Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where Something or Someone Is From

From Michael Martone, Flatness and Other Landscapes: Essays by Michael Martone. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000, a book in which he also notes that "If the rest of Americans know anything about this region [the Midwest] they know it as the place where something or someone is from" (p. 105)—

Circleville, Ohio, is known for its pumpkins. Blue Earth, Minnesota, is known for the Jolly Green Giant. Wausau, Wisconsin, is known for its insurance. Warsaw, Indiana, is the world capital of artificial knees and replacement hips. In Bryan, the Ohio Art Company follows the ancient craft of constructing Etch-A-Sketches. Battle Creek builds cereals; Muncie builds mason jars; and Oshkosh builds jeans. In Auburn they built Auburns and Cords and Dusenbergs, the survivors of the species returning to the Indiana village each Labor Day like swallows to Capistrano. There are glass cities and seats of furniture. Homes of flags and birthplaces of cheeses. Lima gave its name to the best steam engines in the history of the world. There are town famous for bikes, canal boats, lentils, Bing cherries, mint, jams, jellies, preserves, spark plugs, band instruments, copper wire, mobile homes, motorcycles, the Dum-Dum sucker, and even the kitchen sink. These town are like diminutive solar systems; the life of each town orbits the bright center of its product, produce, or past, its identity caught up in the gravity of the plant or the plant. Even the larger cities participate in this reduction to a simple common denominator, the brewers of Milwaukee for example. And what do they do in Detroit?