Wednesday, September 14, 2005


italian village

Here, the Manzo signs are still up. It's as if 2005 never happened. No brick rowhouses here, just irregular three and four story tenements with pastel aluminum siding. Vacant lots don't look like anybody's home, or anyone's property investment, either: they're just vacant. There's a Columbus Club on the corner of First and Brunswick, and a frightening bar called Indio's halfway down the block. It's late afternoon, and the sun is setting behind the Turnpike extension. I am reminded of the declasse section of Weehawken at the foot of the palisade, known to locals as the Shades.

We're still Downtown. But Colgate and First feels further from the Waterfront than Union City ever did. I'm here to look at the top floor of a five story building. It is white, featureless, and rectangular, and it juts, boxily, out onto the sidewalk. This house wears an ugly outfit, but its pals look no better. Nobody cares about looks on this strip. I imagine it's the same inside Indio's.

This isn't a part of town that many renters consider. We are at least seven long blocks west of the Grove Street PATH, and only a few hundred yards east of the highway. Numbered streets to the south of Newark Avenue do not count as Harsimus, and Van Vorst Park doesn't want them, either. The Italian Village is a historic neighborhood; bug them enough and the preservationists will take you on a tour here. I cannot imagine what they'd show. But nobody said that history had to be beautiful.

Over at City Hall, a coalition of activists are stopping the hand of a developer who'd like to raze the Sixth Street Embankment and build luxury housing. They want greenspace. Local businesses have gotten into the act, posting chartreuse "Make My Park" signs in their windows. They look like they were designed by... well, by me. But thanks to Sean Langon, I no longer feel like I've got the ugliest poster in town.

The landlord shows me the available apartment. It's the first one I've visited that is entirely unrenovated. The floor is hardwood, but some of the beams are splitting. In the bathroom, a leaky ceiling has been imperfectly patched. The kitchen is large, but mystifying: there is a water heater in a huge louvre cabinet, separating the stove from the refrigerator and the sink. Cabinets are everywhere, but I think cooking in this apartment would feel like an algebra problem. Out on the staircase, there are holes in the stucco walls.

The current occupant has been enlisted to pitch the flat. He testifies to the attentiveness of the landlord. The landlord testifies to his own attentiveness. I believe them both, but it's beside the point. Back on the sidewalk, the sun has gone down for good, and the humidity is suffocating. There may be traditional Italians behind these amber windows, or they may have all moved to Cedar Grove. I don't see anybody. The street is dark and quiet. A stray dog pads along beside me, panting. A squad car drives by on Brunswick, windows down, chasing the animal into the alley.

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