Pittsburgh in November

Another stop on my multi-year “cities east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon” tour, Pittsburgh was genuinely friendly and genuinely confusing. The people were warm, the sports fans intense, and the public transit anything but intuitive. It became clear to me after only a few hours that one should think of it as belonging to Ohio, and not to Pennsylvania–the Midwestern sensibility was more pronounced than the Eastern/Mid-Atlantic one.

It took me longer than usual to figure out what I liked about this place; several days to find the neighborhoods I was compatible with rather than several hours. When I visit a new place it usually only takes me a little bit of walking and a good look at a map, and I will have found the places with which I might visually connect. But Pittsburgh is a car city (another clear sign you’re getting further west), and its neighborhoods don’t flow into one another unless you’re driving, I think.

The photos reflect this. The panorama always felt cut off, a bit choppy. It was the first time I’d really wished for a DSLR; the complexity of the landscape required heft.

That Sunday, I got up early enough to tour the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. They were already dressed for the holidays, and I enjoyed trying to find novel ways to photograph all of the Christmas decorations.

Like the rest of Pittsburgh, the Nationality Rooms were hidden in plain sight–obvious if you knew they were there, but tough to find otherwise. I loved those small pieces of the city when I found them, but the energy it took to get the city to reveal itself to me limited my capacity for further discovery. Pittsburgh contains you, when you’re in it. As a New Yorker of many years, now, I find cities that try to limit me utterly bewildering. My home is all about building a better, bigger, more expansive version of oneself.