Monday, February 15, 2010

Belle Isle

"The decadence of Belle Isle contribut­ed to our gloomy reappraisal. We remembered the delicate fig-​shaped island, stranded between the American Empire and peaceful Canada, as it had been years ago, with its welcoming red­-white-​and-​blue flag-​shaped flower bed, splashing fountains, European casino, and horse paths leading through woods where Indians had bent trees into giant bows. Now grass grew in patches down to the littered beach where children fished with pop tops tied to string. Paint flaked from once-​bright gazebos. Drinking fountains rose from mud puddles laid with broken brick stepping stones. Along the road the granite face of the Civil War Hero had been spray-​painted black."

-from The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

This past August, Riva and I took a day trip to Detroit. We began with a stop at the Heidelberg Project, which Riva was seeing for the first time, and lingered about while we explored the bizarre, utopian vista.

Next, we drove out to Belle Isle, which had an even more idyllic feel about it. Although many of the islands attractions seemed a bit run down and neglected, like the Belle Isle Aquarium (America's Oldest) which has been closed since 2005 for lack of funds, there was a feeling of excitement in the air. It seemed that everyone in Detroit had the same idea that hot August afternoon - to head out to Belle Isle for a barbecue with their closest family and friends. As we drove around the island, there was a new party around every corner, each one complete with its own PA and moonbounce. I think we were the only white people on the entire island.

Belle Isle was a kind of in-between world that day. Not America and not Canada, as Eugenides describes, although you could see one with each eye. It was a safe haven from the problems of a failing economy and a neglected city; a place where celebration was the only rule.

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