Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mathias' Flat

So many people had said that Birmingham isn’t a pretty city. They’ve talked of the industrialization, the seedy side of town, the ugly worker’s quarters, smelly docks, rusty freight areas, and pollution. They’ve compared it unfavorably to London. It sounded cold, damp, hard, and rather Spartan. It sounded unsightly.

I did not find any of these descriptions accurate at all. Sure, I never ventured into the outskirts of town where there might be tenement styled housing surrounded by smelling trash bins. I never went to the import/export stations or to any of the industrial centers. I passed a few on the train, but even these areas weren’t covered in random graffiti or overgrown with weeds, barb-wire fencing, or junk piles. Surely this exists, but I didn’t see it. Mathias certainly has no reason to go looking for the under-belly of Birmingham either.

Instead, I found a busy city full of beautiful buildings and lots of activity. The downtown area is a pedestrian zone. The shops are nice. It is clean and well policed. There are regal churches, interesting arcades, an outdoor fruit and vegetable market, a permanently covered household market, dozens of malls, theaters, restaurants for every type of cuisine, upscale bars, hundreds of taxis, and a well marked public transportation system. The civic structures are beautiful. The art museum was quite nice. The squares were vast and well maintained. I really liked the place.

Mathias lives in an area called the Jewelry Quarter. It is exactly where I would live if I were there. Growth and refurbishing is obvious everywhere. Many of the buildings have recently been turned into apartments for professionals. Many buildings have “For Sale” signs covered over with the word “SOLD”. It is quiet and near downtown. The walk to the Birmingham Royal Ballet is about fifteen minutes. Many of the other dancers live in this section of town. Sometimes, Mathias and a few new buddies share a cab ride after class and rehearsal. There’s a little market nearby that stays open fairly late. Signs advertise for artist’s studios. Most of the buildings were originally small factories for metal or glass. Mathias’ building was a silversmith and cut glass business. It was built in 1834 and re-done in 1914 or thereabout. The newest remodeling was only about a year ago. Thus, everything is quite modern inside though the ceilings are high, the windowpanes are of antique glass, and the flooring is all wide heart-of-pine or something similar.

The apartment is on the third floor. It has two locked doors at the entry with individual, locked mailboxes between the two doors. The staircase isn’t steep. The railing is solid wood. Mathias has a nice, large bedroom with pumpkin orange walls and a built in closet with mirrored, sliding doors. The hallway leads past the bedroom into a large living area. The kitchen appliances and counters are along one side of this room. The bathroom has a full tub and shower just off the living area. The brown upholstered sofa is also a pullout bed. There is a shelving unit on another wall and a glass topped coffee table. He has two chairs and another table for eating, a small dishwasher, a combination washer/dryer, and a refrigerator. The windows each have blind.
Definitely, this is a much nicer apartment than my first one, Steve’s first or second one, our first or second or third or fourth one together. In fact, it is nicer than anywhere we ever rented! Now it also has seven framed pictures, dinner and flatware, pots and pans, a cookbook, a can opener, a blender, and all the other things that make a rental property a proper home.

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