Barely home from Spain for two weeks and not even completely unpacked I stuffed my new backpack and was off to the airport again. My friend Amanda and her best friend were just finishing up a road trip around western United States and were to meet me in the Milwaukee airport. This is where the first oddity hit me. Not the free ping pong table travelers but there, inside the airport, a tiny, non chain, used bookstore. It is said to be the world’s first used book shop in an airport and I really dig it.
The first part of my three weeks was spent taking it easy in a small town on the Wisconsin Illinois border. At one point I actually had one foot in one state and one foot in the other as we strolled around the neighborhood taking in all the unique non-suburbia style homes and gardens. It seemed that just about every house was growing a vegetable garden, these people must know how to can because there were over 20 tomato plants.
I met tons of family since it was Amanda’s grandma’s birthday and the following day was Fourth of July. There were back to back dinners. It was a shame I don’t know how to drive a boat well because Amanda’s uncle told me I could take his boat out. but it was fine because we ended up going out on her dad’s pontoon boat and since the water level was so high you can only go idle speed anyhow. On the fourth we went to a parade. Her grandpa was a trip asking to trade kids other flavor lollipops that were tossed out, for root beer flavored ones. later we went out on her uncles smaller boat and anchored up with the pontoon boat and watched the fireworks that are set off by the neighboring town.
One morning we helped pull weeds in the vegetable garden and ended up getting our backs sunburnt, which was worth it since we could then find and pick edibles for salads and cooking. Amanda taught me what Lambs Quarter is and we left that weed in the garden and ate some, nice learning about wild edibles.
Another morning we woke up and put on long sleeves and pants and fought the mosquitoes and thorns, picking wild blackberries in their backyard. In the end we had about 30 cups of very seedy blackberries that were mashed and pressed through a strainer to de-seed them and then turned into delicious jam.
I was staring at this pile of seeds that still contained some pulp and flavor so i threw them into a pot and added some water and boiled them then strained the seeds out and added some sugar and had a nice glass of juice. The second batch we added to the frosting for the cupcakes that Amanda made.
Several days we took out kayaks and paddle boards on the lake I went swimming in the lake for about two minutes but it was too cold for a Florida boy and also growing up going to the beach, there is something that creeps me out about lakes, maybe its their mushy, slimy bottom or maybe the clouds of bright green algae, but then again now on the gulf coast of Florida the water temperatures are about 90 Fahrenheit and there have been several confirmed reports of a flesh eating bacteria that infects open wounds and has taken the lives of between 5 and 10 people.
At one of the stops along their road trip Amanda and Janet saw some art made with welded wire and nuts and bolts and things so Janet asked her dad to teach us how to weld. it turned out to be harder than they thought but they were both able to make moose like they wanted. I have always wanted to learn to weld and missed this chance but I did play around with some copper wire and solder.
One of our mutual friends, Emily, Who we met in Spain is now living in Chicago giving us one more reason to go besides the fact that I had never been. Amanda’s mom took us to the train station in the neighboring town. The train was already at the station as we pulled up so we scrambled to run in and buy tickets and board the train. This was the first time I have ridden a train in the USA with the exception of the time when I was 5 or 6 and my Grandpa’s brother, a conductor, let me drive a big engine in the train yard. It was sort of pathetic. For a country who arrogantly proclaims number one to most things, looking at this clunky, massive tin cube of a commuter train as it jostled its way, clanking along the track,s I thought back to the streamline trains of Europe and Japan that put you to sleep with a hush of wind flowing across crystalline windows.
The 9am train also boasted animate characteristics of the USA from your suit clad office worker to ethnic minorities to a pair of mid 30’s mid to lower class guys carrying a 12 pack of bud light missing the two that were popped open and in each of their hands.
Eventually the train, which had gradually filled up along its trajectory, jerked around a few corners and halted at the dim and poorly ventilated downtown station. People on the platform scurried off into the city and we hung around looking for Emily. Strangely the nicest part of the train station isn’t the part that is used.
We met Emily with big hugs and had no real plan for the day so we walked to see the Cloud Gate and the nearby bandstand had some jazz playing. Looking at the structure, the Pritzker Pavilion, I could tell but wasn’t 100 percent sure, that the architect was Frank Gehry. That guy signs his name to every work just by his style. Curvy polished metal, almost unmistakable.
There was also this cool fountain area that had two towers covered in LED screens. an artist filmed Chicago natives and then put them on the LED screens. Every so often water would shoot out of a huge spigot right where the persons mouth was on the screen.
We were all hungry and we saw something advertising food in Grant Park, turns out to be Taste of Chicago. We tried several things each. The weird thing was hearing the woman from whom I ordered say,” I need one alligator”, down here in Florida I think 95 percent of people would have just said “gator”. Making the whole experience complete was a booth selling Spanish olive oil and offering samples of a very Sevillano dish, Gazpacho.
One of the afternoons in Chicago I was able to met up with a friend, Magda, who I met in Segovia during my first days in Spain. This is the second time we have meet up outside of Spain; the second time we were both in Poland at the same time. Chicago has the largest population of Polish people outside of Poland. so later on Amanda and I went to find a Polish restaurant hoping that they would have Krupnik Soup. They did but was not as good as my Polish friend Ola made . Additionally we were thinking the Polish neighborhood would still be Polish, with Grocery stores and shops catering to that community. Really it was the historic Polish Neighborhood, which has since become the “hipster” hangout, full of cool used book stores like Myopic and shops selling urban outfitter-esque stuff.
Later we walked down to Lake Michigan, passing a foot race that had finished. People wearing numbers were standing around the tree lined park talking and eating, with music bumping. There was a table setup and a couple there, whose duty I suppose it was to hand out bananas to the runners as they came through. In front of them sat a still full box of bananasI could foresee the fate of those bananas but what would I do with an entire box of bananas, I did what I could and asked for a few and they offered me as many as I wanted.
Lake Michigan is mindbogglingly large. When I was younger my neighbors said that their son had surfed on the lake but I couldn’t fathom the possibility. When we got to the lake I couldn’t help but imagine the saltiness of the water at my feet; it looked just like the Gulf of Mexico on a pretty calm day. The gentle waves lapping at the shore, I could picture much bigger waves with a big winter storm, like when we used to surf the gulf coast with hurricane force winds.
We had to go to navy pier and I reticently rode the ferriswheel, not because of fear but because of the tourist factor. But it offered a great view and was a calm ride compared to the sickening Ferriswheel at Feria in Spain.
After our ride we sat at a table and I sketched while Amanda worked on a crossword. One of the things I like best about traveling alone or slowly is the ability to just sit somewhere and sketch. I don’t often do it but I love looking at my sketchbook, more so that photo albums, and seeing my renderings of where I have been. It also affords you the ability to personally capture a place where photos are prohibited, like when I was at a temple in Japan; Even so a guy nearly threw me out just for drawing the temple.
Our stay with Emily in Chicago was way too short. I miss her humor and company but with as much as I liked Chicago maybe I will have to take a longer visit in the near future. When we got back to Amanda’s parent’s house her cousin met us and gave us a ride to Amanda’s house in Madison.
Her house was just a 2 miles from the capitol building and her neighborhood full of cute bungalow style houses. I loved Madison’s efforts to promote cycling. They have several roads that are part of the bike trail system where bikes are granted full use of lanes and cars must wait for cyclist. These bike paths have helped feed some businesses along their routes, like this cafe. Also along the corridors, community gardens have sprung up along with several areas that are not to be mowed as part of a campaign to protect Wisconsin’s wildflowers.
Every Wednesday in the summer, there are free concerts on the lawn of the capitol building. People must drop their blankets off, claiming their spot on their lunch hour because we showed up about an hour minutes before the event started and there were empty blankets everywhere like a work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. There were people having snacks and some others with all out dinners prepared in tuperware.
We had heard about a Thai Pavilion, the only one in the United States so we went to check it out. Amazingly there are no screws or nails; everything is held together by a system of notches and grooves. This was the Inspiration for a letterbox we planted in a park nearby. If you don’t know what Letterboxing is, you can find more information at Atlasquest but basically it is like Geocaching but with hand carved rubber stamps. The Olbrich Gardens has several different areas and each one has a unique architectural style.
Some women outside the garden’s entrance hassled us to buy a membership claiming it was only the price of two entries into the gardens. Frustrated by the new fee we went around the back of the gardens and entered through an unlocked service gate. We were bold and left through the front door and noticed a sign explaining that the entrance fee was for the Conservatory, not the gardens. I guess we aren’t the rebels we thought we were.
On Saturdays the capitol hill becomes a big farmers market and you can get all your seasonal goodies, fresh and direct, along with famous Wisconsin cheese curds, ostrich jerky and many arts and crafts. We bought veggies a 15 dollar chunk of organic beef, fresh eggs, and some spicy cheese bread. the bike ride home was not as easy carrying all the food but it was worth every bite.
Since I am moving to Korea in about a week someone thought it would be a good idea to look for winter boots, thinking I might get a good deal since it is summer. It turns out that Madison has Maxwell Street Days, similar to Rebajas in Spain, or Black Friday in the USA. I went over to an outdoor store, looked on the sales table for shoes and spotted a pair of North Face boots, which were marked down from 130 to 99, not that much of a deal. I debated buying them then went for it. The cashier was surprised and indicated that they were actually 75 dollars; BONUS!
Amanda took me on a tour of her university, UW Madison. Besides the post war emotionless edifices, the campus was really beautiful. with all the rain that received it was so green and all the flowers were in bloom. There was a cool wobbly pedestrian bridge that spans the highway connecting the two sides of the university. On the newer side we dropped into the Chazen Museum of Art and caught a glimpse of some works by Ikeda Manabu, a Japanese artist who does intricate ink drawings, some of which were more than 8 feet tall and wide. you almost need a magnifying glass to pick up on all the little details.
The University of Wisconsin, as it would be, has a dairy science program and so makes all of its own milk, cheese and ice cream, which you can buy at a few shops across the campus. We got some of the ice cream then headed over to the older of their two student unions. It’s better because of its location right on the shore of a lake. They had a big TV set up out on the deck and people gathered to watch the World Cup final but I was more entertained by the windsurfers who kept falling over and the sailboats, tacking around the lake than the game but t was a good time.
It was a headache but on the last two days of the trip we managed to rent a car and drove up to Devils Lake Park. I am happy that I was so adamant about going. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip, though I wish I would have gotten to climb. We Spent the day walking the entire perimeter of the lake, along the bluffs. The red Quartzite was so tempting but I didn’t have a belay and they are all trad routes and I don’t know how to place gear.
Amanda was zipping up and down the “mountains” since she was just on the West Coast in Glacier National Park and Yosemite while I was huffing and puffing along behind. It was abnormally hot for Wisconsin so we went down to the lake to swim, or for me get in and get out.
My flight was supposed to depart from Millwaukee at about 9am and the only way I could get from Madison to Millwaukee and not miss the 9am flight was a bus that departed from Madison at 4am. Amanda’s roommate was awesome and let us borrow her car since I had no way to get to the bus stop. The bus driver was so chatty even at that time of morning and strangely the only other passenger on the bus was a friend of Amanda.
When I checked in my bags, the guy at the desk offered to bump me to the earlier flights so I didn’t have to wait 3 hours and I was home before noon but not without having left my new sunglasses in Wisconsin.