Furry Security in Hamtramck

In the days of Ancient Mesopotamia, humans claimed to see a cat in the night sky.

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Millennia later, members of modern human civilization still connect the disparate dots millions of miles away in recognition of that same cat: the constellation, Leo the Lion.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Terrestrially speaking, live Panthera leo prowl across African open planes and through dense brush landscapes. As a motif, the same sub-species has traversed traditions of assorted eras and areas. The lion is filmed roaring for MGM trademark footage, printed clawing across Bohemian coats of arms, and, ironically, encountered searching for its courage in classic narratives.

A lion fends off intruders from a Buddhist temple in Da Nang, Vietnam

Humans have also typecast the courageous cat as a universal security guard for its shelters. Scowling bronze lions menacingly guard imperial Chinese palaces; monumental marble statues magnificently flank NYC cultural institutes. Chiseled lion visages grimace at passersby from the stone slabs that construct grandiose apartment buildings. On such facades, the muscular cat’s bestial behaviors threaten as its regal physique adorns.

IMG_0868But for as powerful as the lion sculptures seem, their power to protect carries a fundamental limitation: it is symbolic. The animals are inanimate, figurative facades in themselves—like how starry Leo’s existential state is really a bunch of big, burning gas balls far out in the universe.

Meanwhile in Hamtramck, Michigan, residents practice a more pragmatic means of employing felidae for protective purposes.

They use living breathing cats–of smaller sizes.

BlogBWLions may be the choice animal for the football team of the greater city that engulfs the city of Hamtramck. With Tigers, too, for baseball, it seems that Detroit has designated ferocious felines as its athletic juggernauts. But for home security, the domestic cat is suitable, size-wise. Two or three-story, freestanding urban homes of the American Midwest have no need for 600 pounds of cat.

IMG_0644Some porch cats are solitary.

PorchClowderOthers flourish in groups. Similar to the lionesses in prides, several mother cats congregate in clowders to raise their young and find ways to procure nourishment for their kittens, kith, and kin. Their tom counterparts? Perhaps off fending their turf–or marking it, or lazing upon it–like their lion cousins do.

HamhousesWhether the Hamtramck inhabitants intended it or not, their lion substitute is apt. In a 2010 study by the University of Edinburgh, researchers found that domestic cats and African lions exhibited a trio of similar personality traits: dominance, impulsiveness, and neuroticism.

For defensive purposes, letting a dominant, impulsive, and neurotic lion pace in front of the home may sound like a smart protection strategy. Inside the home, well… those three virtues might make for some problematic behavior.

fat_cat001 copyAn five- or ten-pound creature acting in such a manner should probably be less destructive to indoor settings.

Inclusive of the interior and exterior environments of Hamtramck’s residential edifices, cats have traveled along countless trajectories throughout human history. Their domestication took place thousands of years ago, possibly around the rodent-fraught grain silos of what is now Egypt. Members of same ancient society considered cats to be a deity. One of their iconic relics still stands as the world’s largest monolith: the Sphinx of Giza.  Although many uncertainties still surround the lion-man limestone statue–what the Ancient Egyptians called it, which Pharaoh built it, how the nose broke off its face–the colossus still shows us the deep roots of humankind’s fascination with felidae.

catpostShould the foundations of contemporary civilization come tumbling down, it seems likely that we’ll have some four-legged friends to join us in the ongoing evolutionary journey.

IMG_0896But until then, we can indulge in the sumptuous comforts that periods of peace offer…

Driving, to Walk and See Michigan

Seeing the disparate sites throughout the Motor City is an adventure that requires automobile access. Appropriately enough, curious drivers who get the opportunity to site-see around Detroit can pay homage to the very spot where the model machine that made the automobile accessible to the masses was first manufactured: the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.


The invention of the Model T was undoubtedly innovative during the early 20th Century; the classic car remains emblematic today. However, today, the building of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant serves as a cultural relic, its historical significance explained in texts posted upon outdoor placards. The former factory is now in the midst of a vast, desolate cityscape that’s comprised of the bustling factories and inhabited houses of yesteryear. Presently, forces of gravity and decay have noticeably transformed the forlorn two-story homes while the external remnants of a giant, boxy industrial structure have become an enormous canvas for spray paint.


Some unfavorably liken the admiration of the abandoned buildings aesthetic as “ruin porn.” Voyeurs ogle over the cave-ins and collapses of formerly functioning architecture, fetishizing over the imagery of shattered glass windows or little weeds that pop out of the gritty cracks between wooden panes. Perhaps I’m myself guilty of having a peeled paint or cracked pavement fetish while scaling these exposed, vulnerable structures.


Taking a casual drive downtown isn’t something you’ll commonly hear of here in New York City. To me, the thought of heading downtown is synonymous with riding the subway. In Detroit, however, the idea of driving downtown did not sound strange at all.

We drove downtown indeed. We parallel parked on the city street to then stroll to the Renaissance Center, the ensemble of seven slick skyscrapers. We dubbed them the “Robocop towers” in reference to the film’s scenes where greedy executive leaders or flakey marketing pitchsters would schematically conjure their controlling intentions or devise outlandish outreach schemes while looking down over Detroit.


Ascending to the top floor of landmark skyscrapers is never something I do in New York (unless you count a kindergarten day-trip to the top of the World Trade Center circa late 1991). Nevertheless, I rode the elevator from the 3rd to the 72nd floor of the Renaissance Center to leisurely look out over the Detroit area.

There, the most immediate sites visible through the carousel of glass windows were Belle Isle sitting on the river, Canada stretching across the river, and the nearby sports bowl stadium where the Tigers play ball. On a greater scale, gauging the elevated panoramic scenery proved how extensively and consistently flat the landscape’s topography really was.

A more immediate component of the tower’s view, down on the 71st story, was the sets of seating arrangements and shapes that shadows formed.


The next destination was a marvel of modern ruin, the Michigan Central Train Station. Off we drove from downtown to the defunct terminal where a train has not passed in over 27 years.


Sure, I’d seen numerous depictions of the Michigan Central Train Station, in numerous photos where the shambled state of the structure was back dropped by the downtown Detroit skyline. I still wanted to see the building my very own eyes and document it with my personal devices.


We parked in front of the fenced-off former station and studied its cracked building blocks. I strolled into a nearby small garden of what looked like wheat to get a wider perspective. Cicadas buzzed eerily as the garden’s stalks whipped and rolled with the breeze. I paced through the path of gaps that divided the patches, but failed, after several attempts, to capture a quality shot.

That night, we partook in a quintessential American car-centric entertainment activity, in driving to the suburban city Dearborn, Michigan, and parking in drive-in theater to watch a mainstream movie.

Since Michigan is a big place that of course means there is more to drive through than just the Detroit metro area. So, we ventured off to Grand Rapids, the state’s second biggest city, then to Holland, a quaint, semi-touristic village lined with candy stores and other gift shops. We then traveled as far west as we could possibly reach in the bounds of the state’s Lower Peninsula. We parked. We walked down a dune, strolled across the beach stretch, sat upon the sand, and then swam into to the great Lake Michigan.


While retreating back to the Detroit area, we stopped in Ann Arbor for lunch, a Michigan city I was admittedly ignorant of except for knowing that’s where Iggy Pop was from. Ann Arbor turned out a pleasant college town that reminded me of several I’d seen (like Eugene and Ithaca) with similar commercial establishments (like local health food stores and book shops).

My favorite part of Ann Arbor wasn’t the eating or shopping, but the tubing and boating. I did neither of these activities, but partook in wading the shallow river while more equipped visitors floated by in tubes or boats.


Naturally, the car was necessary throughout the trip, but the best and most unexpected parts of it took place on foot, after parking.

Detroit and Independence Day

I’d heard a lot about the place but never been. As such, this year’s July 4th weekend ended up being the perfect time to finally go into and around Detroit.


First thing’s first on a national holiday weekend, and that’s entertainment. At mid-day on the Friday before Independence Day, the best entertainment around Farmington Hills, Michigan, is found at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. Tucked in the back part of a suburban stripmall, this hokey enclave is stocked with all sorts of coin-operated arcade games, mechanical puppet ensembles, and animatronic fortune-telling figures that have no reservations calling you dumb (or even a schmuck). Naturally, the kistch Marvin has collected and curated is superb.


Belle Isle, the recreational river island park between the US and Canada, was the next destination for Independence Day eve. The onsite Conservatory proved largely green and leafy within its Tropical House–but also detailed in a floral manner, with orchids, and with a fruity touch, with pineapples.


Appropriately, the Fernery section was replete with ferns, while the Cactus House was more arid in atmosphere and (often) spiky on its plants’ surfaces.


Because the Detroit Institute of Arts is currently featuring Frida Kahlo’s art, the Conservatory placed placards by select flora to indicate which plants were native to Mexico.


Belle Isle proved an easy-going place to tour. While there, we also visited its aquarium and nature zoo, then walked down a long dock and passed by a small beach. Additionally, the island was a pleasant vantage point to observe the urban skyscrapers.

On the actual day of July 4th, we decided that Greenfield Village, an outdoor museum complex full of historical structures (many of which were collected by Henry Ford), was the best spot to pay homage to American heritage. Greenville Village hosts attractions like the house where Wright brothers grew up and the bicycle shop where they worked.


Hailing from 17th Century Cape Cod, Farris Mill, what is said to be America’s oldest windmill, now stands mightily at Greenfield Village.


The upper level of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory offers quite the cornucopia of jarred chemicals. Except apparently a number of scientific materials were confiscated for being unsafe several decades ago, so a decent deal of empty glass bottles remain on the shelves. The days of freely tinkering with mercury are long gone.


Such was the case in Greenfield Village’s tintype studio. Tintypes were a photographic medium that were popular prior to film, and mercury was used to develop images. While the onsite darkroom is no longer functional, present-day visitors are still welcome to sit in the spot where sitters of days past sat, sunned by the ethereal rays of natural lights, to have their digital portraits instantly taken.

The night of July 4th we spent cruising through town, eventually parking the car and walking to a lawn that surrounded a suburban shopping plaza’s parking lot in time to see the fireworks show. Traditions are traditions, and it’s comforting to learn that one like colorful explosives in the night sky is preserved across the different states.


For the 5th, we visited the city’s Midtown district to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts. While we didn’t make the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera special show due to long waiting times and frightful lines, we did check out the latter artist’s permanent murals that he painted around the Rivera Court.


The settings were crowded, but museum patrons could still hone in on the infinite details that comprised these massive works, be it managers’ greedy facial expressions or fiery backdrops of industrial production.

From cruising across the multi-lane highway roads to walking through the preserved domestic settings of domestic inventors to sampling bits of of foreign culture, the Detroit metro area ended up being a region that was full of educational opportunities and American representation.