We decided to take the back roads through Wisconsin farm country to Milwaukee from Madison, taking a detour to Racine, where my dad and uncle grew up. Lush, rolling hills with gold and green corn fields, sprinkled with wild amaryllis and Queen Anne’s lace soothed my sun parched soul. What a relief to luxuriate in the vivid greens of well-watered trees and grasses. The great lakes are battling for survival, like most other waterways under siege from pollution. Still, when we got to Racine it looked like we were at the beach. So too in Milwaukee, which also has a lovely, sandy beach along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee is an attractive city, a little smaller than Austin. Gary and Diane Porter, my cousins, were perfect hosts for a trip around scenic downtown Milwaukee and Waukesha, their suburb. Knowing I was interested in local architecture, Gary took us to the University area, both U WI Milwaukee and Marquette, where the St. Joan of Arc Chapel stands and where my grandfather went to school. The 15th Century church was disassembled in France, shipped to New Jersey, reconstructed then disassembled again and brought to Marquette University. I wished I had the time to sit and meditate in the church, it had a very intimate, electric atmosphere. St. Joan is a personal favorite. It’s still interesting to me that she was canonized, although I think it’s safe to say the Catholics make their rules up as they go.
Gary (who put the Pulitzer in Porter) is the lead photographer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel so he really knows his city. While we did make it to the Milwaukee Art Museum, it wasn’t open so I contented myself with shots of the Burke Bris Soleil at the Quadracci Pavillon shown below. Visiting Gary and Diane for the first time was such a pleasure. Enjoying their hospitality and swapping stories made me realize how we, as family members, really mirrored one another, even though we grew up in different parts of the country. These days I feel like a tuning fork much of the time, seeking resonance with others and finding it or not. Returning to the land of my ancestors moved me in ways that continue to unfold, as if I never left the St. Joan Chapel – still meditating just below the surface of my thoughts.
Thanks to my cousin Steve Porter, Bill and I were ushered off Madison’s beaten path to both musical and edible treats. After landing in the lake city, Bill and I made our way to the University of Wisconsin Rathskeller -a classic beer hall- sehr Deutsch. Cruising down State street, catering to the university crowd with bookstores and sidewalk cafes, we stopped for refreshments at Hsusus, a small Mediterranean cafe. Steve mentioned that it used to be a Dunkin Donuts before some students rolled a big wooden spool through the front window. A young violinist entertained passersby with classical tunes, the crowd: a mix of seasoned hippies and students of every stripe. Casual, unpretentious, it was easy to feel at home in Madison, which shares an alternative outlook with Austin, though with fewer tattoos. Moving on to Talula, a restaurant/music venue, we enjoyed crab puffs, fresh pasta and handmade pizza, layered with farm fresh vegetables. Drinks were delightful, the bartender/owner was friendly and the band brought a down home, honky tonk ambiance, complemented by works of local artists, shown below.
Earlier in the day when we were driving into the city, Bill and I caught a few minutes of a radio talk-show featuring a host who was taking Q & A about health care reform. Oddly, he was liberal, something I didn’t think existed on radio talk shows. Talking with Steve about what was happening in Wisconsin, I was reminded of the rich labor movement tradition underlying the establishment of things we take for granted and are now challenged: overtime, sick leave, vacation time, social security and health benefits. We’ll see what the future holds. Clubs in Wisconsin and probably most of the Great Lakes areas can be found in places once inhabited by supper clubs. These outliers are are now in light industrial areas (one was across from the Oscar Mayer wiener plant) on a grid known only to the locals. I was happy to have part-time drummer, Steve as our guide. Great roadhouse blues, mysterious back roads, and good company made for a great adventure in Madison, Austin’s sister city.