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Crossing the Rhine

By Katie Laur · January 9th, 2008 · Living Out Loud

I've been happier lately -- busy, moving with a new kind of buoyancy. The windows on my new "mid-town" apartment face south, and when the sun comes out it looks light and airy and gives my soul a lift.

This is a walking neighborhood. Just as I'd imagined, I walk out most mornings to the Court Street market and look at splendid piles of fruit and vegetables in striking colors. They're selling fat, ruby pomegranates now, bright red and yellow apples next to acorn squash, walnuts and pecans in the shell, exotic green melons and bright yellow lemons.

If I go south on Vine, I can take a shortcut to the library, and if I go through the library I end up at the YWCA, where I swim every other day.

East on Court Street is Avril's -- or Avril Bleh & Sons as it's called since the Avril brothers, Ferd and Werneth, retired back in the '90s. The butchers look like an advertisement for a turn-of-the-century Manhattan delicatessen, wearing long white aprons and red ball caps.

They'll unfold long ropes of specialty sausages for you or deftly trim a free-range chicken breast, leaving just the right amount of skin on it. They can cut a standing rib roast as artfully as Rodin.

My dog, Sister, loves to trot into Avril's with me, and she's always welcome. As one of the butchers pointed out, "When you can't get a dog to go in a meat store, it doesn't look good."

I have "crossed the Rhine," that former canal that separated the German citizens from the rest of Cincinnati, but I still keep one foot in the old neighborhood.

When I cross Central Parkway now and go north on Vine Street, I find new upscale retail shops like the Green Store, which is really called Park + Vine.

When Dan Korman moved into Over-the-Rhine and started telling people he was going to open a "green" store, one that was environmentally friendly, I thought he might be certifiably insane. But he's prospered, and when I was in there on Christmas Eve the lines at the cash register were so long I grew tired of standing and had to sit down.

Korman, who's a cheerful, good-looking, durable young man, appears to be at that end of Vine Street for the long haul, too. Even the building itself has an air of permanence about it. It's lovely with its dark wood trim and an inset front door that has a bell on it.

The shelves are full of good-smelling products. The lotions and potions feel smooth and soothing. The sheets and towels are 100 percent cotton. Even the shoes are made of recycled materials, like blown rubber tire treads.

Further up Vine, Mica 12/V and Metronation are equally edgy and high-toned. In Mica, I found a leather necklace trimmed with sterling cubes made in Israel; everything in Metronation was appealing. Soon these stores will be neighbors of Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel's new Lavomatic Café.

By the way, Jean-Robert's new location is across the street from the old location of the Banks Café, a long-time blue-collar hangout in Over-the-Rhine. One of my favorite radio-listening friends, Esther Abrams, used to work there.

When I announced on WNKU one evening long ago that I had walked up Sycamore Hill, she called.

"Aw, honey," she said, "I used to walk that hill ever' day with a bag of groceries on one hip and a young-un on the other."

I also still find myself walking to Washington Park so that my dog, Sister, can chase the squirrels. Unfortunately, before Christmas someone unleashed a chicken hawk to control the pigeon and squirrel population.

Sister looked up mournfully at the hawk feasting on the laid-out body of the rodent she so longed to outrun. Talk about a buzz kill!

When I moved from Over-the-Rhine, I left my books with Mike Markiewicz, who's planning to open a vintage book store on Main Street soon. Mike insists I won't feel right until I retrieve them, but for now I haven't been able to get that far up on Main or to revisit Shadeau Breads, one of my favorite bakeries in the world.

Some things just take time -- like growing roots, making new friends, finding the absolute best available to me in my new neighborhood. It's a little like squeezing melons at the green grocer's, yet there is a gravitas to it that doesn't belong to melons.

This is life. It's necessary for me to make a new way for myself in a new community.

I walk down to Café de Paris on Garfield Place now instead of Kaldi's for my morning cup of coffee, and the owner, who is French, always speaks to me in that language, calling me "Madam," which sounds so much more sophisticated than "Lady." He teases a little of my high school French out of me in return. And he does make a good cup of coffee.

"C'est si bon," I say to him with my best smile when he hands me a cappuccino with a nice white froth on the top. "C'est si bon!"

Contact Katie Laur: letters@citybeat.com



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