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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New project: Postcards from North St. Louis

In the past two weeks, I've started a new little project, a flickr photoblog-of-sorts called Postcards from North St. Louis.

PNStL is pretty straightforward: I post photos of the North Side of St. Louis. They are labeled by neighborhood, and I caption them to tell you a little more about the picture. The nature and quantity of information in the caption varies widely by picture. I was going to try to update weekly on the same day every week, but my chaotic life and the ever-changing weather quickly put a stop to that. So it's updated regularly, but not daily.

With this project, I don't want to show you exclusively sunny things, but the stuff I post is going to lean towards the happy, the positive, the curious, the special, and the mundane. Mundane, you ask? That's right. I want you to show you my neighbors cooking dinner and playing with their children and walking their pets. I want to show you North Siders vegging out on the couch in front of the TV. Or reading. Or talking on the phone. Why is that?

I find that a lot of people are terrified when they heard the words "North St. Louis." The first words that most folks can conjure to their mouths when they hear I live here is "Is that safe?" A neighbor of mine recently told me that the thing she most hates about people asking her that question is that it's so insulting--besides dissing yer neighborhood, the speaker is letting you know that they don't think you have the common sense to select a decent place for yourself to live.

And I've heard worse: "I was going to ask you how the neighborhood is, but if you live there I guess it's fine." "Pardon me, but you don't see many white folks living on the North Side." "What? That's a SLUM!" ...etc etc etc. Yes, these are all actual quotes (and for the record, I thanked the speaker of the second quote for his honesty). Even a fair number of locals I know who are otherwise smart, thoughtful, and well-informed seem to picture abandoned buildings or TV crime reports when I say the words "North City."

So, I want to offer some images (besides the trash on the biased TV news) for you to picture when you hear the words "North Side." Because yes, I know about the Great Mythology of the North Side too, and I know that this is an amazing and often unbelievable place. Sometimes, I walk down the vacant 14th Street Mall and I feel the weight of all that history, and my mind feverishly spins elaborate daydreams based on the Mall's incredibly cinematic landscape. But to me, a person who lives here every day, the Mall is also just a street. The legendary Mall is just the street that I walk down when I am going to so-and-so's house, or if I want to buy a can of soda at the hardware store. The other day, I dragged my pajama'ed self out of the house and I happened to walk down the Mall on the way to go get a key cut and have some chit-chat at the hardware store. And do you know what? The Mall smelled like laundry detergent, quite possibly the most mundane smell known to man. That is what I want to show you.

I want you to see the mundane side (and the beautiful side, and the neutral side, and and and...) of North St. Louis because to those of us who live here, above all, it's just the place where we live our daily lives. Some people like it, some people don't (I love it!), but overall, this is just our place before it's anything else.

So please, have a look: Postcards from North St. Louis

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