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austin_dern

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Aug. 21st, 2012

A couple weeks ago [livejournal.com profile] bunny_hugger asked whether I'd ever actually been in Detroit. Well, sure, the airport --- ah, no, she noted, the airport is outside the city limits. The Henry Ford Museum --- also outside the city limits. Greenfield Village too. I did visit relatives in the Detroit area back in 1987 but I couldn't say at this point where they lived, past that it was in the metropolitan area. So she started looking for things that were definitely within the city limits so that I could add Detroit to the list of places I had been. Catching a movie or performance at the Fox Theater, a converted late-Silent/early-Talkies movie palace, looked promising.

Also several weeks ago she caught and really, really liked a performance by the band Walk The Moon on Conan, and got their album and added it to the heavy rotation list. Neatly, they were performing at the Majestic, a former silent-era movie theater converted (now) to a dance club, and their show (where they were the second headliner) was just last week. Thus, our excuse to venture past Eight Mile Road and into the city.

We weren't aiming for any of the actual Abandonment Port districts of the city (I confess to tossing off a ``Why, it's hardly on fire at all'' joke as the skyline came into view) and, actually we came across a pleasant number of really attractive buildings representing architectural styles from the late Victorian up to about the 1970s. I think the fascination with Ruined Detroit is overshadowing that there's a lot of Living Detroit that's quite beautiful yet. Most striking was a parking garage, you read that correctly, which used those wonderful 1960-era winged rhomboids as white vertical blinds, so that what is generally the most unlovable of municipal structures looked dynamic and flowing.

That's not to say all the city, or even the living city, was beautiful. Across the street from the club was a turn-of-the-century apartment block which looked utterly sinister. It was made of that Spooky Movie dark brick front, of course, with the octagonal ends so the building looks like it has curled paws reaching for the street. It had a courtyard dark in that way that suggests light shrivels and burns rather than enter. The entrance --- through the courtyard, of course --- was crooked, with the door's frames leaning in different directions left and right, and with the name of the building on a cement slab that was itself at two different angles, with no obvious crack or patched seam. It looked like the Haunting Of Hill House Apartments. And there was a guy hanging out in one of the third-floor buildings, relaxing and talking on his phone. Well, it was a building beautifully ominous.

The Majestic, where we went for the concert, was a movie theater in old, old days --- they had by the door some sample programs from as far back as 1919, and advertisements for apparently live performances also held there. Movie house to vaudeville house seems an odd transition, but life is full of odd transitions. In the decades since it showed movies it's had about the front half --- based on the interrupted pattern in the ceiling plaster --- chopped out and turned into a bar/restaurant, but has had the rest turned into a dance floor. The plaster is peeling and damaged, and might be left that way for the distressed chic look. They didn't do very well hiding the damage to the ceiling plaster done to install the show lights, so I suspect they figure it's a hipper place if the walls are peeling. (Next to the theater, to continue the points about lovely buildings, was an acupuncture center that clearly used to be a two-storey motel in the late 50s, with huge glass windows making up the side facing the parking lot, and happily preserved or restored the interior hallway's orange and cyan colors. Lovely to look at.)

Trivia: The United States Army's medical corps at the joining of World War I established that enlisted men should be examined twice a month for venereal disease, and told the men to masturbate rather than use prostitutes. Source: The Great Influenza: The Story Of The Deadliest Pandemic In History, John M Barry.

Currently Reading: Magnificent Failure: Free Fall From The Edge Of Space, Craig Ryan. It's about Nick Piantanida, who I never heard of before either, and his attempt to go from recreational parachuting in Lakewood, New Jersey, to a world record for free fall parachute jumps (aiming for a drop from around 123,000 feet above Minnesota).

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