One of my favorite lines of Bob Dylan is in his “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” from Blood on the Tracks (1975). Never mind the Dylan-style defeatism of outlining a perfect partner, an effortlessly satisfying relationship to which of course the natural response is splitting up. Never mind that. The line I love is: “I’ll look for you in old Honolulu, San Francisco, Ashtabula.”
When I first heard the song, I was living near Ashtabula (which is on Lake Erie, near Cleveland, as everybody knows). So there was that frisson of recognition. But the outrageous coupling (or tripling) of the romantic Honolulu and San Francisco with the Iron Belt obscurity of Ashtabula got me. And just the sound of the name: I love the unpleasantness of “ash” and the soft exoticism of “tabula.” **
Anyway, the novel I’m writing now is set in Cleveland, circa 1910, and if Ashtabula had a heyday, it was circa then. This week I wrote the first draft of Chapter 11 and wrote up quite the little scene in which my main character, Lucia, wanders through Ashtabula on a summer day, drinks lemonade in the shade of a deep Victorian porch before the afternoon goes south. Alas, the scene was too long and too off-theme to stay and had to be cut way back. But it was so lovely to be looking for Lucia in Ashtabula.
** “Ashtabula” is Irquois for “River of Many Fish.” I guess that was awhile ago.