Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

27 August 2012

Surviving Third World America, Part One: Grain Elevators

Now, before I get started, I have to admit:
I have never read Arianna Huffington's book
on Third World America, though perhaps I should.

It's just my own private, personal interpretation
that I now impart: 

The U.S.A. is rapidly becoming 
a former First World Country.
I really believe that.
And as we plummet, we're becoming
the 21st Century Wild West,
most recently embodied by the armed laid-off worker
who killed his former boss in broad daylight.

It used to be, if there was to be
a dual, that both parties got a weapon.
But no, not in Third World, Wild West America.

Why are so many people going crazy?
Because so many of us have experienced so much wealth 
that we really don't know how to handle it
when it's suddenly gone.

That is, unless you live in an American city
that's been suffering recession longer than the rest of the country.

And that's where the title of this entry comes in,
I do.

O.K., I'll finally admit it:
I live in #2:
Buffalo, New York.
No, I wasn't born here,
(remember, I was born over 400 years ago,
in Greece, and have lived in countless places
since then) but right now,
I live in Buffalo.

And like so many other places, Buffalo
is a state of mind,
and for several years after I moved here
it was a state 
of mind
that I desperately wanted to leave.

But, unlike many Buffalonians,
I happen to have a job here, in a field
that it's hard to find a job in.

And it just so happens that Buffalo, NY
is a pretty good place to live
if you happen to have a job. 
There's lots of reasons for that, but perhaps
one of the most intriguing reasons is because,
only 100 years ago,
Buffalo was a very desirable city to live in,
and plenty of people did,
and  because of that, plenty of very famous architects did work here.
Much of it still stands:

Indeed, it's very easy to find a very nice house in Buffalo,
and live very frugally.

Now, I'm not here to convince you to move to Buffalo,
but I will say, it has grown on me.
I've learned to cross country ski
and bike, both of which
are very good ways to get around this city.

And I've been discovering that many of the secrets
of surviving, and living in
Third World America
might be answered right here.

Rather than blast you with a ton of stuff right away,
I'm going to focus on one feature at a time,
and tonight I'm slightly in awe of this:

Buffalo has plenty of abandoned grain elevators,
because they were actually invented here, in 1843,
by a fellow named Joseph Dart.
At that time, Buffalo was centrally located 
between the midwest
and the water ways that could bring products to the east.
This produced a need for a place to store grain, in particular,
while it was waiting to be shipped; thus, this behemoth.
And they were used continually, as the city grew, thanks 
to the Erie Canal, 
and continued to be used, a little beyond that thoroughfare's demise.

But when I moved here, I found, they just stood empty,
as they had been standing for years:

huge, hulking structures,
ghosts of an industry long gone, like the mines of 
Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, 
the work these monsters housed,
and the workers too,
are gone, long gone, and the buildings left to rot.

~ ~
Now, one of the many admirable qualities Buffalonians have
at a level much higher than the residents of other dead cities,
is a strong sense of historical pride,
and some very bull-headed local grass roots preservation organizations.
I'll write later about some of the preservation work they're doing in this town,
because it's quite remarkable.  Remember,
I've lived in lots of places, and the way this city rallies to restore itself
is pretty admirable.  Well, one of the historical fascinations among
Buffalonians is these grain elevators.  Some of them (the one above, in fact,
photographed by me about a year ago) have been destroyed,
but several have become sites of exploration.  Tours go through them now, 
and last night I witnessed an amazing thing:
a performance in a grain elevator.

My admiration was won a few years ago by an innovative theatre group called
Torn Space, and they got the job of mounting this show,
which included dancers pirouetting above from wires in the high, 
echoing, empty storage chambers,

to Beckettian monologues

to classical minimalism

(all photos from The Buffalo News )

It was, quite simply, transformative.  And when we all walked out,
to watch videos by different artists projected on the largest screen I've ever experienced,

nearly everyone there was seeing this structure
no longer as an eyesore, but rather
as a place of potential.
Knowing Buffalo, they'll keep using the grain elevators this way,
making them another exclusive hang-out spot 
for their abundance of gritty artists and performers and musicians
and cool wanna-be's from the suburbs.

This is, I would say, one of the coolest ways to 
survive Third World America:

turn it into an avant-garde art venue.

Oh, and by the way, did I tell you admission was free?
Maybe it won't be the next time,
but the flame has been lit
and there will be
a next time.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Fascinating re-use of those huge grain elevators! Very innovative. But shouldn't Buffalonians be called Bison, LOL?

Makropoulos said...

Ah, yes. Their are buffalo at the corner of my street (at the zoo), that you can watch from the street. Every now and then someone walks by and says: But they're really Bison! And that's true.

laura.forestdreams:) said...

wow...very cool REuse of the abandoned grain elevators!!

it's nice to see and hear...about imaginative artistic works rather than so many horror stories lately!

go bison!! =)