Saturday, July 08, 2006

Totem in a garden
Schenk-Atwood neighborhood, Madison

The totem itself isn't so unusual; what caught my eye was the golf ball in his hat. I've seen all kinds of offerings to the kami, up to and including soft drinks and sandwich cookies, but this is the first time I've seen evidence that the spirits are duffers.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The fountains at the corners where Washington Avenue is interrupted by capital square have finally been filled with water, plugged in and are ready to bathe every bird in town, and I wouldn't be surprised to find a homeless street person washing up over these basins now and again.

Various work men have been laboring to install the fountains for at least a year. Ground was broken and hairy-armed hardhats were pouring concrete footings when we first arrived in Madison a year ago this week. They spread visquine tarps over heavy frames to continue welding the framework through the winter, and they've been piecing together the marble and bolting down the bronze bowls ever since the first days of fair weather.

Water started running last week, but this is the first close look I got. Water gushes from bowls at either end of an arc and tumbles over the side to sheet down a low, curved marble wall. They're not especially attractive to the eye, but the sound is pleasing and the birds love to dance in the water.

Damn, you don't see a car like this in the parking lot every day. Or more often than once a year, if you're counting.

I'd be willing to bet this little monster can go from zero to sixty in about the same amount of time it takes you to read all the way to the full stop at the end of this sentence.

I've always had a great big thang for Mustangs, but for a long time I couldn't abide white ones on account of a near miss with one while I was out cruising with a friend. As we crossed a divided highway Mike thought he had plenty of time to squeek past the Mustang coming at us in the far lane, but he wasn't in the passenger seat looking straight at the guy driving the other car. I could see every wrinkle on his forehead, and as our eyes met we both very clearly communicated the same thought to each other in a single heartbeat: We're going to die. Then he flashed past us, Mike finished the turn and he never, ever admitted that we'd been in the slightest danger of collision for a moment.

I got over that scare years ago so I can ooohhh and ahhhh over every Mustang I see prowling the streets nowadays, each sighting an especially delightful treat because I don't see that many. And I mean real Mustangs, not those posers that Ford's been squirting out for the past five or ten years. This one's obviously been lovingly cared for and garaged whenever foul weather threatens. What a wondeful toy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

There's a Word For It ... Paradox? Conundrum?

In the Mansion Hill District of Madison, this gorgeous old pile of sandstone and timber anchors one corner of the same block as ...

... this boring, clunky metal and glass box. Uck.

And I don't want to even think about what they tore down to make way for this monstrosity.

Bethel Lutheran Church

Strolling along Wisconsin Avenue toward the Mansion Hill District I passed one of the rear exit doors of Bethel church, overgrown with ivy. Decorative trees framed either side of the exit and grew in a small garden to one side. If there had been a bench, I could have taken a seat and contemplated my shoe laces for an hour. Or not. If there had been a bench, a hobo would almost certainly have been sleeping on it.

The building is a contemporary construction and the ivy probably hasn't been growing there more than a season or two, but this feels like an age-old sanctuary. Even with the traffic roaring past on Johnson Street less than fifty feet away, the sheltered exit was a tranquil pocket of solitude.

Monona Terrace

So named because it's on the shore of Lake Monona on the isthmus in Madison, not because it's in Monona, the city on the other side of the lake. Clear as mud?

Monona Terrace is a convention center based on a 1938 design by Frank Lloyd Wright. The design as envisioned was to be for a civic center on the order of Marin County's, but it ran into a lot of political opposition and the idea was shelved. They'd occasionally bring it out, dust it off and fight over it for a little while before shelving it again. This went on for decades until 1992 when finally the city, casting about for designs for an exhibition center, approved this watered-down version of Wright's plan.

It's a very pretty place, and you can see Wright's influence in the design, but it's a far cry from what he originally planned, and when you take a look at the Marin County version it almost makes you weep to think of the jewel Madison could have had.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Bunch O' Brass #1

Mail box in the State Office Building, 1 W. Wilson Street, Madison. Graven eagles don't get much more stalwart than this heraldic gem.

I had to make a delivery to this building last week in the course of my dutites and walked out with my jaw dragging the pavement. I love art deco; it's my dream to have my ashes scattered to the wind from the top of the Chrysler Building but, if that turns out to be impossible, and I have a hunch it might be, then box me up and put me in the mail drop at 1 West Wilson and I'll rest in peace.

A Bunch O' Brass #2

In this building, everything that could possibly be wrought from brass has been made from brass. When was the last time you saw the building directory tricked out in anything fancier than a plain frame of brushed chrome? There's enough ornamentation here to decorate every wedding cake in Wisconsin for the rest of the year.

A Bunch O' Brass #3

The last time I saw a doorway this ornate I was sightseeing in a cathedral. I wonder how they keep all that brass shining without a crew of hundreds of rag-weilding gnomes polishing every inch of it constantly throughout the day? Either it's not brass, which I refuse to believe, or they sealed it beneath a protective transparent overcoat after first polishing it to a high gloss. The effect is dazzling.

I didn't notice until I posted this photo that the clock was broken, or possibly it's running eight hours slow.

A Bunch O' Brass #4

The State motto flanked by African violets, Wisconsin's flower. This shield appears at the top of each of the four lamps standing on the stairs to the front door.


Dave's Madison Trivia

Tidbit #1: The only clock on capital square is this Guiness-themed time piece on the sign over the door of Brocach, downtown Madison's "Irish" pub. And it's wrong. I don't remember when it stopped working; maybe when vandals broke the windows last month. For the past couple weeks it's been stuck at about five-thirty, although this morning it was twelve o'clock so maybe it's finally broken loose and is trying to catch up.

I've been to an Irish pub or two and they didn't resemble this one much, which combines the rustic decor of a Black-Eyed Pea with the tables and booths of a Bennigan's. The food's not bad, though, and they do serve Guiness, plus I like the location. Worth stopping for. Just not all that Irish.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Monona's Independence Day Fireworks

...began right on time, or as near to 9:20pm as to make no difference.

We had no idea it was as popular an event as the hundreds of cars parked along Monona's streets proved it was. We parked in the lot behind St Theresa's and walked down Greenway to the baseball field near the municipal center, found a spot of grass, and planted our chairs just in time.

Monona's Fireworks ... or a Close Encounter?

Monona's Fireworks Encore!

Here's one more for the road ... now I've got to go to bed.

There's a Sale at Kohl's!

These comically bright table settings are available for stupid cheap money. You could buy them now, or wait twenty years, when they will possibly reappear on the shelves of the local thrift store at a quarter apiece. Then again they could, like Fiestaware, become collector's items so hideously expensive that you won't be able to put together a complete eight-setting collection for under two-thousand dollars. And no power in the universe will ever know why.

Back to the Memory Box: RAF Digby

I don't know how this got in here ... this dates from 2001, when I was stationed at RAF Digby in Lincolshire. I did mention that I was stationed in England, didn't I? Twice? God, I miss England.

I've dragged my family back and forth across the globe way too many times, but I think they all enjoyed living in England; it was a move well worth making. We traveled more widely than I think we did anywhere else we've been; in the UK from Edinburgh to Land's End to Wells-Next-The-Sea, in Europe from Brugge to Kaiserslautern. B and the boys even stopped briefly in Italy while hopping a flight to Germany.

RAF Digby is a very small place, surrounded by farm fields and very small villages; most of the people I knew seemed to have trouble acclimating to rural life, but I could've very happily lived there, or in one of the nearby villages, for many more than the two short years we had.

Digby Sector Ops Museum

Sector Ops Museum, RAF Digby

One of my most cherished memories I took away from RAF Digby would have to be the time I spent as a museum guide at the Sector Ops Museum, a fighter direction post lovingly restored to its World War Two-era glory by a handful of volunteers (Dave Curry, in this photo, being one of the most devoted volunteers of the bunch*, and one hell of an accomplished museum guide as well). I was the first American on the station to take part in giving tours of the museum, and enjoyed every minute.

Most of the items you see in this photo are replicas of the original working aids kept in the plotting room of a fighter direction post, re-created through the study of photographs. I belived that clock on the back wall is the real McCoy, though; I remember climbing a ladder to wind it and set the time on Sunday mornings that I was scheduled to guide a tour group. The room beyond the door, and several other rooms in the bunker, were filled with other authentic museum displays as well. Considering it was all pieced together by volunteers in their spare time, it was quite an amazing museum.

(I don't have any photos of the Ops Museum as good as this one, so I linked to a photo from the 'Y' Services Garats Hay Web page, hoping they won't mind.)

*Must give due credit (as well as a smile and a wave hello) to Pete and Terry, two equally hard-working volunteers and accomplished guides. Have I forgotten somebody? I hope not, but my memory's a dicey thing. Flames to e-mail, and I'll amend the footnote as appropriate.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Shakespeare's Book Store, Carroll Street, Madison

It's got just about everything I want in a book store, starting with truckloads of used books jammed into shelves going nearly all the way up to the tin-plated ceiling. The shelves stretch at least twice again this length to the back of the store — not quite infinity, but it feels like it — and there's more downstairs!

Shakespeare's also has plenty of books behind glass, if the bargain books aren't to your taste. I try not to look too closely at the books in the locked cases. Last time I stopped to browse, I found a bound copy of the history of passenger railroad coaches. I knew I'd kick myself for months if I passed it up, so I asked if they'd take twenty bucks a payday until I paid it off, and to my surprise they agreed. You can't get customer service like that at Barnes & Noble.

The Key to a Successful Move

... is of course to unpack everything right away. That's why nobody ever successfully completes a move. This little drawer of knick-knacks and oddities has been stuffed away since about 1992, and I've only now pawed through the mess to see what's in there.

The collection of pins in the foreground dates to the years we lived in Colorado, where B and I met each other and married sixteen bliss-filled years ago.

Two of the pins are from Odyssey of the Mind, the competition for school children; you know, give them a straw, a bit of string, a ping-pong ball and a pencil and ask them to build a bridge. They can usually do it. B was a coach, and I judged the competition.

Four of the pins are from the national monuments and national parks we visited on a camping trip across Wyoming in a Volkswagen pop-top microbus, back when the kids were easily tucked away into small spaces, and B and I were resiliant enough to climb Devil's Tower.

My eyes have only recently become bad enough to need a magnifying glass, but I've had the hand-held glass since I was a boy. It belonged to my great-grandmother.

Pocket watch for Dad

I was lucky enough to be stationed at RAF Chicksands near Bedford in England from 1985 to 1987, where I bought this pocket watch as a birthday gift for my Dad. He never had any occasion to carry a pocket watch, of course, and I have no idea what he did with it, other than put it in a drawer for safe-keeping.

A previous owner has rather carefully painted a pastoral scene across the face of the watch: a few sheep beside a stream, a church in the background surrounded by trees, a partly cloudy sky. I wanted a gift that said 'England' and this seemed to fit the bill.

My father passed away about six or eight years later and the watch came back to me.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Asleep! Me?

No, I haven't fallen asleep, althogh I may have dozed just a bit. I post most of my deepest thoughts at a web site my brother and I own, so as to get the most of our money, don'tcha know. I try to find an interesting photo to post here from time to time, but I dropped the ball these past weeks and for that I hang my head in shame.

Tell you what — to try make it up to you, here are a few of my favorite photos from a cast party I went to about a year and a half ago. I was fortunate enough to be part of a troupe of amateur kabuki actors and this party was our big celebration after pulling off a particularly special performance.

The leader of our troupe of would-be actors was a nationally-known kabuki artist who went by the stage name Bandoh-san. He was not just a spectacularly good actor but a man of limitless patience; he'd have to be, to attempt to teach a guy like me to act.




With plenty of practice we were eventually able to pull off a public appearance at the yearly cultural festival in Towada. I was sure that stage fright would paralyze me, as it usually does, but the lights were so bright I couldn't see anybody beyond the stage! I could concentrate on the show and had a great time.




These guys were just about the most fun I had while I was living abroad in Japan. It's no small stretch to go as far as to say they helped me hang on to my well-being during a very rocky time. Thanks, all!