“Cincinnati is no mean city,” one of my Greek professors used to say when he wanted to illustrate the use of litotes. I lived not too far north of Cincinnati for three years and spent a good deal of time in what was and is one of the few cities of the Midwest to survive the depredations of suburban sprawl and urban renewal. Built on seven hills rising up from the Ohio River, Cincinnati inevitably invites comparison with another city—this one, on the Tiber. The hills of Rome have often served to push apart the sections of the city into distinct neighborhoods, and a modern Roman from the artificial hill of Testaccio—a poor neighborhood built over a trash dump of potsherd and debris—will still claim to be the truest of Romans.
Rome on the Ohio has also been a collection of strong-minded neighborhoods. At a cocktail party, I once asked a lady where she was from.
“But I thought you were a native,” I said in some confusion, though I ought to have recalled that Chilton Williamson’s adopted state shares a name with a Cincinnati neighborhood.
Most vast conurbations are, in fact, divided into sections in which some semblance of village localism is maintained within the urban context of Florence or London. Neighborhood rivalries, even when they turn violent, are a healthy expression of man’s devotion to...