Waiting for the swan | Front Porch | Indy Week
Pin It

Waiting for the swan 

During a recent Durham Artwalk, I was reminded of the rubble, destruction, mess and hopeful enthusiasm of my kitchen renovation. An expensive, often exhausting but revitalizing vote of confidence in a worthy property ... but I don't remember inviting anyone over for dinner during the process.

Visitors from Wake or Orange County, or even Woodcroft, might not have known that this particular mess, the reconfiguration and facelift of downtown Durham, was anything new and different: "Isn't Durham always a mess?" I could hear them ask. In their relief and surprise not to find themselves shot and robbed on every corner, they might not have noticed or thought that this is what Durham is always like. No wonder they passed all eight bonds, eh?

But those of us who do live here do know it's a mess, and it requires not a small leap of faith to imagine how wonderful it might turn out. "I sure hope they know what they're doing" my son mutters every time we go to the Y or the library, a sentiment shared I suspect by even this renovation's staunchest supporters. To my more wordly eye, it resembles many of the developing countries I have visited; to him it just looks like a mess, albeit with bulldozers and hopeful building materials here and there. But, having eaten many lunches in the early '80s at the Ivy Room in the shadow of an abandoned warehouse that is now Brightleaf Square, having known the absolute wreckage that is now the phoenix called the American Tobacco Campus, having lived through a kitchen renovation, I know that with hard work, money and vision, miracles can happen.

It was great to see all the art that is being made, but for me the most wonderful thing was to see a downtown full of people, a sight one of my companions well remembered from her 1960s Durham childhood, before the demise of the tobacco industry and the arrival of South Square Mall. They have a lot to answer for, those malls, and the thought that Durham might bustle again like that is a hope worth working for. Any resident of much duration in Durham of course knows we have been just on the verge of a renaissance and rediscovered greatness and prosperity for about, say, 25 years, but it really is looking more hopeful, let me count the ways, probably due in large part to our tolerance for the mess and change that accompanies new life, or life, period.

And Durham is all about the wide variety of life and its knobby, smooth, weird, argumentative, contentious and beautiful aspects. My brother, landing here from his drowned New Orleans, a city that could well absorb and celebrate the human range, said succinctly, "I like Durham. It's not too precious." And I like that too. I like standing between Market and Corcoran streets, one featuring the sleek Bull City Business Center as it gazes across at old plate glass windows with a sign proclaiming "We Want Oprah!" That seems to me one of the symbols of the many ranges that comprise Durham, (in)famous for its quirks, its fights, its connections, its hopes and realities, its contradictions, its history. I am not romanticizing this range; sometimes it takes more guts, patience and humor than I have on a given day to appreciate it, but precisely for that range I do love it and believe in it.

There is a collection of bumper stickers and T-shirts circulating these days that encourage Durham to love itself, rubble, crime, great architecture, people, art, mess and all. You've got to believe there's a swan growing in this funky ugly duckling, but you know, in Durham we really do love the duckling as much as the swan, something our neighbors can't quite believe. Sitting outside Blue Coffee (former home of Wilma's Country Kitchen, where I know for a fact that the secret ingredient in the creamed potatoes was Miracle Whip), we watched people come and go in the soft, sunny afternoon. One exuberant artist, passing with her friends, chose to look over at the café scene on her right, as opposed to the rubble strewn landscape on her left, and said in a happy voice, "Isn't this great?!" And it is. In Durham, we will just throw the picnic blanket down in the middle of the kitchen renovation and invite you over. It is like life, you know--don't wait for it to be perfect. And hey, maybe Oprah will show up.

Latest in Front Porch

More by Mary Cleary


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Front Porch

  • One vote

    • Nov 12, 2014
  • Box of one

    Was I paying to be helped or to feel important, a bona fide expert on only myself?
    • Sep 24, 2014
  • The Old South (Hills)

    The Old South (Hills)

    • Sep 17, 2014
  • More »

Twitter Activity


Would anyone mind telling me if Gov School is LGBT+ friendly? I'm hoping to apply, but I'm afraid my orientation …

by Randie Rose on Governor's School blues (Front Porch)

'Anna Lee' is a truly beautiful song, Ms Dossett. And I love Levon Helm's rendition. You are blessed with a …

by Byron Miller on A song for Levon (Front Porch)

Most Recent Comments

Would anyone mind telling me if Gov School is LGBT+ friendly? I'm hoping to apply, but I'm afraid my orientation …

by Randie Rose on Governor's School blues (Front Porch)

'Anna Lee' is a truly beautiful song, Ms Dossett. And I love Levon Helm's rendition. You are blessed with a …

by Byron Miller on A song for Levon (Front Porch)

Just now seeing this....Liz and I were super close friends in the early 80s. She was so special. I had …

by RoBert 1 on In memoriam: Liz Holm, 1959–2013 (Front Porch)

Nobody will be surprised to learn that Hocutt never went to Nam. He was in the Navy but washed out …

by Jefflenter on Raleigh bad boy no more (Front Porch)

I see his concern. Yes, it was a well written story and showed his caring side for sure. But not …

by Linda Bates Terrell on Motorcycle men (Front Porch)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation