Today's New York Times has a really... strange... photo essay from a guy in the paper's China bureau. He wanders around fast-growing Shanghai's neighborhoods in search of "authentic" China. Which to me seems oddly nostalgic--perhaps even a tad orientalist--for such a sophisticated newspaper. But it's well done, I think. And interesting. Here's a snippet of the "essay" part:
Standing in the middle of Shanxi Road along with its salt-of-the-earth traders in those early days couldn’t have been more of a revelation for me than if I had I stepped into a time machine and strapped myself in for a journey. Here was a slice of that increasingly rare thing in China, indeed anywhere — the authentic.
... None of the neighborhoods that I began to plunge into were truly hidden. Rather, they lived on in their quiet timeless way, wholly unsuspected from just a block or two away, obscured as it were by flashy new neighborhoods composed of jostling tall structures or roped off by looping expressways. I stumbled upon one after a stroll down Huai Hai Road, one of Shanghai’s great modern shopping boulevards. The telltale sign of traditional black Chinese-style roof tiles, just barely visible, lured me down a narrow, gently winding side street, which I followed for a short distance until it spilled onto a larger street, which took my breath away.
This street, Fangbang Road, in all of its slightly shabby glory, became one of the centers of my photographic world over the next two years, drawing me back again and again, as surely as I was pulled along that late afternoon that fall day by the swift current of foot traffic of people returning home in time for an early dinner.
Seriously: "salt-of-the-earth traders"?
But read the whole thing. They guy addresses a few obvious objections: Is he just glorifying poverty? Engaging in hopeless romanticism and nostalgia? Etc.
But if he can, so can we, right?
When I lived in Baltimore, there were still a few "authentic" places around my neighborhood. Even more out in Dundalk and Essex. Pigtown. Etc. In fact, quite a few young professionals had begun going on bar tours of these places. Some because they liked them. Others to make fun of people. I would like to avoid the latter. But I would also like to propose a question.
Where is Pittsburgh's Fangbang Road? Where is the "authentic" "place"?
I ask because I have been teaching at Pitt for a few years now. And we usually discuss vernacular. And the whole "Pittsburghese" thing inevitably comes up. And all the kids know about the "yinz" and the "gumbands." But only about three students so far could claim to actually know someone, personally, who spoke that way. And all agree that the phenomenon is based more in the Mon Valley and other outlying areas than in Pittsburgh itself.
So... I know this is an old and tired question. But if you are interested... Where is the epicenter of Pittsburgh-ness? Is it still centrally located? Was it ever? Is it inside city limits? Was it ever? Is it gone? Does it matter?