I’m a Detroit girl. Well, not actually Detroit, per se – I just like saying that – but a suburb to the north. Still, Detroit was my sun as far as cities go. I orbited around, obliviously taking care of the business of growing up, with increasing plunges into the city itself as I started high school. Our brother school was a Jesuit high school called University of Detroit – U of D – and surprisingly, there was little effort to keep us Academy of the Sacred Heart girls away from the boys on Seven Mile Road. Not that it would have worked anyway.
Detroit is a fascinating city and in August when I went to visit my family with the kids, I got to bushwhack a little and experience it as a curious grown-up as opposed to a silly, clueless girl. Normally when I go home I sort of regress to my adolescent state – overcome by inertia, I feel like coccooning at my parents’ house, grazing my way through the pantry, watching tv and twirling my hair – maybe letting out a long dramatic sigh every once in a while.
I’m only partially joking. The truth is that now that the kids are older, I was able to see our visit home through a different lens. Detroit, in parts hopeless and beautiful, is no longer just a place to be ignored, the backdrop for youthful (and dangerous) shenanigans – it’s a place to explore. Just like any other city we would visit. And in this city, we’ve got contacts.
My siblings live in town and as young adults figured out the city – the hidden gems, the rhythms, the fingerprints. My fairy godmother, Gretchen, is a veritable historian. Curious, intrepid and knowledgable – if there’s an interesting nook or a cranny with a story, she has found it, explored it and can tell you all about it. Sweet Juniper, a blog that’s been in my blogroll from the beginning, has been a lyrical yet honest peek into what it’s like to raise kids in the city; he describes a burgeoning arts and food scene, feral homes being engulfed by nature, mom and pop businesses thriving because of corporate America’s aversion to a high risk markets, empty lots being turned into bountiful and nutritious gardens.
She may be a broken down beauty, but she’s got plans.
So this time, in addition to long wine-soaked meals with my family, boat rides and swims in Pine Lake, celebrating two birthdays and squeezing my delicious niece, Manzanita, we did a little exploring. My top three highlights:
Eastern Market: The mac daddy, grand poobah, god father of all farmers markets, this is the oldest market in the country. It’s colorful and urban and cool - I liked it so much I went twice. Also Supino’s. Best pizza ever. Worth the wait.
The Heidleberg Project. Detroit was literally burning and out of the ashes rose the Heidleberg Project. Artist Tyree Guyton started to fight back with art and created an indescribable polka-dotted neighborhood. Watch this short movie about it – SO FASCINATING! I can’t believe I never went there before. This on my permanent and forever lists of places to visit when I go home.
Fairway Packing Company. My favorite thing of all. Thanks to Fairy Godmother’s hubby, Cabezon, we got to go inside this temple of meaty beauty and see how it’s done. We wore white butcher’s coats and toured the dry age room with all the best cuts hanging out for the area’s best restaurants and clients. The Himalayan salt wall is stunning – a glowing work of art in and of itself. We bought gorgeous steaks, pork shoulder and brisket for the week’s dinners and parties and watched as they were broken down for us. Saint James was all eyes and quiet appreciation. Boy knows his good meat.
All of this was a round about way of getting to this recently released documentary. Detropia explores Detroit’s complicated and painful history, its rise and fall, mingled with the exciting, grass roots, outsider art fringey changes that are happening right now. I can’t wait to see it. I don’t think this sugarcoats anything, which is good – Detroit is better salty anyway.