Friday, March 31, 2006


Yesterday at dusk, I was once again making the backroad run from Steve’s Liquor to Whole Foods and I noticed that I was moving along with a train, just a few feet to my left side. Pedaling in the opposite direction was a cyclist, in full cycling gear. There are so many of these guys in their tight black pants and with holey gloves around town, now that the frost has returned to Canada (or wherever it is that it goes to in spring).

It struck me that it somehow describes my weeks, this little scene. I’m moving in one direction, slowly and then wondering if I should be pedaling in the opposite direction, against the tide, then resisting the temptation to flip, pushing ahead again.

It was very poignant, this thought of moving forces with their various forms of locomotion. Really. You had to be there. Maybe you had to be me.

In a second, I reached for the camera and, still moving with the train, I took a photo. The lighting was as you see it. The blur? Come now, we were all moving, the camera is set on an average shutter speed and I'm trying not to kill myself, the cyclist and anyone else in sight. Of course it’s going to blur.

And still, I like the photo. Me moving with the train, then against it, then, finally, turning off (to Whole Foods) while the pattern of movement continued without me.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

on a roll

Oh food... By the end of the day, I am ready for it. And on Wednesday, when I teach late in the day, I am ready for someone else to prepare it for me.

Last night that someone was the chef/sushi roller at the Sushi Box.

People in Madison are so attached to Wasabi on State Street, that they will not set foot in a place that holds the enviable position of being far from pedestrian traffic, far from the campus and far from the suburbs. Basically, it’s in nobody’s way except for maybe sick people who inevitably will pass it en route to UW Hospitals. Though why do I think that sick types rarely pause to eat raw fish on their way to get their bones set or kidneys examined? People are funny that way.

So last night, I walked the unattractive blocks of Old University, entered the Sushi Box, pulled out a Sapporo and circled my sushi choices.

That would have been that, and the post may have been shorter and better for it, but for the fact that the chef/sushi roller had the smile of all smiles…

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…and so I boldly asked if I could stand over his shoulder and watch (and take photos and basically be in the way, but I didn’t mention that part then). He smiled a “yes” right at me and got to work while I admired his hands. And his polka dotted hat. And the final product. Wonderful, all of it.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

did you know

…that if, on March 28th, you stand in the middle of State Street at 6 pm and face the UW campus, you can see a perfectly centered sun, receding over the horizon?

And isn’t it gratifying to realize that next week, that same view will be yours to admire at 7 pm, or even a few minutes after?

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

northern sights

From a comment to the previous post, I learn that Bloomer, my week-end food stop on a trip up north, is not really regarded as northern Wisconsin.


However, that was only a food stop. Indeed, it was some distance away from the overnight in Turtle Lake – an indication of how far I needed to go to eat decently (according to my b&b hosts).

Now, you may argue that Turtle Lake is also not “northern Wisconsin.” I would have issues with that. Barron County is north, damn it! While people were strolling on State Street on a sunny Sunday, with temps in Madison crossing the magic 50 degree mark, I was up north, doing this:

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the only way to get around

And the lake was frozen, so that when I, in my borrowed snowshoes, traipsed out to the middle of it to take this photo:

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…I did not go under. Nothing even cracked beneath me, in spite of the fact that I weighed a ton, having eaten this for breakfast:

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So, compare the snowshoe stuff with photos taken on the way back, still north of Madison, north of the Dells, in fact, but still in central Wisconsin:

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cranberry fields forever

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…Compare that with the photos from Turtle Lake. I mean, come on! Turtle Lake is north.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

road food

He’s lived more than thirty years in Madison and has never poked around the northern parts of Wisconsin. My travel companion (what did I call him several posts back? Ed?) is clearly blind to the splendid scenery of forests lakes and farmland. Time to fill in the gaps.

So long as we’re all the way up north to see the maple syrup operation, let’s poke around Turtle Lake some…
Turtle Lake is another three hours worth of driving… five hours, if you take the backroads!

Ed always takes the backroads.

So what. I want to see Turtle Lake. I want to experience a b&b that has won awards for its proximity to nature, wildlife and the Wisconsin way.

There is, however, the food situation. I call the Canyon Road Inn.
So… where can you get some decent local food for dinner?
There’s the steak house…
My travel companion doesn’t do steak.
Well, there’s the supper club some twenty miles north.

I google the supper club. More steaks. And an international menu of (meat) lasagna and chow mein. I haven’t seen chow mein on a menu since I was a little girl living in NYC and they had it as a regular feature in my school cafeteria.

Anything else?
How about the Main Street Café in Bloomer? People from the city go there to eat.

And what city is that? Bloomer is in the middle of nowhere. A few miles north of Chippewa Falls - Leinenkugel beer land. They come here from Chippewa Falls? Well then, it’s a must.

The MSCafe is on…Main Street. It has foods sold in baskets. You know, fried shrimp and fries in a basket. Grilled chicken sandwich in a basket. Cod in a basket. Grilled or fried.

How’s the grilled cod?
Don’t know. No one orders it that way. People take it fried.
And how’s your pizza?
Great! It’s our specialty!

So we order pizza.

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pizza and a Linie

If you can forgive the canned pickled mushrooms and the gobs of Wisconsin cheese, and the canned tomato paste, it’s okay. Especially since it comes with a Linienkugel and offers views of the counter, where the old boys (and I mean old) are chewin the fat. Or the fried.

Dressed to kill (with low slung jeans, just like they’re wearing on State Street), sipping a beer with their baskets of food and their plates of pie, they appear to not mind the weather up here, the state of the world.

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saturday dinner up north

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just like the young folk

Pie, can I get you some pie?
What do you have?
(Fitting for a place that has every patriotic symbol in the world scattered about, including American flag paper napkins and framed dedications to the heroes of 9/11 at each booth.)

Apple it is. Not great apple, but regular old apple pie, just like you have eaten a million times before in every road-side dining place in America.

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as american as

Sunday, March 26, 2006

sugar rush

Two thousand taps hammered each year into trees. Tubes connecting to thick hose, carrying the whole clear mess to a tub in a hut, deep in the northwoods of Wisconsin. Boil it all down and you’ve got some 500 gallons of syrup. There isn’t much time to get at the faintly sweet juice of the sugar maple. Maybe two weeks. Mid-March, that’s it. Tap it out, boil it, filter it, then sell it at the weekly Dane County Farmers’ Market. Mother King’s maple syrup.

So whatever happened to the tin buckets catching the drips?
Put an urban kid in the northwoods and there you have it: complete ignorance about maple syrup technology.

It’s all about tubes now, connected to trees then to each other, looking like someone had spun a web of blue around the maple forest (get it right, Ocean, it’s called a sugar bush).

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sugar bush

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Inside, the hut smells like you want it to smell: logs burning in the first stove, the syrup picking up a deep amber tone, filling the space with a warm aroma of waffles for breakfast.

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feeding the fire

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finishing tank

The tubes are so much cleaner than the bucket thing. Animals, bugs, shreds of forest life all made their way into the buckets.

A walk through the forest down to the river, following logging trails and deer tracks, over moist leaves (there are mushrooms here in the summer; you’re Polish… you like mushrooms, no? I like mushrooms) makes you kind of wistful for a grandmother’s house at the end of the run. The type of grandmother who lives in rustic places and does nothing but bake and cook for you all day long. (I had a grandmother like that, back in Poland; I picked mushrooms for her and she’d swim them in butter and chop them into pierogi.)

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eau something or other

April 22nd. The first market day for Madison. I don’t use maple syrup much, ever since everybody in Dane County is pretending to be on one diet or other and big breakfasts and brunches belong to the days of buckets dangling from trees. But I’ll stock up. For the future. Liquid gold from up north.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006


Did you pick up a detailed map of the state yesterday?
I forgot.
Wait, you called me from Borders. I told you the name of the map. When did you have time to forget?
It was educators’ discount days at Borders and they were giving our free sandwich wraps and brownies and 30 days of Internet use and that was distracting enough, but then I met up with a fellow blogger and she was wearing these cool green shoes and a green low-neckline sweater and this scarf and cap and she looked so swank and we got to talking about clothes, because just this day I fell in love with an espresso-toned, thinly-ribbed tank top on State Street that was $41 and we were commiserating how expensive it is to be the kind of woman who wants to dress well and so I left without remembering why I had gone there to begin with.
Okay, we’ll wing it. Back roads, no map. Should be interesting.

[The above is a conversation from this morning. The goal is to find a friend of my traveling companion, way up in northern Wisconsin. The friend is tapping maple trees. I have visions of buckets and dripping little spouts but I am told that my quaint images are dated and obsolete. In any case, my camera battery is charged and I found a spot some five hours from here that has WiFi. And the temperatures are above freezing. How good is that.]

Friday, March 24, 2006

gotta love that madison spring, pt.2

After months of negotiations, numerous emails, a site visit, more emails, committee meetings, faculty meetings, even more emails, I have finally completed the task of putting in place an exchange program between our law school and one of the campuses of the University of Paris. One thing remained: I needed to get the agreement signed by our chancellor.

Mind you, I believed it to be a formality. As I write this post, students are lined up, waiting for the green light, so that they can get their visas for a semester of fantastic pommes frites. And good classes, of course. Another handful in Paris are at this very moment, I am sure, surfing the Net, finding out what this city of Madison is all about -- whether it has the same joie de vivre as their home town (at a stretch…), what the quintessential Madison eating experience is all about (well, there’s Dotty’s…) and whether there are sidewalk cafés (yes! and they have WiFi, mixed blessing that it is).

I was not going to leave the last dotting of the i to chance. I took it upon myself to walk the Agreement up to the ruling parties up there atop Bascom Hill.

I look outside – it’s snowing hard. Wet fat flakes covering the lawn on the Hill.
Damn. I search for a large envelope to protect the prepared document and quickly snatch one of those intra-campus ones, with holes in it for God knows what reason. I walk up, face turned down, trying not to think about the fact that this is what is affectionately referred to as spring in this state.

I locate the office of the administrative assistant.
It’s the Exchange Program Agreement? She asks.
I nod, shaking off even more snow from my jacket, my bag, my camera case.

She removes the document, marked now by wet flakes that made their way through the envelope openings.

It’s wet, she says.
It’s snowing, I say.
We are engaged in a conversation about the obvious.

I am not about to go back and do this thing over. So the Chancellor has to sign a wet document. So what. I leave the office as the assistant dabs away at the pages.

Outside, looking down the hill, I think about how if I lived in the suburbs, I’d be getting in my car to drive home. I have no car now, I have no campus parking. I don’t even have an umbrella, at least not with me.

I take a photo of good old Abe. The glory of being positioned at the top of Bascom Hill in Madison Wisconsin brings with it the burden of enduring these kinds of spring days.

I put away the camera, do another circle of scarf around my neck and walk home.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

gotta love that madison spring

Over in the Connecticut River Valley I see they're posting pics of spring flowers already. Here I was, proud of our own little patch of purple, but now I feel I've been stripped of my bragging rights. Against New England's blooms, these are nothing, nothing at all. Still, here in Madison, we'll take even this little puff of color, especially today as another snow shower passes through.

So here you go, take heart you there on State Street. In front of the Fac Club on Library Mall, yesterday, I saw this:

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

pizza questions

Is it not looking after the interest of the student to suggest that, during a late afternoon seminar, there should be food? And, isn’t it appropriate, to ease the stress of presenting their work to the class, that I suggest to the student-presenters that they bring food for the rest of us (who do not need stress relief, but do need a calorie/sugar boost at this time of the day)? Is it wrong for me, the faculty person, to benefit as well, like today, for example, when I wolfed down the largest piece of a student-produced fruit pizza?

And so long as I am looking after the interest of the other (you know, the student, me, etc), should I not also take to heart the interest of that small pizza place on Willie Street (Roman Candle) and support it on this often slow mid-week day, on a regular basis? Why them, you ask? Well, shouldn’t one pick the objects of one’s support for the utter friendliness of the servers? Would you not rush to a place where the waiters practically sang to you as they placed their pie on a little sling-down tray over your table?

Wednesdays are very long days.

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heavy on the mushrooms and garlic please

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

spinning wheels

Have coffee with me?
Okay, but I am, have been, will continue to be a sackful of issues. You want calm? Not me. Not this week, not this month. I have issues, you hear me? I have issues!

Such was an email exchange I had earlier today. Perhaps not as emphatic, but close. Rather than run away from the prospect of coffee with a woman with issues, my coffee-mate (is that still in production?) was tantalized.

Of course, verbalizing issues has this effect: it makes them appear small. By the end of our meeting I was thinking that I don’t even have issues, I just have a fertile imagination. There’s a difference.

The pushing aside of my issues freed me: I was able to accompany my coffee-mate (that just sounds so wrong) to Little Luxuries on State Street where she admired hairbands and I considered acquiring this item:

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Literature after my own heart. Imagine, I may be at the cusp of something big. Any year now.

For everything else, there’s Ocean.

Monday, March 20, 2006

bird story

A few paces south of the Beltline (the highway that wraps itself around the perimeters of Madison), you can pick up a trail that will lead you to the shores of Lake Waubesa. Eventually, you’ll reach railroad tracks that bridge a waterway linking Waubesa with Mud Lake (or Goose, or whatever other generic name you want to give to the lake adjacent to it). Following the tracks back toward Madison places you in the midst of the marshes where birds mate, eat, rest and generally hide from the likes of me.

I walked there yesterday. Watching the games geese play with each other, I thought a lot about the way we ourselves coax and tease, laugh, eat (an essential in my case) and play with, and generally chase down the objects of our affection.

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he chases her

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she then chases him

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a secret, underwater pursuit

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they're just so into each other

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he's doing the mating dance

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traveling together

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two take off

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heading into the sunset, alone

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too much togetherness?

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keeping up with her

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two birdwatchers, waiting, with expectations

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Despite the attention on spring, on St. Patrick’s, on longer days and brilliant sunshine, with the end of spring break I am inclined to regard the world in various shades of blue.

From a drive to Governor Nelson State Park, just north of Madison:

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two minutes outside Madison, total quiet

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from the north, looking toward the Capitol, the lake is ice-free

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...though evidence of winter is there, along the shore

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blue shadows on slushy trails

Saturday, March 18, 2006

spring break, one more time

Late morning. We are at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I need a new license. I moved, I have a new address. A daughter needs a license as well. Hers was stolen. We’re all there, waiting, the whole bunch of us. Nothing to read, nothing to do. There is a trivia quiz flashing on the electronic monitor. No, boring. Let me practice facial expressions for the camera. Which smile should I use, this one? Maybe. This one? Maybe. This one? – no not that one! I look at them. They are laughing so hard: tear-inducing laughter. Damn it, what’s wrong with that one?

We are walking down a Chicago block earlier in the week. Remember when I was in sixth grade? – I’m asked. Yeah… There was a quiz I had to respond to, how well I knew my parents. Remember? One question was about my mom’s favorite color. I knew you didn’t have one, but I needed to answer. You like blue, no? So I put down blue. Yeah… And then it was your turn. You could look at my answers and fill in your real ones. Yeah… And when it came to what’s your favorite color, you wrote “I have no favorite. NOT blue.” You broke my heart. Roll back, let me do it over again!

Did you love me forever, for those three days? Lucinda Williams sings on the CD. A new line to use when you fish for something that lasts forever. Did you only love me, for those three days? No, no, I love you forever!

Spring break. Last days of it. Snow melts. I cook one last dinner. One daughter is supremely late. I want to kill her, she knows the rules. A person cooks, you show up. But I can’t.

On the CD player, Woodie Guthrie sings a song we play each year on March 17th, for no good reason.

Go to sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by
Can't you hear the steel rail humming
That's a hobo's lullaby

Do not think about tomorrow
Let tomorrow come and go
Tonight you're in a nice warm boxcar
Safe from all the wind and snow

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