State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Damian

So Pittsburgh. Who would have thought. For some reason I was full of misconceptions about this place. First of all it’s not really cold here. Sorry. That’s actually from an entirely different bag of misconceptions.

Well, let me just say after one full day it’s an incredibly cool place. It actually seems to be a real city which from several years of painful experiences with what passes in US for urban planning is a real compliment. Pittsburgh feels organic and human-scale. People seem to live here not just commute to the office. Maybe it’s because of the geography - it’s a bit inconvenient to revel in urban sprawl when you are limited by 3 rivers surrounded by hills. Maybe it’s because of the German roots. Or maybe it’s because of the cycle of the boom and bust that touches this place with more regularity than it deserves. Well - if there is a reason it should be studied: the recipe is certainly worth replicating.

So in addition to strip malls there are real streets with real buildings apparently inhabited by real people here. You can actually walk to see places (now all my friends in Europe have no idea what I am talking about - but take my word for it - it’s unusual on this side of the pond).

We spent about 10 hours walking today. Visited 2 modern art museums: Andy Warhol and Mattress Factory. Warhol’s art is wonderfully circular: he took from pop culture and fed it back and even after his death his art is being created anew.

We crossed one of the rivers couple of times - apparently people here decided that once you have a good bridge project you can just replicate it 3 or 4 times, but somehow it still looks OK.

We wandered trough Mexican War Streets district. And we liked it so much I actually got Hot Pads loaded on my phone and started checking on the apartments. 2 bedrooms, 1200 square feet - $850 a month. In Boston you cannot get broom closet for that. Not even for small brooms. And decent houses for around $250k! It’s a good thing we decided to actually get to the other side of the continent first: it would be a shame to end this so quickly. But we can always come back and settle in Pittsburgh and devote ourselves to making installations - seems like a major industry here.

Not to stray too far from nature we went to the incredibly cool National Aviary. I normally hate zoos, but this one makes more sense than the others. The birds are free to fly around. You walk among them and if you are quiet you can get really close. I guess it’s like bird watching for the rest of us. Real bird watchers probably frown upon this experience: instant gratification without much effort. Incidentally birds are the only remaining dinosaurs and relatively close cousins of Tyrannosaurus. Oh - and they have a sloth named Wookie in the aviary: and he actually moved a few inches when I was watching. Natalia kept snapping photos and complaining that the damn things (her words not mine) move! And I couldn’t drag her away from the exhibit about an explosive population growth (humans, not birds). People do breed like rabbits and infest the planet - hard to believe walking semi-empty streets of Pittsburgh but we are still in the off season mode.

Pittsburgh has 151 sky scrappers and while good designs seem to be already taken (there is no other explanation for PPG Place) it churns out more despite recession. It is home to Fortune 500 corporations, Heinz among them, trying to present itself in Warholian vein as harmless dinosaur. If only.

Without really trying we found a good coffee shop and later a decent bar. People were way more friendly than we are used to, and we are quite used to friendly people by now. Even in Boston. So in the bar we had to listen to a story of deep water fishing told by a nice lady which didn’t really look like she had in her. I mean fishing. Or story telling. It somehow got triggered by me ordering a fish. Not sure what is safe to order around here but fish was excellent. And a story - you can blame it on my limited command of this beautiful language - somehow involved saving a blue marlin from drowning (I know fish are not supposed to drown, but it’s her story) by two very brave fisherman hanging upside down from the boat. I know: only in Pittsburgh. Who would have thought.

grand army of the republic highway

After 2 days of traversing mountains and crossing forests we reached Lake Erie in a rush of excitement at such a great body of water. The feeling was short lived once we’ve realized it hasn’t escaped unscathed the greed that transformed the mountains and the forests we’ve left behind. Reminder of extinct species of fish made me guilty ordering local yellow perch. You cannot really see the destruction anymore as the intense conservation efforts of the last 40 years created illusion of pristine nature.

higher ignorance

We went to Cathedral of Learning. Andrew Carnegie envisioned institution devoted to higher learning. The building is a pseudo Gothic cathedral, unfortunately lacking the charm of its sisters devoted to inspire religious rather than educational zeal. That said it’s hard not to feel at least a bit supportive. I’ll take humanity building universities over the humanity building churches any day. Among cathedral attractions is set of so called nationality classrooms designed to expose students to various countries by decoration and assorted artifacts. An attempt to capture a culture by collecting a set of objects meant to represent and symbolize it is both very 19th century and very American. A belief that people can be classified into distinct, understandable boxes is a concept from simpler, more naive times. They still have Chechoslovak room and even Yugoslavian room which unfortunately we could not see: I wonder if Serbian chairs get in a fight with Croatian tables under a watchfull eye of the Bosnian blackboard.