I’ve been wanting to explore Detroit for ages and finally there were enough reasons and planning to make it happen two weeks ago over Easter.
At the outset it’s hard to prepare for Detroit’s massive abandonment, decay, and poverty, even though I knew to expect it. To fresh eyes, large swaths of the city look, no jokes, like the leavings of a war zone. It’s pervasive, you can’t go more than a block or two before encountering it. Once opulently designed & crafted buildings are now windowless skeletons, sunken and rotting like forgotten jack-o-lanterns, scrappers having come and gone long ago. A particular image that won’t be leaving my head easily is the sight of the former Packard Motor plant. It’s a carcass that goes on for literal blocks. When Christina from printmaking shop Perfect Laughter showed us around her brand-new printmaking studio in the Corktown neighborhood she told us of the rubberneckers on the hunt for “ruin porn” documenting as if Michigan Central Station were the Acropolis or the Coliseum in Rome. And I can certainly understand that pastime, though it’s not my particular style, because the ruins really are a breathtaking sight to see.
Yet it’s undeniable that there are just as many marvelous things happening despite the sad parts of the city. Everyone we met in Detroit is doing something or working for something, their efforts beautifully poignant in the face of the city’s hard edges.
Culture is also on the rise in Detroit too. Chicagoans would not believe the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) rivals our Art Institute, but you’d be wrong there. It’s every bit as good, if not better. MOCAD, the contemporary art museum, is consistently one of the most creative and innovative contemporary spaces out there. Every visit it’s completely remade new and you can expect to be surprised, that’s for sure. This time around we enjoyed an incredible installation by Joshua White & Gary Panter’s Light Show. The best way I can think of to describe it as a modern fun house, a huge echoing space vibrating with psychedelic rhythm and sound. So intense it’s almost repellent at first, but then little surprises and funny things start appearing and then it’s all smiles if you hang out awhile. It’s like a little mini vacation, and a pretty perfect metaphor for how the city is itself.
We stayed at the adorably rustic yet modern inn, Honor & Folly, run by Meghan McEwen of Designtripper. The space was filled with plenty of handmade and thoughtful cozy touches, just as I imagined when I posted about it before. We made good use of the full kitchen and even hosted a meal with our families who hiked in from the suburbs to hangout. Every place comes with a story in Detroit. At the Peacock Room, a little boutique near the DIA, the shop owner told me how she tore down the drywall in her space, only to discover it was hiding a 1920′s ballroom with mirrored walls, marble columns and tin ceilings. Talk about hidden treasure, eh? Or Café D’Mongo’s, a former speakeasy which is a feast of 1920′s nostalgia. It only reopened recently, pretty much intact from it’s original heydays. The charming & feisty older lady running the joint seems like she came back to life with the bar too.
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