|How do I love thee, Durham?|
Counting the Ways
By Emily Almas, Duke Chronicle, Feb. 5, 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.
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?
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.