Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.
About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.
In several parts, with photos and videos.
The mindful apply themselves; they don’t amuse themselves in any abode. Like swans flying from a lake, they abandon home after home.
—The Dhammapada, verse 91
July 3, 2010, Saturday, Detroit
Another day of much bike riding. This time thru the Arab Dearborn community, making a video as I scouted the store fronts from the Al Ameer restaurant (Al Ameer means prince in Arabic) to the truly wondrous New Yasmeen bakery. There also I videoed, thinking someone might stop me as I scanned the backs of customers waiting patiently for their turn at the deli bar, the bar itself in the background with its display of food. No one did. Even tho I tried this 3 times, thinking 4 times might test my luck. I asked, any magluba?, the delicious Palestinian upside down casserole. No, sorry. But one of the best chicken shuwarmas I’ve had, on a par with those in Ramallah, but smaller, and for $3.19. I ate it later, along with a fruit filled confection, sitting in the shade of a small tree near an abandoned industrial complex on Greenfield Ave.
Heading south, I found myself once again in the refinery district, this time knowing the scene better, videoing along the marathon expansion to process heavy or dirty tar sands oil. Thinking again that someone might interfere, I kept a 3rd eye out for security. Pausing in front of the main entrance, noticing security I think noticing me, I thought, this might be it. They’ll approach, ask, what are you doing? And I’ll say, either what I am doing, that is, fascinated by the industrial landscape, an independent photographer, here’s my card, or I’ll suggest an exchange, you explain to me why you’re asking and what the operation is, and I’ll explain why I’m photographing. However, I never had the opportunity—no one stopped me.
This has been a consistent experience in Detroit: no interruption of my photography.
From the industrial district along Jefferson to as near the Detroit River as I could. Finding a fishing area, meeting Jarvis who’s fished this region for 30 years, finding the fish disappearing, maybe the pollution, maybe the entrance of other species because of the opening of the st Lawrence seaway. And met a white fisher who asked me to ask the drilling crew what they were drilling for. They said, hiding something I’m sure, drilling on contract for a commercial firm, testing the soil and the water table. The fisher felt confident the commercial firm was the one searching for a suitable site for a new bridge.
I’d been curious about what prevents people from boating or swimming across the relatively narrow strait to reach the US or Canada. He said, it is heavily patrolled at night, and during the day someone would be noticed. I remain curious about this question.
Finally a stop in Cobo Conference Center for a much-needed 2nd crap of the day and a nap, this time interrupted by an obese young black man on security. The hall was filled with black women, some wearing wildly flamboyant hats. Excuse me sir, are you part of the conference? No? then you’ll have to leave. We can’t have people sleeping on the floor. One week earlier during the US Social Forum I’d have been allowed to sleep: a different clientele, a different milieu, a different attitude.
The group was Link, a black organization coordinating volunteer work.
Dropping off my bike where I rented it, Wheel House Detroit, I met Karen in front of the Renaissance Center, took in the exhibits at the relatively new Museum of Contemporary Art in the cultural district, dined at Cass Café, sharing our favorite salmon BLT (along with a garlic curry soup and sautéed spinach), and the movie.
Big night of dreaming: X had returned from India and offered to teach kids Indian crafts. Either she invited others and me or I knew about it. As I was about to join the group, seeing her for the first time in a long time, another young man entered as well. I was jealous of him, sensed he was her lover. Now, whether to join the group or not, watch her from a distance or up close?
Related to the movie Karen and I watched last evening, Ajami, in a second dream I was with a group of men shooting at other men in a graveyard. We all took cover behind concrete gravestones, shot at each other. I recall vividly firing at 2 men opposing me who each hid behind stones, they fired at me. I was worried, not panicked by this fighting, and had no idea, nor cared, what we were contesting.
And in a third dream I was with a group of mixed skin color and gender people honoring Howard Zinn. Someone narrating his life mentioned how linked he was with black people. As he or she spoke these words I looked at 2 black women friends, pointing to them or tapped them on the shoulder as if to say, he’s talking about you. One was particularly beautiful and I believe we kissed.
Karen hated Ajami, found it demeaning toward Arabs, even tho a joint production between an Israeli and a Palestinian. I partially shared her opinion but did not find the film troubling—on those grounds. Set in Jaffa, showing a form of gangsterism among the Palestinian population, revenge killing, drug dealing, families acting tribally, Karen thought this was the entirety of Arab experience depicted. The Israelis by contrast were also lethal but with some justification. One man killed an Arab thinking the Arab had murdered his brother.
Despite my reservations I felt the movie was very well acted and photographed, the story line was somewhat convoluted, using flashback to portray different versions of an incident, and the film was clearly bloody without redemption. My gripe would be more this: all suffering, no hope. I took the film more as an indictment against the general or overall Arab Jewish Israeli culture than targeting Arabs.