Day Three in Wisconsin.

The day began with us heading in to the Madison neighborhood where I once lived, Madison’s East Side, and in particular, to Williamson Street (known locally as “Willy Street”)

Every year, the residents of this neighborhood have a really great block party, featuring all sorts of food, music, and related events. I remember these fondly. Apparently, these parties were started in the late 1960s by the antiwar, hippie residents, as a means of spreading the counterculture’s vibes.

When I had lived in Madison, a lot of current and former students were living there. It thus had a reputation for being pretty “student-y.” That still seemed to be the case during this visit.

We parked in the lot for the Willy Street Co-Op, a long-standing neighborhood based food co-op/health food store. I once had a membership when I lived there, and would shop there for various food items. It was nice to see the place again, even though this was a newer larger store in a location across the street from where I had remembered it. I was reminded, too, that the first time I ever took a yoga class was around the time that I was shopping in this store – both things being rather connected, I suppose.

We purchased a few items, and as we were paying for them, I was asked if I had a membership card. I replied that I once did, but it had been over twenty years since I used the card 😉

We then walked around the old neighborhood. Willy Street itself was showing signs of having roadwork done, as were various other streets around town.

Walking a bit further, we came upon the Williamson Street Art Center and a bunch of really eye catching paintings.

I especially liked the next one, as I found myself drawn to the message.

We then did some more walking. Having shown Jolie where I lived in my first year in town, I wanted to show her some of my other places of residence. One of these was 911 East Dayton Street, where I roomed with a grad school friend, John Manzo. John and I were in the same grad program at UW.

The place was a two bedroom townhouse. I forget how much we paid each month, but I don’t think it was all that much. It felt a bit strange being back and seeing it again; it looked exactly as I remembered it.

I was having a hard time remembering the exact address of the other place I had lived, but I had a basic idea of the general area, and I remembered that the street looked something like this.

What I remember about the place is that it was an old Victorian house, owned by a botany professor at the university who rented rooms to grad students. My room had a water bed, and at times, the heating device would turn off, which in the harsh Wisconsin winter, was unpleasant. One housemate there played keyboard and was in a lounge band; I once went to see him perform and it reminded me a lot of Bill Murray on SNL. The botany prof was not around for much of the year but was there in the summer of 1989; he was a pretty nice and very interesting guy, who would invite me in to the dining room to join him and his girlfriend for a drink, where we would sort of discuss science. He seemed very interested in sociology and in other disciplines outside of his own.

Anyway, walking around the East Side again, I was reminded of how green and how nice this neighborhood was.

I had also forgotten about this local park that offered a great view of the capitol building in the background. The Capitol building was actually our next destination.

While there, earlier in the week, I had a chance to talk with some of the activists protesting against Governor Walker, and was invited to join in with the solidarity sing along. And because I felt very compelled to do this, I enthusiastically showed up, inside the Capitol rotunda, just before noon to join in. I introduced myself to Chris Reeder, one of the leaders of this effort, and to some of the other participants and told them I was there visiting from NY and was wanting to participate with them. They seemed to really like that. I was given a solidarity sing-along booklet (I wound up buying a copy, as did another singer, who was there visiting from Ohio).

The songbook contained  a variety of songs, mostly familiar, some with lyrics slightly altered so as to comment on the events taking place at the time – for example, “This land is your land” and “I’m stickin’ to the union.” My favorite was a rewrite of the song “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” rewritten as “The Koch song,” now a very clever social commentary about the Koch family foundation and its political influences. It was sung, really cleverly, in a multi-part harmony.

Here are some photos.

And my video for “Bring Back Wisconsin to Me”

During this week, Arlo Guthrie was scheduled to perform at a “We Are Wisconsin” benefit concert (i.e., a network of religious leaders, community groups, labor union members, student groups, and others opposed to the Walker agenda) . There was talk of getting him to perform with the solidarity singers, which did happen. People were also signing a songbook  to give to Arlo to deliver to Pete Seeger.

This photo – of some event fliers – captures the essence of a place like Madison, Wisconsin!

[For what it’s worth, I happen to have both Arlo Guthrie and Thurston Moore/Sonic Youth in my record/CD collection 😉 ]

After the sing-along, I met up with Jolie, who had been taking a walk amongst a farmers market near the Capitol and we headed over to Ian’s Pizza for some lunch. The pizza was great and it really hit the spot.

We then made our way to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCa)

MMoCA was always a favorite place of mine when I lived in Madison. It happened to be offering exhibits during this visit on “Picturing technology: Man and machine,” which explored this topic in a variety of ways, and also “Industrial modern” which looked at the effects and depictions of the industrial revolution in art. The works shown were fantastic, but since photography was not allowed, I can’t offer photos here.

We wound up going upstairs, which had a cafe, and which led to an outdoor patio, which featured both a small sculpture garden and some great views of Main Street.

We then walked along Main Street, with a pleasant cafe stop.

Then, after some more walking around, back to my old restaurant workplace, the Nitty Gritty, for a cold drink; I was happy not to have to go clean the bathrooms 🙂

I really like this image of Jolie, sipping a soda (she’d of course call it a “pop”)

A bit more walking around and stopping in shops followed, including a stop in a truly fantastic video/DVD store called “Video Heaven.”

There aren’t too many of these types of places around much anymore, and the ones that are, corporate places like Blockbuster, are pretty dumbed down by comparison. This place was a reminder to me of how much I love places like Madison, where in three years, I had greatly expanded my movie viewing into new territory.

We also went into the very progressive Rainbow Bookstore and Cooperative, and did a bit of browsing.

I wound up buying a sticker there.

For dinner, we wound up back on Main St., sitting outside, which was nice, and enjoying some Tibetan/Nepalese food, courtesy of Himal Chuli Restaurant. The food was very tasty – some dal soups, some Nepali spiced samosas, an order of Palungo Chicken (simmered with fresh spinach leaves and potatoes in a tomato sauce) and Chicken Sikar (white and dark pieces of meat simmered in a blend of Nepali blend of cumin, fresh ginger, garlic and onions) The food felt very clean and healthy.

For dessert, we had Gajar Halauwa, essentially dessert squares made from cooked ricotta cheese, carrot, honey and cardamom. They were delicious; we’d had something similar at a now closed Indian buffet place in Hyde Park, NY near where we live.

After dinner, I went into the Shakti store, right near the restaurant, to buy one of these shirts, which was near and dear to my one time community organizer heart.

(I’ve worn it once since I’ve been home, but plan to hold on to it for the rest of my life, as its message is pretty timeless.)

On the way back to the car, to head back to the hotel, the Madison Symphony Orchestra was playing a free outdoor concert at the Capitol Square. We sat a bit for a while and listened, and it was very enjoyable. Given that it was a beautiful Summer late day, the crowds were out, enjoying this moment as well.

Overall, it was a very fulfilling day, from start to finish. It was great to be able to reconnect with some of Madison’s many cultural locations as well as with the progressive community there. It was also great to be able to see my old East Side neighborhood and to see that it was still going strong. We were quite tired by the end of this long day, but I was very happy with day three in Madison.

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