Riverfront, Renaissance Center, world headquarters of General Motors
In photography, creation is a quick business — an instant, a gush, a response — putting the camera up to the eye’s line of fire, snatching with that economical little box whatever it was that surprised you, catching it in midair, without tricks, without letting it get away. You make a painting at the same time that you take a photo.
Excerpts from my journal while on the road for 3 weeks to the hinterland of the USA during summer 2011, with photos to show and photos to make.
June 28, 2011, Tuesday, Detroit, Karen’s house
Mild, lower 70s, partly cloudy with alto cumulus, breezy. After last evening’s strong easterly wind.
Learning yesterday morning [June 27, 2011] about the fireworks along the river last night, how late before they began, I changed plans. I’d intended to bike the riverfront anyway, now was the moment. Hastily I emailed K to invite her to join me, maybe an early evening dinner at the Cass Café. She declined—other things to do. Just as well. I biked in around 3 pm against a very strong head wind from the east. Then, as expected (I’d also mentioned my plan to G when I bumped into her as I set off. This gave me the opportunity to invite myself over this morning to try the internet and to photograph her, the latter request already broached by K in a previous phone conversation with G). I hit the even stronger head wind of a crowd. Couldn’t bike immediately in front of (or is it behind) the Renaissance Center so I scooted further north where I could enter. Barely because of the throng.
Biking nearly to the north end of the riverfront park, admiring the landscaping and view, the public access, I explored various clusters of mostly black families setting up for picnic, chat, play, and eventual fireworks viewing—hours later. It was now around 5 pm, fireworks at 10:08. What a torture: to have to wait that long. Unless with one’s most beloved family, or most beloved lover. Not for me. After sighting a silhouetted line of people on top of a hill, city in the background, I biked toward the city center, thinking I’d skirt past the police line and make it to the park’s other end, south. No luck—too crowded.
So, giving up my plan of a full circuit of the park and watching the fireworks, I stopped to simply view people filing past me. A colorful parade of black people, the large majority young, often traveling in clumps, males only, females only, as if on the promenade to see and be seen. And to find one’s mate for life. To express this momentous event, pre July 4th, 2011, I put my Canon video mode camera on the ground, aimed it at a small family sitting on the opposite bench (both parents obese, a young man who I presumed to be the son sitting between them, seemingly with an affliction, maybe mental), turned it on, let it roll. I don’t believe anyone noticed. So, emboldened, I tried again, tilting the camera up slightly to show more faces. And then, fully practiced in this art of subterfuge, I strung the camera around my neck, aimed, and turned on, viewing in video mode one side and then the other of the passing parade.
I thank the muses for any success here. I’d not intended to be where I was nor do what I did. It surprised me as much as it might surprise an audience.
I then biked home, now with a strong tail wind—the wind blew me home. Many people waited at bus stops for that bus that so infrequently comes. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to experience such privilege: my bike. To shower, eat the delicious bean casserole I’d made all day (pinto with onions, garlic, dill, carrots on slow simmer to release the odors and scent the house), read, bed myself early, greatly fatigued.
G is amenable to photography. I’d discussed this with K, the idea of a neighborhood portrait series, first J, then G, then take leads from them. K called yesterday while I was home. A long chat. She seems to love these. They cost me 10 cents per minute, quite expensive when the minutes go into half hours. We discussed domestic matters, the house in particular, M and his perhaps demand to pick up the bike before I leave (She claims he’s insane.), and then the Allied Media Conference (AMC) which she was very interested in hearing about. Also about LH, whom she met last Sunday during the 75th anniversary of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting. K agreed with me that LH is wacky, talks too often and too much, with so little to say, a very needy and pained soul.
A few catch up items from earlier days:
I noticed at the AMC what might be an excessive absorption in social network news. Not only news on the grand scale, like an earthquake killing thousands, but more likely on a small scale, someone going for a walk, making a drink—the tweets and twits of life. (I am myself guilty of this, receiving and transmitting what might be trivia to many.)
On tour with the US Social Forum, 2010
There exists a plethora of communication channels: twitter mania, how valuable is this new media and what are its consequences? To be so connected thru social media and at the same time to be so disconnected. If lack of call back and follow thru are indications, the social media do not help bridge the gap between intent and fact. Between X’s declaration to me that “I hope we stay in touch forever” and her utter silence. Yes, we are connected via Linked In; yes, I have her old Cambridge phone number in my mobile directory and theoretically, if she still uses that number, can phone her at any moment from most any point with coverage; yes, I know her email address; yes, I have her address in Canada and found her house on Google Earth; and yes, she is on my Levant list. But where and what she is remain complete mysteries.
Grace Lee Boggs
I believe it was Grace Lee Boggs who observed that there is now a greater gap between generations than previously, maybe than ever in USA society. We laud the youngers and ship out elders. Is this gap changing? If the AMC was any indication, matters are changing for the better. I feel it. They’d organized a special van for elders to tour the city. The last event featured 2 special elders, Grace Lee Boggs and Vincent Harding. I felt more appreciated than the year before.
One of the AMC tour guides told us about the importance of babies’ shoes in black families. When her family migrated north, one of their first purchases was baby shoes. Why baby shoes? the guide asked rhetorically. Because poor black folks vowed, once they lived in the north, they’d afford shoes for their babies. No longer would such young children have to walk around shoeless. Does this motivate the strong attention black youth now place on footwear? Case in point: sneakers and sandals. I make a study of this in my riverfront video.
Dreamt: I rode with Gary Snyder to his ranch or home in upstate Michigan, in the winter, in his small rickety truck, with several others, including a young girl. Gary smoked, or at least left a burnt out cigarette dangling from his lips. We stopped and climbed over slippery rocks. Either rain fell or had just fallen. The young girl climbing in front of me stopped, unable to step over a rock ledge that a slightly older girl had transcended, that adults would have the leg reach to easily surmount. I helped her, first asking if she were scared (yes). At some point in this story I viewed a map of Michigan to learn exactly where Gary’s house was. While in the truck I was tempted to tell him how much I appreciated his poetry. That I remembered his appearance in Boston at the Arlington St church with Paul Winter’s consort, many decades ago. I told him that I enjoyed his poems even more than Winter’s music that night. But either I was too shy to say this or we didn’t have the opening.
Where are my dreams of phantom lovers? Why no such dreams recently? I am missing much. Why, if dreams represent desires, have the dreams avoided me? No more such desires? Would be a great relief, however much I might miss them. Concerning love, this is a dry season—in dreams, in real life.
June 29, 2011, Wednesday, Detroit, Karen’s house
Chilly, upper 50s, clear, slight breeze, after a very windy day and evening, wind from the west.
Not only have I found nearby Internet access at G’s across the street, but I get to know her better. Among other details: her husband, a cop, died 13 years ago while off duty but while performing some sort of cop duty. He loved adventure, risk, effort. He once requested that his son provide him with the gear from the Navy required to build a strap-on rocket so he could lift off. (I’m not too sure about this story, did I get it right, was joking intended?) She’s lived in the house since the early 1980s. It once belonged to her mother-in-law. G raised her son and daughter there. Her son is US Navy, reaching Chief, in for more than 20 years. She cares for her grand daughter, J, every day while her daughter is at work.
G, probably in her late 50s, is fairly attractive and slightly overweight. Judging from photos around her home—I complimented her on her home’s elegance, it is very precisely composed—she was once slender and a true beauty. Can I show who she is now, also her history and her destiny, in a photo? I tried, and believe I failed. I’ve not been able to transcend thru her smile, her tendency to laugh and make light of most any situation. Perhaps I will try again.
At K’s urging I might request that Johnny and G set up photo sessions with other neighbors for a portrait series. What might be ideal is a July 4th block party. Then all would assemble and me making portraits would not seem so strange.
Yesterday was not only cool but very windy, from the west, unrelenting. One of the features of this flat land is strong wind. A grind biking against it. So yesterday I skipped long distance biking, except during the evening for a short ride to the other side of Grand River Ave where I’d not yet explored. And then the market, Grand Price. I bumped into a white employee, he seemed friendly, I complimented him on the store and then launched into some questions. To learn: indeed the store is owned by Arabs, but, he pointed out with some emphasis, the family was not Arab American, but Catholic American, from Iraq, Chaldean. They’ve owned the store for 9 years, bought it from someone else of the same background, and have recently upgraded it with new lighting, counters, and stock, and plan to expand the market if granted permission by the city. It was once a car dealership. They have, he claimed, good relations with local residents. His name is Omar and he concluded with a handshake and the words, if there is anything I can do for you please ask.
So I was partially correct in my surmise a few days ago: owner is Arab (despite his qualification). And also I was wrong: they’ve owned it for some years. I was misled by the recent improvements. Whether relations are good between local people and owners is yet to be determined.
Riverfront security 2 days ago for the fireworks event was huge—more cops of all stripes in one narrow strip than I’ve seen in years. State cops, local cops, various private security organizations, all with different uniforms, some armed, some not, all with radios. I felt extraordinarily well protected, equally well circumscribed—my biking from instance. This clashes with police presence generally in the city: minimal. I rarely see a cop, the highways, streets, neighborhoods, sidewalks.
My neighbor J’s turned off electricity now seems turned on. Not sure why or what happened. K mentioned he has a $3,700 electrical bill. Lights glow at night, including the post lamp which K asked me to observe. More than lanterns light that man’s inner life.
I learned from M that Grand River Ave runs thru the state, a long long distance. This also could become a photo theme.
THIS COMPLETES MY DETROIT SERIES