Detour: Making The Invisible Visible

The Aids Memorial Quilt was first displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 1987.

Its first stitches were sewn on Market St. in the Castro, in the building that now houses the seafood restaurant ‘Catch’.

The quilt was more than just a physical remembrance.

In many cases, it was the funeral for the deceased, such was the stigma that came with dying of AIDS.

The idea for the quilt came to activist Cleve Jones at the 1985 march to remember the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

I know all this because I took a Detour through the Castro today.

Detour’s ‘location aware audio-tours’ sound like something you might try a decade into your retirement.

But to experience one is to revisit the city you live in, and transform it.

A meaningless Walgreens window pane was once the location for the flyer, posted by nurse Bobbi Campbell, titled ‘Gay Cancer’ — the first time that people were alerted to what we would come to know as HIV/AIDS.

The second-floor stained glass windows of a faded hospice facility, are suddenly recontextualised.

Thousands of people lost their lives in that facility, and the light that shone through those windows was the last they ever saw.

The triangular, granite columns, sandwiched between busy roads that you’ve passed so often, were installed to honour those persecuted for homosexuality during the Holocaust.

Nazis forced gay men to wear pink triangles on their clothes to identify themselves.

Instead of taking the pink triangle as a uniting symbol, Cleve Jones and friends decided they would be better represented by the rainbow flag.

All this history, all these layers, in just a 9 minute walking radius.

Every Detour you take reminds you how quickly the sediment of urban history is washed away.

Reminds you to look up and down and around. For the details, and the stories within.

Reminds you to ask, what was here before me?

The world is full of stories. We are surrounded by them.

But the best ones are often invisible.

Detour takes the invisible around you, and makes it visible.

Highly recommended.

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