There are so many things that are both beautiful and broken.

We started our excursion plans with disappointment. Sanders Chocolate Factory Tours are only on weekdays, which makes perfect sense from a manufacturing standpoint, but what about for those of us who work then, too? The original choice was gone.

After a rundown of options, we arrived at Belle Isle. (Let me just say, though, that Detroit has a crazy number of things to see and do…and we haven’t even touched the surface with my family. My own kids have not ridden to the top of the RenCen in the external elevator. What were we thinking to deprive them of this thrill?)

We chose Belle Isle because my step-father was awarded a prestigious honor for engineering (I will have to insert that information, here, later – he said he wants it in his funereal documentation – because there are too many letters for me to even count) on the island back in the ’80s. He said it would be a kick (my word) to go back and revisit the scene.

If you don’t know about my fair city, let me tell you that is neglected and poor, but not unloved and without redemption. Crooked politicians can do their damage and city councils can make their poor decisions, but the heart of any community lies with its people. We are the D.

Off we went, following a TomTom that had no need for a picturesque route (take the Lodge in – it’s easier), over MacArthur Bridge, paying $9 for a day pass to use the city park privileges.  This actually was a passport through time, across the river and onto an island elegantly designed in the 1880’s by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The Conservancy started its renovations in 2006, with a second phase beginning in 2009.  This is a wonderful thing; there was a time when they thought to close it (as a city park) and make it standard commercial real estate. The aquarium is now open to the public, even though there are aquarium “booths” that are sponsored by local clubs and organizations.

The conservatory is still lovely.  A wedding was planned on the day we were there, so we enjoyed the ambiance created by such a joyful occasion. A string quartet, a bridal party in a shared room, damp chairs on the lawn outside, and wedding participants arriving under umbrellas, all made a cold space very warm.

But there are derelict buildings scattered about. The tennis club and boat club are not in use. Out-buildings are boarded up and the grass needs a good mowing, with a little landscaping added for good measure.

Still, without this fine-tuning, the island holds her bon vivant air – – families were having reunions under pavilions, all over the park, who showed no signs of dismay over a little drizzle and a few weeds.

In the search for balance, this joie de vivre is something we’re not missing, these day, so much as we’re not able to define and appreciate. Why is it, do you think, that I don’t have English words for these two phrases? The feeling exists. But it’s so hard to describe a beautiful ruin.

Not to put too fine a point on it, “beautiful ruin” includes us all. We simply cannot stay confined to a culture and a language that can only accommodate the new and unbroken. We need to find space for that which is used, lived in, special, and lovely, something that may never be what it was at its zenith, but is, nevertheless, a beautiful ruin.

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