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Plan for a new city from New Work New Culture

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Downtown

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Near my house, West Side, vicinity of Grand River and Wyoming Avenues, early morning

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Rasmea Odeh, tried and convicted in Detroit for a fraudelent citizenship application



A wrap up of 3 weeks in Detroit, searching for those seeds. November 4 thru 26, 2014.

Despite the catastrophic conditions in Detroit and the possible impending failure of the bankruptcy agreement, I detected in myself and in others in Detroit a nearly jubilant spirit. Maybe equivalent to gallows’ humor, but tangible nonetheless.

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MGM Grand Casino

A casino and hotel.

Motor City hotel and casino

Of course this feeling of joy and hope depended on where I was. Downtown—no problem, eat chicken shuwarma at Mike’s Kabob Grille, or stroll thru the MGM Grand Casino wondering if I could hit it big. Or Midtown, AKA Cass Corridor—snacking at the Cass Café or Avalon Bakery, pumping up my bike tires at the Hub of Detroit and Back Alley Bikes, or lugging my bike over the new light rail tracks along Woodward. Or the East Side—bicycling the many streets empty of homes, or examining the burned-to-near-annihilation Heidelberg Project, or stepping in open bags of shit while photographing a recently burned and leveled house near the Boggs School. Or my neighborhood in northwest Detroit, near Wyoming and Grand River—some vacant lots, many liquor stores, a rapidly expanding Grand Price supermarket owned by Arabs who probably live in Dearborn. Or further northwest in Brightmoor—said to be a district under renovation but to my eyes nearly as desolate as the emptiest regions of the city. Or Dearborn itself with its mix of Arab-Muslims, Arab-Christians, Christians and many others, and its plethora of bakeries, restaurants, and supermarkets. Each region with a different feel, different history, perhaps different destiny.

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Slow Roll, group bicycle ride

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Back Alley Bikes, Midtown

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Detroit’s East Side

Down the street, Washburn near Wyoming and Grand River Ave, where I stay

One block from my house

Shrine to someone murdered in Brightmoor

Brightmoor, shrine to someone murdered

As I wandered these varied Detroit landscapes and cultures I searched for the seeds of the new Detroit miracle: Detroit Down and Up, where and what are those seeds? Using my two cameras as tools, I made 2,180 images, requiring 31.9 GB of memory. Roughly 100 per day, equivalent during film days to about 3 rolls.

SEEDS

Here are a few:

New work new culture, a movement for meaningful work rather than just a job and a culture based in love and respect rather than competition and obsession with money, in short, the Beloved Community of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The movement organized a conference in October 2014 which drew more than 300 people from across the country; so surprising that they temporarily ran out of food. The movement is based on the thinking of Frithjof Bergman, an Austrian philosopher who taught for many years at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. The James and Grace Lee Center to Foster Community Leadership spawned it. I attended several of its meetings and celebrations and heard directly from an excited conference participant who happens to be the sister of my son-in-law, Phil.

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Frithjof Bergman

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Kim Sherobbi

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Planning meeting for New Work New Culture

Grass roots activism generally which includes urban agriculture (Detroit may be among the leaders); opposition to the bankruptcy settlement which many believe favors the financial and corporate industries; opposition also to large-scale development putting dollars before people; Detroit Summer based on Freedom Summer of 1965 in the south, a project spawned by the Boggs Center which continues to bring young people to the city to build morale and leadership and contribute to the community; and several remarkable schools amidst a generally debilitated school system.

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Recycle Now, established by a grass roots movement, now with city support

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Reverend Ed Pinkney, convicted of petition fraud in a campaign to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, accused of siding with local corporations rather than the citizens

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At a support meeting for Rev. Pinkney

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Detroit Friends School

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Detroit Friends School

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Boggs School

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Boggs School, observation of the neighborhood

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Grace Lee Boggs with students of the school (photo courtesy of the internet)

Big money-driven development such as emanates from the billions of dollars invested by the mogul CEO of Quicken Loans, Dan Gilbert, and the founders of the Little Caesars Pizza chain, Mike and Marian Illitch. The Illitch’s also own the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, Detroit Tigers baseball team, and Motor City Casino. The combined net worth of these Big Three is $8.1 billion. Gilbert has exploited cheap downtown real estate, and the Illitch’s clear land and will build a sports stadium. Also the automobile industry; some feel Detroit may become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest because of high-tech automobiles.

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Light rail project along Woodward Ave in Midtown,
AKA, Cass Corridor

The hipster movement has come to Detroit, largely the downtown and Midtown areas. Consisting mostly of young people, in their 20’s and 30’s, they are also called the “creatives” because of their new ideas. Broadly speaking, Hipsters are young, well-educated, energetic, politically apathetic, bring more resources than most current residents have, and most importantly they transform—gentrify—the character of the neighborhoods they reside in. I’ve heard local Detroiters derisively refer to them as Outliers or New Hipsters. I wonder myself as I pedal thru my Black neighborhood on my fancy folding bike whether I’m suspected to be one of those, at least to be shunned, if not attacked.

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My folding bike

Contrary to my worries, so far I’ve been roundly greeted with waves, smiles, friendly questions, and for a few neighbors near my house, invited in for food and conviviality.

Artists, often part of the hipster movement, thrive here as they do in Brooklyn and some other cities like Chicago and Boston. These folks paint murals, not only downtown and in Midtown, centers of White culture, but in Mexican Town, honoring the indigenous ancestors. With a friend last spring, Colin, we discovered an arts center in an abandoned police station, the artists using the cells for studios and shops.

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Mexican Town (click image for enlargement)

Along the Grand River Corrdor

Grand River Arts Corridor

Urban agriculture spreads; Detroit, one-third vacant, offers much land for this form of development. Dating back to 1893 during a depression, mayor Hazen S Pingree wisely encouraged Detroit citizens to grow vegetables in unused plots—Pingree’s Potato Patches. Unfortunately because I was in Detroit in late autumn, well past the growing and harvesting seasons, I found little agriculture to investigate and photograph.

Urban agriculture near New Center

Put to bed for the winter

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Investors have also discovered Detroit, a preponderance from China. As of June 2014 the China Daily reports that “a total of $1.1 billion from China has been invested in Michigan since 2000, the vast majority of it in the automotive and aviation industries, according to a January 2014 report by the Rhodium Group. From 2000 to 2008, Michigan received $232 million from Chinese investments. By 2010 that total rose to $714 million.”

In addition the China Daily also claimed that “according to the National Association of Realtors, Chinese spent $8.2 billion on US property in 2012, generating approximately $492 million in commissions for US Real Estate Agents that year. Preferred destinations for the Chinese throughout the US include New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and San Diego.”

Renovation along the route

 Along Woodward Ave, Midtown

CONTRADICTIONS, COUNTER INDICATIONS, UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES

As I search for the seeds of the new Detroit miracle I also investigate exceptions to expectations about power dynamics. There are three primary power sources: Big Money with cash to transform reality, Grass Roots with people to transform reality, and Hipsters with ideas to transform reality. Big Money has the resources to eradicate blight; it might also foster wealth and income disparity. Leaders arise from the Grass Roots and may become corrupt, as was allegedly the case of a former Black mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, currently serving a 28-year prison sentence. (He recently lodged an appeal.) Hipsters can tune to their neighborhood, and like many in the congregation of Bill Wylie-Kellerman, pastor of St Peter’s Episcopal church in the gentrifying neighborhood of Corktown, they may open a soup kitchen, host meetings of community activists, and risk arrest for political actions.

Colin Connaire, a police officer in the nearby suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, formerly served with the Detroit police force. On two different trips he toured me to sites in both cities he’s had contact with, telling me stories and inspiring my photography. The police station series we toured and I photographed last spring is one example, and most recently the beginning of a series about private security in an upscale Detroit neighborhood called Palmer Woods is another. We looked at several crimes sites in his own city, as well as that city’s attempt to curtail access from Detroit.

Scene of a crime in Detroit that Colin responded to when on the force

Colin Connaire at the scene of a crime that occured during his days on patrol in Detroit

A SURPRISE: THE TRIAL OF RASMEA ODEH

I experienced an unexpected confluence of my two major photographic themes, Detroit and Palestine-Israel: the trial, conviction, and jailing of Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian activist serving her community in Chicago. I attended most of the trial and rallies outside the federal courthouse, as well as attempting to visit her in the Port Huron county jail, as she waits sentencing in March 2015.

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The jury convicted her for a fraudulent application for citizenship. Judge Drain prohibited her defence attorneys from arguing that alleged Israeli torture and rape elicited a false confession and subsequent imprisonment for her alleged bomber operation in 1969—influencing her current conviction. The trial was in Detroit because this is where she first settled and applied for citizenship. Many feel she has been attacked by the FBI and Homeland Security—the intelligence apparatus generally in this country—because of her support for Palestinian rights and Arab-American women generally. In Chicago she has been in the forefront of encouraging Arab-Muslim women to fight for their rights not only as human beings but as women. This counters two cultures, an Arab-Muslim sexist one, and another denying voice and rights to Arab-Muslims.

Convicted of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, she plans to appeal. Until recently she languished in the Port Huron county jail, in solitude for many days, with health and dental problems, no visitors and no letters. After an international campaign, Judge Drain finally granted release on bail and so, assuming her community can raise the needed $50,000, she can return to her family and community in Chicago until sentencing.

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Rasmea Odeh during her trial

BACKGROUND

The book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue is a seminal analysis of Detroit. Altho published in 1996, I found its history and general insights about Detroit’s problems useful in leading me to sites, people, and ideas I can photograph. In the summer of 2010 I attended the US Social Forum, perfectly located in Detroit. I attended workshops and a tour (led by Rich Feldman who offered an excellent introduction to the city and its history and struggles and has provided invaluable leads), remained in Detroit an extra week, explored the refinery district, learned Marathon was upgrading to process the highly toxic and polluting tar sands oil from Alberta Canada, and immediately visualized the water body I’d grown up near in Chicago, Lake Michigan, flooded with oil from a major pipeline or tanker spill. That same year, heavy crude oil leaked from an Enbridge pipe into the Kalamazoo River in July, and in April the Deepwater Horizons oil rig operated for British Petroleum exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, both desecrating vast swaths of earth. Marathon and tar sands oil helped inspire my Detroit project.

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MY HOME & NEIGHBORHOOD

While in Detroit, thanks to Karen, a very generous and compassionate woman living in Ann Arbor Michigan, I stay in her unoccupied but fully maintained house near Wyoming and Grand River avenues, in a reasonably intact black neighborhood. Living there for nearly of 2 months each year since 2010 I’ve gotten to know some of the neighbors such as Gloria across the street and Johnny next door. For the first 3 days of my recent trip I had no water. Johnny provided facilities, fed me dinner, and we watched a boxing movie together on his enormous flat screen TV. Later at his urging I photographed him in his Civil War Buffalo Soldier uniform. Gloria lets me use her Internet connection, at times feeds me breakfast, and several years ago arranged for me to make portraits of other neighbors. With his gun Johnny claims he will run off neighborhood criminals, and Gloria watches the house when no one lives there.

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School nearby—every other morning I circumambulate its grounds

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Gloria

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Johnny

WHAT’S NEXT, FOR DETROIT AND FOR MY PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT?

I’m convinced a new spirit permeates Detroit, a mix of forces embodying new ideas, energy, cash, and will. Perhaps Detroit will resume its status as the Paris of the Midwest, or become the Bicycle Capital of the United States, or the Urban Agriculture Model for the world.

Or sink into oblivion, harbinger of failed post-industrial American cities. Or forced to bend its knee to massive corporate power as seems to have happened to much of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Detroit Down and Up. Searching for the Seeds of the New Detroit miracle (or Bust). I plan to return next summer during the growing season.

 

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Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus
(Latin: We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes)

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

“Detroit by Air,” Photographs by Alex S. MacLean

“Six grueling demographic indicators of Detroit’s decline (and some pictures)” by Philip N. Cohen (December 2014)

“Detroit Pushes Back With Young Muscles”
An influx of young creative types is turning Detroit into a Midwestern TriBeCa. by Jennifer Conlin (2011)

“Detroit Urban Agriculture Movement Looks to Reclaim Motor City” on Democracy Now (2010)

“Detroit Doesn’t Need Hipsters To Survive, It Needs Black People” by Ashley Woods (2014)

“Detroit Rink City: Ilitches’ grand plan to supersize the entertainment district” by Bill Shea (2014)
A gargantuan 3-year plan: 5 new neighborhoods, a $450 million hockey arena and an accelerated timeline to complete it all

“Judge orders Palestinian American Rasmea Odeh freed on bond” by Ali Abunimah (December 8, 2014)

My blog about attending the trial of Rasmea Odeh

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Along Grand River Ave

Johnny, my next door neighbor

Eastern Market

Felicia in an urban garden, part of Team 313

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.

PHOTOS

We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.

—Grace Lee Boggs

June 22, 2011, Wednesday, Detroit, K’s

Warm, low 70s, partly cloudy, turning to overcast, hazy, still—after an evening and night of heavy rains, with electricity. could rain again today.

This morning on my morning walk 3 dogs greeted me as I strolled south on Washburn toward Grand River. They lumbered toward me, I continued toward them on the sidewalk, I hoped they’d diverge. They didn’t. They challenged me, they snarled at me, they came very close to my legs. I thought they might bite. I tried talking sweetly to them. They didn’t listen. They weren’t like the Palestinian dogs who give ground when approached, despite their vicious appearance. I startled, turned away, watched them, prepared for them to bite.

Would I kick them, flee, or—as I ruminated later—whack them with my camera on a strap, really laying into them to hurt them, drive them off? I gave them the sidewalk, took the street, and they lost interest. Were they trying  to protect some turf? Were they simply mean? Perhaps from a background of abuse? I wish I could ask them. The little shits.

Remarking to Anne about my use of McDonald’s I noted to her that McDonalds’s and other large eatery chains can help remake blighted areas. They have financial backing and experience to open a store in a neighborhood that is not friendly to such enterprises. Like the one I live in with its McDonalds’s. My McDonald’s is thriving, its drive-thru service open 24 hours, the main part from 7 am to 10 pm. There is always a large group eating when I’m there working with the internet (my main reason for attendance), and many are also conversing together across tables. Occasionally a large group sits around one table. Good for business and good for the neighborhood? Yes. Good for the world? Not so sure.

Returning from McDonald’s yesterday I stopped at the Grand Price Foodland store for bananas, orange juice, greens. I noticed the produce person looked Arab. I noticed another worker looked Arab. I noticed the man at the customer service booth looked Arab. The cashier was black, she looked to be the only black employee. Does this signify a change of ownership? Are Arabs the new Koreans, taking over local businesses? Part of urban renewal? If so, how are they received by local people? I should ask my neighbors, Johnny and Gloria.

Biking home yesterday on a hot muggy day, not too long before the rains hit, I came upon a movie being made: Have A Little Faith. Perfect title for Detroit. At the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr and Grand River, using an old dilapidated church as a set, well over 100 people were preparing a scene. The scene might have been about roof repair because a truck with a large crane was parked in front of the church, the roof definitely needed repair, and they were rehearsing with a crane-mounted camera. I was amazed at the amount of equipment, people, and preparation for what might be only a few moments of film time—and the cost.

Trying to find a good position for my camera, honoring the restriction of barriers, I set up, only to be confronted by 2 large black security guys who insisted I move off the sidewalk and down the street. Is this not public property? I asked, pointing to the sidewalk and street. It is but we rented it and have full rights to its use. Which may be correct or not. I’d like to check. Initially I resisted, just stood there after my brief conversation, and then relented after I’d made a few photos and thought maybe I could find a better spot. More security men insisted that I move again. With the same rationale. I managed to make a few photos from a distance, unsure what I was photographing. Was the camera merely recording the condition of the church? Or rehearsing for an actor perhaps to repair? I learned that one of the stars from Matrix is in the film.

I compared this operation with our recent movie-making in Gaza. Gaza very simple: small crew, one camera, one boom mike, no tracks or cranes. No security either which seemed to make up a large portion of this crew. One take, virtually no scenario. Will Have A Little Faith be a better movie because of its elaborate infrastructure and financing? Will Eyewitness Gaza be a better movie despite the lack of infrastructure and its slender budget, or partly because of it?

Yesterday’s 4 hour plus bike ride on a miserably hot and sweaty day brought me several gifts: urban art in the form of Mr. Dabls who paints and applies broken glass to abandoned exteriors—and constructs an outdoor museum which rivals Heidelberg, the better known one in Detroit, and even that of Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. Also Felicia who I met digging thru the soil near Mr. Dabls, planting and weeding a patch about 10 by 10 meters. She told me she is part of Team 313 (after the local area code), serving the people of Detroit, all the people she stressed. She is also widely traveled, living in South Africa for some years and other parts of Africa.

Mr. Dabls accepted my portrait invitation, but smiled as he peered at me while on his ladder. Felicia believes that she is not photogenic so she initially declined my invitation. As I was walking away she said, but an action shot would be OK. I photographed her weeding the onion patch.

Dabls means beads and his Mali ancestors were beaders. He is also and uses them in his constructions.

In photographing the outdoor museum with its many mirrors I noticed myself in one distorted mirror. I wanted to believe that my chubby, varicose-veined legs were a product of the mirror. But I suspect what I saw reflected what others see: chubby, varicose-veined elder legs. Not at all the appealing legs I once had. Years ago biking transformed my legs from sticks into strong and muscled works of art. And now? Deterioration.

Leaving yesterday morning for McDonald’s, Johnny greeted me as he often does, asked where I was headed on my bike. He allowed me a portrait, what I think might be a good start in this neighborhood series. Next, Gloria across the street.

My main goal yesterday was to explore the Detroit Eastern Market, and finally I did, taking once again the wrong path but thereby extending my exploration. Turning left onto Rosa Parks Drive (liking the name) from Grand River Ave, having located MLK Boulevard and might take that east to the market, I thought I was heading east. No, I was traveling north, away from the market. Into a zone of new housing, amidst old abandoned churches.


Belatedly I discovered my mistake, reversed, and finally found the market. What makes navigation tough for me is the Detroit’s skewed layout: often a grid, the streets are usually not oriented north-south and east-west but north is more northwest. The basis is the river, northwest-southeast, not east-west and north-south. In addition some streets like Grand River radiate out from the city center. Grand River is west-northwest, not northwest as I once supposed. Complicating the mess is that some streets are north-south, east-west, like Wyoming St. And then there are the maps. The bus map is absurdly unreadable, the tourist map doesn’t list all the main streets, the AAA map cuts off just when I need it.

The market was not exactly thronged on a Tuesday, that happens only on Saturdays so far. My first stop was an outdoor grocery where I made no photos but bought walnuts and dates. Next a flower shop, outdoors, myriad flowers, and I happened in while a postal worker was choosing her plants. This allowed me to photograph her and the proprietor, a well-tanned fellow (I’m here 24-7, he told me when I remarked about his skin tone.), with curly hair graying slightly and a gray goatee. Noticing the small fridge inside the building I surmised that he might sleep there to protect the plants.

I also surveyed the Gratiot Ave market (pronounced gra-shit) for possibilities, found none, lousy lighting, and I’d have to struggle for good person access. Maybe later. Best on a Saturday, but both my remaining Saturdays might not be good. Next Saturday is the Allied Media Conference, and the following Saturday is the weekend of July 4th. Which might be perfect—or might be a rotten choice. I will check.

My bike is perfect for such perambulations. Around and around the vicinity, stopping and dismounting easily for any possible photo. Much easier than walking surely and even driving. To exit and enter a car many times a day is tiring. Much simpler to jump off the saddle onto the sidewalk. Photo and remount, zoom off.

I used my big SLR camera for the first time on this trip, and the wide-angle lens might have been perfect for the outdoor art photos. For the movie set I missed my telephoto lens.

Where to bike today? River and refinery area maybe too far. It also looks like rain. What might work that is closer?

Dreamt: I had set down my small khaki shoulder bag with many of my valuables as I walked around with a few friends. I was to leave on a long trip the next day. Where had I left the bag? Would I be able to find it? Was it in that wooded spot we just visited?

A young man invited me to speak briefly to a large group of young adults who were making pasta with noodle machines. I was naked except for garden work gloves. The young man noticed and mildly inquired, why naked? I had no answer. I felt deeply troubled by the potential loss of my bag—coming one day before I was to leave. I desperately needed my wallet, notebook, date book, maybe even the camera if it was in the bag. While waiting for the group to take a break to hear me I wandered off to a large lecture hall where I vaguely remembered we’d visited. It held classes about medicine. No bag. What to do?

I woke, thankful that this was dream.

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Detroit Eastern Market

Team 313

Dabls bead museum

“Detroit Arcadia: Exploring the post-American landscape,” by Rebecca Solnit

“Detroit’s Grassroots Economies,” by Jenny Lee and Paul Abowd

Eyewitness Gaza Preview

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Abandoned drive-in movie theater

Reconstruction project


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.

Please Bring Strange Things

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
And the ways you go be the lines of your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
And your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well-loved one,
Walk mindfully, well-loved one,
Walk fearlessly, well-loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
Be always coming home.

—Ursula K. Leguin

PHOTOS

June 14, 2011, Tuesday, Detroit, K’s

Detroit plans, photographic and filmic:

Refinery district with special attention to tar sands oil
Water, rivers, boats, fishing
Riverfront
Auto industry, rise and fall and rise again
Urban gardening and farming
Old train station
Vacancy, novel uses like urban art gallery, go-carts,
Artists
Young adults
Night and low light
Urban landscape
Midwest feeling, home architecture

June 15, 2011, Wednesday, Detroit, K’s

Cool, probably low 50s, perfectly clear, still.

K told me about 2 fairly nearby hardware stores, south on Wyoming Ave, the first about 1 mile, an Ace store a little further. The first, named appropriately Wyoming Hardware, was closed, maybe permanently, couldn’t tell. (The nearby Arab bakery also looked closed and sealed.) The second I learned was closed for good. The men in the check cashing store where I learned this information (maybe Arab, but they didn’t acknowledge my black t-shirt, bought in Gaza, with Naji’s cartoon character and the word Palestine) informed me that the store next to theirs sold Internet cables. That store, staffed by a young white man languidly watching an old basketball game on TV, was filled with junky electronics of all sorts, radios, etc. Yes, I have a cable. $10, he said.

Searching for a store which offered key cutting, the 2 Arab men told me of a third store, near the intersection of Joy and Wyoming. Here I found the same cables for $1 each. I bought 2, 1 for K and 1 for me. Thinking, I’ll try them all, and if they all work, I’ll return the $10 cable claiming it is not suitable. Or maybe simply keep it, contribute to the local economy.

The Detroit point here is first, store closings. Second, linked with the first, lack of strong commerce. Third is good will. I find good will in Detroit everywhere I look, so far.

Contrasting with the lousy store situation is the garbage pickup, another scene in the Detroit story. The garbage crew consisted of 3 sets: first a compactor truck with an arm that lifts containers high, tilts them, and dumps the contents into the truck’s gaping belly. All done by controls in the cab by one operator. Not much future for garbage collectors. Second a standard compactor truck picks up yard waste for composting. I saw the composting facility last year, not far from the river. I watched both operations. We weren’t quite finished with trimming and collecting branches when the second truck rolled up. A man greeted us, large and black, waited patiently as we towed our bags to the truck. And finally, unseen by me, third, the final episode in this routine, another truck collected what was on the ground and not in containers—years of  family memories.

While engaged in all this, observing the interchange of neighbors, I thought, how about a series of portraits of neighbors? Begin with Gloria, then Johnny, the grandson down the street, his grandpa, and others that I might meet thru K and on my own. Before K left for Ann Arbor last night I’d intended to try this idea with her. But she is now in Ann Arbor. We promised to connect by phone once per day, I can ask her then.

Last night before leaving for Ann Arbor she brought me belatedly to a meeting at the Traffic Jam and Snug restaurant (odd name I realize) of the local chapter of a national Jewish organization working for justice and peace in Palestine-Israel. We sat in on the final minutes of an energetic planning and report meeting. BDS with respect to TIAF Cref was one theme, to join with the national call for “flash mob” actions this summer. They also discussed joining a labor rights’ organization. The 2 might join together, each supporting the other. This represents a broadening of perspectives, alliances, and actions, perhaps boding well for the future. And perhaps also part of the groundswell of grass-roots activism occurring world-wide, at least partly inspired by the Arab Spring.

Later I met Jimmy, the famous Jimmy of the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions fame, who, he told me, is originally from Michigan, lived many years in Israel, is Jewish, moved here, and now offers himself to congregations for discussion about the situation. He is also a fellow biker. Big guy, with a black beard and wisp of an accent. I chatted with Barbara also after the meeting, learning that up to this point the FBI has not yet targeted local activists. She looked horrified when I told what had happened to Alice R, that frightening knock on her door. After she learned about my new Female in Palestine photo set she suggested I contact Alice because Alice focuses on women.

June 16, 2011, Thursday, Detroit, Karen’s

Cool, low 60s, overcast with some slight cloud definition, hazy or foggy, still. After an evening and night of light rain.

~~As I write this I observe from my front window a mid age black woman, slightly overweight, bulging butt, wander apparently aimlessly and with very little energy, down the street. Emanating lassitude, she looks dazed, perhaps drugged or drunk. She sat on the curb in front of my house, slowly lifted herself, then walked languorously away down the center of the st. She looks like she’d like to die.~~

Dreamt: with 2 friends we were at MIT hoping to catch the last lecture by a famous economist. Many gathered into a large room to be picked, not all would be able to enter the lecture hall. We sat in front, near the woman choosing. She pointedly overlooked us, even tho we waved our hands for attention. Was this because of our politics, or for more personal reasons? No resolution to this.

Later one of my friends opened a door to a huge cavernous room, bare of all furniture, echoey. Typical MIT, someone said.

House gone, foundation gone, nothing left but to fill in with dirt—yet another vacant lot

Yesterday was the bike ride, my first long ride I’ve taken on this journey to Detroit. A triangle: south on Wyoming Ave to Michigan Ave, east on Michigan to the old train depot, further east to downtown, then the hypotenuse—northwesterly on Grand River Ave. About 15 miles in 4 hours.

Aiming at the old train depot I also discovered a nearby, mostly abandoned industrial complex. A group of about 6 young folks, all white except for one black woman working by herself digging with a shovel along a driveway, were weeding small garden patches planted by a nearby church. They were part of a summer project with the word rescue in it. Mostly to offer summer camp to local youth who I assume would be black, they were novices or newly hired and given a taste of this sort of life by performing this mission—rescuing the garden from weeds.

The old train depot, officially named the Michigan Central Station—whose history I will have to research—is gargantuan. It consists of the station proper, built of stone, about 2, maybe 3 stories high, with columns, and an office complex rising above the station. Constructed from bricks, the office section soars to maybe 20 stories. Most windows are broken and I learned that the owner, Manuel (Matty) Moroun (who also owns the bridge to Canada), is replacing windows, perhaps with the objective of converting to condos. The backside of the building, presumably where it joined the tracks, was confusing. How did the tracks orient to the station? Some of the configuration might be lost by later changes and some by plants growing in, covering the original design. I managed to explore most segments of the exterior, making use of my bike mobility, and photographed extensively.

A young woman and man, she black or perhaps Asian, with very long black hair, were separately photographing the building. As I stood in front to frame a photo of the crane against the building, 2 young men approached me to ask what I knew about the depot, how to enter. They told me that many of their friends had been inside, one all the way to the roof. I spotted some graffiti. Was window breakage an inside job? I told them the little I knew—maybe condos, replacing windows—and suggested Wikipedia might be a good source of info.

Roosevelt Park joins with the station to create a large open vista. When Winkie and I drove by on Monday we spotted what looked like an archeological crew digging and sifting. A few abandoned buildings dotted the landscape. The postal service has its maintenance headquarters nearby.

Along Michigan Ave I stopped at a Goodwill store and found a bike helmet for $3. Nearby I noticed a series of adult entertainment emporia, one named Crazy House. I photographed it as a fat man conveniently lumbered by.

Reaching downtown, still on Michigan Ave, I stopped in a small shop advertising hats and shoes. Thinking they might carry a version of the skipper’s cap I’m wearing and wearing out, from China, perhaps a gift from Katy, I asked. No, nothing like that, nothing from China. I was wearing my orange biking vest, carried my helmet, had a clip around one pant leg and this must have tipped the proprietor—a black man with a Caribbean accent—to at least deduce my mode of travel if not also an aspect of my basic nature. He asked, how far are you riding? About 20 miles (later, examining the map, I scaled down my claim.) Where? I told him. He then said, I ride 30 miles every other day. Inner Detroit is best for biking, drivers respect you. Out as far as 8 Mile Road. Then they get aggressive.

How about Dearborn? I asked. Aggressive. For a long ride I’d suggest Ann Arbor, took me 5 hours round trip, to visit my son at the university. And he then outlined the route. I’m tempted, but doubtful.

When I arrived home about 5:30 pm my next door neighbor, Johnny, an ebullient soul with a long grey hair tail, asked, how far did you ride?  I told him and then added, I’d much prefer riding your horse. He seemed impressed with my mileage. He and his brother own a horse. My doc asked me not to ride this year and I’m honoring that, he stated. He didn’t explain.

McDonald’s is proving more than adequate for my Internet work (I lack it at home). It is jolly, many people meet there. I might explore photographing the patrons. Several times yesterday—the haberdasher and Johnny—I thought about the portrait series I’m contemplating. Long in gestation, maybe this is good. Or maybe I’m just shy.

June 17, 2011, Friday, Detroit, K’s

Cool, low 60s, dry, clear, still, full moon.

After a confusing planning session with my host, K, what transpired finally was a moderately long late afternoon bike ride to Dearborn and the Arab American museum, plus a stop at the New Yazmeen bakery (for a tawook sandwich and date cookies) that I’d discovered last year. The morning had been foggy and dark. As I left the house for the ride, rain fell. I retreated, donned rain gear, and headed out.

The museum is very well done, large, clearly presented. Displays show how Arabs came to America, from where, during when, how they live now, and what they’ve contributed. There is a large central indoor courtyard with displays on the periphery. Other rooms host conferences and workshops. I could imagine making a photo presentation here some day. Only a few other people were in the museum while I was there. I suspect it is not high on tourists’ lists of favored sites to see while in Detroit but it represents one of the most important developments in the city’s history.

Detroit has one of the highest concentrations in the country of Arabs. Initially drawn here by manufacturing jobs (I believe), they established a presence which drew others. With the collapse of the auto industry (and its possible rebirth) I might ask what Arabs do now for money. How linked are they to the failing economy in the nation and especially the hard hit state of Michigan?

On the way, I stopped at a Lebanese-owned bike shop in Dearborn to raise my bike seat. Equivocating, the owner finally charged me nothing, saying, if you have lots of money the charge is $2.50, if not it’s free, next time. I’d flung around a few Arabic words, shukron and marhaba, ending with masalama. This might have prompted the warm reception.

Biking off I also wondered why I’d not asked to make their portraits. Did I miss a rare opportunity? Or was something not quite right—the light, the scene, the people, the timing?

I continue to ponder the idea of a portrait series, maybe beginning with the neighborhood and spreading out. I’m not quite ready to begin. Another idea occurred to me yesterday while reading the weekly Metrotimes (which I found at the museum, nowhere else): the Eastern Market. In an interview with the director about his plans, I thought, this might be an interesting lever for showing Detroit. The market is vibrant on Saturdays, but mainly wholesale and a few tourists during the week. The director, Dan Carmody, is eager to expand operations—thru renovation of buildings, better promotion, and an improved regional food network generally. All very far-reaching and connected to urban gardening and farming. I plan to visit the market on the first possible Saturday (if not earlier), which might be 1 week off.

My photo ideas are sometimes very slow to develop. Meanwhile what do I photograph without a guiding idea?

McDonald’s heats up late morning. Yesterday, above the din of the music system, suddenly more music, submerging the existing, poured forth at increased volume. Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and others. I eventually learned someone was setting up audio equipment for some sort of event, maybe connected with gospel singing. I might have stayed around to explore and possibly photograph but again I didn’t. Why not? Not quite ready. By late morning, around 11, many had left. Is this the pattern? Early morning confab, split before lunch?

TO BE CONTINUED

Shrine to murder victim, 1/2 mile from where I’m staying

LINKS

Michigan Central Train Station

Michigan Central Station: Reframing the narrative of Detroit’s grand past

Arab American Museum, Dearborn Michigan

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