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how to live within history – not on top of it

This is one of the most delightful things I've read in a newspaper since long before the current war began, and it's almost enough to distract me for a few minutes from Kurt Vonnegut's death, the rising toll of wounded and killed overseas and the idiocracy we seem to have saddled ourselves with in Washington.

For today's Los Angeles Times, William Deverell, a history professor at USC, has written a quiet and beautifully moving paean to his home, his neighborhood and how he has learned to "live amid history:"

Houses and neighborhoods seduce us. They always have. What starts with limitations — cost and location — often blossoms into habits of living and cherished memories. Our love affair began in Pasadena eight years ago.

It was the fall of 1999. We knew we wanted to be close to Caltech, where I was teaching at the time, and near the Huntington Library, where my wife, Jenny, works. So we drew an imaginary rectangle on a map of Pasadena, hoping that somewhere inside this space we would find our perfect home and our perfect neighborhood.

When we first saw it, the house hid behind 20 years of benign neglect. It was a Mission Revival with old wooden awnings sagging atop wrought iron braces. In the yard, worn-out grass fought a losing battle with brown spots and weeds. Here and there, a few succulents hung on.

Built in 1923, the house was tired. The bathrooms needed work — a lot of work. Every window had heavy iron bars on it. An apartment attached to the garage was decrepit, and a freestanding building out back, with an incinerator plunked down in a corner, was a mess.

The owner had been in the leather business in downtown Los Angeles. He had retired years earlier and brought his inventory home with him. Bolts of leather stood stacked in rooms and corners of the house: raw leather, finished leather and leather in some stage in-between. A couple of rooms were off-limits because we couldn't open the doors; leather was in the way.

Our real estate agent apologized to us on the sidewalk as we left.

"I really like it," Jenny whispered to me.