Thursday, August 07, 2008


I lived in a west Madison suburb for 18 years. Older people moved out, younger families moved in. Sometimes the newcomers would do minor house renovations. Sometimes someone would put up a fence or uproot an old tree. We would all take note.

Last night, I went to visit a friend in the old neighborhood. I drove up my street. Really, the place looks pretty much the same. Sure, a new privacy fence by the house across the street from ours (or, what used to be ours). Nothing more.

As always when I pass this way, I looked up at the windows of our place and tried to see the inside. Not to see the new family’s way of doing things, but to bring back that feeling of home that came from living there.

It was a boring neighborhood, but a good home, albeit too expensive for us, for me to maintain.

In between the move out of the suburbs and the move to my condo, I spent two years living in downtown Madison. I felt as transient there as the students who moved in and out to my east, and the much maligned transient population that loved to hang out at the small park to my west. Oddly, it felt right for me then. I belonged to their limbo worlds.

But I knew eventually I would look for a home.

I suppose it is my fate to then move into a neighborhood in Madison that is anything but stable, though in ways that are perhaps silly. A year ago, there were office buildings next to us. Six months later, there was a gaping hole and the promise of a new Whole Foods, a small hotel and who knows what else. Now, it's all up for grabs again. A week back, our parking lot felt quiet, and now we’re contemplating the expected changes as a new fitness center has leased space on the ground floor of the condo building, with the potential to transform this building, though it’s unclear in what way. Weird.

I’m close to a mall that is trying to appear more urban and less mallsy. New shops open, but they, too, feel very temporary. How can a silly wine shop and a fancy chocolatier survive here? I like l’Occitane, but it’s a frivolous place and we aren’t a frivolous town.

Each time I bike past this little shopping street, I look for closures. They wont surprise me. The street itself seems unreal – like out of a movie set. I don’t want to like it because I know it wont be there in the way that it is now, tomorrow.

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Purchase photo 1945

When I travel back to Warsaw, I go back to my favorite pastry shops (there are two that I love). I sit down and think how it was when I ate cakes and doughnuts there forty years back. I do note new places in the city – products of a new ordering of life since I lived there, but there are enough old places that Warsaw itself feels very much the same.

Nothing about where I live and how I live right now feels stable (beyond my teaching). And so, as I bike to work, I have come to believe that the lake path that I follow each morning is my constant. It is mine every day and it hasn’t changed much since the years I took my daughters down to visit the Lake Mendota area.

The rest? One day at a time.