Wednesday, July 02, 2008


A law seminar on the Capitol Square placed me downtown this morning. Done by noon, I head for the Wednesday off-the-Square market.

Nostalgia. I used to live here. I was, until last year, a downtown returnee. This market was my market. I know you – a vendor greets me. Or, your face… your name, hmm… from l'Etoile... give me a minute now… I forgive him, especially since I cannot remember his either.

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Move out and names scatter and fizzle.

I run into one of the owners of l’Etoile Restaurant, where I used to moonlight. The Square is being taken over by a developer, she tells me. Ah – the threat of the overzealous developer. L’Etoile is wary. Ed, with a developer hovering by his land, threatening to put in rows and rows of houses, is equally uneasy. Me, I want the developer to hurry up and finish the work next to my condo. The site of the future Whole Foods has been a Hole in the Ground for a year now.

Our lives are made crazy by developers.

In the meantime, the Farmers Market is thriving. I buy strawberries and nibble through the box as I walk up and down the two rows of stalls.

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I turn toward the lake. I like this walk – a common one for me not too far back. From Monona Terrace, down John Nolan Drive.

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Our skyline. Madison. Pretty, even if forever changing her face. The Capitol, with its golden statue (sculpted by the same artist who gave us the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC) and white dome creates stability. To an extent.

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At the lakeside, I get caught up in watching swallows. Ever try to photograph a swallow in motion? It has to be the most skittish bird ever. Dart, glide, swoop, never predictable, changing directions, your friend for a nanosecond, then off elsewhere. (Like downtown Madison?)

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I get so engrossed in watching these birds, and the fishing boat inching toward the skyline, and the big boat collecting lake algae (seems daunting; okay, honestly – hopeless), and so I don’t notice the sky. Suddenly I am getting wet. The lake is getting wet too, but it doesn’t mind. I mind.

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I find a tree, but then hear rumble. Thunder. A cyclist, seeking the same cover, asks me: are you a visitor here? (Oh, that big camera!) Time to move on. I walk briskly to the Washington Hotel Café on Lakeside. There, I order a double shot latte and I look at a book of photos of old Madison. Of a time when the downtown buzzed with people not with cars, and when the train station was packed with travelers on their way to Chicago and beyond.

No trains now. No station. Lots of cars. And developers.

At my condo, someone has delivered a wonderfully fresh and crusty baguette. A gift from Max (of Stella’s), the number one vendor at the Farmers Market. Oh, Max! Oh Madison!

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UPDATE: the comment tells it all. In our little town, the early get rich, the dallying get white bread. The vendor in the photo is indeed Bill. It all comes back. His wee little tomatoes later in the season are to die for. As for Max's (Stella's Bakery) baguette: I am on a campaign to make these available daily, to all of us, somewhere in town. I pledge 300 halves per year, on the conservative side. Tonight, Ed and I consumed, no, devoured one in its entirety. It's not 100% like what it may be elsewhere, but it is pretty darn close and it is superb and that's all that matters. Thanks to the fantastically knowledgeable delivery boy (Barry)!