Tag Archives: Urban

After Atlas Shrugged

by Kate

Sometimes a long low haze descends upon Pittsburgh and it seems as if I could almost slip into an alley and into the past.

I can vividly imagine the great grey city, twice as populous as it is now, in its filthy and glorious industrial prime.

There is an evocative beauty in these post industrial remnants of the past, and in the symmetry of red brick, wires, soot, and glass.

I suspect that some of my fascination with Pittsburgh’s past stems from an ill advised early infatuation with the works on Ayn Rand, particularly Atlas Shrugged. Her characters may be cartoons and caricatures, but her scenes of American Industry are sweeping and powerful and romantic. Ayn Rand is definitely the reason I climbed upon a steep embankment yesterday while waiting for the bus. I’m glad I did.

I was surveying the grey rugged skyline with chin held high and the wind in my hair, feeling fiercely individualistic and Dagny Taggert like (albeit Dagny with a baby in a sling, clearly so unlikely as to be impossible) when to my great delight a railroad engine appeared.

If you have not read Atlas Shrugged, suffice it to say that nothing could have transported me into the realm of that novel than a railroad. Never has so much lavish prose been expended upon the engines of industry or the engines and tracks and fate of the railroads. The train rattled and rushed into the city skyline, and I reveled in the fleeting vision of a novel come to life.

I am glad that literature impels me to embark upon adventures, and slip into the past. Living in a dream world of books and of the past often makes me climb embankments of every sort and realize the beauty of the present.

City Morning

by Kate

I recently had the opportunity to wander around downtown Pittsburgh early in the morning with my baby and a camera slung around my neck.

I may have mentioned this before, but I actually have no idea how to use a camera. I just try to find something interesting and aim, point and shoot. I am an Irish Catholic, so (like most things) this makes me feel guilty. I have hazy memories of my Dad with his big professional camera case, fitting and adjusting lenses and talking about the importance of understanding how the camera worked. Dad took pictures as part of his work as a journalist. He often set up the shot and then let one of the kids take it, giving us credit and ten bucks when it was printed. I gained the confidence to wade in and shoot, but no real understanding of what the camera in my hands is doing. I tend to trust the subject to do the work for me.

 Luckily for me, downtown Pittsburgh in the morning is pretty photogenic. I like the just barely gilded effect of the wedding cake of a building in the background, here:

The steam rising from the street…

The mystery of a narrow, cobblestoned alley…

and the sense that you can almost turn a corner into the past. It feels like you could sit down in this cafe and be transported to another era.

One where services at the church around the corner were quite literally set in stone.

There are so many enduring and beautiful details in downtown Pittsburgh. I find these doors incredibly inviting.

They are tiny and human sized, set against stone spires and grandeur and glory.

Pittsburgh is beautiful in the morning.

Get on the Bus

by Kate

This morning my imagination was caught by the image of a “Camel” bus in Havana, Cuba. The Camel Bus is public transport vehicle consisting of a modified shipping cargo container  being dragged by a semi. I couldn’t help but believe that if my father were in charge of public transportation for a country, something similar would happen. My father is a man who has no problem with using a Geo Metro as a farm truck, or a beat up van to transport goats and poultry. Once he borrowed the parish schoolbus that transported country kids to the Catholic school in the big town 20 miles away. He filled the bus with kids and headed around that town collecting bags of leaves for mulch from every single front yard he could, until the bus was full to the brim and we were perched high atop piles of leaves. He was really on top of the town composting trend- I just wonder what the bus looked like when he was through with it. I certainly don’t remember cleaning it.

I am thinking about public transportation because I took the bus downtown with Mary a couple mornings ago so that she could catch the Airport Flyer and make her way home.

Although I struggle to maintain some sort of hip and urban facade, I am still shy about using the public transportation system here in Pittsburgh. As Mary noted while visiting, country people drive everywhere. It just makes no sense to walk five miles to the grocery store if it is five or ten or twenty miles away. The exception to this rule is Colleen, the fiercely dedicated distance runner who can and does run to visit relatives miles away on a regular basis. Here in the city, I walk constantly. I walk to dance class, to the grocery store, to restaurants. I walked through thick snow to the hospital for check ups when I was pregnant. I am given the opportunity to walk all over town, wearing through the soles of my worn boots, because we have decided to share one car in our household. This morning I am thinking about Havana, about cargo containers rumbling down the streets, and pondering just how lucky we are to be able to make that choice. We could probably keep two cars rattling and rumbling along, just barely- although it is sometimes brutally expensive to keep one in working order. We are able to make the choice to keep “only” one car for two and a half people because we live in a walkeable city, and one with a troubled but existent public transportation system. Walking through the city gives me new experiences and inspiration every day, teaches me a great deal about the culture of this place and these people, and forces me to get up and get moving.

Taking the bus is a little more frightening than walking for a country girl. Someday soon I hope to be able to hand over my fare without a high level of confusion, nervousness, and awkwardness. The only comfort is that when the bus pulled up and we got on, it literally took Mary four minutes to pay the driver two dollars and twenty five cents. It only took me two.

The fact that it is possible to take a bus to the airport is what really amazes me. I have never lived in a place where it is possible to get to and from the airport without complex and burdening plans involving begging and prostrating friends to disprupt their lives to drive me there (you know who you are, and a thousand thanks to you) or hefty parking fees. There is a great freedom leaving the car at home, hopping onto the bus, dragging luggage through the downtown streets (lets just gloss over that little hiccup in the process. Pack light, is what I’m saying.) and then catching another bus that flies through the secret bus routes and straight to the airport. I also enjoy picking people up from the airport by meeting them downtown at the bus stop with a fresh cup of coffee instead of fighting traffic to reach the airport. I also enjoy watching people on the bus and pondering their style. I loved this ultra modern flapper here.

I know that I am lucky to have the choice to take the bus. Lucky to own a car, lucky that I don’t depend on an undependable route to get me to work, lucky that there still is a city bus system in Pittsburgh. Lucky that the bus isn’t a converted cargo container being dragged along the streets of Havana- although there is enough of my father in me to wish that I could ride in one of those one day.

Farmers in the City

by Kate

Mary left yesterday morning, and I miss her.

She is headed home to make coffee for Peter Drake and pick berries and ride her horse across the ridge. Early autumn is one of the best times to do that. I know she has had more than enough of city life right now. There are just so many people and so much many buildings here.

I did take her to the farmer’s market to make her feel more at home.



Pittsburgh is full of farmer’s markets. This one is an all local and organic market held every Saturday morning at an old firehouse in the famous Strip District.

The market was full of beauty and good bread.

I love this picture- it seems to sum up the urban farmer’s market experience.

The only problem is that when I go to the farmer’s market, I start to miss my North Carolina farmers and the time I spent taking pictures at markets for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. Luckily the city is a great place to feel melancholy in a stylish manner.

There are also street musicians eager to serenade your troubles away. The baby loved this man. She insisted on climbing out of the sling and dancing on the street.

I miss my sister, but I am eager to hear about her upcoming adventures on the farm and out in the world. I also have a few more pictures to share with you from our urban wanderings. Till then, you will just have to imagine this man playing Twinkle Twinkle little star and my baby stomping and twirling on the street.

Sister in the City

by Kate

This morning I bought an iced Americano, stuck it in the yuppie cupholder on my beyond beat up Jeep jogging stroller, and hauled the stoller onto a city bus to meet my sister Mary, who was due to arrive via Megabus. I was massively impressed that I managed to show up downtown on time. The Megabus was late, so I had a chance to take pictures of the grandiose skyline of downtown Pittsburgh with one hand while clutching my energetic toddler who had just managed to take a huge slug of the Americano with the other.

The reason Olympia was squirming so determindly (beyond the shot of espresso she had just stolen) was that the Megabus hub in Pittsburgh is located underneath the David L Lawrence Convention Center. Running down the middle of the roadway is a walkway to the river. It is gorgeous, and it is one huge, long fountain.

Imagine how alluring that was for a toddler who loves fountains. It is equally appealing to me. Mary staggered off the bus at this point, shivering from the excessive air conditioning. I was curious about her Megabus experience. I love the idea of being able to travel inexpensively without spending hours in the airport.  Mary does not recommend it for toddlers, thinks it was too cold, and wasn’t able to connect to the internet- but it did get her from here in one piece, and for a tiny fraction of the cost of an airplane ticket. We walked down to the river to help warm her up. Olympia was thrilled to walk through the fountain with walls of running water on either side.

Mary shivered in the shadows and pondered the fact that the walkway led directly down to the river, and felt that perhaps some sort of safety barrier was in order. I love the way the bike trail and walkway converge and flow into the river… but I did keep a tight grip on the baby.

Then we headed downtown for lunch. We stopped for food at the Istanbul Grille, where my good friend Coskun Gokalp creates fresh, wholesome, and marvelous Turkish food in a tiny hole in the wall full of eager customers. The food is great but there is no space to eat in the Grille, and it was a beautiful day so we headed out for a rambling casual tour of the downtown in search of a place to eat our lunch. We found several possible spots- and a zumba class.

We eventually settled in a mirrored square that reminds me of a castle.

There is a dramatic fountain that shoots up and disappears at intervals, and a large population of fat pigeons.

The fountain and the pigeons meant that my ability to eat Turkish food or take photographs was severly constrained by the need to chase my still espresso fueled child as she chased pigeons. Witness:

This picture tells a thousand words about my dreamy narcissistic attempt to capture myself in the mirror interrupted by a flying leap after my pigeon chasing child. I caught her, though.

Mary, serene and untrammeled by the bonds of maternity, perused the square in peace.

It is good to have her here. We haven’t even fought yet! Well, if you don’t count the two fights we had on the phone when she was in the bus on the way here.