Moving to Detroit is like jumping into the middle of a thousand-page novel without any Cliffs Notes.
Earth-shaking plot points have passed and the characters’ bias is well-formed. Trying to insert yourself into that story is a challenge. Fortunately, you have a guide in Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy.
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It’s embarrassing to admit as a poet, but I hadn’t read a lot of Philip Levine’s poetry before moving to the Detroit area. And even then, I discovered it incidentally. Yet Philip Levine’s poetry about Detroit proved welcome reading to a newcomer trying to uncover what this scarred and divided city is all about.
Levine wrote the style of poetry that I aspire to. His poetry is visceral. It provides a glimpse into the heart of a working-class Detroiter, and gives us a tremendous understanding of what sense of place. His poetry transports you to a moment in time, generally a moment in time somewhere in Detroit. I invite you to read a few of these poems from Philip Levine from The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry:
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Lent is the season in which Catholics traditionally “give something up” for forty days, just like Christ fasted for forty days in the desert. But sometimes Lenten promises are a lot like New Year’s resolutions.
Everyone starts out bound and determined to give up something that they’ve been bound and determined to give up every year. Smoking. Overeating. Eating out too much. Not working out. They eventually start to sputter. They go back to the previous state.
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POONCH-key. I’ve been told that that’s how you pronounce the word printed on that box. I had to use a special Polish keyboard tool just to be able to properly type the name. It might be difficult to say, but it’s worth learning if you like delicious pastries.
My fiance’s family introduced me to pączki as an after-breakfast desert. The pastry looks like a filled donut, a treat I try to avoid because Bavarian cream is so heavy. But I was in for a surpise. The filling inside pączki is very light, and the hint of lemon (I read that orange zest is also used) was fluffy and delicious.
Moving to Detroit has already exposed me to several new cultural traditions. And this is another one from the large Polish population.
Pączki is known as a delicacy used to celebrate Mardi Gras. While in the south people are slinging beads and getting trashed, the Polish celebrate the beginning of lent by enjoying a treat that they’re going to give up for the season. It’s so popular that I’ve heard that pączki is hard to find in the days leading up to Mardi Gras.
The pączki that we ate last weekend was found at Meijer. Yet as with all things ethnic, you’re likely to find the tastiest renditions at mom and pop shops. If you live in the Detroit area, Hamtramck would be a good place to start (the New Palace Bakery has good reviews).