells of Italian cuisine and culture. The romance with Italian life begins when you walk through the entrance of grand Roman columns and cobblestone streets. Roman like structures enhanced by the ancient looking arches will lead you to the center courtyard with an old world fountain in the heart of the Piazza.

Wake up in the morning with the warm smells of a welcoming Pasticceria with homemade Italian pastries and hot espresso.

Delicatessens and restaurants for lunch are there to offer you a full world of choices. Brick oven pizza... a hearty glass of Chianti... fresh pasta..

Still, my cynical, little brain predicts that the proposed district would probably consist of little more than a Pottery Barn, a few scattered art galleries and another Pastini Pastaria.

But since the closest I'll ever get to Italy is the fake version in EPCOT, I'll pull a Portland's Future Awesome here and say "bring it on." Let's have a Little Italy in Stumptown. If Saturday Market has got to go, a cheesy cultural district is preferable to another few blocks of the Pearl District. Ideally, the PDC, City Council or whoever gets to make the ultimate call would leave Saturday Market in place and stick Little Italy somewhere in the Pearl. Since that's never going to happen though, the choice here is obvious: plant some Vespas and possibly a fake Leaning Tower down there and let them bloom.

Given the inevitable, it would great if Saturday Market received a permanent spot somewhere down there in an indoor structure out of the elements. I'd like to see something along the lines of Seattle's Pike Street Public Market, complete with a comic book shop and a brass statue of a farm animal. Since Pastini Pastaria has the potential to turn into a global franchise, it could even plop a location out front ala the original Starbucks in the Emerald City.

As Tom Petty might put it, "the future [is] wide open and I'm freeeeeeeeee!, Freeeeee fallin'!"

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