Revisiting Detroit


Living in Farmington Hills, Michigan is peaceful. I do appreciate it against the backdrop of downtown Chicago, where I lived before moving here. Needless to mention Chicago and its restaurants and cuisines, cultures and cults, things-to-do and theaters, museums and galleries, art and architecture. No other city could charm me as much. Now the closest city to me is Detroit.  I have never really frequented the place. I remember going to the city outskirts a few days back with my team at work. The  eeriness of the abandoned buildings and vacant houses still haunt me. I particularly remember a huge building which seemed to have burned down long ago and never again saw life. In my mind Detroit was a collage of a riot ripped city, creepy buildings and not at all a place to visit, especially dusk onwards… until yesterday…

It was Friday evening and my enthusiastic host offered to take me to Detroit. I have always found him promoting the city. He once told me not to think that I have come to a “third world” section of the country! This evening we were to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) for the Friday Night Live, and it was a musical performance by Master Scots fiddler Alasdair Fraser with the pretty American cellist Natalie Haas.

From the outside  DIA was a beautiful old building that was buzzing with warmth of art seekers within,  contrasting  starkly with the freezing whiteness of the Michigan snow that evening. We had some time before the performance, and we took a tour of the various sections filled with murals, sculptures and artifacts from long lost ages! I was amazed to see how time was captured in big and small glass boxes, like one catches flying butterflies in a little boxes. Each artifact stared back at my close curious look. In the silent background of the halls, they  secretly came to life and whisper to me. Like a mysterious wizard, they held my hand and we flew back in time. I flew continent to continent, region to region, century to century and civilization to civilization… There seemed no hostile borders then, and it was  a smooth sailing from Asia to Africa, Europe to America, orient to the occident. It was an unbroken and continuous diversity. It was enchanting! As we moved to the paintings section, I tried listening to what Pablo Picasso had to say through his portraits and roamed in Vincent van Gogh‘s flowers and landscapes, among many other great painters. And then I entered the Great Hall on Level 2, and looked up to find the ceiling as if crowded with countless stars twinkling at me! Here is a picture I found online in Derek Farr’s Flickr profile. Thanks Derek – this is the best of all pictures I searched on line (and hope you don’t sue me!!)

Detroit Institute of Art, HallSonali Manapure’s Window › Add New Post — WordPress
Detroit Institute of Art, Great Hall

The musical performance was right in the Rivera Court.   The north and south walls represents the races that shaped the American culture and Detroit’s  work force of the auto and other industries like chemical, medical,  pharmaceutical. The central panel shows the important operations in the production and manufacture of the engine and transmission of the 1932 Ford V8. The major panel of the south wall is devoted to the production of the automobile’s exterior.

By 7 pm, the Rivera Court had turned into a congregation of  art admirers from the city.  This evening’s performance was a result of the ‘reinvention of the musical marriage between big and small fiddles – a familiar feature of the music of the eighteenth century Scotland’. The artistes started “fiddling” with their instruments to compositions that took  the audience across a couple of centuries during their 45-minute concert. The strings started to writhe in ecstasy as the bow struck them to instantly cast a spell on the crowd! The workmen on the walls busy making car parts too stopped working as the tunes hit the walls… The two-people orchestra was a wonderful experience! (Check out their performances here).

As we walked out, I felt coming out of a time machine. We were on Woodward Avenue now and drove past the magnificent Churches on either side of the road built by immigrants when they came to make the city their home, informed my host. I was awe-struck by the brilliant architecture each cathedral demonstrated. Quiet they stood as silent witnesses to the great rise and fall of an era called Detroit!

As we drove back, I was crowded with the thoughts about the city that was once one the most prosperous cities in the world! There was so much to know and learn about it, I thought. Something in me had changed. The Detroit that I had in my mind was different now. It left me with a strong desire to know more and discover the city all over again! Only if everyone of us did that, wouldn’t that restore the city’s past glory at least to some extent, I wondered as we zoomed past…

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