Monday, June 18, 2007

Like Joe Strummer, I Live By the River

Mr. Brian Fritsch suggested that I write a little bit about where the Queen of Eyes and I are calling home this summer. His idea was compelling -- obviously energizing enough to prod me out of the torpor that kept this space stale for some weeks. Compelling not least of all because the house you see to the left is, to date, the most unique structure in which I have lived.

The address is 338 Tusculum Avenue, the most picturesque street name to have ever received my mail. It sits in a floodplain of the Ohio River, and at the very frontier of two of Cincinnati's neighborhoods, Columbia Tusculum (to which the house belongs) and East End. The former is the longest-settled portion of the city, founded in 1788; the latter is among the most impoverished, filled for generations by Appalachian migrants seeking work for the unskilled. Columbia Tusculum, like many of Cincinnati's neighborhoods, is characterized by steep, almost San Franciscan, hills. Looking north from our house, just across Columbia Parkway, we can view those rises, which must have put those classically-trained settlers of the past in mind of ancient Italy.

The house itself dates back to 1886, a fact that is displayed on a plaque near the front door -- an ornament common among the buildings of Columbia Tusculum. Like many of its neighbors, it is cheerfully colored, although not as brightly nor as elaborately as others. It is among the class of house known and seen throughout the country as a "painted lady," and it, along with the two houses to the north (left), represents Cincinnati in Pomada and Larsen's
America's Painted Ladies: the Ultimate Celebration of Our Victorians (1994). According to that volume (which, incidentally, makes 338 the first house in which I have dwelled to have been in a book!), the house was clad in aluminum siding as late as the 1980s, and, presumably, a victim to economic depression and neglect. Today, however, it is owned by a toy designer, rented by a young Belgian chemical engineer, and partially sublet by two non-profiteers. (Its rent is also half-subsidized by a global firm based in the city, which explains why the two non-profiteers can afford to live there.)