Thursday, June 30, 2005

the Gates, visited

I recently met someone who lives in Madison’s (one and only?) gated community and today I finally agreed to come over at lunchtime so that I could inspect it from the inside rather than give in to my immediate inclination to dislike it site unseen (or is it sight unseen?).

My host gave me the password that would open the magic gates. Initially I had intended to bike over, but one look at the hill that I would have to ascend on the return trip and Mr. B bowed out. So much for my great protector. So I took the Great Old Van (“GOV”) with me in case I needed to make a hasty retreat.

The gates were imposing and the GOV stopped, almost refusing to go forth, afraid perhaps that he would be arrested inside on appearance alone. I assured him that he would fit in with other construction type vehicles which were freely getting across the great divide, most likely filled with south-of-the-border laborers ready to do the dirty work for the wealthy on the other side.

Madison June 05 431 GOV mirror eyes gate with suspicion

Inside, there were faux waterfalls and matching mailboxes and many outrageous looking houses (chalets, plantations, every rich person’s fancy). My host is a guy who hangs with the less affluent and so I was surprised at the comfort level he demonstrated toward his immediate neighbors. But then I suppose he doesn’t see much of them. One recent addition to the community is a house pegged at $9 million, belonging to the daughter of the Farm & Fleet CEO. This was to be her summer residence.

Madison June 05 436 summer cottage

Madison June 05 434 neat and tidy

I suppose I can forgive my host for living there. I, too, am comfortable with diverse lifestyles. I try not to shun the affluent nor those who live behind gates (in this case there is a perfect overlap). But when he proposed a walk to the state park across the highway I was more than ready. I figure I had made my sacrifice and breathed the ChemLawn-ed air enough for one day. I needed the prairie breezes and nicely smelly waters of Lake Mendota to lighten my mood.

Madison June 05 441
from the park looking south: across the waters

Madison June 05 453
where is Monet when you need him...

Madison June 05 437close-up: hangout for butterflies

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Quick, tell me some things about Polska

I am so very impressed with this list of ten memorable things about Poland. You're on Oscar! Here's my list:

Off the top, ten things that stand out about Poland (not necessarily the most important and most certainly not in any particular order of importance):

1. Pansies instead of marigolds. In public spaces and private gardens, Americans go for the gold. Poles plant pansies instead. Everywhere. Lots and lots of them.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 150 pansy mania

2. The food. Okay, it’s heavy. There’s lots of cream and butter and meat. And ice cream and cake and poppy seeds. And sausage. Oscar notes that Polish people have avoided obesity. Someone recently said it’s because Poles don’t use couches as much as Americans do. But they sure have the potatoes.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 225
light fare: cabbage stew, mushroom soup, sausage, beer

Paris & Warsaw May 05 228

first choice: sour cherry- apple, in the middle.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 227
yeast cakes and doughnuts.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 379
highland hut strung with roasted kielbasa.

3. A love of the outdoors: the mountains, the waterways, the forests, or just a scrawny bit of land on which to plant flowers and grow berries. See, after you get yourself a TV, you save up for a car. It can be a cheap car. Next is a scrap of land with maybe a shack on it. That’s where you spend your leisure time. It’s more important than having a washing machine. Of course, there’s a problem there, but we’ll keep hygiene off the list. Don’t want to give the wrong impression …

Paris & Warsaw May 05 240 forest walks

Paris & Warsaw May 05 389 mountain air

4. The market economy has not taught sales people manners. Oscar observes that they can be rude. Indeed! Kep had commented that there are only two types of people – those willing to be engaged in the lives of people they encounter and the sulkers. It was said that the sulkers were the byproduct of communism. I’m beginning to think that it’s deeper than that. They pout and sulk and pick on their nails or smoke a cigarette and ignore you.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 299

pretzel man with an attitude; and a cigarette.

5. Good coffee AND good tea. This theme’s for you and you (even though I do not have a photo of the tea; pretend!).

Paris & Warsaw May 05 178 there's great coffee beneath that great foam. Oh, and don't forget the poppyseeds on the breads and in the cakes. Lots. Carry a tooth pick.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 374 ...and quit staring at the sour cherry jam; it's all in the coffee

6. Manipulating the outcome: Poles use all sorts of devious tricks to get by in life on very little. How enterprising – you may say. Yes, if you are not the one that has been manipulated in some way.

7. The parks the parks the parks: Polish cities are all about the parks. It’s more than just the beauty of these places, it is that they are public spaces that draw every inhabitant in, creating a communal stomping ground, a social place where you can be alone and yet not alone. (I have posted enough pics of Polish parks on Ocean. move on.)

8. Religious symbols, churches, chapels – they’re everywhere. No, really. It’s like the Vatican has decided to make Poland its second home. Jesus indeed. Or more like Mary. Poles are more into Mary than Jesus.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 399 in the highlands; for some, it's worth the long hike.

9. Women attend to their skin. I swear, there are more cosmeticians than lawyers. Maybe that’s a good thing. Polish cosmetics, btw, are first rate. And there are lots of them. None of this simple body lotion: there’s anti-cellulite lotion, anti-wrinkle cream, stress-relief lotion, and topical cream for your newly implanted tattoo. And no, I do not know why deodorant isn’t nearly as popular.

10. Café conversations. Poles either like to walk and talk or sit at cafés and talk. Yes, the common denominator is the talking thing. But if you see the thousands flocking to cafés each day you’ll wonder if maybe the café, not the conversation, is the draw.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 340 dogs are okay. as long as you feed them. sugar.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 365 cafe life: generations.

P.S. thanks to Ann for encouraging me to finally move on to Flicker, and to Oscar for working with me through the conversion.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

My calling voice this morning was the voice of work. But I haven’t the stamina from last winter. After two hours of pre-dawn lecture writing (I have a class to present this morning), I crawled back to bed.

And then I did what I do just about every morning: I watched the morning come in.

Some days (today) I am more awake for this than on other days, but rarely does this hour pass without me noting its stunning beauty.

I keep the curtains open in the bedroom. It is completely private: only the white pines that I planted years ago can witness what takes place inside this great room. And I keep the window open. Not in the dead of winter, but at all other times.

And so the day starts with a bird chorus and a misty green outside – gray at first, and more translucent as the sun breaks loose.

In all my travels, no wake-up scene has impressed me more. And I know that it will no longer be with me when I begin my mornings at Bassett.

This morning, just before dawn, from my pillow: sublime.
but soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Posted by Hello

My God! The Stars were not aligned for biking giants last Wednesday!

Thanks for emailing me this! I deeply appreciate knowing that Lance and I were both at odds with the gods of cycling (within minutes of each other last week, he and I crashed).

It seems that his injuries were smaller than mine. But I am reassured: if he can get back on the saddle to do his Tour de France thing, I can certainly not hesitate about resuming my touring de Madison on Mr. B. Which I most certainly did in the last days. To work, to the stores, and then again, last night at dusk: it was all about cycling.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The great divide*

A friend sent me a song with these lyrics:

I've been siftin' through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
And it was one that happened so long ago

He suggested that it may be a good accompaniment to my forthcoming move.

I’m switching neighborhoods soon – placing myself in the midst of Bassett.

Tonight at dusk I set out for a ride with Mr. B. I loved last night’s amble, so why wouldn’t I love it tonight? Why indeed. My relationship to dusks is unsettling, unpredictable, almost always an issue.

I headed for something nearby, comparable to what I found downtown at Bassett: a body of water and railroad tracks. Only the pond here lacked bike access. And the railroad tracks crossed uninteresting terrain.

But it had a train. Moving fast. Toward me (not to fear-- I am a careful watcher of trains). Almost as exhilarating as speeding down Old Sauk Hill, keeping the hand loosely on the break (I am careful on the bike as well). The suburbs make you do these vaguely daring things I suppose. Maybe I’ll calm down once I’m downtown.

* by Kate Wolf
migrating geese love this place in the fall... Posted by Hello
hey, slow down, I need a photo! Posted by Hello

Simulblogging a real estate agents’ luncheon in my own home!

The sign out front says OPEN HOUSE. And it is. In fact, all the windows are open even though I should have the AC on. I’m no fool. I know real estate agents like to feel cool in an open house. Unfortunately, the AC died on me this morning. Probably from under-use.

[…and wouldn’t you know, I just dished out some money on a home-owners’ policy on all appliances yesterday! I’m reaping the rewards of foresight and prudence!]

Today is the first day that this house is on the market. Me, if I had to show case one thing about it, it would be this room:
can one have crushes on rooms? I do... Posted by Hello
But my agent cannot get over the size of the master-bedroom: you can party in it, she writes. What kind of people have parties in their bedroom? What is she saying about me?

I smell Olive Garden.

I hear very nice a lot and wow it’s huge. Okay. Fine. But you are also trampling down my freshly vacuumed carpets. Can I sneak out and vacuum in between agents? Will they mind? Can I say I am the Polish maid?

I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be here. But I am, fascinated by the concept of a Free Lunch Open House. Because that’s what this is all about – my agent is getting them in the door with food. Ahhh, the Polish way.

Okay, in the midst of it all, the guy comes to fix the AC, further trampling down my now-not-so-nicely vacuumed carpets. And the verdict: there is nothing wrong with the AC! Maybe it just didn’t feel like giving out cold air yesterday. Oh, right, fine – I have a temperamental little number that may have gotten insulted with all my AC bashing.

More agents. They are now eating lunch everywhere – living room, dining room, my place has become an Olive Garden Extension. Lasagna, salad, bread. I’m not even hungry, the stuff smells like take-out usually smells: part plastic, part tomato.

And the agents keep coming. How many agents in Madison need a free lunch?? Are they all not making enough money? They dress well and drive fancy cars – not cars I like, but still…

I like my agent. She is peppy. She’s obviously trying to make a go of this career. I fell for her zip and vigor, even though she is a woman of no real estate experience. Gotta support the up-and-coming. Maybe someone will hire me as I apply for additional work someday as a barista. [What, do you think, I lack barista talent?? Take a look at what’s been written about my passion for coffee here and here!]

One more hour of this. I’m going to quit blogging and go for a walk. Listening to others talk about the home you love is like eavesdropping on gossip about your children. You enjoy the praise, you do, but you sweat listening for that little dig that you feel will surely come. I definitely would fly downstairs and land some punchy blows on anyone saying one unkind thing about this house of all houses. So, off I go.

Time, summertime, this time

Since it’s just Mr. B and me, out and about, I have to configure time differently. Before: Borders Bookstore to the far far west side = 10 minutes. Now, it's closer to half an hour, depending on how forcefully I attack the hills between the one place and the other.

I was, therefore thrilled to have configured time so well tonight: I arrived at place MG at 6:59, one minute ahead of schedule.

Okay, let me start with the denouement: where am I and what am I eating??
Mediterranean shrimp on arugula Posted by Hello
I am not ashamed to admit it: I am eating at a place that has elicited the following comments: disgusting name! whoever grills macaroni?? Or: I wont set foot in that chain if you paid me!

The fact is, the price is totally reasonable and food is good. No, really, for what it attempts to do – it is delicious.

I am to meet a certain someone here for dinner. A quick look tells me that I am perhaps too prompt. I am seated at a booth and I wait. And wait. I look at the menu and I am reminded that the previous time I had been here, someone wrote a terribly accusatory post about me simply because I called attention to this:
...for sensible people Posted by Hello

That same person is now coasting into thin-blivion on the strength of his own volition. All I wanted to say then and now is that sometimes the best food can be found on the Slender Fare side of the menu, darn it!

I order wine as I wait. My dinner companion and I typically share a bottle. She is so late! I may as well have a sip now, especially since I have peddled like the devil to get here on time.
waiting Posted by Hello
Half an hour later I begin to worry. The last time she was this late it was for this reason.

I get up and pace. Oh! My God! She is there, in a booth clear across the room, waiting for me!
my artsy friend has used her waiting time and crayons on the paper tablecloth well Posted by Hello
The hostess is most apologetic. The waiter is most apologetic. The manager is most apologetic. They offers us free dessert. What, we will then be forced to eat something for free that we wouldn’t have otherwise ordered??? My companion will have none of it. You want to comp something, comp the extra wine we’ve had to drink waiting for each other.

They do. M.Grill rules!

After dinner, I take the side roads home, just in case I am getting close to a legal limit of wine drinking. Halfway home my cell rings and I pick it up. I feel blissfully peaceful riding the backroads in the darkening night and chatting away. My cateye is not exactly a power strobe, but it calls attention to Mr. B and me.

Out of nowhere, a police car pulls up behind me. Even when you are not breaking any law, you recoil when a squad vehicle sits on your back for blocks on end. Fear and intimidation! Oh, you think this story has one of those typical Ocean dramatic endings? No -- I pull over, finish my conversation and resume my slow-paced ride home.

God, I love Madison in the summer.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Where Ocean author modifies plan to make this an AC-less, car-less summer

The van is standing idle, feeling deserted, abandoned, like some kind of ostracized aging animal. I don’t need you anymore – I say brazenly.

Oh yeah? Didn’t you just on Sunday take it downtown because you were “running late?” That was because I thought it would storm. Hey! I did grocery shopping on the bike yesterday! I stuffed grape-cranberry juice and a bottle of wine into the back pouch and worried that if I fell it would smell boozy all around me.

[progress report on injury sustained during last week’s bike crash: bruise is still good ice-breaker during stalled conversations, in the style of Kruschev’s “wanna see my scar?”]

And the AC: Europeans aren’t into creating freezers out of indoor spaces during the summer, you said. Am I imagining it or is there a soft purr of the AC unit in your house? I have a business meeting here right now (he he, here I am on the computer, businessing it up!) – I cannot expect the person across the table to tolerate beads of perspiration on their eyebrow as we look at forms and papers. Watching sweat drip has a dampening effect on most human interaction.

But just for a little while. As soon as the little lassie is out the door, off goes the AC and it’s back to basics for me. Sort of. Last night my neighbor made jugs and jugs of lethal lemonade (there was Citron vodka there, right?) over ice – it would not have tasted so cool and refreshing had it been without ice. Though maybe then I would have had less of it…

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hounding Bassett

Even long time Madison residents (me for example) are only vaguely familiar with the Bassett neighborhood of the city. Located just south-west of the Capitol, it is a place of old warehouses and varied housing styles.

Mr. B and I biked over and poked around. It’s an interesting area of downtown Madison: once popular only among students, now it’s drawing back a diverse crowd of more stable residents. The blend is endlessly fascinating.

Some photos from my morning spin through it:
this gives you a feel for the larger structures in the neighborhood Posted by Hello
many associate this neighborhood with Madison's listener-supported funky radio station: WORT; peddling by, I heard (fittingly) Dar Williams coming from inside... Posted by Hello
one of several old warehouses -- converted to usable space Posted by Hello
the neighborhood is crossed by tracks that pass over a bridge spanning the waterway between Madison's two lakes; to the side, two fishermen Posted by Hello
close-up: the bird on the tracks watches as the fish bites Posted by Hello
an artist taking it all in... Posted by Hello
a corner gorcery store and across the street: an upscale cafe (Jo's) Posted by Hello
inside Jo's, a spot for a latte (it remains to be seen if the latte is any good: I'm a a harsh judge) Posted by Hello