Detroit in bloom

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Summertime has arrived in Detroit and the colours have come out to play! I spent a day visiting the DIA and Eastern Market, basking in the visceral warmth of a city filled with anarchic colour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATucked around the back of the DIA, The Scarab Club is one of Michigan’s oldest arts organisations (founded in 1907 as The Hopkin Club, renamed in 1913) and is well worth a visit for the variety and novelty of its stained glass features alone.

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I’d seen the building exterior on previous trips to Detroit, and it’s eye-catching enough by itself with its Pewabic Tile motif mounted high enough up to catch the light of the cloudiest days, but this was the first time I’d been inside and enjoyed the effects of sunshine through coloured glass. The upstairs lounge is like the inside of a Scottish Highland lodge, and probably makes for proper cosy times on dingy winter afternoons, but it’s the details that sing out from the dark wood that make this place feel really special.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy love for Detroit architecture is fed every time I return to the city, and every corner I turn reminds me why I need to spend more time there. It’s not just the buildings, but the way people interact with them. I just love the way Detroit feels… Especially on a sunny day in late Spring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Eastern Market is alive with colour and people, flowers and plants filling every available outdoor space, with food stalls occupying the indoor ones. The sheer life that blooms here is intoxicating, with musicians performing outside bars adjacent to bustling barbeques and hounded street vendors. It feels like everyone in Detroit is here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe food stalls are the most exciting part. It’s impossible to explain the excitement of a food market to anyone who doesn’t have the deep love of food, and it’s senseless to explain it to anyone who does! The Eastern Market in Detroit is one of the world’s many nirvanas for food lovers, but the first one I have truly relished (ha!) in the US. The minute I stepped food in it I was gone. Detroit is my new home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople have asked me why I’m so set on moving there and it’s hard to explain. Sometimes you just feel a place.

I’m not for one minute celebrating the devastation and destruction that capitalism and speculation have wreaked on Detroit. As much as there are innovative outcomes to much of the damage (thanks to the exceptional creativity of loyal Detroiters rather than any grandiose investors/developers) any system that ruins people’s lives for the sake of profit can never be enjoyed or praised. The city is a mess because of exploitation and greed, and many people have suffered. This is never something to big up.

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That said, that Detroit-creativity is a beautiful thing, and the tyranny of capitalism has been unable to tame its bold and brave spirit. One huge advantage of devalued property is that it creates spaces for graf and street art, colour that otherwise would be absent from pristine cityscapes (like much of Atlanta, bless its soul).

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I sort of love the idea of people reclaiming their city – as much as I’m aware enough of social dynamics to question who these people are and how much the city is theirs to claim. Detroit has its complexities (as everywhere does) but if there is genuine opportunity anywhere for community action to transform the urban environment in a way that benefits the majority of its residents, it’s here in the city that profit forgot. And quick, before the developers realise this and move into reclaim their abandoned bounty. Because, as every gentrified city ever knows, that happens all too soon.

Just when we thought we were no longer lost

… they kicked us out into the dirty streets of Atlanta

Nights of the Living Dead by Tilly and the Wall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. If Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Manchester (and now Detroit) are my founts of design inspiration, let’s just say Hotlanta is a long way from knitter’s paradise… It is however brilliant for other reasons, and hosts an array of creativity that should not be overlooked for its incompatibility with toasty, cosy wool.

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Atlanta is not the architectural sweetie shop of Detroit, but it has its own selection of impressive and exciting buildings. Nestled among them in Downtown Atlanta is the amazing Centennial Olympic Park, one of the best-designed multi-use public spaces I’ve come across anywhere in the world. I don’t know if that’s an opinion shared by anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about but my sole criteria for public spaces are that 1) they appear to be many things to many people, 2) have 24-hour usage, and 3) always feel safe. In terms of the way folk seem to interact with it the Centennial Olympic Park delivers strongly on all counts.

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And it’s not the only exciting public facility in Atlanta. The MARTA mass transit system is a clean, efficient underground train network that serves the city’s central neighbourhoods, while the tram loop provides frequent, convenient transportation from Downtown through Sweet Auburn to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, including among other places thoroughly imbued with history and gravity, The King Library and Archives in the King Center, both old and new Ebenezer Baptist Churches, and the birthplace of Dr King.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYous should know at this point that the rest of this blogpost might take on the feel of documenting every aspect of the Dr King memorial site in great detail… It’s a genuine place of pilgrimage for many, I can’t do it sufficient justice in less detail. Sorry! For proper travel tips on Atlanta, try this post by Where Maps.

Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.

Coretta Scott-King

Like millions of other children, I adored Dr Martin Luther King Jr. growing up. Dr King and the Civil Rights Movement were the acceptable image of the struggle against racism, injustice, and prejudice – but they were only part of the story. I began to learn about the other anti-racist movements that existed alongside and following on from Dr King: The Black Power Movement, Nation of Islam, and the Black Panthers. Both advocated for a more militant approach to confronting white supremacy and social inequalities stemming from a legacy of racist social structures, although their methods and objectives differed. When I started to read about what Malcolm X had said about Dr King, notably about the March on Washington in 1963, I started to feel as though I had to pick a side. It wasn’t until I attended a talk on Malcolm X’s final years that I learned his position had shifted towards a more reconciliatory tone prior to his death in 1965, and I realised there was more to these figureheads of justice than we were all letting on. I read more about Gandhi and Dr King and discovered that they were both far more radical than I’d been lead to believe.

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I’m grateful that the exhibit in the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site doesn’t completely obscure the bigger picture of Dr King’s life and death, showing him as a man who understood the structural causes and social reproduction of racism – who connected the narrative of the Civil Rights movement with his anti-war position regarding Vietnam. It makes clear that Dr King’s advocacy of non-violence was never intended in the giving-flowers-to-coppers way it was later interpreted by the Vietnam protestors and their heirs in the 21st century, but as an antagonistic confrontation of the power wielded by authority claimed through injustice and oppression. It surprised me that a US government bureau (The National Park Service) would share this side of one of America’s great heroes, but I was delighted to have my scepticism challenged.

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As well as an exhibition on Dr King’s life in the National Park visitor centre, the King Center contains additional Dr King, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi archives. The full memorial site also includes the house Dr King was born in and restored houses that stood during Dr King’s lifetime. It’s really uplifting to see such a controversial life being treated with reverence and passion.

History has been kinder to the Civil Rights Movement than many other struggles for social justice that occurred alongside and subsequently. So much so that Atlanta now prides itself as being the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, leading to many references all over the city. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights has an interactive display that is at times inspiring and others completely harrowing. It goes into more detail than I ever could here (I know that barely seems possible!) and sheds light on some of the more brutal outcomes of the movement.

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Ok, so I’m clearly fairly excited about the legacy of Dr King (and really, shouldn’t we all be?). But at the same time, Atlanta is so much more than its history. The present is vibrant and buzzing with creativity, and as a likely home of my near-future, I hope to discover more of that very soon!

Thanks for sticking with me while I blethered on. I promise more interesting posts than mere city-obsessions are in the works!

D-lights

I went to Detroit again this weekend and, far from losing its novelty value, I’ve fallen even harder for it than before. As my previous post probably suggested, I’ve been obsessing over it fairly constantly for the past few days.

On Saturday, I joined a few of Pure Detroit’s free walking tours and discovered even more to love about the city, from stories of its history to plans for its future. Our guide, Michael Boettcher is a confirmed Detroit enthusiast with a comprehensive knowledge of urban planning and architecture. As he shared his expertise with us, it became even more obvious that Detroit is a force to be reckoned with!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After trying to choose a small(ish!) number of photos for this post, I’ve decided to stick to the more general ones, and reserve my building-obsessive post for a future point in time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a lot of talk these days about its decline following the 2007/8 financial crisis and global recession that followed, but not nearly enough is said about the boom-and-bust history of the city, nor the splendid reincarnation it is currently undergoing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have read too much written about derelict Detroit, seen too many photographs of urban decay and burnt-out buildings, and want to spread the word far and wide that Detroit is not all like that!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a place of grandeur, magnificence, and fortitude, as well as frailty, vulnerability, and lowly humanity, but not enough is seen of its completeness and complexity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When it comes to expressing the sheer affection I have for a city that has reinvented itself time and time again, one crisis after another, words fail me. People say a lot of things about Detroit, but from visiting it and meeting Detroiters, a creative and resilient atmosphere brews there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s enchanting and inspiring. I can’t wait to go back.

This isn’t the last you’ll hear about it, as I trawl through the hundreds of photos I took this weekend – and no doubt take yet more on future visits. Next: skyscrapers!

Detroit playlist I

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Here are some of my current favourite songs about Detroit:

And for something a little longer, here’s Laurent Garnier’s Mix in Detroit.

I’ve been knitting, too!

So, I’ve not really written much about life in the US partly because I’m still not getting settled. As soon as we arrived in Michigan we were told that there was another move planned before the start of the next academic year, and this has now moved forward a couple of months to a mere 6 weeks or so away… Needless to say, this isn’t conducive to really digging down some roots and building any sort of life, so those aspirations are on hold once again.

Factor in a strange transitional season (Spring here is very different to the season of the same name in the UK) and I’m a bit all over the place. I have a couple of designs still in the works but I’ve been very distracted, so apologies for anyone waiting on the release of Schiehallion or Yunling, they are on their ways. While trying to quell my sporadic frustration and anxiety about this ridiculous year of constant uncertainty, I’ve had a bout of startitis and cast on for all sorts of out-of-character projects. One thing that I’ve actually finished is this somewhat unlike-me jumper:

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It was an attempt to use 2 cones of ColourMart’s Corriedale/Alpaca in different colours to make a relaxed-fit jumper with a few interesting features. The yarn is ridiculously soft and fluffy, so although the yardage indicated a sport weight, I found it made a substantial fabric on 4mm needles. The back neck is shaped with short rows as usual, and the construction is a top-down raglan. As well as a looser fit throughout the body and a total lack of ribbing or garter stitch, it uses i-cord edging and a cool overlap at the sides of the shirt-tail hem:

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I worked the sleeves 2-at-a-time and worked the body and sleeves out of sequence to get the maximum length out of the yardage, switching to the silver yarn on the body as soon as I’d separated them at the yoke, knitting until I was worried I wouldn’t have enough silver for the sleeves, and switching to the sleeves until they were the length I wanted in silver before using the remainder for a few more rounds of the body. The body ended up long enough in silver that I could go straight into the hem once I’d switched to the grey yarn, before finishing off the yarn on the sleeves. I could have made everything longer if it was closer-fitting but the point of this garment was to keep it easy and relaxed, and I think that allows the lengths to be shorter without looking undersized.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a great jumper to wear with my favourite jeans, although as the weather warms up it may find itself relegated to the back of a cupboard – and with a move southwards to Georgia on the cards very soon, it may yet stay there…

Given my wardrobe is more suited to the cooler Northern European climate, I’m making some hurried adjustments in preparation for summer in the Deep South. I’ve started exploring linen, silk, and cotton yarns properly for the first time since I learnt to knit in 2009 (so long ago now!), trying to work out how I can make my love for knitted jumpers translate to Athens’ humid subtropical climate. Wish me luck!