This week I am in Louisville again for the reading of this year's Advanced Placement tests in English. For my particular exam, 1152 English teachers are together in one room; then another frighteningly large group of faculty are working on the literature exams. So yes, several thousand English teachers have descended on this poor city, and after nine hours in the constant company of that many colleagues, this particular introvert heads away from groups of humans, at least humans with whom I would be expected to engage in conversation.
Fortunately, Louisville is a city in possession of an extensive waterfront and numerous pocket parks, including one directly across the street from the convention center where we read the essays written by several hundred thousand hopeful high school students. After an exploratory walk through the museum district, I found myself ensconced on a bench in said park, contentedly observing my surroundings. The downtown areas of big cities are not my natural habitat, and being in one had me contemplating what constitutes the essence of a place.
Louisville, I learned on my walkabout, was "discovered" by Lewis and Clark, though they of course did not stay there, and the downtown area has no evidence of any of Kentucky's early white pioneers. At street level, the structures feel modern (Postmodern, maybe? I'm not good with any artistic styles after 1920 or thereabouts), but sitting and looking up into the evening sky reveals a number of buildings with upper stories that seem much older, with the detailed cornices of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the faraway ends of bustling contemporary streets rise church steeples that would not have seemed out of place in medieval France. Such sights delight my romantic soul.
Downtowns have too much concrete and noise for me, but non-human life manages to exist there, too. The only birds near my bench were starlings foraging in the grass and sparrows drinking from a puddle left after plants were watered, but such brazen little avians feel appropriate in cities. Louisville of course has public plantings, highly controlled clipped boxwoods and other well-behaved shrubs, lots of urns filled with tropical color, and park areas with turfgrass where overheated AP readers can throw themselves down with their paperbacks and Kindles. But "gift plants" creep in there, too. One clipped hedge near a parking garage sported the gaudy, tropical-looking orange flowers of trumpet vine, and a concrete wall near the waterfront had poison ivy sneaking in among the parthenocissus. I'm not a fan of poison ivy, but I had to admire this specimen's gall.