I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.
Excerpts from my journal while on the road for 3 weeks to the hinterland of the USA, with photos to show and photos to make.
July 1, 2011, Friday, Detroit, K’s house
Warmer, mid 60s, clear, still.
Had I emerged from my momma’s womb prone to depression, I would now be clinically depressed. I would be unable to get out of bed; I would drink or drug myself, or run from one woman to another. I might be hospitalized. None of this is my state: I function, barely. And try again—I try.
Home (thanks to K), near Wyoming St & Grand River Ave
Yesterday was a day off from photography, for the most part, to visit museums. The Detroit Historical Museum, as expected, highlighted automobile manufacturing. I learned that the USA was not the first to produce a car—Germany and France, as one might guess, were antecedent. Placing the engine in front, rather than the rear, took a while to discover. Electricity, cooking oil (the original diesel) and fossil fuel competed with each other to be the driving force. Computer-originated automation came to rule manufacturing, deleting jobs. Several rooms were devoted to this topic, whereas Detroit’s role in abolition—a major terminal on the underground railroad—earned only one small section, part of a stair case.
In contrast, the phenomenal Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History dedicated much space to not only the abolition movement but slavery, Jim Crow, resistance to racism, and forms of integration into contemporary USA society. The museum building itself is grand—a large circular atrium with exhibits radiating off this center. The And Still We Rise: Our Journey through African-American History and Culture exhibit which included slavery and ancillary topics is in a series of rooms that includes a slave ship, main deck and below the deck where frozen black figures moan, cry out, (figuratively) vomit, and generally suffer. All very moving and life-like.
Sojourner Truth, advocate for women’s rights & the abolition of slavery
Frederick Douglass, another advocate for abolition
For most of my African-American museum visit I was the only guest. I’d entered the Still We Rise exhibit with a large group of African Americans but then diverged from them, annoyed by the docent’s voice. I also accidentally stepped in front of one of the participants as she took notes. Excuse me, you’re blocking me! she announced. With a peeved tone she asked me to move out of the way. I thought I might have pluged once again into my stereotypic role as Big White Father.
This is a monumental museum, worthy of another longer visit. Stopping in the shop I found Kente cloth the perfect gift for both K and my grand daughter, Eleanor. Also 2 postcards, one with Frederick Douglass, who is one of my heroes, and the other a description of fascism, which eerily resembles the condition of the United States currently. Later at the Contemporary Art Museum I found a better gift for Eleanor—a thick book entitled Doodle All Year. Space for coloring and drawing on themes that soon she’ll be able to read. Grandpa may be known at times for his frugality and stinginess, but at others—this gift might represent that moment—he can be extraordinarily generous.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit showed Barely There, Part 1, a mystifying collection of oddities: flags from different nations heaped into a loose pyramid, a pen with its cap removed, a series of writings about death and other such topics, a video of goldfish with words tied to their tails, and a video of a man hypnotized to believe he was viewing an art exhibit. I found the last most interesting, and thought LM with his new path toward hypnotherapy might also.
Biking back (propelled by a tail wind) I stopped at a resale shop to replace the wooden spoon I’d broken when stirring the sticking rice. Crammed with stuff, I remarked, you have enough stuff here to outfit a mansion. The skinny black woman running the shop seemed listless. The place was dark. Several people sat around. Everything felt dour and dank. I cheerily paid my dollar and left.
Whizzers—small motorcycles from Japan—haunt me. They whiz, they whine, they speed. A few days ago on the expressway I saw 3 in a row hurdle past all the cars, going at least 80 mph. They are obnoxious, dangerous, and pervasive.
A staple of the Midwest, alleys, once used by garbage trucks for pickup and to access private garages, are disappearing [or becoming green alleys—see below]. As a youth growing up in Chicago I remember alleys. They were the secret passageways to other regions of the neighborhood. We could spy from them into the backs of homes, enter back yards, pick from cherry trees, spy on girls shedding their clothes as they prepared for bed, hide in garages. And now, perhaps because of new techniques of trash collection and the vanishing of garages, alleys are not needed. Weeds grow over them, obscure them. Yesterday I noticed a fence extended into what may have been an old alley to add to the home’s space.
Had I stayed with my earlier plan of returning home on June 30, today I’d be on the train somewhere in New York state or Ohio, due to arrive in Boston tonight around 9 pm. Because of cheaper Amtrak prices on holidays when fewer wish to travel, I’ve extended. Is today my last day in Detroit? Will K show up for our meeting with Barbara about the Swords into Plowshares exhibit? Will I go to Ann Arbor with her for my remaining days on the road, leave from Ann Arbor Monday evening, arrive home on Tuesday, just in time to begin my teaching? All is uncertain.
Detroit Eastern Market
As of yesterday morning when I worked at Gloria’s home she had not yet contacted neighbors about portraits. I was tempted to ask Johnny to do the same, but thought perhaps asking both to coordinate portraiture might create conflict. Right or wrong call? No word yet from Bill Wylie-Kellerman about photo leads. I’ll phone him this morning. Today, depending on K’s plans, I might bike to Corktown and Mexican Town, maybe meet Bill, survey the area. Search for photos.
TO BE CONTINUED
“Taking Back Alleys” by Ashley C. Woods