Monthly Archives: February 2014

Losing ground

February 24, 2014

As the snowiest January on record drew to a bitter end and the news reported that even the middle class is now being priced out of apartments in highly desirable areas such as downtown and Midtown, construction crews broke ground just west of the M-10 the Lodge expressway in Woodbridge Farm, a historic neighborhood long feeling the push, if not the shove, of gentrification, or whatever you want to call it.

Woodbridge Farm, a thin ribbon of land designated historic by the city and the National Register of Historic Places, spans Trumbull and Lincoln from Canfield to Grand River. It is not included in the larger Woodbridge historic neighborhood designation, a boundary some residents think may benefit from expansion. With only two houses standing on its northernmost block, the surrounding empty lots have no grounds for historic designation, and in come the developers.

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This was a field I’d walked through many times before. Residents were shocked, outraged at the sudden appearance of workers cutting down tall, old trees in the park-like greenspace where many brought their dogs to romp. As bulldozers arrived, calls to the historic commission yielded nothing to help stop the destruction. The lots are rightly owned by Scripps Park Associates, the firm behind Woodbridge Estates, an enclave of generic, vinyl-sided new houses and townhomes situated between the freeway and Woodbridge Farm’s eastern boundary. Woodbridge Estates will be filling the block with more shoddy rent-to-own duplexes. Residents complain that construction within the original footprint of the development, aptly nicknamed Vinyl Village, has gone too slowly, leaving foundations capped for years. Why uproot more ground elsewhere when a reasonable density there hasn’t yet been achieved? The expiration of building permits knows no common sense.

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So it goes in the city. One thing gets knocked down to make room for another. Soon enough few will remember the fields that were there, just as I don’t remember the apartment buildings that once stood, fairly recently, on the same lot. Change is good, or so implies the mantra many Detroiters hear and repeat: we need neighbors. But do we need the neighbors to live in depressing, identical drab beige structures?

The staff in Woodbridge Estates’ rental office was unaware that the lots newly under development were in their jurisdiction until a grounds maintenance person wandered in while they were hemming and hawing. Overhearing our conversation, he exclaimed, “Yeah, I have to remove snow all the way up there now!” and directed me to the construction trailer, the nucleus of project operations. The trailer is warm and sunny, full of drawings and xerox machines and cold blueprints meting out what residents had thought was common ground. Nobody’s actually bought anything since 2007, the project manager told me on my third and most successful visit (on my second attempt, all but one worker had left shortly past noon to attend a retirement party).

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The project manager, an affable guy named Howard who lives in the cushy northwestern suburb of West Bloomfield, took time to talk with me about the duplexes, seeming genuinely curious that neighbors were concerned over the appearance of the planned buildings. When I asked about whether care had been taken to mesh the appearance of new housing with the existing neighborhood character, he said that they should match better than the ones standing in Woodbridge Estates, but that he didn’t have final renderings yet. In this case, he told me, the developer had asked the architect to drive through and pick out some paint colors that would be a better fit than their usual dirt-hued “neutral” palette. How strange, to begin construction when the people in charge of the project don’t even know how the buildings will look.

These lovely drafts are from Progressive Associates, Inc., architects based in Bloomfield Hills.

These lovely drafts are from Progressive Associates, Inc., architects based in Bloomfield Hills.

Had he seen much of Woodbridge himself?, I inquired. He seemed surprised. “I’ve driven through it a couple of times, yeah.” Howard was aware of the two “tenements” on the block, a baffling word choice for the two historic homes, among others, that his company is working to emulate visually. Whenever I walk by at lunchtime, the street is lined with the shiny trucks of construction personnel, idling, each guy eating his lunch in solitude as few yards as possible from the jobsite. I wonder if they ever explore the neighborhood, wander through these fields they’re digging up, or if they return promptly to their vinyl-sided paradise, leaving the “tenements” out of sight and mind.

The "tenements."

The “tenements.”

Walking to Woodbridge from the venerable Cass Cafe during yet another snowstorm, I said to a friend, “Hey, we’re at Canfield already!” “You mean, more like Can’t-field these days,” he said as we looked at the stark structures newly rising from pits hollowed in the ground.

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Perhaps it is just the way things will go, that all neighborhoods will have their own vinyl village, like elegant Brush Park with its unsightly rash of condos at the southern end. “With its suburban appearance and barren surroundings, the Woodward Place condo development isn’t exactly the pinnacle of the Detroit rental scene. Near so much architectural glory, many overlook the units in favor of something more loft-like,” says Curbed about one of the first and most successful developments near downtown. Even MOCAD is absurdly accompanied by its own vinyl ghost, the unfortunate Mike Kelley replica ranch, little more than a mean jab at Detroit’s citizens and circumstances veiled as a really exclusive library. To someone, this type of development must be voluntary, even desirable. Who?

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If only they all came with pedestrian walkways!

If only they all came with pedestrian walkways!

Watching the greying heads of the supervisors at the Woodbridge Estates jobsite, it doesn’t seem like a far stretch to speculate that these are the structures admired by an older generation, the people who fled the city and built burbs full of McMansions. As renovating old commercial spaces into airy lofts and rehabbing historic residences to their former grandeur has smitten my generation, it’s curious that buildings like these continue to go up. Will future generations see these repetitive, uninspired houses as something to cherish and protect, the way we feel about older, more architecturally-rich ones? Is it all a matter of perspective, or worse, fashion?

It just seems that we can do so much better than this. Why can’t more infill housing look like Briggs, where houses built in this century have, if not some of their own charm, then a neighborly benevolence toward the older structures with which they share blocks? They can. But with the plans already in place, what can be done about these lots? What can be done to protect other blocks in our neighborhoods from the dubiously-motivated interests of wealthy men from the burbs?

For the past month, the construction equipment has been parked in the middle of the field that once was, abjectly motionless, surrounded by mounds of dirt. On the remaining fringe of land, people still come to play fetch with their dogs. It’s hard to complain; Detroit certainly suffers from no dearth of fields yet. It’s ironic that the neighborhoods regarded as disadvantaged by most other measures become the envy of those receiving such well-monied attentions. When this field is gone, where will people take their dogs to play? Maybe when Dan Gilbert is done installing the new art district, he’ll put in a fancy dog park somewhere, and we can all just drive over there, because that’s how to create a vibrant community. Tough luck to everyone else who simply wanted a piece of greenspace in their neighborhood, leaves to crunch through in the fall, and in all seasons a rare local breath of fresh air.

Watch out, Weeping Willow Meadow! A name does not guarantee you'll be remembered.

Watch out, Weeping Willow Meadow! A name does not guarantee you’ll be remembered.

UPDATE: 03.08.14
This week, dump trucks have been arriving laden with heap after heap of dirt and gravel, the excavated foundations of housing elsewhere all over lots not slated to be developed until well into the future. Trees wait waist-deep in mud. It seems torturous. And this is a good use of greenspace, this hotbed of unfulfilled dreams.

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UPDATE: 03.11.14
Whew! Our friendly development cheerleaders have made it to the game. Curbed reports today on a new housing slated to break ground somewhere in “Southwest Midtown” by none other than the Slavik Management, part of the team of hole-diggers disturbing Woodbridge Farm with their foundation voids and willy-nilly accumulations. Curbed speculates that the new arm of Vinyl Village will go in at the sadly defunct Wigle Recreation Center on the east side of the Lodge, conveniently connected to Vinyl Village proper by the Selden pedestrian bridge. If Curbed is correct, this is devastating news not only for greenspace enthusiasts making the trek from Woodbridge to Midtown but also the teams who practice sports there all summer.

Far worse yet, Curbed references a Model D article that reads more like a press release happily penned by Slavik Development. Model D lays out the geography of Woodbridge Estates, then emits the following burp of nonsense:

“Woodbridge Farm, another Slavik development, runs directly adjacent to the west of Woodbridge Estates. Eight single-family house lots remain in that development. Gold says that these homes are being designed with the surrounding historic architecture in mind.”

Woodbridge Farm, a Slavik Development? A rambler comments, setting the story straight: “woodbridge farm is a neighborhood of 19th century Victorian homes that already exists. the prefab mess that’s currently going up on Trumbull is not woodbridge farm, it’s just more vinyl village. the plans look identical to the cookie-cutter houses where the streets have weird names east of Gibson.”

UPDATE 03.17.14:
Please see the comments for important notes regarding the boundaries of these historic districts and encroaching developments.

Construction fence unrolled to the brink of the sidewalk, this is the last time someone will stand on this ground, until we tear these down and do it all over again.

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Rambling report

February 17, 2014

A little cold, a little ramble. We left behind the foggy glass and perennial leafiness of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and moved toward northeast end of Belle Isle as the sun did its damnedest to shine.

Reading, maybe, "A History of Belle Isle" at the front desk.

Reading, maybe, “A History of Belle Isle” at the front desk.

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It didn’t take long before ramblers were speculating about business plans for a cafe on Belle Isle. Trudging between the frozen canals and the old zoo with its marvelous domed structures and paths swooping overhead, we entered the forest. One rambler commented on the paucity of massive trees. “They’re mostly ash,” explained another. Then we met Bert, a viny old soul outfitted with a spigot.

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After trekking single-file through the woods, following the snowy trail divoted with ski tracks, we decided against venturing to the windy point where the William Livingstone memorial lighthouse sits, because what’s so exciting about the only marble lighthouse in the United States, anyway? We ran into some friends out driving with a camera lens enormous enough to be easily mistaken for a tripod. They advised us of nearby bald eagles, having just watched one consume a duck out on the ice.

We curved past the nature zoo, admiring its lavish bird villas, and cut behind Lake Muskoday in search of the lonely covered bridge. We sunk into snow up to our knees, not to speak of the snow still packed underfoot, wondering about the original purpose of a series of small buildings that most recently housed a disc golf center.

Snow in boots.

Snow in boots in snow by the willows.

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The crumbly bridge was filled with curious little graffiti and what we reckoned might be the nests of paper wasps, though they were less numerous than in the past. We sat on the benches that line either side of the bridge, trying to hug some warmth back into a cold dog, before deciding the better strategy might be to keep moving. In a clearing, huge stacks of things better called tree trunks than logs were piled high, probably evidence of Michigan’s DNR at work tidying the trails. We joked about making a nice bonfire.

This is not a slick of ice -- interesting lesson in melting things.

This is not a slick of ice — interesting lesson in melting things.

Questionable strategy to warm a cold dog -- wear her as a scarf.

Questionable strategy to warm a cold dog — wear her as a scarf.

We never quite made it to the beach, but it was a lovely ramble nonetheless. A fleet of huge snowflakes settled all around us as we parted ways at the conservatory.

We won’t be rambling again until April, but there are lots of events on the calendar for early spring, like the annual Marche du Nain Rouge on Sunday, March 23. This year’s march will have a special contingent we encourage you to join — the Anti-Funeral Procession for Cass Corridor.

Fake flowers

February 15, 2014

The park was erratically carpeted in rose petals. How quaint. They were clinging to the wet ground and flung up bright against the snowbanks. I hadn’t forgotten it was Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t expecting to find evidence of the holiday in such abundance.

Someone had chalked a gigantic marriage proposal across the pavement, a mildly charming, low-budget way of posing the question. It was fitting that the ephemeral words marking something of supposed permanence, usually associated with the gift of a diamond, were left to smudge and fade away with an afternoon’s weather. Inspecting the petals more closely, they were all too uniform, each created in the identical likeness of the other, tawdry red polyester or some such silk stand-in. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bouquet of fake flowers. The sentiment was probably real; the flowers fake. Perhaps both are weatherproof.

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It’d be great if somebody would buy Detroit more than fake flowers, show some real love. Visitors keep gaily trying to gab my ear off about “Detroit coming back,” but it seems less like an organic blooming than a displacement, someone else’s Detroit looming, overshadowing the existing leaves and buds. The News reports that Showcase Collectibles, the wild little vintage shop at the corner of Cass and Peterboro, topsy-turvy full of every odd thing you can imagine, received their 30-day eviction notice yesterday on their $550-a-month space. Given the new owner’s great (and entirely understandable) haste to begin renovations, we probably won’t be left long walking past a sign like this, a sad reminder of the former Marwil Books just up the street at Cass and Warren.

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In Dan Gilbertland, Capitol Park residents have two weeks remaining in their eviction period. Metro Times pens a poignant farewell, quoting one resident: “We’ve had, like, a pretty vibrant artist community for a while, before we were here,” calling Gilbert’s art district plan “super ironic.” “You really can’t make that up,” he said. “It’s essentially becoming a company town. Like, where we own the company, we own the housing, we secure the streets.” While we’ll be out rambling tomorrow, the building will be hosting an open house/estate sale.

Meanwhile, Wayne State law professor Peter Hammer is calling the Detroit Future City plan a “deathblow” that will “re-organize Detroit out of existence.” He’ll explain further at a talk at Marygrove on February 25.

Sad times! It’s a lot, all at once.

Rambling alert! Sunday, February 16

February 10, 2014

This Sunday, February 16, the Detroit Area Rambling Network will be taking a long walk on the beach! Meet at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle at 3:00 with your boots and other wintry accoutrements. Since there will be no coffee stops, bring your warm beverage of choice to tide you over until we’re back on the mainland.

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It’s supposed to snow, but when isn’t it supposed to snow? Like it or not, today is the first day of the official state takeover of Belle Isle as Michigan’s 102nd state park, at least until the lease runs out in 2044. Maybe by the time we get there, some snowplowing will have happened. In case of severe snow, the outing will be postponed until the following week.

As always, walking is free and open to the public. If you’ve already celebrated your birthday this year (and renewed your vehicle tabs), you’ll need a recreation passport to board the isle. You can still walk on for free.

If you miss us this time, you can amble vicariously through the rambling report, or catch up with us on the next expedition in April. Have a look at the 2014 schedule and mark your calendar accordingly.

On really looking

February 5, 2014

On yet another snowy day, with a foot injured from trampling January’s crusty ice clods, sitting inside has never seemed finer — or, at least, less dismal. I’ve been spending time with Italo Calvino, one of the few writers whose immaculate insight locates precisely what’s at the center of a landscape, urban or rural, and its people’s interaction with it. His collection of stories Invisible Cities is a classic that holds up to as many instances of reading as the paper will permit. In contrast with recent works published on the subject of looking, Calvino’s wit, tenderness, and verbal majesty never fail to surprise, to transport the reader into a more imaginative frame of mind.

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In “Stories of Love and Loneliness,” a collection of eight short works written in the 1950s and published in English in the volume Difficult Loves, Calvino relates the awkward adventures of some common archetypes — the poet, soldier, traveller, clerk, among others. Here is an excerpt from “The Adventure of a Nearsighted Man.”

He caught on, finally. The fact was that he was near-sighted. The oculist prescribed eyeglasses for him. After that moment his life changed, became a hundred times richer in interest than before.
Just slipping on the glasses was, every time, a thrill for him. He might be, for instance, at a tram stop, and he would be overcome by sadness because everything, people and objects around him, was so vague, banal, worn from being as it was; and him there, groping in the midst of a flabby world of nearly decayed forms and colors. He would put on his glasses to read the number of the arriving tram, and all would change: the most ordinary things, even lampposts, were etched with countless tiny details, with sharp lines, and the faces, the faces of strangers, each filled up with little marks, dots of beard, pimples, nuances of expression that there had been no hint of before; and he could understand what material clothes were made of, could guess the weave, could spot the fraying at the hem. Looking became an amusement, a spectacle; not looking at this thing or that — just looking. And so Amilcare Carruga forgot to note the tram number, missed one car after another or else climbed onto the wrong one. He saw such a quantity of things that it was as if he no longer saw anything. Little by little, he had to become accustomed, learn all over again from the beginning what was pointless to look at and what was necessary.

Yes, it’s all that lovely, and not very difficult. Read the rest of the story to find out what happens to Amilcare Carruga on his walks around town. Available at your local library.

Walking with wildlife

February 2, 2014

Although Alexandra Horowitz’s freshly-reviewed and much-hyped book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes disappointingly fell flat in the execution of an otherwise nice concept, her frantic fact-finding is usually more charming than disarming. One anecdote she relates is particularly quaint. As she recalls walking with Humane Society wildlife scientist John Hadidian, who has spent more than 25 years tracking and studying Procyon lotor, the common raccoon, she says, “Even a century ago, raccoons were fairly beloved in America. They were popular as pets and were knows as mischevious, inquisitive, and quick studies. President Coolidge, sent a raccoon for his Thanksgiving table, promptly decreed her his pet, named her Rebecca, and took her with him on long walks and on whistle-stop train tours.”

Photo from the Library of Congress.

Photo from the Library of Congress.

The verity of her rendition of Coolidge’s story is questionable — how long a walk on a leash is a raccoon willing to take? Rebecca’s favorite pastime was reportedly “being placed in a bathtub with a little water in it and given a cake of soap with which to play. In this fashion she would amuse herself for an hour or more,” as First Lady Grace Coolidge wrote. She also enjoyed rides around the house, draped across the back of President Coolidge’s neck.

Now this mode of comport is unthinkable, but apparently rabies wasn’t a widespread problem in raccoons until the 1950s. Raccoons are less visible in Detroit than one might think, where the seemingly rarer foxes and, recently, even coyotes roam freely. Their nocturnal brethren the opposum and everybody’s favorite, the rat, run rampant through the neighborhoods. Sometimes raccoons turn up near restaurant dumpsters, infiltrating bags of trash with their neat slender fingers, but squirrels have some obvious corners on the domestic trash market, judging by the holes where plastic lids of garbage cans have been chewed through.

Photo from Detroitblogger John.

Photo from Detroitblogger John.

While feasting on raccoon meat seems to have also passed out of fashion, the practice persists in some places close to home where southern appetites rule. Perhaps somewhere in the city, someone keeps a pet raccoon, and if I walk far enough, I’ll find them toddling happily down the street together.

Don’t walk this way

February 1, 2014

There’s something eternally captivating about travel narratives, even the most mundane ones that happen close to home. It’s also the time of year — especially this year — when it’s tough to do much other than envision equatorial adventures through the lines of frost on the windows. Last spring, a new book titled On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz seemed to appear everywhere, basking in positive media mentions. I sought it out, walking to the library time after time only to find it out on loan. Imagining that the book was so hotly in demand that the library couldn’t keep it on the shelf for as long as it took me to get there after verifying its presence in the catalog, my fervor increased.

After about six months, I finally had the book. I sat down to read and was confronted by something less “breathlessly wonderful” as Maria Popova gushed on the always-fascinating brainpickings.org, or as “brilliant” as the New York Society Library would have me believe. “It is undoubtedly one of the most stimulating books of the year, if not the decade, and the most enchanting thing I’ve read in ages,” promised Popova, who went on to highlight perhaps every quotable passage in the entire book. Contrary to expectations, after a chapter or two, I realized that, despite the low reading level required by Horowitz’s halting prose, the reason this thing was never at the library was because nobody could actually finish reading it.

It took a truly humiliating number of renewals and late fines, but I made it through, and unlike a long walk, I’m no better for it. Sometimes I laughed so much I cried, not because the book is actually humorous, but because Horowitz’s struggles are so sad. The book is about attention, about taking time to notice, as Horowitz quotes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “the observation of trifles.”

Instead she practically jogs through the book, breathless at times, stumbling over both words and ideas. It’s one thing for elegant phrasing to elude someone who is a cognitive scientist by trade; that’s easily forgivable in an age when many of our books are written by politicians and basketball players and chefs who haven’t yet quit their day job to pursue a creative writing MFA. Popova’s review boasted that as “[f]irst, she takes a walk all by herself, trying to note everything observable, and we quickly realize that besides her deliciously ravenous intellectual curiosity, Horowitz is a rare magician with language,” but the evidence is scant.

It’s a lovely concept — who am I to say no to eleven walks with nice people who can narrate to you a world visible only to them? It’s magic. Horowitz, inspired and mystified by walks with her former mutt, recruited an impressive range of guides for the natural and unnatural microcosms of the Manhattan blocks she calls home. She walks with her nineteen-month-old son, her dog, a geologist, an entomologist, a senior scientist in the wildlife division of the Humane Society, a doctor and medicine professor, an urban planner, a typographer, an illustrator, a sound designer, a blind person, and, of course, herself.

Her fourth walk, and one of the most depressing, is with venerable illustrator Maira Kalman, beloved advocate of the whole walking-and-noticing thing. Horowitz quotes Kalman’s maxim, “If you are ever bored or blue, stand on the street corner for half an hour.” After thirty-five minutes of this (Horowitz seems always to be counting), she cheerily reports, “Not only was any glimmer of boredom vanquished, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t grow less azure by the second,” with the trite cheesiness that’s by now her unfortunate trademark. Boredom glimmers? Who knew.

It’s hard not to cringe as she dumbly tags along with Kalman, seeming perplexed at every turn how this could be taking so long. When she describes Kalman’s walking pace as “loitering,” it just feels disrespectful. It’s hard to doubt that, as originator of this concept, she truly wants to be there; nonetheless, most of the walks in the book feel rushed, even when she is busy verbalizing reluctance to part with her walking companions. Maybe she is cold, or has to pee.

She does fulfill the objective of expanding her range of noticeable things, even if among those is the humdrum onward march of the hours. “This is not to say that everyone I walked with saw everything. Moments into my walk with one of the world’s foremost researchers on the science of paying attention, she stepped right over sixty dollars lying in her path on the street. She simply did not notice it,” she writes incredulously.

Horowitz also assembles quite a parade of interesting tidbits over the course of the book. She seems to shy away from being present during the walks, groping to accomplish this with strategies like counting down minutes, spastically cataloging things of questionable relevance, or rambling tangentially about dogs or monkeys. Delving into fact, and better yet, scientific studies, is where she is at her most lucid. Her sigh of relief whenever she digs into this comfortable territory is so palpable it nearly blows the page out of your hand. Aside from most musings quickly devolving into a debriefing on some study about animals (clearly her work teaching psychology, animal behavior, and canine cognition, according to the author bio, is never far from her heart), the collage of facts is not totally unwelcome. It provides a respite from the onslaught of her poorly-wrought observations, like ducking behind a building on a windy day. Lest you believe that all of our actions come down to wiring shared with apes and canines, she writes, “Notably, not all of our crowd behavior mirrors the animal swarms,” but only in that we’re not also cannibalistic, like desert locusts. As Horowitz listens to bird calls, she suddenly conjures up a whale. Since this is not an animal usually found either in the lab or on the streets of Manhattan, she provides a lonely illustration.

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Oftentimes bewildering, at her best Horowitz is giggle-inducing. “As the taxi passes, a stenciled POST NO BILLS is discernible on the scaffolding hulking over the sidewalk. Words are the ample cleavage of the urban environment: impossible not to look at.” Funny? Kind of, but Horowitz makes so many gauche blunders that one must wonder whether the joke is on her. Another highlight is when she lumpily wonders at how “in this part of the city the humanity is remarkably peaceable and hushed. I worried that we would only hear the rustle of expensive silk undergarments from this neighborhood.”

This hint of linguistic dexterity is a part-time phenomenon. When the geologist tells her about the precise type of schist making up a wall in Central Park, she says, “Yikes! Here I must pause, anticipating a collective drop in reader blood pressure. One risks, in writing about geology, numbing one’s readership with the terminology. Schist, gneiss, phyllite; metamorphic, sedimentary, siliciclastic, schistosity. It can be dizzying. I sympathize. I hear “Paleozoic” and I nearly drop right into a deep sleep.” Twelve pages later, we’re supposed to believe this is the same walker who, with her husband, owns literally “hundreds of dictionaries, whose main role in our lives are first, to wait uncomplaining until they are thumbed through by us, and second, to then offer up such masterpieces of grace and charm as omphalos, amanuensis, and picklesome.” Horowitz’s efforts to have it both ways are discordant, making her an unreliable narrator and guide.

It’s hard to be so disappointed by this book when one gets the sense that Horowitz, ever-toying with her own weird-fangled brand of whimsy, is a noble ally. In a particularly relatable moment, she confides that “[s]ome years ago I began noticing, then collecting, stray single gloves or mittens lying forlornly on the ground, displaced from the hands they had been warming. These melancholy creatures, always frozen in an awkward or pleading pose, indicated recent passage of someone busily doing something requiring a free hand, I found more right gloves than left, probably a reflection of the overwhelming right-handedness of people, and the inclination to remove a right glove to do something requiring dexterity: take out one’s wallet, punch in a phone number, retie a shoe.” While I can’t say I agree with her assessment, it’s a nice notion that someone else is monitoring these apparitions.

As Horowitz takes a loop around the block to determine what’s shifted in her awareness, she is overcome by a monstrous zeal. Everything has changed. Suddenly there are letters and rocks and triangles and noises and plants everywhere. She says, “It was a new street. My eye caught sight of something a few yards down the street. I nearly leapt toward it, rudely lunging right in front of someone happening to walk by and not anticipating nearly-leapers. The object of my lungely leaping was a gaping sidewalk crack, unfilled with mortar. I kneeled and peered in. Inside lived dozens of tiny, hopeful two-leafed plants pushing up toward the light. None bore the mark of an insect.”

Horowitz demonstrates a very interesting tactic to spice up other people’s walks, without all the bothersome invitations and consent — just jump in front of them and kneel down on the ground. They’ll be sure to notice lots of new things as they trip over you and you both end up in a woeful tangle on the sidewalk. The most important lesson for the reader is a simple one — don’t walk this way.

She concludes: “The result of these walks on my head is tangible: they refined what I can see. My mind can prepare my eyes to spontaneously find a leaf gall, to hear an air conditioner’s hum, to smell the sickly sweet smell of garbage on a city street (or the fragrance of my own soap on my face, instead).” I hope she enjoyed all those walks on her head. My mind can prepare my eyes to not read this book again.

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