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Summer Nights: Baltimore's 'Little Italy'

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We've been honoring the season with our series Summer Nights, stories about places that come to life as the sun goes down. Today, to Baltimore. On Friday nights in the summer, people flock to Baltimore's Little Italy, not just for the restaurants or the street lights, but for an annual tradition, watching movies - Italian-related, of course - outside on the big screen.

Mary Rose Madden of member station WYPR has this audio postcard.

MARY ROSE MADDEN, BYLINE: The smells of garlic, butter, olive oil and rosemary waft through the air. It's so hot, your gelato melts faster than you can eat it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: It's five o'clock and the church bells of St. Leo's are ringing. Parishioners are wheeling carts of chairs into an empty parking lot and setting them up. The transformation into Little Piazza has begun. Soon, this lot and these streets will be filled with hundreds of people, black, Italian, Latino, young and old, all in anticipation of tonight's film.

BETSY EISBAR: We brought our own wine, some water and seltzer for later. We've got ziti and eggplant and lasagna.

MADDEN: Betsy Eisbar(ph) is one of many who are sipping wine in the street, soaking in the Italian ambiance.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let me know if there is anything that you'd like to eat. I mean, don't forget you have free popcorn right here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: For 15 years, Baltimore's Little Italy has brought this free open air film festival to summer nights in the city, but tonight, for the first time, they're showing the iconic Italian-American classic, "The Godfather."

CHRISTOPHER DAVIS: I like the sleeps with the fishes line.

MADDEN: Christopher Davis and his friend grab some sweets from the bakery and a bottle of white wine.

DAVIS: After a hard day of work, this is nice to come out and listen to good music and just to ease off the week, so - yeah - I'm going to have a good time.

BUZZ GREEN: My mother grew up in Little Italy. Her name was Delpiso(ph).

MADDEN: Buzz Green(ph) , 78 years old, says he can't resist these movies.

GREEN: I've seen it a dozen times or more. Yeah. But I always like it, though.

MARIAN CRICKEO: I don't know that there is an Italian alive that hasn't seen "The Godfather." It's a classic.

MADDEN: Marian Crickeo(ph) owns the restaurant, Da Mimmo, and lives next door. She started the film festival and says the idea came during a trip to the old country.

CRICKEO: That summer, I went with my husband to his hometown, Palermo, Sicily and, after dinner one night, we went down to the piazza and we saw all these people sitting and looking up at a wall.

MADDEN: She came back to Baltimore's Little Italy inspired and soon turned Da Mimmo's parking lot into the piazza of her dreams. Tonight, folks from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, even, gather in her neighborhood to catch a summer breeze as a classic Italian-American movie plays under the stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GODFATHER")

MADDEN: As the sun sets, the movie begins and the crowd is still and quiet. No one recites the lines along with the movie, maybe out of respect for the godfather. For NPR News, I'm Mary Rose Madden in Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.