Labor Day Weekend in Hamtramck is festival time and that means food, music and (as I discovered on my early morning Sunday bike ride) a polka mass on Joseph Campau. Shortly after crossing Caniff where the Festival began, I was approached by a little old lady who asked if I knew where the outdoor mass was.
“No, but I did see some people sitting on chairs down the street in front of a big stage.” I said pointing left.
“Oh,” she said, “that’s probably it.” She turned and walked in that direction.
I didn’t think anything else about it and slowly pedaled off through the festival area where the booths, food vendors and the amusement area had not yet opened. Riding through the festival site, minus the hordes of people who would fill the street a little later, was a colorful, visual treat. The cotton candy, elephant ears and corn dog concession booths were sparkling in the morning sunlight. Many of the tee-shirt and souvenir vendors were setting out their vibrant colored goods hoping to entice festivalgoers into purchasing a souvenir from them. The small, locally owned restaurants specializing in Polish foods were making last-minute preparations, and the rich smell of ethnic food was in the air.
A little further down the street, the amusement area was unusually quite. I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a carnival midway without music blasting, humming generators, kids screaming and everything spinning in a flash of color. Looking at the many lifeless rides, games of chance with their stuffed animal prizes hanging above open awnings and the flashy concession stands catering to what thrills us, I noticed the detail and design elements that goes into these things. I saw hand painted drawings on the sides of food stands, the use of bright colors to highlight a hot dog and bold letters calling out a product. I think we tend to overlook these elements or don’t notice because of the distraction that is part of the carnival setting.
After circling through the amusement area, I headed back down Joseph Campau on my way to downtown Detroit. At Caniff, I came across the outdoor polka mass that the lady had asked about earlier. I had to laugh; not at the service, but what was on the stage. Directly behind the makeshift altar was a huge banner promoting a brand of vodka. It’s the only church service I ever saw that appeared to be sponsored by a vodka company.
“The Echo Maker” by Richard Powers
On a cold winter evening in a desolate road in Nebraska, a young man flips his vehicle and almost dies. After 14 days in a coma, resulting from a serious head injury due to the accident, Mark Schluter, the main character, wakes up and fails to recognize his sister Karin, who had returned to the small town where they grew up to nurse him back to health. He thinks this woman is posing as his sister because in his mind she is an exact image of her that talks and acts just like her. He even thinks his dog is a look-a-like and his home a replica. Unable to deal with Mark’s lack of ability to recognize her, Karin seeks the help of renowned neurologist Gerald Weber, who recognizes Mark’s condition as Capgras syndrome, an extremely rare brain disorder.
There are many subplots throughout the novel that include a mysterious letter found at the scene of the accident; Karin’s relationship with a childhood friend Dennis, who she hasn’t seen in years; the migratory Sandhill Cranes and the “Crane Peepers” tourists and their effect on the small town. Also revealed are secret plans to build a “crane” theme park near the migratory path of the magnificent birds against the wishes of the Refuge, an organization dedicated to preserving the Platte River, the stopping grounds of the Cranes.
This book is well written, and I found the characters interesting, with the exception of the neurologist Weber. I thought the author spent too much time writing about the neurologist’s latest book, its general negative reviews in the medical industry and his book tour to foreign countries promoting it. However, I did like the brain disorder descriptions and case studies that were presented by Weber.
Overall I found this book, which won the National Book Award in 2006, to be a worthwhile read. I especially liked the way the author incorporated the migrating cranes into the story and how in many ways, their behavior mirrored human life and the patterns humans fall into. I also liked the sparse visualization of the small Nebraska town and the surrounding, flat, featureless plains. It was interesting how the author used this as a metaphor into Mark’s life both before and after his tragic accident on that dark, lonely road.