Day 2: Buffalo (Part ii)

Note: this project has turned out to be all about the walking.  I have been walking a lot, folks.  In Buffalo’s Delaware Park.  On Belle Isle, in Detroit.  In Chicago, at Washington and Jackson Parks.  Walking, taking pictures, recording sounds, making notes.  Talking to people, when I meet them.  Food and rest are about all I can manage, at the end of the day.  As there are plenty of images and sounds to process, and notes to compile, it is taking some time to get the material up.  I decided to cut out the Louisville leg.  This is too bad, as Louisville sports three great Olmsted parks, but visiting them would have entailed more Greyhound rides (as Amtrak does not serve Louisville by rail), less sleep, less time to write and ride the rails, as originally intended.  Another day!  Instead, I will board “The City of New Orleans” this evening and enjoy my first “roomette” overnight, traveling down the great “Mississippi valley” to reach the Big Easy by three in the afternoon tomorrow.  This should give me time to catch up on the blog.

For now, more Buffalo.

A walk up Niagara, my favorite street in Buffalo.  (Creeley, shaking his head when I mentioned that: “Oh, Niagara street . . .”)

Different languages–Spanish, French, Ivoirien, Portuguese–people sitting outside.  The Rendezvous still there but (I later learn) now a Puerto Rican joint.  Used to be a great bar with a cajun theme.  Where I first saw Buffalo’s own country & western band (never played west of the Mississippi).  The Steam Donkey’s anthem, “Northern Border Town,” shaped a lot of my philosophy about Buffalo.

Choppers parked in front of the Niagara Cafe.  Used to go there for the chicken stew, when I lived on the West Side.  Mayor Byron Brown’s favorite restaurant, apparently.

I meet my host, Robin Brox at Front Park–Robin is skeptical of its Olmstedian values, until I describe a plan to put a green roof over the thruway, lawn to lake.

What’s left of Front Park is now stuck between the U.S. border apparatus and Robert Moses’s river of concrete.

At the end of the nineteenth century this was the sunset rendezvous for all of Buffalo’s fresh air society.

A couple with a red pickup truck seem to be at work restoring the pilasters around the monument to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the “Hero of Lake Erie” who led American forces in a decisive naval victory over the British in the War of 1812.  Peter Hare, Susan Howe’s late husband, was a descendent of Commodore Perry and contributed to the upkeep of this statue.

Now, Perry oversees the battle between Frederick Law Olmsted and Robert Moses.

Views from the Front of the lake and river are also impeded by the Colonel Francis Ward Pumping Station (1915) at LaSalle park.  (There was, additionally, a utility structure at this site, about five years ago, which seems to have been removed.)  Olmsted’s plans were impractical but founded on phenomena: “the site commands a river effect such as can be seen, I believe, nowhere else—a certain quivering of the surface and a rare tone of color, the result of the crowding upward of the lake waters as they enter the deep portal of the Niagara.”

You can catch this effect best by walking out the long pier (or “mole”) off Squaw Island (now Bird Island, I believe) at the end of West Ferry.

After lunch, I meet up with Christopher Fritton at P22 type foundry.  Christopher has set a broadside of my poem “In the split-shake booth,” from Birds of Tifft (BlazeVox, 2010).

Here are some of the pictures Chris took while setting it.

Thanks, Chris!  The broadside is to be auctioned this evening at the Tifft Farm Nature Preserve, for a fundraiser for their educational programs, administered by the Buffalo Museum of Science.  We drive to Tifft, to deliver the broadside.  Traffic to the preserve, off Route 5, is being rerouted, with new underpasses and a more pedestrian and bicycle (and perhaps wildlife) friendly design.

Caryn Corriere at Tifft tells us about the latest infestation, Myrmica rubric ants.  The southern end of the preserve is practically unwalkable.

A Beer at the Swannie House.

I’m glad to see things haven’t changed here.  “Beer: helping people have sex since 1862.”

Christopher drives me to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park (The Parade).  I once wrote an angry letter to the editor of the Buffalo News about the condition of this park (as contrasted with Delaware Park, on the wealthier side of town).  This park adjoins the Buffalo Museum of Science.  “Among the purposes for which public grounds are used . . . is that of a ground for parades, reviews, drills, processions and public meetings and ceremonies in which large spaces are required” (Olmsted, Vaux & Co. “Report Accompanying the Plan for Laying Out the South Park”).  In his documentary, Claiming Open Space, Austin Allen (who I will see in New Orleans) covers the close connections between public parks and the Civil Rights Movement: marches in Birmingham were sparked when the mayor closed (rather than desegregate) the parks.  Kelly Ingram Park served as a central staging ground for civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham in the 1960s.

When we were living in Buffalo, the Common Council had committed to restoring the fountain here–designed by Olmsted as an immense wading pool, eventually closed due to “hygeine” concerns.  (Replaced by a swimming pool, which you can note at the back of the first photo.)  The fountains are now working (though the wading pool remains dry), to the delight of these nymphs.

(Note the Dr. Seuss trees–survivors of the great storm of October, 2007.  The trees in this park are generally dishevelled.)

Later, Robin accompanies me into the South part of Delaware Park.  We drop into the vale and walk under the bridge.  Another Olmsted transition.

This part of the park feels like a miniature earthwork.

With its sheet of water (Hoyt Lake).

Its mysterious hatches and markings.

And, of course, its views, sealed with picturesque plantings and a rustic bridge.

Other news: the city has repaired the plaque of the reproduction of David, at the end of the park, facing away from the city: no longer sculpted by Michael Angelo.

Robin and her husband Todd Mattina throw a lovely party at their house: it’s wonderful to see old friends.  Ben Bedard, Aaron and Rebekah Lowinger, Geoffrey Gatza, Donna White, Mike Kelleher, Lori Desormeau, Margaret Konkol (with her mom), David Hadbawnik, others . . .  The rain drives us from the backyard into the kitchen, where we read poetry aloud from some books Robin brings down.  At one point in the evening David does an interpretive dance of my poem, “Midway.”  The Greyhound red-eye catches up with me: I begin to  babble incoherently, before passing out in Robin’s office.


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