Summer Pleasures: Seeing New Things in Familiar Places

This summer has been a time of short jaunts to familiar places. Like revising a poem or story, revisiting a place offers an opportunity to “re-see” a place I think I know. This certainly happened on each of my trips in 2013.

In early June, Julia and I went to Madison, Wisconsin where we met up with my sister, Karla, and my mother. Despite attending school in this city, living and working there for two more years, and making countless visits to family and friends over the past three decades, I had never taken a tour of the Capitol Building.

Wisconsin Capitol Building, Madison

Wisconsin Capitol Building, Madison

I had walked through it, driven around it, and counted on it as a landmark, but I had

Exterior Dome Sculpture, Madison
Exterior Dome Sculpture, Madison


never looked at the details and materials up close.

This trip, we examined the mosaics, marbles, and sky-lit dome inside, then climbed to the observation deck to see the dome sculptures up close and pick out familiar landmarks from on high. I realized that the building is perfectly sited, in line with the eight compass points, and I would love to know more

about the allegorical background of the sculptures and mosaic figures, the artists who created them, and the materials used in construction. Next time I am in Madison, I hope to take a guided tour.

Next I revisited a city on Lake Michigan, one I hadn’t walked around in for at least thirty years.

Fire Station















Plaza Hotel

Chairs IMG_4876

Lake Michigan

In early July, my friend, Ann, and I continued our summer tradition (six years in a row) with a long weekend of discussing literature and life while hiking, touring museums and historical sites, and local bookstores. This year, we headed to the shore of Lake Michigan’s largest city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have visited several times, but not for many years, while Ann is there frequently to visit family. We spent a very pleasant day in the Milwaukee Museum of Art, walking around the city, eating two scrumptious breakfasts at the Plaza Hotel Grill, and visiting a terrific used bookstore called Downtown Books where I stumbled onto two new favorite writers, Ann Packer (The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Mendocino) and Donna Leon (author of the Guido Brunnetti series of police procedural mysteries set in modern day Venice).

Cloth Ships Glensheen July 2013 Watermark















In late July, Tim, Julia, and I drove north to Duluth, Minnesota to meet family and take a rare ride on a tall ship. From our ship, the petite schooner  Hindu, I took this silhouette of a truly tall ship near the lift bridge to Park Pointe.

Lift Bridge in Duluth

We visited the Glensheen historic estate, climbed Enger Tower, ate as many meals as possible at the incomparable Duluth Grill (and purchased their cookbook), and braved wind and rain to walk to the Leif Ericson Rose Garden. To escape a downpour, we sheltered deliciously in an Italian restaurant called Va Benne. Then, just before heading out to the dock for our evening sail, Julia alerted me to a sudden rainbow. I shot this through the window of our hotel room. The way that the American flag appears like a pot of gold cheered me.

Duluth Rainbow

Just last weekend, Tim and I spent a couple of nights in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we lived (separately and together) for many years before moving to Northfield in 1996. It is certainly the largest city that we know well but it had been a long time, we discovered, since we’d explored there. During two days, we discovered new aspects to our old haunt.

Seasonal Entrance MIA















Stopping by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to renew our membership, we found a parking place right in front of the Old Front, and we discovered that this front door is open during the summer season. It was fun to climb the marble steps and enter on the second floor near the Greco-Roman antiquities, and we saw carved details we’d never noticed on the backs of the stone lions guarding the entrance.

Foshay Reflection















We’d made reservations at the W Hotel occupying the old Foshay Tower. Our room was on the 22nd floor of this thirty-story landmark. This photograph of it was taken from our room. (Is it my imagination, or does it resemble a sliced morel mushroom?) The combination of Roaring Twenties and Millennial Cool was interesting, and the history was fascinating. At the museum (last stop before the observation deck) we learned a little about the rise and fall of the dreamer and inventor of the building, Wilbur Foshay. Suffice to say that this small dynamo of a man lived a life of operatic contrasts, yet, to our knowledge, there is not yet a biography of him.

Foshay Elevator















The next day, we explored (way south of Minnehaha Creek) the twin renovated gas stations that comprise Tangletown Gardens (retail garden store) and Wise Acre (restaurant of farm-fresh vegetable and meat dishes) both supplied by a farm in nearby Plato, Minnesota.

Wise Acre


Tangletown Gardens 2

And then we changed into walking shoes and walked about four miles, from the Foshay across the Hennepin Bridge to Nicollet Island and back via the new GuthrieTheater location. Along the way, we caught lots of architectural details, including the first koanic manhole cover:


and a mysterious remnant of building façade:

Egyptian Mystery















I hope to learn one day what this space was originally and what the hieroglyphs mean.

Egyptian Detail















Until then, I am planning to look a little more closely closer to home.

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A little more on the wedding dress saga…less of a saga, more of a picaresque novella…in the next blog post on August 28!


6 thoughts on “Summer Pleasures: Seeing New Things in Familiar Places

  1. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for your comments! We tried hard for Monona Terrace but construction obstacles foiled us. Instead we spent a entranced afternoon at Olbrich Gardens…do you know the gardens? You would love them! Also a wonderful place for photographs.


  2. You hit several of my favorite Midwestern spots this summer! I hope you got to sit on the terrace at Lake Monona in Madison or visit the farmers’ market there. I haven’t been to WiseAcre yet, so will try that next time I’m near Tangletown. Love the architectural detail shots.

  3. Hi Myrna,

    Thank you for telling me about those two Twin Cities gems. And, also, I really credit your blog posts on “The Vacation State of Mind” for giving me the idea for the last one. Hope you enjoy the museum…next time I go with Julia, we plan to take our sketch books! Leslie

  4. Glad to hear you made it to Tangletown Gardens and Wise Acre. Even before I read your post I decided to take my kids to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts today – it’s such a treat to spend time there. Today we will be on the look out for hidden treasures in not just the art in the museum but the extraordinary in the ordinary things – like the great details you discovered in manhole covers and building facades.

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