Tuesday, August 28, 2012

12 Lessons Detroit and Paris Can Teach Each Other

Detroit, the Paris of the Midwest, meet Paris, the Detroit of Europe. French names are all over the city of Detroit, but much of the French influence on our culture has been largely lost to history. Still, the two cities have a lot in common. From the Parisian-style circular intersection at Campus Martius, to our mutual love of food and drink, to our thriving communities of artists and writers, Detroit and Paris remain connected and can learn a lot from each other.

What Detroit Can Learn From Paris

1. Food - The rumors are true about Parisian food. The cheese, charcuterie and cream sauces are fantastic, and the food is all very fresh. For a big eater like the myself, the smaller portions were a bit of a concern, but eating slower, often for hours, does a good job of controlling food intake and keeping you full enough. The most striking difference to me is the substitution of butter for sugar-based sauces. Butter just tastes better and the richness keeps you an honest eater. I believe these are what we call good calories.

2. Keep the old - Paris is much more patient than Detroit when it comes to tearing down landmarks. If a building is worth saving, Detroit should wait a few years... a lot of years. Notre Dame was under restoration on-and-off for decades, and at one point was in such a state of disrepair that it was sold to a scrap dealer. It wasn’t until Victor Hugo wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame that the city was finally inspired to save the building, and look at it now. Detroit has a lot of Quasimodo’s, and we shouldn’t lose their dwellings to the wrecking ball.

3. Absinthe - Can we get serious about adding absinthe to our drinking culture? Detroit already knows how to hold its liquor. A nice absinthe bar would change the pace a bit, and give us a new perspective on the Motor City. If you thought the Nain Rouge was a trip, imagine chasing the Green Fairy up and down Woodward Avenue.

4. The Metro - Paris is a sprawling city, intimidating in its scope. And without a street grid it’s nearly impossible to navigate even with a map. But if you can get underground to the Metro you have a fighting chance of reaching your destination, which is precisely what public transit in Detroit needs — a fighting chance, whether it’s a streetcar, buses, regional transit authority, high-speed trains, or some combination.

5. French bulldogs - French bulldogs are everywhere. They’re beautiful and well behaved. Few dogs in Paris walk on a leash, even around heavy traffic, which is I’m guessing is why they’re allowed in restaurants and on public transportation. I don’t know how the French are training these animals, but it’s impressive. Same goes for children — a generally obedient bunch. Detroit needs more cute dogs, more dog-friendly establishments, and fewer screaming kids.

6. We have time - Detroit is in a major hurry to turn things around but there’s no magic bullet, just a steady climb. The Arc de Triomphe took 30 years to complete, due in large part to political disagreements and floundering leadership. Sound familiar? Change can take a generation, and Detroit has only just begun its triumphant return.

What Paris Can Learn from Detroit

1. Happiness - Everyone says Parisians are rude. I didn’t get this at all. I found them to be friendly, helpful and accommodating. The fact of the matter is I felt a little bad for Parisians; they seem sad. Maybe it’s because I came from Ireland, where the people, much like the people of Detroit, are generally upbeat and gregarious even in the face of economic woes and shite weather. The Parisians, it would seem, have it all but don’t know how to appreciate it. Maybe it’s because we’ve learned to live with so little that we don’t overlook the small things.

2. Green spaces - Paris, like any large city, has a lot of hard surfaces. Concrete, asphalt and cobblestone are everywhere. There are enormous parks to be sure, but there aren’t small parks scattered throughout the city. Detroit is a lot leafier. And on that note, I would dare to say the water in the Detroit River is cleaner than La Siene. I think we value nature more.

3. Food - Paris is a city with enormous diversity, and while there are plenty of ethnic restaurants, most that I visited seemed to be Parisian one-offs. Detroit is often segregated to a fault, but when it comes to food, authentic restaurants run by first- or second-generation immigrants tend to do a better job of retaining their unique cultural identity. In Paris the restaurants assimilate a little too quickly. Shout-out to Detroit for quick meals (I don’t always want a full three-course sit-down) and for poutine — killing it.

4. Smoking and Nike hi-tops - I’m not the smoking police. In fact, I almost wanted to have a cigarette in Paris just to do it. Smoking on sidewalks is fine, but smoking in the entry of a restaurant isn’t the same as actually leaving the building. Step outside a little farther, folks. And why grown men in Paris so often wear Nike hi-tops is beyond me. Weird fashion trend.

5. Wine and Beer - I might catch flack for saying this, but I think Detroit has a better handle on beer and wine. The French, of course, make and drink fantastic wine. However, the restaurants I visited served mostly Bordeaux as a red, and Heineken as a beer option. Both are great drinks, but both are widely available in Detroit and are but a small portion of our diverse drinking choices.

6. Cars and Driving - At six and a half feet tall I don’t stand a chance at riding in cars in Paris, let alone driving and pushing the clutch with my knees in the dashboard. Sometimes size does matter, and I love the size and power of American cars. And while I dig the scooters and small motorcycles as a more fuel-efficient alternative, Parisians drive motorbikes like maniacs, sometimes cutting onto the sidewalk to skip an intersection or avoid a traffic jam. If you think biking in Detroit is tough, try walking in Paris.

More photographic proof I visited Paris. Have you travelled between Detroit and Paris? What cultural differences did you find particularly surprising? What did you want to bring back to Michigan?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Top 3 Michigan Waters | Instagram Photos

Michigan has so much great water it’s really impossible to pick favorites. Since I grew up on the Lakeshore, Lake Michigan will always be my number one. And since I spend a lot of time in Grayling I can’t live without Lake Margrethe or the AuSable River. So with apologies to the Two-Hearted River, Tahquamenon Falls, Grand Traverse Bay, Hamlin Lake and all the Great Lakes, here are my top three Michigan water photos from this summer, as seen through Instagram

Lake Michigan on a stormy day. Great rip tides.

Lake Margrethe. The dog waits on the end of the dock for a boat ride.

The Holy Waters of the AuSable River — a truly religious experience.

Follow me on Instagram @TimChilcote.