Letting it all in

This week, Jonas has placed some really great posts, very sharp and to the point. This is a hard act to follow. Of the course the longer I leave it the more difficult it will become - so here goes.
I am not at all interested in writing about the art world, the music world, or what either of these things has to do with Detroit. As I have said, Jonas is doing a great job, but not one that I am going to assist with.

Instead, I am going to mention some personal reflections on being here. Yesterday, I said to our visiting friends from Chicago that I felt as if Detroit was a syrup in which you needed to allow yourself to be soaked, seeped, for some time in order to be able to make some sense of it. This is about as good a description of my time here as I can think of.
You must let it attack you with its wilful indifference, let people on the street shout at you with their off-key, mixed-up, half-bullshit, half-profound, loud-mouthed statements. Get irritated by everything, everyone, yourself most of all. Get impatient. Eat unhealthy. Get sick and disgusted, get drunk, fall asleep, wake up, make coffee and try again. Be humble. Listen to everything, everyone, feel the reality of others. Make it your own.
It has become even more unbearably hot and humid than it already was. This gives a special quality to the streets during the day, since they have become even more deserted than before. And it creates an extra reason to be outside, alone, hearing the noise of your own shoes on the pavement, with a sound which does not echo but which is immediately absorbed in the thick summer air.
I have had enough of the van. Instead I am cycling as much as possible. This is not a very popular way of travelling here, which makes it all the more worthwhile - and in this heat, the cool breeze against your body as you go is certainly to be preferred to sitting in a vehicle.
On a bike, you become much more aware of the relative silence of the city, of its emptiness, and of its particular smells - cinders, flowers, decay, grilled meat, dust, trees, stale frying fat, cigarette smoke, hot asphalt, burning metal, rubber, gasoline, and disinfectant. Some of these will overlap with any American city, others with any city anywhere, but the particular combination, or better yet composition - for order, relative frequency, distance, and intensity are important - is essentially Detroit. You must feel it repeat, like the wheels of a train over worn rails, a mantra, something which repeats its own name until it has no meaning beyond a sound, and a dull sensation of a thing which has become slowly and stealthily familiar. And then you are in the belly of the beast.
The city drifts by in flashes of Wendy's, CVS, “Checks Cashed”, Comerica, “No standing this side of sign” attached to one of countless bent signposts, all of which are constructed from the same form of perforated steel, with a continuous series of holes from top to bottom at (I suppose) one-inch intervals, giving the streetscape the temporary appearance of something made from a giant grown-up construction kit, as if the real thing will be constructed later based upon this prototype. Here good road, there bad road - watch out all the time. Concrete, of the sort which has been filled with rough aggregate, crumbles as biscuit, as if it was made to do so, as if its aesthetic qualities as ruin were to be given equal consideration to those when new; so designed Albert Speer the Berlin of the thousand-year Reich. With some success.
Passing through downtown on the evening of a ball game, and I am surprised and irritated by the presence of meat-headed white guys, heading purposefully for the Hard Rock CafĂ©. “From the suburbs” is what people here would say of them, rolling their eyes and feeling good about themselves. I guess that's okay.

I have shaved all the hair off my head. Partly to deal with the heat, and partly because I felt the desperate need to do something; I feel as if the city's sticky lethargy is infecting me in some untreatable way. As I did it, I felt like laughing like a maniac.
I'm still slightly shocked by my own appearance in the mirror. I feel a little as if I have unleashed some unpredictable monster, as if bad things may come of this. I can't place this individual on a bike in Amsterdam, passing under the trees in the Vondelpark, buying vegetables at the Ten Katemarkt, on the Noordpont staring at the barges heading for IJmuiden. I seem too vicious for that, too hard, brutalised, suspicious of compromise. I am trying to construct a value system for myself here which can fit with what it is all around me, and yet still be my own. I need to find some new form of English; the one I know is not fit for purpose, full of useless words and lacking in all the right adjectives. Meanwhile it's just sounds. Sounds and heat, sweat in my eyes, silence, frustration and the passage of time. I am working on a response.

No comments:

Post a Comment