painty (jessieknits) wrote in pittsburgh,

Ghost Pittsburgh : the conceptual divide between natives and immigrants

I had an interesting exchange with my therapist today. At the end of this part of the conversation, she thanked me for the insight I had provided her about living in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh I live in does not exist, conceptually, compared to the Pittsburgh that people who grew up here live in. Every day in conversations with others they refer to elements of Pittsburgh that no longer exist -- politicians, geographic landmarks, businesses that have left. They refer to aspects of Pittsburgh that changed so long ago I never witnessed them to begin with.

I have lived in Pittsburgh for just over five years. People still say, "Oh you're not from here" after a few minutes of conversation.

When directions to somewhere refer to the hot metal bridge, I learn again what the hot metal bridge was used for. I know where many of the mills used to be because I have been told so very many times.

Turn left at the old Alcoa building... I wasn't here when it was the Alcoa building. All the landmarks for turning left or right have disappeared, your directions are for a Pittsburgh that does not exist. Remember when ... Mellon bank ... Yes, I know that Citizen's bank absorbed Mellon bank. Again, long before I moved here. Why are we discussing events that unfolded that long ago?

See, that's the way it used to be... Its not just from 'yinzers'. I have become desparate for discussion of Pittsburgh as it is amongst intelligent adults in their 30's and older and I do not find those conversations. People will consistantly refer to elements of Pittsburgh that no longer exist. Their conceptualization of Pittsburgh is rooted in a city that physically, financially, even ephemerally, does not exist.

It has become a bizarre farce for me, my perception of what is versus the conversations with otherwise-intelligent 40-somethings. How easily things get derailed into 'how the arts were funded in 1978' and 'how the Sprout fund got started' when what I asked was, 'How does the strategy of funding artists to paint murals encourage artists to stay in Pittsburgh?' The conversation immediately dives into nitpicking Carnegie Museum of Art funding stuff from 1982.

To the ghost town they live in, in their heads, a Pittsburgh I have never lived. For that place became a ghost town long before I moved here. And it will remain your ghost town long after I have left.

(a shorter version is x-posted to my blog)

I am STARVED for conversation with somebody else who has experienced this. Starved for it. Any takers?

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