Monday, October 28, 2013

Best of the Net 10/7-10/27

Fall Beauty In Michigan

I have been focusing on my recent trip to Detroit lately, but I have not forgotten about the rest of Michigan or the state's many wonderful news stories.

Here are the best stories from the Great Lakes State from the last three weeks:

The U.P. Has The Upper Hand

Michiganders know that the Upper Peninsula is full of natural wonders that rival the most beautiful places on earth. Nike Running and Buzzfeed are on to this "secret" and have named the U.P.'s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park as the most beautiful place in the world to go for a run. The U.P. beat out running trails in the United States, Greece, Italy, Chile and Singapore for the top spot.

In a few years, you will be able to relax with a new U.P.-brewed beer after a run through the Porcupine Mountains. The Escanaba Daily Press reports that Kalamazoo's Bell's Brewery is expanding its operations to the U.P. The 11,500-square-foot Upper Hand brewery in Escanaba will feature new beers with U.P. themes and will also bring jobs to the region.

Ann Arbor Sparks Entrepreneurship

The Ann Arbor area is known as a technology hub in the state of Michigan, but the region is still working to foster more innovation. CBS Detroit reports that Ann Arbor Spark, an organization dedicated to economic development in the Ann Arbor area, is expanding its incubator locations in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

The two incubators provide office space to startups that need help getting off the ground. Spark Central in Ann Arbor will add 2,500 square feet, and Spark East in Ypsilanti will convert a conference room into co-working spaces. Both expansions are designed to meet new startups' demands for more office space.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Detroit Is More Than They Say It Is

When I recently typed "Detroit is" into a Google search, I was saddened to see "Detroit is crap" and "Detroit is dead" as the top two search results to pop up.

I then curiously typed "Detroit is" and "Detroit is a" into Bing and Yahoo and was told by the search engines that the Motor City is all of the following: broke, abandoned, a joke, burning, a dump, a ghost town, a mess, a shithole, a cesspool, a war zone, a disaster, a hellhole, a slum and a wasteland.

I understand calling parts of the city a wasteland or abandoned because large areas of Detroit are full of abandoned buildings. I even understand calling the city a mess or broke because of the city government's financial problems. However, there is a lot more to Detroit than blight and bankruptcy. It is not a joke, dead, crap or any of the other pejorative terms slung around by people who walk through life looking for the negative while missing the beauty right in front of them.

After spending several days in Detroit, I saw a different Detroit. Some of these things I knew about Detroit; others I remembered as I traveled its streets; and some things I learned for the first time (and was ashamed that I did not know).

Detroit is alive, and I've got the photos to prove it [to see a full-size gallery of the photos, please click on any photo].


Detroit is colorful. Corktown. Photo by A. Burtka


Detroit is Brave. Fire truck at Eastern Market.


Detroit is Introspective. The Thinker at the DIA.


Detroit is Nostalgic. Tiger Stadium. Photo by A. Burtka


Detroit is Powerful. Joe Louis. Photo by A. Burtka


Detroit is Delicious. Supino Pizzeria.


Detroit is international. Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Canada.


Detroit is Striving. Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry.


Detroit is Historic. Underground Railroad Memorial.


Detroit is electric. Electric car charging outside the DIA.


Detroit is green. The RiverWalk.


Detroit is Blue. Lawn chairs on the Detroit River.


Detroit is fun. Kids playing baseball on Navin Field.


Detroit is artistic. Sculpture on the RiverWalk.


Detroit is patriotic. An American Flag flying at Eastern Market.


Detroit is Well Read. John K. King Used Books.


Detroit is creative. Some of the public art in Woodbridge.


Detroit is tradition. Lafayette and American.


Detroit is Spirited. Spirit of Detroit statue.


Detroit is Picturesque. Ambassador Bridge from John K. King Used Books.


Detroit is Proud. "We are Detroit." Community garden in Woodbridge. Photo by A. Burtka

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Days Five and Six: Cider, Books and Public Art

A view from John K. King Bookstore

My trip back to Michigan has sadly come to a close. After spending four very active days in Detroit, I slowed down the last few days to spend time with friends and family. However, I did do something uniquely Michigan during my last days in the Great Lakes State.

Day 5

Franklin Cider Mill

Thursday was a cold and rainy day in Detroit after a beautiful week of weather. My wife and I were going to take the girls to a cider mill to spend some time outdoors, but we decided to leave them at their grandma and grandpa's house where they could stay warm, dry and full of  the junk food that we do not allow at home.

We did some shopping in the suburbs where I was able to get some rain boats and a Detroit Tigers t-shirt with “Kaline” and the number 6 on the back. We then visited the Franklin Cider Mill

The Franklin Cider Mill was built in 1837, the same year that Michigan became a state. It is located in Bloomfield Hills, on 14 Mile Road about one mile west of Telegraph Road.

I had been to the Franklin Cider when I was young, but I could only remember that it was the brown building, while Yates Cider Mill in Rochester was the red building. I went to Yates last year and was impressed by the petting zoo and the walking trail, but I knew Franklin did not have these amusements. Instead, Franklin just makes apple cider, donuts, baked goods, jams and honey.

Old tractor outside the mill

We did not spend much time walking around the cider mill because of the weather, but we did see the giant mill wheel and appreciated the view of the stream that cuts through the grounds between the parking lot and the mill. Once we entered the building, I was overcome will the smell of the donuts. We purchased cider, some apple pie bread and a half dozen donuts, but the donuts were the highlight by far (and that’s saying a lot since the cider is very good too). The donuts are purely delicious…especially when you eat them fresh and warm. Just amazing.

Day 6

Sign in the driveway of King books

We were going to hang out at my parent’s house in the suburbs, but I felt Detroit calling me back. I had read about John K. King bookstore in Detroit, Michigan's largest rare and used bookstore, and needed to visit. 

I love the smell of old books and the feel of their old and worn pages on my fingertips as I flip through their pages. Even if I do not buy anything, I often will wander into a used bookstore when I am in a new town. Just being around all of that recorded knowledge gives me a sense of pride in humanity's intellectual accomplishments.

John K. King opened his first bookstore in Dearborn in 1971; soon moved to Detroit; and bought the current four-story building at 901 West Lafayette in 1983. Even though the store has only been at its current location for 30 years, it feels like it’s been there for 100. The building looks and feels old with its dusty, metal-framed windows, brick walls and creaky wood floors, but it also feels like a used bookstore should. The older hardcover books seem to have settled into place on the shelves…almost is if they came with the building.

A small portion of the store's collection

Much like visiting a great museum, like the DIA, I could have spent a whole day wandering through the aisles of fiction, poetry, history, religion and art books. On this day, I focused on the Michigan and Detroit history sections. 

The store has a wonderful collection of Michigan-related civil war books, city directories and state and county histories. I rarely enter a used bookstore looking for a specific book. Instead, I wander around the store until a book finds me. As I perused the stacks, one title grabbed my attention, "Detroit Is My Own Hometown," a book about Detroit in the 1940s when Detroit was still in the midst of its golden age.

Stairway and entrance to floor 2 of the bookstore

 I hope to visit John King Books again when I have more time. If you love books and live in the Detroit area or happen to visit Detroit, there is no excuse for not visiting this store at least once.

After visiting John King Books, we drove to the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit near Wayne State University, and had a delicious lunch at the Woodbridge Pub. Woodbridge is neighborhood with many Victorian homes. A community garden with colorful picnic tables sits across from the pub, and the nearby streets are full of well maintained homes. 

Community garden in Woodbridge

On the side of a house next to Woodbridge Pub are the words ARTINWOODBRIDGE.COM. Art in Woodbridge is an effort to bring public art to the neighborhood. As a result of their efforts, several murals and sculptures line Woodbridge's streets. For photos of this art, please visit their website above.

The neighborhood feels vibrant. This is not the stereotypical depressed Detroit. On this sunny day, I could feel the hope and sense of community reflecting off the art and the windows of the the neighborhood's homes.

Final thoughts about my week in Detroit

Detroit is a beautiful place. Yes, there are neighborhoods that are drowning in blight that I did not visit, but there are ongoing efforts to combat that blight. Ignoring the blight on my blog will not make it go away, but why write about something that national media seems to write about every day, especially when there are so many interesting things to do in this city? 

In only six days, I visited an amazing zoo, an international riverfront, a world class museum, wonderful restaurants, a baseball diamond where legends once roamed and an outdoor market that pulses like the heart of the city. Those six days were not enough to do everything I wanted to.

Detroit is alive. Detroit is beautiful. Detroit will never die.

Detroit is my own hometown.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day Four: A Day with Degas, Diego Rivera and more at the DIA

When the Detroit Institute of Arts moved to its current building on Woodward Avenue in 1927, the new building was immediately dubbed the "temple of art." The nickname referred to the building's architecture, but it might also apply to the spiritual experience that a visit to the museum can elicit.

Art, poetry, music and literature are humanity’s way of sharing emotions and ideas without being bound by time. To stand before a work of art that someone created fifty, one hundred, or a thousand years ago is to time travel to the day that painting, photograph or sculpture was created. Sometimes you might walk away saying, "I don't get it," but sometimes you will look closely enough and feel the artists emotions within yourself and perhaps achieve a better sense of your own place within history.

I admit that I am not a museum person. I enjoy museums after I actually cross their thresholds and behold the beauty of their exhibits. However, crossing the threshold is the hardest part for me because most of the time I just take museums for granted. Maybe, I do not feel any urgency to visit museums because I know they will always be there for me. With the recent talk of the DIA possibly selling some of their collection to meet Detroit’s debt, I could not take the DIA for granted anymore.

As I approached the front of the museum from Woodward, I was struck by Rodin’s statue The Thinker but even more so by these words inscribed above the main entrance:


The enjoyment of art makes us uniquely human, and it saddens me that art is often the first thing that is cast aside when financial troubles loom. Without art, literature and music, we are hollow shells of ourselves. No other creatures on earth write poetry, compose symphonies or punk rock anthems, paint portraits or build museums and libraries. More Detroiters (and residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties) should take advantage of the free admission to the DIA that they are entitled to. This art is dedicated by the people of Detroit to all of us. This art can remind us where we have been and make us think about where we are going.

The DIA is one of the top six art collections in the United States, and it has a little something for everyone. With such a large collection, I do not know if I could see everything in one day. After all, I was there for several hours and did not make it past the second floor.

When you enter the building from the main entrance on Woodward, you will find yourself in the Great Hall on the second floor. The Great Hall is a fitting entranceway for an art collection of this magnitude. I felt like I was entering a grand palace with the suits of armor lining the hall as if they are guarding the treasures within.

After passing straight through the Great Hall, I found myself in Rivera Court, which in my opinion is the highlight of the DIA. I could spend a whole day looking at Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry. Rivera’s frescos cover portions of all four walls of the court and depict Detroit manufacturing and technology in the 1930s.

As a native son of Detroit whose ancestors worked in Stroh’s Brewery, Wyandotte Chemical’s plant and a steel treatment factory, I had a visceral connection with this room. The room is a source of pride and pain for me: pride in the role Detroit played in the development of our country into a manufacturing and technological giant; and pain for my ancestors who toiled so tirelessly while exposing their bodies to conditions that would not be allowed in today’s factories. The Rivera Court is a beautiful testament to our forbearers and is the heart of the DIA.

Moving on from Rivera Court, the second floor is filled with art from some of the most renowned painters of all time, such as Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Picasso and Monet. The second floor contains sculptures and painting grouped together by era, style or nationality of the artists. The enormity of the collection and the building itself make it easy for one to get lost among the art.

Unfortunately, I did not make it past the second floor, but I will return to the DIA to see more of its collection. Detroit is a great city, and a great city deserves an art museum of the DIA’s caliber. The DIA is beautiful, and I thank the people of Detroit for increasing my knowledge and enjoyment of art.

Here are some of the highlights of my visit (click on any picture to open a full gallery of photos):