Detroit’s Eastern Market if one of my favorite places to visit in Michigan, having been a staple in Detroit life since 1861. It had been a handful of years since I had last visited and what a change! I remembered what was essentially a dark, cold, mega sized pole barn with people that could be from anywhere in the world. There were live chickens for five dollars in the same establishment where you could buy fresh cut flowers for wonderful prices and other surprises. This time around, the Eastern Market was sunny and suburban family friendly. It was exponentially larger, with several outdoor roofed shelters, including maybe three enclosed buildings. And even though I will always feel a deep love for the grit of Detroit, I think the newer, cleaner version is a gem worth a lifetime of visits.
I have a soft spot for urban markets, this New York Times article eloquently brings to light the vital role they play in our cities. In Philadelphia, I shopped at Reading Terminal. In Atlanta, I shopped at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market. And in Detroit, my first stop for fresh produce (and ten other items I didn’t plan on) is the Eastern Market. Food and people are how I put my ear to the ground to hear the heartbeat of each city.
On a warm summer morning one of the greatest parts of the Eastern Market is the street artists who provide side entertainment.
The Eastern Market always provides a “first” for me; today I ate my first sunflower sprouts from Rising Pheasant Farms. The farm is a bicycle powered farm on Detroit’s Eastside. I also picked up some granola from Simply Suzanne, also made in Detroit. My sweet tooth also found a rosy cheeked man selling delicious cookie’s 5 for a dollar (!). They were so good that they didn’t actually make it the whole way home before being devoured.
To be honest, seeing the Michigan Central Station was complete serendipity. In search of some good coffee, we took a detour in Corktown for lunch at Astro Coffee. Astro just turned a year old (yesterday!); it has a great environment, and even better food. They serve a curated selection of natural and organic food, sometimes local. Besides the homey sound of people typing away on their laptops and quiet conversation, the highlight for me was the view out the window of Michigan Central station (pictured below). For a daydreamer such as myself, I love thinking of all the potential of this beauty. I could get lost in my head thinking of the glamorous “old days” of Detroit. Above is a view of Michigan Avenue, just across the street from Central Station. I just had to share some pictures of one of Michigan’s most famous architectural gems.
Michigan Central Station was designed by the same architects, Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore, who also were the masterminds behind New York City’s Grand Central Station. A few year’s back, the oft loathed Detroit City Council voted to demolish the monument to Detroit’s more prosperous days, but successful work on behalf of organizations like the Michigan Central Station Preservation Society called this to the attention of the public, leading to far reaching outcry. The station is currently owned by someone and is slated for some progress, but I could not dig up any specifics. Currently, there is a website, Talk to the Station, which is a sort of forum to generate ideas for future use (as the sign in the picture here says). Can you dream up any good uses for the Station?
The rail station, at one time, was the tallest in the world. Today it remains a symbol of Detroit’s opulence and grit.
Let’s be honest, Detroit has been in decline for a long time. Roughly 20% of its houses are vacant. That’s what I like about Detroit, the visibility of the working class that used to populate it, the grit. At the same time, it would not be Detroit without the soul and bristle of the people that live there. Just as Rome must fall, Detroit must eventually hit the bottom and begin climbing back to the ranks of respected cities one day. It seems that the natural process to respectability, according to both the masses and the media, will be through art. Many years ahead of that curve is the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor multiple block art installation. The Heidelberg Project is now in it’s 26th year in Detroit’s East Side, standing out against its competitors. It is so much more than some stuff haphazardly grouped next to graffiti covered abandoned houses, the items you see in the pictures below are all reclaimed items found in Detroit. The Heidelberg Project is a major force in the local art community hosting programs for children and adults alike, literally making itself a must-see tourist destination in the process. While I was there, multiple families milled around discussing the art on a weekday afternoon! I am certainly no expert on art or even qualified to make judgments on it, but the value I find in what I saw is that it is pulled from the community and literally represents the community, while being thought provoking to those who may not know Detroit intimately.
While admiring the houses of the Heidelberg Project, a man in a large carpenter’s van stopped and asked us what we thought, “Its really cool, who did all this?” we said. With his arm on the drivers window, he squinted into the sun and said “I did” before continuing his conversation with the woman weeding her garden on the sidewalk nearby. Tyree Guyton is an internationally renowned artist and world traveler who is down to earth enough to bypass a very clear opportunity to talk about himself with some camera ready tourists and stroke his own ego in favor of having an everyday conversation with his neighbor. After reading press from his website, I would dare to say that this is an embodiment of him, Mr. Guyton is most interested in participating in his community than trying to gain something from it.
In the spirit of disclosure, I want to be honest: I am not sure I fully understand the depth of some of the art, maybe most of it. But the picture of the sunken car that is led by a bike emerging I can confidently point to the decimated auto industry which used to be such a Motor City stronghold. My favorite photo (below) is of the auto mobile that uses syringes as part of the auto body; it was so bold because the red coiling of the auto body also could be veins within the body, calling to mind the rampant drug problems in Detroit. What is your favorite photo?
Have you ever sat through those “Pure Michigan” ads you might hear on the radio or see on the internet? They wax about wearing your swimming trunks under your suit on a Friday or summer nights around the campfire. Those signature summer nights they are talking about are real. Before I flew home, I asked my Mom if we could please make a quick trip to the Sand Dunes. I am pretty lucky to have her because what she agreed to was a 3.58 mile hike continuously up or down hill. On sand. The brochure cautions people that the duration of the hike is 4 hours, we scoffed that the estimate is for families with children. How wrong we were! I love a challenge and this is certainly yoga for toddlers. The sand dunes and Lake Michigan are one of my favorite ways to appreciate the diversity of Michigan’s nature. Even though you are breathing heavily the whole time, your lungs are filling with fresh air and wind comes off the lake to cool you down. At the bottom of the sand dunes, it becomes so quiet—no cars, no shopping carts, no slamming doors, just you and your thoughts. The big reward at the halfway point is Lake Michigan, you can swim after hiking for two miles. Everywhere you turn there is beautiful nature scenery which is ageless. The following morning, when you wake up to brush your teeth, I promise you will feel it in your legs. I hope you enjoy the pictures below!