Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Balthasar's Bounty

I drove by THE HOUSE the other day--nothing doing! I wonder if they got a whiff of...



“With the genuine essence of a real palace
in every square foot.” – With apologies to
Leopold, Duke of Albany (Kate and Leopold).

Up until several months ago, I thought my North Gables neighborhood had made a pact with itself to remain just so: several blocks of relatively small, primarily Mission-style cottages dating from The City Beautiful’s origins in the twenties, interspersed with some Art Deco-inspired edifices from the thirties and forties, and the occasional fifties ranch. A Mediterranean oasis in the midst of a glass-and-concrete desert, shirking its swampland roots. However, little did I suspect I was dwelling in the backyard of such baronial splendor.
In his Alabama drawl, my across-the-street neighbor was the first to bring this phenomenon to my attention. Commenting on how almost any new construction in the area is bursting the seams of otherwise proportional lots, we agreed that setting Krome Avenue as Dade County’s boundary is definitely not working to our advantage. Just like our oppressive summertime heat, palaces need space in which to expand. Preferably, marshland… especially if they come equipped with a Bentley.
A Bentley? Indeed? Not forgetting our conversation, I eventually wandered onto the next street over. The house on the corner was splendid enough, what with its ornate grillwork. However, as it was not the house directly behind my neighbor’s, I kept going. And then I beheld it: a mini-sultanate. Your Royal Highness of Oman – or Brunei – move over, please.

A multi-tiered, multi-arched, Corinthian-columned confection stood in front of me. Two layers of these columns flank an impressive wooden door. Furthermore, decorative sconces in the shape of fauns holding lanterns aloft grace both of its sides. Ornate pillars, urns, and flowerpots scattered about double as concrete bodyguards. Etched-glass windowpanes afford insiders an outside view (but not necessarily the other way around). Ali Baba – or Al Capone – could not possibly feel more at home.
More columnar facades – and a frieze – on the second story serve as the pedestal for a turret with stained-glass windows. Up on the roof, Spanish tiles valiantly attempt to hold their own against miniature flying buttresses. And a mini-campanile – something we peons also possess atop our Old Spanish bungalows – struggles to fit in. I deserve to have a real carillon, it almost plaintively cries out.
A curlicued fence, periodically interrupted by more of the same ornate pillars, ends in a (relatively) tiny grillwork gate flanked by – again – those pillars. An even more ornate plaque that depicts a nymph (or goddess) playing with a cherub – Venus with Cupid, perhaps? – graces the pillar on the left. On the right-hand pillar, guardian angels protectively embrace this palace’s street number. As if any mere mortal would dare lay claim to this celestial (triple) lot.
The Victor Emmanuel Monument in Rome has met its match, I thought to myself. However, where was the Bentley?
Several weeks later, I could not resist another peek. This time, a silver Bentley was proudly parked right in front of that Moorish dream (or nightmare?) of an entryway.
Aha, I have the right house, after all!
But that wasn’t all. Christmas was right around the corner. Larger-than-life calls for… what? To my astonishment (or lack thereof), an exceedingly large Victorian Santa in his sleigh – with presents stacked floor to ceiling, of course – and a SECOND Santa, standing several feet away (with yet more presents), now dominated the left side of the driveway. The more luxurious sleigh retained its squatter’s rights in front of the entryway. And, on the right side of the driveway, a complete Nativity scene – with just the right number of donkeys, camels, and sheep – had taken over the pavement.
Driving by this spectacle at night, it was – as I could have guessed – all lit up. Lights everywhere: on the Santas, on the animals, on the Holy Family, on the Three Wise Men. All over the front of the house, including all the palm trees. I could not resist returning every few days (and/or nights). On the Feast of the Epiphany, I believe I beheld the owner gazing upon her treasures. The next day, I drove by again, only to find the entourage gone. The palace – and the Bentley – once again reigns supreme… presumably, until next December.
Wouldn’t Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar feel more at home on the other side of Krome Avenue? Their animals would, that’s for sure. But I guess the Bentley wouldn’t.

Copyright, 2004 by Georgina Marrero 730 words All Rights Reserved

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