Trouble in Paradiso

Paradiso Lost, sign 2Caffé Paradiso in Harvard Square has closed up shop. I’m crushed. It’s a double-whammie. I just lost another coffee shop of personal significance last August (the Someday Café in Davis Square). And earlier this year, another independent Harvard Square institution, the Greenhouse restaurant (which Terri and I lovingly called The Greasehouse, though we didn’t go much for that reason) closed up shop abruptly after the death of the owner.

The Hanover Street location is apparently still open in the North End.

Here’s the sign that Summervillain and I found when we were trying to go there this evening before we were heading over to the Brattle:

To our friends, dedicated customers, and long-time patrons.

We have come to terms with this location and thus moving on. As we take on new horizons we thank you for all those memorable years.

I, Oscar De Stefano, will be taking on a less complicated life.

Some of the staff will be in the North End Caffé Paradiso @ 255 Hanover Street

Respectfully,
Oscar De Stefano

I feel like another little piece of my past got ripped out of me. Almost twelve years ago, I went there for the first time; I had flown in from Indiana, where I was going to college, to spend Thanksgiving with my family, who were all congregating in Boston. My brother and sister were in their first year with the Boston Ballet (I can’t remember if my then-soon-to-be-sister-in-law had moved up to Boston yet or not), and my parents and other sisters were coming up from Pennsylvania. I came up a few days earlier than then, and since the sibs were rehearsing for the Nutcracker, I had some time to myself, and so I went to Harvard Square. It was one of those grey November days where you can tell just from the air that a snow is coming. I kind of fell in love with the weird little brick alleys and haphazardly laid-out streets. I went into the Paradiso to warm up and have a spinach calzone. It started snowing, and I thought for the first time, “I could live here.”

Paradiso was a different breed than the wave of Pacific Northwest style espresso shops that cropped up around the country in the 90′s. It was an Italian style cafe. Over time, I noticed them make concessions to American coffee shop conventions: they began selling cappuccinos in different sizes, they began selling chai, they began selling lattes, they dropped the table service, and so on. But you could still get real-deal gelato, cannolli, San Pelligrino sodas, panini pressed in a little tabletop press.

I’m not dealing with this well at all! I get a clenched feeling in my chest every time I think about how I’ll never be able to go there and spend hours reading or writing in notebooks, half-watching Italian soap operas or soccer games on satellite TV with the staff. Did they even have wi-fi? I have no idea.

What’s going in there? The only thing worse than another chain store in Harvard Square would be if the space goes idle for years, the way that the Other Music space went idle for years (and was finally filled… by an “aromatherapy martini” bar— I can’t make it up) and the way that Wordsworth went out years ago and still hasn’t been replaced by anything.

Anyway, at least the movie that I went to see with Terri and Summervillain was great.

Trouble in ParadiseIt was Trouble in Paradise, the fantastic Ernst Lubitsch comedy from 1932 starring Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis. It’s so perfect; the writing is fantastic, the acting— particularly the timing— is superb, the cinematography is gorgeous, the sets are fantastic. In a lot of ways it is very restrained about sex— you barely see any kissing— but much is suggested. The humor is in no small part fueled by extremely witty double-entendres and there is a very “Contintental” attitude toward sex throughout. It was released just months before the Hays code really kicked in; it would be another thirty-five years before Hollywood got that open about sex again, and it would never again have that elegant, paradoxical, and intoxicating combination of openness and restraint. The sets and clothes are stylish, modern, and somehow more tasteful than some of the over-the-top displays of extravagance in other films shot in the nadir of the depression. You still just want to climb in and live in that world (at least I do). And, at least for me, the perfection of the whole thing is bittersweet, knowing that thanks to (fellow Wabash College alumnus) Will Hays, there would never be another film like this made again.

I guess that is the way of Paradise: it’s always in the past, somewhere that you can’t get back to.

8 thoughts on “Trouble in Paradiso”

  1. Ron, I didn’t even know they had a location in Lowell, to be honest. The sign only mentioned Hanover Street. While “taking on a simpler life” sounds like retiring, the fact that they’re keeping at least one location open, combined with “We have come to terms with this location”, sounds like it might just be scaling back after a ruckus with the landlord. But that’s just an educated guess.

  2. OH NO!!!! I LOVE Cafe Paradiso! It was always one of my stops when I was in Harvard Square. I loved their cookies. And, the Greenhouse is gone??? Where in the world will we get decadent desserts???

  3. Eloquently put — though I wish you hadn’t had to report it. I know it’s unrealistic to expect the places I love to remain unchanged, but I still feel twinges when I remember that Wordsworth is no more.

  4. Agreed. It’s sad how Harvard Square just keeps looking less and less like a place I know. I’m trying to grow with it, and hoping that it can retain some local flavor. (Abercrombie and Fitch did leave–something to cheer about!)

    As for the rest of your post… as we’ve discussed, I’m a nostalgic type, too. Of course, you know this. All I can think is that losing these things reminds us how much we enjoyed them and how we made them a part of who we are. It’s a reminder to drink in moments like the one you described–that first day you were in Cambridge and found yourself at Cafe Paradiso–as they’re happening. I think, maybe, that those kind of moments are a part of what it’s all about (whatever it is…). And they don’t come along all the time.

  5. Thanks for passing along this info. I had gone in to the square this week and was surprised to see it closed, everything papered over (the note was evidently gone by the time I went there).

    (Folks on Livejournal, BoSton community, pointed out your post about this to me, which is why I came to find your blog).

  6. “I, Oscar De Stefano, will be taking on a less complicated life”
    Indeed, sadly, Oscar passed away today. thought you might want to know.

  7. Hi

    I am Oscar’s niece-just wanted to pass along that Oscar passed away on September 19. You can view his obituary at Barile funeral home. We are all very broken up about this, as I imagine you all must be. Thanks.

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