Monday, February 09, 2009

Can’t be better said than this op-ed by a former Duke graduate, now doing graduate work at Harvard!

Column: How do I love thee, Durham?
By Emily Almas, Duke Chronicle, 05 Feb 2009

There is a T-shirt balled up somewhere in the
back of my closet with a simple slogan: "Durham
Love Yourself." I bought it my sophomore year of
college and promptly wore it home on break, only
to have my mother ask me if it was some coded
double entendre (it isn't-at least as far as I can tell).

The other day, as I trudged through a foot of
snow yet to be cleared from my neighborhood
sidewalks, my thoughts immediately turned to
Durham and that T-shirt. (I'll admit that my
inner monologue ran something along the lines of,
"I bet it's sunny in Durham right now. And warm.
Warm!" Only to get home later, check the weather
report and find out Durham was getting it's annual few inches of snow).

When I arrived in the Bull City in 2002, I knew
very little about the place that I would end up
calling home for the next six years. If I were to
believe the upperclassmen I met that year, Durham
was a boring place, a community that died with
the end of its tobacco industry. How wrong we were.

By the time I grew to love and appreciate Durham
for exactly what it is, it was time for me to
move away. Certainly my love for the City of
Medicine has probably grown this winter as I've
come to appreciate its typically moderate
winters; snow can do a lot for nostalgia. Yet
what I miss most about my old zip code is not the
weather. It's something much more complicated than that.

Durham is interesting.

It has a past-one that is not the kind likely to
be spotlighted in a History Channel special
documentary. Durham's history can be intriguing,
complicated and troubling, but most of all, it's
a rich one. Apparently I'm not the only one who
thinks this way-the city is featured in books
authored by everyone from W.E.B. DuBois to James
Patterson, in movies from "Bull Durham" to "The Handmaid's Tale."

Durham has great food.

It's a place where you can find pupusas (El
Salvador's national dish) at El Cuscatleco, grits
soufflé at Magnolia Grill, and true neighborhood
joints (a la Cheers, but in "real life") like
Elmo's Diner, where the wait staff actually does
know your name. Locally owned LocoPops predated
the gourmet popsicle craze and one can't help but
marvel at the Durham Farmer's Market, which is
not only open year-round but offers artisanal
cheese made just miles away or vegetables grown
in inner-city Durham by urban youth. It is
possible, thanks to Durham's numerous barbeque
joints, to try out the numerous local options
until one finds a favorite (this option is
probably not endorsed by cardiologists). Believe
the hype from places like Gourmet magazine that
the food scene is ridiculously good.

Durham blogs.

The city's got an amazingly strong Internet
community, where it's easy to feel like a part of
the conversation about what's really happening in
Durham. So the City Council debating ordinances
over how many chickens residents can keep in a
backyard might not stimulate you, but you're
bound to get into a discussion about something
that piques your interest. Is the new public art
installation downtown innovative or light
pollution? Where's the best cheeseburger in town?
What up-and-coming band is playing at Duke
tonight? People in Durham blog because they care about this city.

Culture happens in Durham.

The American Dance Festival, Full Frame
Documentary Film Festival, the World Beer
Festival, the Bull Durham Blues Festival, the
North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, A
Taste of Durham, Festival for the Eno. Need I say more?

People connect.

One of the greatest things, if perhaps not the
greatest, about Durham is the way people are
willing to connect with each other. If you've
ever sat at the communal tables on the patio of a
place like The Federal on Main Street, you can
see this first-hand. There are the greasy-haired
graduate students with fishnet stockings who will
hammer out the wins at Pub Quiz and the local
guys in old baseball hats who are Durham
born-and-bred. It is possible to soak in
discussions about Freud and French fries and
Ultimate Frisbee and meet people from Baltimore
and Beijing, to alternate between drinking
authentically Southern sweet tea and imported
Belgian ale. These connections happen
symbolically too: I love the way that a meal at
the locally owned Watts Grocery might bring
together the products of a nearby
fourth-generation farmer and deliver them on a
plate to a student from Manhattan or a new resident from Omaha.

It's not that these things don't necessarily
exist in other communities around the country or
the globe. There are plenty of wonderful cities
that have more accomplished museums, top-billed
restaurants, events, athletic teams-you name it.
It's just that in Durham they happen in a way
that is disarmingly unpretentious. There are no
velvet ropes, no red carpets. It is surprisingly
easy to live a full and abundant life, well
connected to a greater community of people who
are interesting and passionate about something.

Perhaps this last point speaks to something else.
Although I love Durham, I'm not sure I'll be
returning to live there any time soon. There are
other cities to explore, new jobs and cuisines
and people to try to fall in love with in the
mean time (not to mention new weather). I think
that this is also part of Durham's appeal. It's
the kind of place where, no matter how long
you've been away, the city always seems to
welcome you on your return. Durham, whether you
want it or not, can be your adopted hometown,
regardless of where you're originally from-and
with a place like Durham to call home, what more do you need?

Emily Almas, Trinity '06, was the editor of
Towerview in 2005. She is pursuing a graduate
degree in higher education at Harvard University.


Unknown said...

I love this town!

Anonymous said...

Whoo!!!!! You articulated, in a way I've never been able to do, why Durham rocks.