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 periodic photos and videos.
I who shall never come back
and have never returned
continue my journey
inside the holocaust:
though the blood
through my veins
I shall never arrive
at my selfhood within.
—Pablo Naruda, from Shadow
June 18, 2010, Friday, Detroit, home of KD
Arriving at the Detroit Amtrak station early morning yesterday, 1.5 hrs late on the Lakeshore Limited, Karen met me as planned.
First, impressions of Detroit, largely gained from talking with Karen, driving around with her last night on our way to a small jazz club, and examining briefly the neighborhood she lives in. Well, doesn’t exactly live in: inherited from her parents, buying her siblings out, she now maintains the house with vague hopes of forming a group house.
The city sprawls, laid out as Karen told me, by the automakers to require private cars. When she grew up here—in this same house, owned not only by her parents but by her grandparents, and partially renovated by her grandfather who, with the house, left her his tools—the public transport system worked well. And earlier yet, Detroit was known as the Paris of the West, or something like that. Trees, gardens, boulevards, palatial homes.
In some city parts, perhaps near downtown, or the East Market area, large swaths of land are vacant and overgrown with grasses and weeds. When I had a photo exhibit here in the late 1990s with Billy Ledger about the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage, I remember finding open plots like these. So they date back to an era before the complete demise of the auto industry—or nearly complete. Karen told me Ford is doing well, a privately owned company, making some wise decisions to anticipate the crash.
Music is strong in Detroit, judging from what Karen told me and what we saw last night at the club. Every Thursday is open mike, with a backup band led by her friend Bill Myer on the keyboards, a drummer and a standup base player. All very good. And all the performers who joined them last night, most of them unknown to the band, never having played with them before, were excellent—the vibraphonist, guitarist, bass guitarist, singers, trumpeter, and flutist. A stunning array of talent all for the cover price of $3 plus drinks and food.
Detroit huddles along a river, Canada just on the other side, within swimming distance. Dearborn touches Detroit and houses a large Arab Muslim community. Karen treated me to a lunch at Al Alameer (meaning the prince), chicken shuwarma over a spinach salad, followed by strong Arabic coffee (for me, Mountain Dew for her), and rice pudding. We stopped in the Dearborn library for Internet and when emerging found that our car was trapped. A crew was erecting facilities for Arab Days, a 3-day long celebration of Arab culture, the 15th year. Detroit has a comparable celebration, Arab Detroit.
On the way into the Al Alameer, I noticed a man picking up a newspaper in Arabic, rightly guessed he’d know the meaning of al alameer. He then launched into a heated discussion about Americans being blind toward the conflict in Israel and Palestine, Karen and I nodding in complete agreement. Not so much a discussion but a lecture into which we fought to insert our awareness and activism on the issue.
We had a grand time together at the jazz club, and last night before turning in, we scouted the various possibilities at the 3 conferences that are opening up to us. We share a great deal, not only Israel-Palestine, but Anne R, Quakers, the inner city, art (she paints and draws), walking, nature, fixing her house (I helped her turn on the hot water, change storms to screens, clean out the gutter), etc.
June 17, 2010, Thursday, on the train nearing Toledo Ohio
A rotten night sleeping on the train: crowded, sharing the seat with a young black man who talked with a white woman friend across the aisle till late, a very obese woman tending a whining child, the woman, not the mother, with a loud hacking cough sounding tubercular, and my usual aches and pains from trying to sleep in such a confined space. But one dream that I recall: a young man whom I’d just met asked me to vouch for him so he could apply for an entry permit to this country. I wanted to help, then thought—maybe in consultation with others—that this would not be smart. He might be a terrorist. And I told him that, to his obvious disappointment.
More later when I have a chance, the train is about to land in Toledo.
DONE (FOR NOW)