Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Launching This Blog

As one walks or rides down any street in Nashville one can feel now and again that he has just glimpsed some pedestrian on the sidewalk who was not quite real somehow, who with a glance over his shoulder or with a look of a disenchanted eye has warned one not to believe too much in the plastic present and has given a warning that the past is still real and present somehow and is demanding something of all men like me who happen to pass that way.
- - The Narrator in Peter Taylor’s novel, A Summons to Memphis

I love living in the city. To be more exact, I love living in the urban enclaves that ring downtown areas. The closer in I live the better I live.

The warning about Nashville from Taylor’s Narrator is not insignificant: in spite of the scoring, gouging action of the passage of time and our attempts to mask the weathered result or to flee away from the center, urban enclaves summon the past out from behind the present. More precisely, city dwellers live in thrall to the city’s past, which breaks through the present like sunlight that knives and dances through the flapping leafs of a thick shade tree.

It’s in the layout of the streets and in the time it takes to walk from one enclave to another. It emanates from the crumbling buttresses and infuses new houses built to look renovated. The past is real in the size of the yards and the half-conscious reference to the river. It’s a warehouse turned lofts. It’s the other side of now out-of-service tracks and of older racial divides. The past warns us in continuing partisan struggle between rival factions. However, it’s also a keen density and communal sense that suburban sprawl cannot distill. Terms like “enclave” and “district” convey the past, which is why neighborhoods choose them over the official sounding terms like “subdivision.” Official terms seem intended to level, smooth over, and gloss the past.

So, I have named this weblog Enclave, because it seems to fit the bounded identity of living in the various streetcar neighborhoods and “first suburbs” around Downtown Nashville. It certainly fits the character of my current neighborhood, Salemtown. Other clearly defined enclaves bound my neighborhood. So do Downtown, an interstate highway, and the river. It’s locked rather than sprawling. Accordingly, there’s no escaping the past.

I am pleased to launch this weblog with an eye on the past. Elsewhere in A Summons to Memphis, The Narrator’s mother explains that the demands of the past were the legacy of an old Native American curse put on the first settlers who slaughtered the local tribes around the Cumberland River. She may be right. The past may hang in urban Nashville like a curse; but many times I only see a world of curses because curses challenge me to get beyond the veneer of the plastic present, which has made me complacent and foolish.

When I strip the window-dressing, the fa├žade of the present, I can often see that the curses were not so accursed after all. To live in an urban enclave is to welcome the challenge of the past as a blessing. With an eye on the past, I see life in north-by-northwest Nashville as a blessing, even if a blessing at times in the disguise of a curse.

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