Today the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal had a great column, "The beauty of Salem(ia)" by K. Williams Brown, the coolest, hippest, most with-it writer on their payroll. And the reason I'm saying that is only partly because one day I hope she'll say something nice about me in print.
I heartily agreed with her take on Salem that was stimulated by her involvement with "Salemia," our city's cinematic response to "Portlandia," which had its premiere last Wednesday as part of the Salem Film Festival.
Download The beauty of Salem(ia)
Salem's worth is like seeing ultraviolet light. When we look at a flower, we see nothing. When a bee looks at a flower, it glows electric.
This stands in sharp contrast to the pleasures of a big city, which are obvious. You go to Manhattan, and it's Manhattan. No one needs to tell you about the tall buildings, the way the sidewalk shakes when the subway whooshes somewhere beneath you. No one needs to tell you you're at the center of the world because it's self-evident.
But the pleasures of a smaller city take longer. You can't see them at first, even if you live here. Someone passing on Interstate 5 wouldn't have a clue.
Brown correctly extols the friendliness of Salem, once you've lived here long enough to make some friends. And she points out how easy it is to make social connections, if you're a socially-minded Salemite who is into connecting with people.
Those qualities aren't visible, though. They're the urban culture equivalent of ultraviolet light that warms, or burns, without being apparent to the casual observer.
Like Brown, I also went to the premiere of "Salemia." It felt good when some old friends whom I hadn't seen for quite a while sat down in the seats next to me. That would be much less likely to happen in a big city like Portland, and I'm grateful for Salem's appealing small town feel.
But it's time (way past time, really) for Salem to evolve out of its ultraviolet phase of development. I'm tired of having friends and relatives visit from out of state and being stumped when my wife and I think, "What to do?"
Salem sucks when it comes to engaging, vibrant, walkable, creative, artistic, energetic mixed use cityscapes. There's no neighborhood anything like Portland's NW 23rd Street, one of my favorite places to visit.
I get this "inner beauty" and "secret treasures" stuff. I'm just eager for Salem to blossom with some outward beauty and manifest treasures also. Brown's words resonated with me:
I am always skeptical of those constant Salem boosters, those people who can do nothing but make grocery lists of why Salem is awesome and you just don't realize it yet.
If something is good, you don't need to go around saying it's good all the time. It speaks for itself. I don't need to spend the effort convincing you I have red hair, because I do.
But at the same time, the temptation to speak up for and defend Salem is constant because the things that give it value are not always visible to the naked eye.
Not only "not always." I'd say "almost never."
The places in Salem that give you a rush of Oh, yeah! are few and far between. Mostly the best we can say is That was all right. Like I said in one of my first Strange Up Salem posts:
At the risk of sounding like a phone sex line... I know what you want. You’re hungry for it. You’re hot for it. You’ve gotten tantalizing glimpses of what you lust for, but it’s been frustratingly out of reach.
What I’m talking about is a stranger Salem. Meaning, a city with sights, sounds, people, places, and other delights that make us go ooh, ah, and give me more rather than ho-hum, so lame.
Before too long the first two episodes of "Salemia" should be online and the 149,000 or so Salem residents who haven't yet seen the film will have a chance to do so. "Salemia" does a great job of taking the lame in Salem and making it quirkily appealing.
Hey, that's better than letting our lameness remain as it so often is: an irritant rather than an asset.
Check out the "Salemia" film trailer. It'll give you a taste of "Salemia," and a teasing glimpse of the film's undisputed star: Lloyd Chapman, who finally succeeded in becoming Salem's mayor (or at least, Salemia's).