Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cleveland Beautiful

Tuscany is extremely lovely. Provence, as well. These might be indisputable truths. But, recently, I have been considering the role of the viewer, the documentarian, the photographer, and the writer in our understanding of beautiful locales. These intercessors give us ideal moments, parsed and polished for consumption. Blogs, like Lucillian Delights which exhibits the ideal Tuscany, use wonderful photography to express the perfect moments and elements of those places. While Tuscany has often been called an earthly heaven, what about those of us who in live in more pedestrian places?

Familiarity breeds blindness when it comes to looking for beauty in one’s natural and built environments. If you were asked to describe something beautiful on that building on the corner that you pass everyday, could you? How do you look at your hometown for the beautiful? Look and continue to look. Describe and describe again.

This is the exercise that I have began with my hometown—Cleveland. We took a vacation one afternoon a few weeks ago to Cleveland’s Chinatown and we brought our camera. Food is central to all our vacations. We began with a return to our courtship favorite, Siam CafĂ©. It is embarrassing how often we used to dine at this pan-Asian restaurant when we lived in the city. The menu features Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese items. For old time’s sake, we got fried spring rolls with plenty of hot mustard. Iced coffee with its chicory undertones is the ideal counterpoint to the crispy, oily rolls.

Shopping was our next order of business. We wandered in and out of Asian grocery stores. Ostensibly, we were in search for pak choi and mizuna seeds, but mostly we were observing. I have run into these specific markets before to grab this or that. Preparation prevents observation. During this trip, we were purposefully wasting time. Oxymoronic as it sounds, recently, I have found I have to schedule doing nothing. So, we wandered up and down talking about what looks interesting, pretty, cool.

We ended the 2 hour vacation with a take-out cake from Tastebuds. I must say this was weeks ago, so I can’t describe the cake accurately. My memories of it were of a moist cake with an interesting spice-infused frosting.

I drive through this part of Cleveland often. On a busy day, driving through, you might only see a grouping of nondescript brick buildings. While many of the signs are in Chinese, otherwise, it could be perceived as any part of the urban Midwest. But, so much of it is, attractive and interesting. It is not quite Tuscany, but hell, Tuscany isn’t Cleveland.

For a rundown on groceries stores in China Town, read this entry in A View from the Kitchen.


Sarah said...

I also love going to the grocery stores in Cleveland's china town - it always feels like a small vacation to me too.

Michael Walsh said...

Very nice post, makes me want to take a relaxing trip on my next day off. I also enjoy the artsy, edgy pics. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Cool photos -- I am trying to figure out what the white cone-shaped things are. They put me in mind of cocoons, beehives, cones of weaver's yarn...

maybelles mom said...

Michael--thanks for the compliment and for adding me to your blogroll.
Susan--I love those ideas--and almost don't want to stop your imagination by telling you. But, since you asked, they are bamboo shoots before they are sliced.

Tiina said...

I absolutely agree on what you wrote about familiarity breeding blindness! Just yesterday I was browsing a website that sells posters and out of curiosity looked what kind of posters and photos they had on Finland. It was an eye opening experience! Some of the views were very familiar to me, but looking at those pictures I could understand the beauty of, say a forest full of birch trees (=something very ordinary here)or the skyline of my hometown, in a completely new way. It was weird in a good way! :)By the way, very nice photos!