For the past month, I've had the great pleasure of working every day in the only coffee shop our neighborhood has seen since 2006. It's only a pop-up (open through December 1, 2012), and it will be greatly missed next week, but the story of how it came to be is what I find so inspiring.
Our friend and neighbor Melissa Dittmer is an architect with Hamilton Anderson here in Detroit, and over the course of the year she opened a dialogue with the suburban owners of a mostly-vacant strip mall that is the only retail space in our neighborhood. They had recently opened a grocery store in the plaza and were open to her ideas about temporary use of vacant storefronts to increase visibility and foot traffic and encourage new businesses to open. Melissa got the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation involved and together they transformed one huge vacant storefront into what we call the "MIES space" after the florescent lights in the front window that spell Mies, for Mies van der Rohe (the neighborhood's major architect). After two successful art/design events and panel discussions in the space, Melissa began working with Jordi Carbonell (the owner of a community-oriented cafe in Southwest Detroit, Cafe con Leche) to turn the space into a pop-up coffee shop. Melissa and her team at RogueHAA designed the coffee shop space with vibrant colors and economic use of donated materials and furniture. The neighborhood really came together on this project, through financial contributions, donated furniture and artwork, manual labor, and just general support for the business. Melissa's husband Noah and the RogueHAA team worked tirelessly to put everything together in less than four days. My wife's neighborhood knitting group even met one night to sew the curtains. The kids and I brought over a bunch of chairs, some children's books, and vernacular photos of old Detroiters to decorate the walls (in keeping with a "Día de los Muertos" theme for the pop-up.
I love hanging out at this coffee shop. Our neighborhood is so diverse and interesting and having a semi-public space like this for people to gather has really improved our quality of life. I've been able to have good conversations with neighbors I usually just say hello to in passing, and we've even met some new families who've recently moved into the neighborhood (which includes five large apartment towers and numerous townhouse cooperatives not including our own). Seeing so many of my neighbors in this space every day has just confirmed for me that we live in one of the best neighborhoods around.
Unfortunately, the coffee shop shuts its doors this week, and the plaza owners have already signed a ten-year lease with some clueless suburbanites to open a laundromat in the space (which is really absurd given the fact that nearly everybody in the neighborhood already has access to excellent laundry facilities, most in their own town homes). It is a problem all over Detroit that so much property is owned by people living in distant communities, and so many of those property owners are clueless about positive possibilities while stuck in the mindset that there are only a few distinct (and often predatory) businesses worth opening in Detroit. We came together as a community to show them something different was possible, and hopefully we'll be able to use all that positivity to generate something more permanent.
There are still model yacht ponds in many cities. I used to run past the one in Golden Gate Park every day and occasionally saw a boat or two out in its shallow water. Conservatory Water in New York's Central Park is still well used. Most model yacht basins date back to the 1930's, when Roosevelt (a model-yacht enthusiast since childhood) encouraged his Works Progress Administration to build them in parks across the country.
The Belle Isle Model Boat Basin is actually a bit older than most model yacht basins, built on the southern side of the island in the 1920s.
|Forgive the watermarks---many of the only available images of the Yacht Basin are from the Detroit News archives, which sold its entire collection of news photos to some company called "Historic Images" that now auctions them off on eBay.|
Model yachts were popular with high school manual arts teachers (and students) at the time all over, and the Detroit Public Schools boasted the longest-lived high school model yacht program in the country. Back in 1927, Detroit Public Schools manual arts instructors Earl Phillips and Charles Pozzini (a nationally-known carver of wooden decoys) were inspired by the races held at the new Belle Isle Model Yacht basin to start a model yacht club in their school. The two teachers became well-known for their successful program and even authored a book about how to build and race model yachts. A company called A.J. Fisher, Inc. based in Royal Oak sold their plans (with complicated non-RC steering mechanisms) to model yacht enthusiasts for many years.
At the height of Phillips and Pozzini's model yacht program in the Detroit Public Schools, hundreds of students would build their own boats and compete all day against each in a Regatta sponsored by the Detroit News at the Belle Isle Model Yacht Basin.
|Look at the guy in the waders! I hope that's Mr. Pozzini!|
|(that's the great speedboat racer and manufacturer of legendary wooden boats Gar Wood filming the kids and their model yachts!!!)|
The Belle Isle Model Yacht Regatta lasted well into the 1990s, even after the program in the Detroit Public Schools seems to have ended. Suburban schoolteachers took up the reigns of Phillips and Pozzini brought suburban model yacht builders down to Belle Isle through the 70th annual Belle Isle Model Yacht Regatta in 1998, but I was unable to find any information about whether the program ever lasted beyond that (this site preserves a great record of that 1998 event). The Detroit News as a sponsor of the event is a greats source of vintage images, but its archives dating back to 1999 contain no mentions of model yachts on Belle Isle.
Comparing the pictures of that 1998 event to the pictures from its heyday, it seems the Model Yacht Basin was already pretty neglected fourteen years ago. Today it is overgrown and full of garbage, while the water itself is clogged with plant life that makes model yachting difficult. Today most of the boats that people use in any model yacht basin are remote controlled, and even wind-powered sailboats have advanced controls that allow their remote captains to pilot them just like real ships. Today there is still a very active Detroit Model Yacht Club, but their boats now sail in Joseph J. Delia Jr. Park Pond in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on 18-Mile Road. I recently saw a father and son playing with a remote control boat in the drainage pond behind an IKEA.
In the hundreds of times I have been to Belle Isle since 2006, I have never seen anyone using the Model Yacht Basin. Other than the sign identifying it as such, today there is no reason to think it's anything other than just another pond.
We picked up this book at a little bookstore in Rome. In our version the text is all Italian, but apparently it was also published in English by Firefly Books though I'd never seen it before. The illustrations are by Tomas Tuma, and while the outside looks a bit cheesy, like all good books the real treasure is inside:
Yep, it is totally a book shaped like the Colosseum:
The book was perfect for my four-year-old son, who became obsessed with gladiators on our trip. The illustrations are really beautiful and the book provides a nice historical context for the world and culture the gladiators lived and fought in, which I was able to explain to him despite knowing very little Italian. The book uses mosaics and historical evidence of the existence of these guys who seem even more wild than anything Stan Lee could imagine.
The parts about the Colosseum and the types of gladiators and their weapons kept him enthralled for hours on the plane ride home. Of course, I hoped the page about the gladiators' diet would encourage him to eat more proteins and vegetables, but that still hasn't happened.
I could hardly believe the one on the left was for real. But he was. Iron Man wouldn't stand a chance.
I had never before visited Rome's Capitoline Museums. Once we got to the Capitoline Hill I was always so excited and it felt like there was no reason to go inside a building when there was so much to see outside. But on this trip to Rome with kids, little legs got tired and the late August day was hot, so we opted to go inside the museum during the height of the afternoon. I am so glad we did.
|"My Roman costume!" he shouted.|
|Looking to see whether Hercules had a butt. Answer: "A big one."|
Okay, but the Palazzo Nuovo itself: it was nerd heaven. Nerd heaven! Sorry kids, you're dad is a nerd, and you must suffer for it! Athena! Artemis! Medusa! Aphrodite, from an original by Praxiteles! Have I ever told you about the time a guy actually fell in love with a statue of Aphrodite by Praxiteles and broke into the temple at night to. . . (that one had better wait till you're older).
I have never seen such an amazing collection of classical sculptures all crammed together in such a beautiful setting. Anywhere else the Hellenistic masterpiece The Dying Gaul would have a room to itself, behind bulletproof glass or something, but there it was, elbow to elbow with a bunch of other statues. My son wasn't so impressed with it at first ("That doesn't look like Asterix!" True, he looks more like Burt Reynolds) but when I showed him the bloody injury and emphasized that the Gauls sometimes fought naked he showed proper admiration.
I have to say, I think going to this museum before the forum and the Colosseum with the kids really improved our experience at both of sites. The statues help bring more of a human element to the ruins that I think they really appreciated. There's just something about seeing all those human bodies and ancient faces in marble that help remind you that real people were behind all this.
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