Compiled by Eric Plamondon
Winter months are rich in contemplation. Year-end reviews make us think of our past. Drinks in pubs with friends make us dream or our future. Moments staring into a fire (people still have fireplaces in
their homes, right?) make us reflect on what we can do to shape our future, or rather what we could be doing with our time. What is the relationship between history and circumstance and what it can mean for our future in one particular space? This edition of “Every City Has Its Gay” explores cities rich in history and how they put its residents or visitors in certain frame of mind.
Surrounded by Glowing Orbs, We Look Past
Text by Ryan Vetter
WINNIPEG, CANADA—It was Friday night. The week had been a doozy and I wanted to go out with my boyfriend to celebrate. We go to a local bar filled with loud, colourful folks parading around in a frenzy of slurred speech. Endless stimulation.
I can barely hear myself think, let alone my boyfriend trying to talk to me. Given his mood, I’m pulled to another space—one where history was and is made.
I leave the bar a bit deflated because I’m leaving a place that is buzzing with people. He decides to grab a blanket and take me for a walk. We end up at the Manitoba Legislative Building, a building that was erected in a different era, when dreams and ambitions were carved in Tyndall stone.
He sets up the blanket on the cold, wet grass and we lie down to face the sky. Surrounding us are what seem like hundreds of orange orbs subtly lighting the green spaces around the building. The glowing orbs bounce off my eyes and create a glorious sensation of calm inside me, stimulating me in a different way.
He tells me to close my eyes. I obey. He asks what I see. We begin dreaming and talking about places we could be, wish we would be and how we would be within such places. Our souls stretched across nations, planets and galaxies, reaching as far as our fantasies allow us to travel.
It might have been the lighting, it might have been the sphinxes, it might have been the statues of explorers and it might have been the fact that the building is a gathering place for people who want to shape history. But here in Winnipeg, we are connected to something beyond just this city.
I think we forget that in our imaginations we can be anywhere. He was right to bring me here. As it confirmed that all the hard work of the week was well worth it in a city like this one, which has been home to dreamers and hard workers for more than a century.
Medina, A Labyrinth of the Mind
Text and photo by Eric Plamondon
EZ, MOROCCO—A fez is not only a hat worn by full-grown men in little cars. It’s one of the major cities in Morocco and has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. Fez has a medieval city centre full of open air tanneries that were established more than a thousand years ago and still function now as they did back then.
There are many elements that speak to the authentic exoticism of Morocco. Its cities are defined by their history and deep roots in Muslim culture. In Fez, veiled locals walk the Medina streets with chickens in hand, while tourists wander the souks (markets) filled with merchandise obviously not made in China (no manufacturing stickers here). Craftsmen are at work right in front of you, snails or chameleons are still moving around, spices
fill huge colourful vats that are indistinguishable by site except to the owner.
History in Muslim culture is as impactful as the Atlas Mountains that define the landscape. Every second building seems to be a minaret with speakers that insistently call people to prayer. So what is a modern-day tourist to do as he seeks travel luxury in Fez? It’s a place with little room on its streets for cars, a place that still uses donkeys for transportation. It’s easy to find hash and many other modern luxuries are available at a fraction of the cost you’d pay for them at home.
Take straight blade shaves from street barbers for example. The barbers are so skilled they could shave customers in the dark. They also use the numbing and bacteria-killing properties of unknown stones in their process.
Hamam baths—much like steaming sessions—can be done privately or in public bath houses, while riads are petite palaces that stand in for boutique hotels.
Contemporary lifestyle choices have their roots in old practices that are alive and well in cities like Fez. Should history be seen as something that distances us from our ancestors or as something that actually transcends our individuality through shared practices? All things considered, its meanings and purposes are not universal.
Epilogue: Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco and punishable by imprisonment.
Rolling into the ‘Rust Belt’
Text and photo by Andrew Ross
DETROIT, U.S.A.—Most of us know about Detroit’s exceptional decline over the past few decades, which was largely fueled by underemployment, depopulation and poverty. I’m not looking to put those beliefs to rest as those issues appear alive and well. I am just offering my brief impressions of the city and especially one of its neighbourhoods.
Corktown is the oldest neighbourhood in the City of Detroit, established mainly as a result of migration following the Irish Potato Famine of the 17th century.
While not totally dysfunctional today, the neighbourhood has hundreds
of lots vacant from demolition, overgrown sidewalks, unlit streets and burned-out buildings. Many streets are either closed or blockaded, making navigation hard for those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford a car. An irony is that here and in other parts of Motor City, using a car is becoming less of a viable option.
As a counter to these challenges, a new narrative is being assembled by proud Detroiters who appear determined to carve out a new path for the place.
In the heart of Corktown, an old abandoned building has become UFO Factory, a silver- painted indie music venue. Bike lanes have sprung up on streets that once only accommodated cars. Public art installations with private donors have popped up in the touristy areas.
These are relatively small regeneration initiatives that come up against bigger practical obstacles, including the fact there is little money to go around. For the moment the question is whether a rebirth based on small injections of ‘hip’ can suffice. Is this the groundwork needed to renew investor confidence and provide more opportunities for Detroit?
We will have to wait and see. It will be great if Corktown and Detroit see more sustainable improvements. Regardless if they do or don’t, it’s worth coming to see this old, but still sort of fantastic city that’s in the midst of re-writing its own history.
–Eric Plamondon is a Winnipeg based freelance writer