I came to this city where I had never been before for a wedding in Jim’s family. It was a wonderful secular affair on a gray and humid afternoon in a greenhouse, and the young bride and groom pronounced the most powerful vows I’ve ever heard. Family was and is all around — Jim’s actual family, but also the idea of family; real-life siblings and nieces and grandchildren, suburban houses where people grew up, and the houses in which they now live; but also the memories contained in those houses, and the memory of those who inhabited those houses and who are now ghosts. There are ghosts all over this city — the ghosts of Kahlo and Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts and at the old Henry Ford Hospital, where Frida’s bed-ridden body lies deliriously forever; the ghosts of the prosperous men and women who collected Florentine paintings and Chinese porcelain and Greek urns for the DIA; or the ghosts of the foreign-born architects who built such landmarks as Cranbrook School or the Grosse Pointe Library… Because I have this blog and I have assiduously written new entries in every city I’ve visited since I first started it, I felt it was my blogger’s duty to pen something on Detroit. But what to write? I could say a word or two about the bottle of Bacardí at the wedding reception, marked for everyone to see with these words that Jim pointed out to me: “Establecido en Santiago de Cuba en 1862.” Or I could find a link between the city’s ruins, seen from the car window, or those of Havana, famous everywhere. Or, following the same line of thought, I could write intelligently about all those cars built here and exported there: more Cadillacs were sold per capita in Havana than in any other city in the world in 1956. Or I could say a word about the wonderful townhouses on a grassy park designed by Mies van der Rohe, which of course reminded me of Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, which of course brought to mind the Bacardí headquarters never built in Santiago de Cuba. But why I say anything about any of these things when my strongest feeling is not of family trees, but of trees, trees plain and simple — not the trees designed by botany but the real trees growing green behind the house where we’re staying. It’s a late spring morning in the outskirts of Detroit. The sky is overcast, it’s chilly, rain is about to fall, and the only trees that matter are these trees right here and now, swaying gently in the air we breathe.
(To C.K. and her woods in Northville.)