Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

11 October, 2019

The Unbearable Whiteness of Medieval Europe

Last month the UW-Madison Center for Humanities held a panel discussion entitled "Race, Religion, and Revisionism: Why the Middle Ages Matter Now". The discussion would address how the Middle Ages were being misused "to justify attacks against vulnerable groups in the 21st century". The event's webpage features a photo of white nationalist types bearing shields so one knew going in where the focus would lay.

Although I enjoy learning about the Middle Ages, I am not an academic. Ergo I have no first-hand knowledge of how the academy at-large is responding to the issue of medieval history being misappropriated by white nationalists/white supremacists in this country. From my layman's perspective, it seems to be at least a moderately big deal. It's not uncommon to find articles about race in the Middle Ages at Medievalists.net or The Public Medievalist. Indeed, the latter has a whole series on the subject called "Race, Racism and the Middle Ages". If you look at the program for this year's International Congress on Medieval Studies you find amongst the panel discussions on medieval textiles and exegeses on various tales from that era that there are sessions like "Race and Racism in Hagiography" and "Tolkien and Medieval Constructions of Race" plus lots of talks about Saracens.

The issue of race is in the air and it's not unexpected that it should be addressed by any and all university departments.

Tangentially, one of the photos on the Congress' landing page is of William Chester Jordan, a historian who happens to be black. He was here in Madison about a week ago and gave an interesting talk about the Jewish response to the First Crusade.

So why do the Middle Ages matter now?

The discussion featured six academics and was moderated by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman. Each panelist took a little time to give their thoughts on the issue before questions were taken from the audience. Professor Brenda Plummer (History) led things off and noted the ambiguity of race in the Middle Ages. For instance, blackness symbolized death and chaos, ye there are also realistic portrayals of Africans from that time. Her main point was that race, at least for much of the Middle Ages, wasn't as important as religion. Africans who were baptized became "white".

Martin Foys, a professor of English, spoke next. As his specialty was Anglo-Saxon studies, a term he thought needed to go the way of the dodo, it was unsurprising that he spoke about J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's work forms the basis of popular medieval fantasy – stories, books, movies – and so, according to Foys, the genre was problematic because of its whiteness. He pointed to the novels of Marlon James as one antidote to the paleness of the genre.

Ph.D. student Ahmed Abdelazim's are of expertise is in Islamic and Middle Eastern visual & material cultures. He began by showing us a photograph of the 1529 painting "The Battle of Alexander at Issus" by Albrecht Altdorfer. He noted how Alexander's army looked like contemporary Europeans while the Darius and his fellow Persians were portrayed as Ottomans. A 500 year-old example of the past being manipulated to suit contemporary concerns/views. Abdelazim then put a photograph of the assault rifle belonging to Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch mosque shooter, on display. It had the dates of various medieval battles between Christians and Muslims painted on it. He then noted that ISIS uses medieval imagery – their clothes, names, methods of execution, etc. – to portray themselves as embodying pure Islamic culture.

Abdelazim's academic advisor, Jennifer Pruitt followed her advisee. She spoke about the Middle Ages as being the golden age of Islam, highlighting scientific innovation and multicultural tolerance. Moving forward to the present day, Ms. Pruitt brought up the "Ground Zero" mosque, a proposed Islamic community center and mosque to be built a couple blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood. When the proposal emerged in 2009, it was to be called the Cordoba House. Pruitt contrasted the connotations engendered by the Andalusian city. For Muslims Cordoba was a symbol of tolerance white for right-wingers it was a symbol of Muslim dominance of Christian lands.

The penultimate panelist to speak was Samuel England, an associate professor of Arabic and African Cultural studies. With all due apologies to Mr. England, my notes on his commentary are pretty sparse. He showed us this patch:

England asked us to consider how to interpret it. How seriously should we take it? Is it a joke? He then referred to the famous "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" line from Pulp Fiction. Perhaps I tuned out a bit here because I am not a Quentin Tarantino fan but England went on to discuss how the director plays with history.

The final panelist to speak was Elizabeth Lapina, a medieval historian who focuses on the Crusades. She began by noting that the mascot of Edgewood High School here in Madison (a Catholic institution) is the Crusader. She opined that the medieval past has been weaponized. Continuing, she noted that the stereotype of the stout, brave man as glorious Crusader belies the fact that the Crusades and medieval warfare generally were pure hell. Countless innocents were slaughtered, Crusaders suffered from disease and famine, etc. Furthermore, women had a lot more power during the Middle Ages than is popularly imagined. About a fifth of all Crusaders were women. Finally, she noted that the medieval world was global and diverse. Simplistic narratives just don't work.

We then moved onto the Q&A portion of the evening. The first question seemed odd to me at first but, the more I thought about it, the more reasonable it seemed. The audience member said that we here in 21st century America live in a diverse society. Given this, to what extent do white supremacists harken back to medieval Europe because of a lack of diversity there? We had just sat through 45 or so minutes of six learned people trying to explain, albeit with brevity, why popular conceptions of Europe during the Middle Ages as all-white are wrong and there was diversity and this person does a 180 and says there was a lack of it.

The question highlighted, for me, a lack of specifics from the panelists. While they collectively made a good case for a Middle Ages in Europe that was not completely white, they didn't specify just how colored it was. And where, for that matter. Just how many people of color were white Europeans likely to encounter? I can see how a medieval Spaniard would have encountered more non-whites with al-Andalus to the south. But what if you lived in Norway or Lithuania? I suppose there was an unspoken assumption that the panel was about Western Europe as that seems to be the area that provides the most influence on popular culture and white supremacists.

And how about the Mongols who ran roughshod over Eastern Europe? How were they viewed in terms of their physical characteristics? Lastly, just when are talking about? If the Middle Ages lasted from 500-1500, did the racial views of whites/Western Europeans change over the course of a millennium?

Getting back to the question that was posed, Prof. Plummer answered first and began by referring to a Powerpoint slide of this:

It's an early 15th century illustration of The Queen of Sheba. The combination of dark skin and blond hair demonstrated that medieval ideas of race were not fixed and that there was a time when Christian = white did not apply. Mr. Foys followed up by saying that the notion of Northern Europe being all white dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. By way of example, he noted that a "racist" conflict in early medieval England was the Danes vs. the Britons.

The most important and perhaps most telling part of the Q&A section happened when a young woman who was an undergrad asked how to talk to conservative people outside of the liberal university bubble. There was an uncomfortable silence at this point with no panelist being particular eager to weigh in. Finally one did and I believe it was Ms. Lapina. She said that the more history you know, the more complex it gets so be sure to use specific examples. I think the example she gave was of a Crusader – can't recall who exactly – grew up in a diverse city and spoke Arabic. One could use this person to illustrate that there was more to the Crusades than simply anti-Muslim sentiment.

It was a bit disheartening to hear these six people tell us in the audience how important it was for medieval history not to be used to justify racial animosity yet have very little in the way of suggestions for overturning the entrenched and false notions about the Middle Ages that pervade popular culture. If you feel the subject of your discipline is being misused for nefarious purposes and that this is a pressing matter, then something is deeply wrong when a question about trying to turn the tide is greeted with silence.

I see that Ms. Lapina is writing a book called Depicting the Holy War: Crusader Imagery in Programs of Mural Paintings in France and England in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. With a title like that, I cannot doubt that the intended audience is other academics. Not a problem. But mix that up with works intended for a lay audience. If medieval historians want to push a counter-narrative, then they'll have to do better and find ways to reach us.
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21 September, 2019

Moving Madison Metro Forward

Earlier this week Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway held a press conference to announce the launch of MetroForward, a plan to improve public transit in the Madison area. As someone who rides the bus, I was quite happy to hear about it and eagerly watched it online shortly after it had transpired.

As with most plans, the devil will be in the details, i.e. – funding, but the fact that the initiative to improve bus service now has name and got a low-level dog and pony show to kick things off is a good first step. The mayor's campaign promises now have a formal commitment which is more than her predecessors ever did. I have no reason to believe that Paul Soglin was anti-transit, but during his (presumably) final reign he seemed to do little more than lament the paucity of state and federal funding. His attitude was "We're screwed until Democrats run the show" while pumping cash into a public market plan and overseeing the construction of new parking ramps. Before him Dave Cieslewicz held court on the fourth floor and never spared telling us how important it was to attract and retain the "creative class". Despite having drunk the Richard Florida kool aid long and deep, Cieslewicz's notable contribution to public transit was raising fares. More important for him were bike lanes/paths and ensuring a luxury hotel could ignore historic preservation rules and build a new tower.

While neither Soglin nor Cieslewicz were anti-transit, it didn't seem to be a big priority for them either. As transit consultant Jarrett Walker said when he spoke here in Madison in 2011, "Core cities have to do things for themselves." While improvements to Metro Transit may ultimately depend on federal largesse, I credit Rhodes-Conway for taking action, however dependent on others, instead of sitting around doing virtually nil. Her budget "advanced the construction of a $12.9 million new satellite bus facility to 2020 and 2021 from 2023" which is a huge step as that new facility is the lynchpin for any expansion of bus service as is rightly one of four basic goals of MetroForward.

Speaking of those goals, they are:

1) Expand Accessibility and Service – the city and Metro Transit have, to their credit, been forthcoming about the fact that low income people and racial minorities in Madison have longer bus rides and make more transfers than your typical white middle class Madisonian. To address this, MetroForward proposes to make available more subsidized and free bus passes; improve weekend and evening service; and add new routes so people can get to Madison College's new south side campus. (The south side being where many of Madison's low income and people of color live.)
2) Modernize Metro Facilities to Serve our Growing Region – modernize the current bus maintenance/storage facility which is both outdated and over capacity. And build a new one.

3) Focus on Sustainability – move to all-electric buses.

4) Implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – provide a more train-like experience with bigger buses, fancy stops, and, more importantly, more frequency and shorter ride times.

All of these are laudable things. Returning to Jarrett Walker's talk, I think there's something missing from this mish-mash of goals and ideology: appeals to selfishness. As I wrote at the time, "[Walker] said that he didn't know of any region where transit arguments were won by appealing to fairness and avoiding an appeal to selfish elements." Equity arguments are all well and good but MetroForward needs to explicitly appeal to those not affected by poorer service and simply drive everywhere. Lauding that it's cheaper and better for the environment, perhaps. But especially that it's cheaper.

Really, I am unsure how to wage a good marketing campaign on behalf of MetroForward. And that why I am going to suggest that Madison hire Jarrett Walker + Associates. They "foster clear conversations about transit" and would be able to help MetroForward create conversations involving as many people as possible while laying the cards on the table so we can make informed choices. Secondly, they redesign transit networks. I think it would behoove us to have a third party come in who is not bound by any bureaucratic inertia and assess our options. Since we are looking at spending $100+ million on BRT, I am especially concerned about the transfer points.

The current transfer point system was put into place in 1998 and not every transfer point was placed where good practice dictated they should be for optimal bus service. Available land was a factor. But also consider the East Transfer Point. It was originally to be located in the Madison East Shopping Center lot but that got nixed, with neighborhood pushback fueled by perceived fears of (presumably black) people loitering around certainly being one of the reasons. Before we spend 9 figures on BRT, I think we should ask if the transfer points are located in the best spots for transit use. If not, we should consider moving them.

While core cities have to do things for themselves, it doesn't mean they have to do them alone.

At the press conference announcing MetroForward, there were a variety of people there to express their support. Vanessa McDowell of YWCA Madison praised the project's ability to address equity issues; Cassie Steiner of the local chapter of the Sierra Club spoke of the necessity of transit to address environmental concerns; and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi talked about upcoming expansion at the Dane County Airport and how he would like it to integrate the proposed BRT system.

But Sun Prairie mayor Paul Esser was also there to demonstrate his city's desire to be a partner in MetroForward. During the Q&A Rhodes-Conway said that Madison was in discussion with Monona as well. It'd be nice to have Metro service to Monona, which ended several years ago, again. In addition to getting neighboring municipalities to join in on the fun, it is also important to create partnerships with the private sector. Zach Brandon, President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, spoke at the press conference. The GMCC included a renewed call for legalizing Regional Transit Authorities in its latest legislative agenda. While there is reason to be skeptical about RTA's (Jarrett Walker noted that communities that care the least tend to dominate them), it is nice to see additional private sector support for public transit**.

The challenge ahead is to bring things promises to fruition and this will be no mean feat. But we seem to have a good, diverse (and hopefully growing) coalition of parties who want MetroForward to be a success and are willing to work to make it so.

**My understanding is that the Metro routes that service Verona, well Epic Systems really, are paid for, at least partly, by Epic. And I was told that American Family Insurance wants more BRT service to their main campus on the northern edge of the city so that employees don't have to drive to the company's fancy new Spark building near downtown.


Madison Area Bus Advocates

"Transfer point: Madison accelerates plans to upgrade its transit system", The Capital Times, 5 June 2019

Human Transit (Jarrett Walker's blog)

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11 August, 2019

A Traditional Triptych: Jethro Tull's "Folk Trilogy"

It was announced not too long ago that Jethro Tull's 1979 album, Stormwatch, was getting the 40th anniversary box set treatment. All of their earlier albums have been re-released over the past several years in one format or another. Some have been given the super deluxe treatment that features the original album remixed by one Steve Wilson, unreleased material, live tracks, and, in some cases, a DVD with a concert. Others are of a more modest nature, featuring the obligatory remixes with relevant non-album singles & b-sides. Stormwatch will be getting the former which means a wealth of new songs to look forward to.

The album is the last in what fans call the "folk trilogy" which began in 1977 with Songs From the Wood and continued with Heavy Horses the following year. It's not a bad way to think of this trio but it's not the full story. To be sure, there are many more bits and pieces of what I suppose you'd call the folk music tradition of the British Isles – I'm no Cecil Sharp, mind you – but anyone expecting a bunch of tunes in the vein of Pentangle or Steeleye Span will be gravely disappointed. The folk elements don't come close to traditional song but rather are additional colors in the band's progressive rock palette.

But, for me, what really makes these albums a triptych, is the lyrics which develop themes through common motifs and imagery. At the core they're about a brace of oppositions, namely tradition vs. modernity and rural vs. urban. Ian Anderson takes a Tolkien-esque stance on these albums championing the rural and lamenting the loss of tradition.

Songs From the Wood is by far the most chipper of these records. It's upbeat and celebratory and filled with natural imagery along with a hefty dose of British folklore and myth. There are only a couple references to modernity/cities here and they're littered amongst many more references to birds, trees, celebrating Beltane and the winter solstice, rings of standing stones, etc. Plus there are a couple naughty tunes as well. (With such rustic, earthy, and lusty lyrics, it's little wonder many neo-pagans adore this album.)

In "Jack-in-the-Green" the narrator asks, "Or will these changing times, motorways, power lines keep us apart?" A few songs later the lovers in "Velvet Green" lay under the stars dreaming "of civilisations raging afar".

But it's here that the super deluxe edition helps us see or hear, rather, some foreshadowing of the next couple albums. "Old Aces Die Hard", an outtake from the sessions that gave us Songs From the Wood is lengthy, clocking in at 8'40". It is also much darker than the stuff on the album, excepting "Pibroch" but that song dealt with the personal while "Old Aces Die Hard" is more social critique.

Apparently it was initially called "Dark Ages" as it uses that refrain. This was resurrected for the song that got that name on Stormwatch. It's sung in a more heraldic manner on that version but the link has been established. One line goes "Dark ages, history's karma is rattling its chains" which not only takes a poke at modernity but also prefaces the rather eschatological ideas on Stormwatch. Elsewhere about a verse and a half of the song ended up being used on the Heavy Horses outtake "Living in These Hard Times". ("The bone's in the china, the fat's in the fire…")

Heavy Horses is much less upbeat than its predecessor. Although it retained heaps of rural imagery, it lacks the references to British myth and folklore. Plus the modern and the city intrude.

The opener, "…And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps" begins with a brief purr before reminding us that nature is red in tooth and claw. "Acres Wild" follows with a sprightly jig-like (or is that reel?) quality that contrasts the open spaces of the countryside to the narrow side streets of the city. While on Songs From the Wood the urban was raging, loud, and busy, here it is symbolized by decay as the buildings have shuttered windows and the discos are silent. Also of note is how the rural areas are in touch with tradition as they are described as places "Where the dance of ages is playing still".

The title track concerns draft horses, one of the most unlikely lyrical topics for a rock song ever.

Modernity has dislodged these majestic creatures from their place in rural life – "the tractor is on its way". And in a nod to Stormwatch, the song refers to the day "when the oil barons have all dripped dry".

"Weathercock" ends the album on a somewhat ambivalent note. The singer please for it to "make this day bright/Put us in touch with your fair winds" yet there are portents of Stormwatch where weather generally and winter specifically become a motif: "Did the cold wind bite you?" and "Do you fight the rush of winter?"

One of the outtakes from the Heavy Horses sessions is "Beltane" which is more upbeat and shows that Anderson hadn't really the discarded myth and folklore. Other songs from the super deluxe box set version see the city and its modern trappings continuing to threaten the rural idyll. "Everything in Our Lives" gives us "the sweet sound of oil wells drilling/as the new roads come in". And "Botanic Man" describes mankind "in a spinning world of cars, aeroplanes and high-rise towers". The singers as the titular character if his kids will "sit in the green fields watching the city spreading" as "traffic jams the motorway".

Stormwatch is by far the darkest of the trilogy and perhaps the least folky, although there is still a fair amount of music that can classified as folk rock. It takes the weather metaphor from "Weathercock" and runs with it using winter both figuratively and literally. With a couple of brief exceptions, British folklore and myth is absent along with the verdant countryside.

"North Sea Oil" kicks things off with a look at the greedy oil barons from "Heavy Horses". This was the 1970s, a time of energy crises, after all. "Dark Ages" picks up and builds on its Songs From the Wood-era ancestor and out of the gate asks "Darlings are you ready for the long winter's fall?" The line "The big jet rumbles over runway miles/That scar the patchwork green" shows the rural in retreat. Society is in upheaval as crazed consumers suffer from "ad-man overkill"; bureaucracy is crumbling as "families screaming line the streets". Disorder rules the day. The song doesn't really specify what it is exactly that ushers in this winter but it seems to be modern society, a nebulous concept to be sure, collapsing in on itself. Perhaps a combination of greedy tycoons, incompetent/impotent bureaucrats, and an apathetic populace.

Things get no better on side 2 which begins with "Something's On the Move". I take this song to embrace a more literal winter, namely global climate change which was popularly, though quite mistakenly, thought to mean global cooling in the 1970s. (Anderson tread this ground on 1972's "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day".) There is talk of "the new wastes of winter". Of this icy storm Anderson sings "Driving all before her/Unstoppable, unstraining/Her cold creaking mass/Follows reindeer down". The penultimate song is "Flying Dutchman", a ghost ship of legend that says any sighting of it portents doom.

While folklore was kept to a minimum on the album with stones and a stone circle being mentioned, the Stormwatch outtakes we have now include "Kelpie" which are mythological water spirits. "Broadford Bazaar" is a beautiful song that fits in with the somber tone of Stormwatch (Out of the north, no oil rigs are drifting/And jobs for the many are down to the few") but also brings back some of the rural imagery with mention of crofters and cottiers (farmers who rent land) as well as the lines "And up on the hill, there's an old sheep that's dying/But it had two new lambs born just a fortnight before." That whole circle of life thing.

The super deluxe box set brings a wealth of unreleased material including "Urban Apocalypse" which has been known to exist for some time so I am glad that it is finally seeing the light of day. I don't know any of the lyrics although the music is said to be heavy. Still, with a title like that, it would have fitted on Stormwatch well but I guess four eschatological songs was just a step too far.

Ian Anderson would go on both within and without Jethro Tull to write more songs that contemplate the urban and the rural, tradition and modernity. (E.g. – "Farm on the Freeway", "The Whaler's Dues", and "Roots to Branches") But the folk trilogy is a concentrated dose of these ideas. And because of this (and the fact that the music is great) I really adore it, despite Stormwatch perhaps going a bit overboard with the Cassandra routine.

Having spent most of my childhood living in Chicago before moving to rural Wisconsin where civilization really did rage afar, the whole rural vs. urban thing is near and dear to my heart. I have lived it. To an extent, the United States was born of it in the form of Thomas Jefferson's agrarian traditions vs. Alexander Hamilton's promotion of manufacturing and commerce. Today in Wisconsin the state's two largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, are, at best, treated with suspicion and, at worst, loathed and despised, by rural areas. I suppose that this conflict will be with us forever or until everyone lives in massive underground cities as in Isaac Asimov novels.

Another reason I love the folk trilogy is that it helped me gain an appreciation for tradition. Embracing and engaging it has been extremely fulfilling for me. It is quite meaningful for me to view myself as a link in a chain that goes back through the ages and across oceans. Science fiction author Donald Kingsbury wrote "Tradition is a set of solutions for which we have forgotten the problems. Throw away the solution and you get the problem back." I don't think it virtuous to become hidebound by tradition; you have to sift and winnow. But neither is it prudent to discard or ignore the wit and wisdom of our forebears.

The super deluxe Stormwatch box set is out on 18 October.
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07 August, 2019

Matutinal Meanderings: Am Ende

Read the previous installment of Matutinal Meanderings, Amble On.

I've been meaning to take some photographs of the totems that someone on Baldwin Street makes for some time. Methinks this person (or people) uses a chainsaw but I am not certain about that. And so I headed over there from E. Johnson.



I was hoping that there'd be some of the totems out and that my walk over there would not be for naught. There usually are some to be seen but who knows? Maybe they'd been sold or put into storage or the carver moved. Luckily there were plenty of totems to be seen.


I trekked about some more just idly strolling down the streets. Here's Mifflin Manor which is a wonderfully ironic name considering it's a dreadfully ugly concrete bunker.


On my final walk down E. Johnson I saw some beautiful homes including the one that is perpetually decorated for Halloween.






Lastly, I saw this manhole cover. Sure, it's a banal, utilitarian object but it was nice to see such a thing given a little artistic treatment.


There are surely more around town but I don't recall seeing them.

The Capital Times recently ran a story about gentrification in Madison. It said:

Areas that are beginning to see gentrification or are exhibiting conditions leading toward displacement include the central areas of Tenney-Lapham, Emerson East, Sherman and South Madison. These areas have not seen demographic change but have experienced more rapid rent and property value increases.

Note how it is the central area of Tenney-Lapham that is at the early stage of gentrification. Presumably the homes with lakefront property are and have been gentrified for some time. And the eastern edge of the neighborhood is home to lots of shiny new apartments – The Constellation, Galaxie, the Factory District Apartments, and Lyric Apartments – which cannot be cheap. Plus the Madison Youth Arts Center is coming soon and that plot on the 1200 block of E. Washington which is currently owned by the city for maintenance of fire vehicles will soon be available. Tenney-Lapham is gentrifying; it's a matter of how far it goes and who gets displaced.

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06 August, 2019

Matutinal Meanderings: Amble On

Read Part I, "Matutinal Meanderings: A Return to Tenney-Lapham"

Heading out of Giddings Park it was down East Gorham I ambled. My plan was to check out all of the new development on East Johnson but I took a wee detour first. I moseyed up Russell Walk – carefully because the sidewalk probably hasn't seen any work since long before I lived in the area almost 25 years ago. Prospect Place took me to Washburn Place and the other house I resided in when I lived in Tenney-Lapham.


My then-girlfriend and I lived on the top floor and as I walked by I recalled sitting by our living room window listening to The Rolling Stones play "Tumbling Dice" across the lake at Camp Randall.

Washburn Place is a cozy street being only a block long, and a short one at that. It's right by the lake and has one way traffic. To top things off there were a couple mock Tudors across the street with an old pine tree between them. They just gave the street a nice vibe.



After my brief trip down memory lane, I started once again making my way to E. Johnson. I passed by this house which has a bulkhead door, something of a rarity in Madison.


The only other one that comes to mind is the house at Charter and West Johnson.

Soon enough I was at the corner of Blount and Johnson, immortalized in song by Madison's Velveteen Snackcake.


And there was The Caribou, a place I have spent many an hour.


When I lived on Dayton Street we had no air conditioning so my roommate and I would head down there to play cribbage and stay well hydrated with Capital Amber. By the time we got home, we were too tired to notice the heat. A few years later, friends and I would take up a residence there and get to know one of Madison's best bartenders ever, Ruthie.

One time I went there with a friend's father who used to work for the state patrol up in Tomah. Circa 1970 he got assigned to Madison as part of a force that was meant to keep Madison's finest from beating the student protesters too much. When he walked in he flashed back 30 years. He pointed out where a Nesco full of beef used to sit before commenting that it hadn't changed all that much.

Next to The Bou are all the shiny new apartments.



What a shame the developer couldn’t come up with something that was more like the old homes in the area. Not only do these buildings clash with the rest of the neighborhood but they are ugly. At best. Oh well - alia iacta est.

Just up the street the 800 block of E. Johnson is Tenney-Lapham's commercial center. Good Style Shop has a mural which was surely painted by the same person that did those for Next Door Brewing and Banzo Shük.


I can personally attest that Little Tibet is quite tasty.


Next to a luthier is the Cork 'n Bottle liquor store which I of course frequented on many an occasion. I fondly recall Jimbo holding court on his banjo as I perused the beer selection.


The store gave its name to Madison's beloved bluegrass group, the Cork 'n Bottle String Band.

Across Paterson Street is a place for all of your lapidary needs, Burnie's Rock Shop.


There's also a coffeehouse, an outpost of Salvatore's Tomato Pies, and a smattering of other businesses. Last year the Frau and I were at Salvatore's and I looked out the window only to see 14 storeys of the Galaxie (or was that the Constellation?) off in the distance. Things have certainly changed over the years. I don't have the numbers but there is surely more money in Tenney-Lapham these days.

I just looked up prices for those new apartments on the 700 block of E. Johnson. A 500 square foot studio goes for $1,225. This is not working class housing. Whether people of lesser means are forced out of the neighborhood remains to be seen. Gentrification need not mean displacement for the poorer residents of Tenney-Lapham.

The car wash still had not called me by this time so I kept going up E. Johnson to hopefully get some snaps of something I've been meaning to photograph for a while but had never gotten around to.

Continue to the finale of Matutinal Meanderings, "Am Ende"

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28 July, 2019

Matutinal Meanderings: A Return to Tenney-Lapham

In a couple previous posts I detailed taking some laps around the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood. I noted that I had hoofed around the eastern part of it and that there was much more to see. Well, I finally got around to trekking about the western bit of Tenney-Lapham recently and so here it goes.

The morning began with dropping off my car at the car wash joint that sadly no longer has a giant octopus out front on East Washington just south of Ingersoll. From there I moseyed over to Lapham Elementary School which was apparently built in 1939.


Here at this fine institution of lower education they train our future leaders.


Considering the building's age, I would expect some more adornment on the exterior. Nothing outrageous but the building was just a little plain. Still, there were some neat bits such as these bas relief hoolies that flanked a doorway on the southeast side of the building.


Plus, as someone who has taken Latin, I appreciated the use of the "V" here.


Walking around the perimeter I noticed that this rather old tree has gobbled up a fencepost.


In addition to academics, kids can get back to the land and get their hands dirty in a garden on the southwest side of the schoolgrounds.



Exactly what they're growing in there is beyond me, but it's nice to see that the kids can get spend some time with nature and away from social media.

From there it was a block over to East Johnson. On the way there I spied one of the oldest sidewalk stamps I've seen in Madison – from 1959.


Plus I walked by the house of an aspiring vintner that has a trellis arch out front that has grapes growing on it.



As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, the 1100 block of E. Johnson has some homes with unusually large setbacks from the street.


Most of them are fairly large homes but not really palatial estates so I have to wonder why they are so lucky, or unlucky if you have to remove snow off of those driveways, as to be so far from the street. Presumably whoever built them simply had the inclination and the money to do so.

Down at Baldwin Strasse there's Newport's Wooden Furnishings with its lovely inlaid tile entablature or whatever you call that part of a building.



Heading down Baldwin, I came across this garage with some neat crenellation.


Although Tenney-Lapham is not exactly a small neighborhood, it's not huge either. Still, it is home to four parks. I strolled through Reynolds Park previously and this time around I hit Tenney Park. So not only did Daniel K. Tenney get a neighborhood named after him, but also a large park. He donated the land as well money to develop the park.

Ducks and geese were enjoying the beach.


I walked out onto the breakwater which gets you a goodly ways from the shore and affords some nice views of Lake Mendota.



It was early yet and so there were no flotillas of fishermen nor eager maritime partiers waiting to traverse the locks. However, a few old duffers were holding court at a nearby table presumably lamenting the lack of fish that had nibbled at their lines.


The lagoon was quite mellow with but a solitary fisherman although there were birds and water fowl aplenty.


This is the A.G. Zimmerman bridge, named after Judge Arthur G. Zimmerman who ponied up some cash for its construction.


From Tenney it was over to Giddings Park. The city classifies it as a mini-park and provides no information for whom it was named. It sits behind Christ Presbyterian Church and is rather non-descript. In addition to being small, it lacks any amenities and consists mainly of a hillside and some shoreline.


A path leads along the shore to a bench and eventually into someone's backyard.


Not a place to pitch a wang dang doodle or even throw a frisbee around, it does have a nice view of the lake and serves well for some quiet contemplation.


I would not get to the final park in Tenney-Lapham, James Madison. Instead I went to check out the shiniest and newest buildings.

Read Part II, "Matutinal Meanderings: Amble On"

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12 July, 2019

The Starkweather (But No Moore) Park Expedition

The Eastmorland neighborhood here on Madison's east side is where I call home. It's got a split personality, of sorts, as the section south of Milwaukee Street is mostly single-family homes with a few apartments and the usual stuff you find in neighborhoods like churches, restaurants, taverns, stores, and whatnot. Having already perambulated through much of the southern part of Eastmorland (see here, here, and here), I decided to take a stroll north.

The northern third or so of Eastmorland features a disused concrete factory, an abandoned farm, and a smattering of commercial/industrial business. Oh, and Madison's main post office which apparently no longer sorts mail, those duties having been concentrated in Milwaukee. This means that, when I send cards to my in-laws on the other side of town, it first goes east for sorting and then sent back to Madison for delivery. I'm glad to see the Post Office is doing its part to combat climate change.

Also to be found is Starkweather Park and that was my destination on a recent walk. Well, truth be told, it was that and Voit Pond, a former gravel pit turned lake north of the farm's field.

I crossed Milwaukee Street and wandered onto what used to be the Durren farm. The property is now mostly a gravel lot used by construction crews as a staging area. Ergo you've got piles of gravel while sewage pipes/water mains make the lot a temporary home. At the north end where the gravel end and nature begins, I spied some pretty flowers.


From here it was off into the narrow wooded strip that runs between the Durren property and the farm fields which, to the best of my knowledge, is part of Starkweather Park. It was rough going with everything overgrown and fallen trees littered about. Every once in a while there was a clearing that allowed a peek out onto the field.


There was a also a fair amount of litter strewn about – mainly bottles and beer cans – but also a rather large pile of garbage.


At some point the woods ended and a small field of short grass began. There was a patch of flowers I'd never seen before and they smelled delightful.


On the far side the grass was quite tall but I spotted trail leading in. I thought that perhaps this is was how other folks looking to get to the pond went.


The grass ended and but the trail continued into the woods and it became well-worn.


The trail wound this way and that and, at one point, I looked up only to find a trio of tents.


The camp was quiet and no one seemed to be around but I did my best to walk around it rather than walk through what passed for their living room. However, this detour took me only about 7-8 feet away from the camp. It was sadly ironic to find the shelters of some homeless folks after having stumbled upon a homeless person inside that oddball fireplace with the Shrek-like antennae on Stoughton Road earlier in the day. I wasn't totally surprised, though, as other homeless people who lived out of their cars often park in the Swiss Colony lot. Though perhaps not as often as they used to these days.

The trail continued a short way past the camp before ending. Rather than struggle through more branches and brush, I decided to go west and see if I could get to Voit property. This involved climbing over an old barbed wire fence and so I tried to recall if I'd had a tetanus shot lately.

When I got over the fence, I found myself at the bottom of a small hill. Once I got to the top I looked out and saw the pond.


Descending the hill I saw that there was better access to the water a bit to the south so I began walking down the dirt road. It was littered with prints from cloven hooves. Did Satan hang out here? More likely deer, I reassured myself.


I reached the shore and found that the water was quite clear as a fish swam close in. The water was quite warm.


While shallow by the shore, I figure that it must get quite deep having been a gravel pit in a former life. Aside from the faint din of Highway 30 to the north, it was actually rather quiet and certainly quite peaceful. The bucolic scene was disturbed by the tops of a couple buildings in the distance, but, otherwise, you wouldn't think that you were actually in a city. If the Voit property ever gets developed, I hope they preserve this area.


After a time, I headed back north up the hill. I went down the far side and found piles of concrete chunks and broken slabs of black top which I found rather odd. Regardless of the detritus, there was a beautiful view of Starkweather Park.


Starkweather is a conservation park with most of it being wetlands. There is a path that runs along the east and north sides before going over Starkweather Creek and under Highway 30 and eventually running into Commercial Avenue. I was on the west side so I decided to hug the tree line on my way back.

It was again rough going with lots of downed trees and brush so I figured I'd head out in the wetland grass for a stretch. The grass was taller than me so I got a good aerobic workout trudging through it. I stumbled upon a couple small clearing where deer must go for naps.


Well, I pressed my luck and ended up in water – they are wetlands, after all – and turned back. Of course I couldn't actually find the dry patches that I traversed earlier and so my shoes got soaked. But I eventually made my way back to the woods where I took a breather. Being an office drone, I wasn't used to all that exertion. Hugging the tree line was again difficult so I went further in and found myself at the homeless camp once again. It was just as still and eerily quiet as before.

But this also meant I could easily find the path out. Instead of going south I took a detour to the shuttered Swiss Colony warehouse to check out some urban ruins, so to speak. The gate at the rear was open.


Where the property line ended, the park began and so I was treated to some fine vistas.


There were three piles of garbage more or less equally spaced – TVs, mattresses, etc. – but, oddly enough only one patch of graffiti.


Over on the east side of the building was a fire hydrant and next to it was this:


I would later discover that this is an indicator post, a thingy which allows one to open and close a valve that is buried.

My legs were pretty sore so I figured I'd grab a bus home since I was within spitting distance of the East Transfer Point. Unsurprisingly, the 31 bus left while I was still a short distance away and the 16 wouldn't depart for half an hour so I just hoofed it back home.

A few days after my walk I learned that the hill I had stood atop that overlooked the pond had, in fact, been another pond. It was filled in with road debris in 2005 for reasons unknown. This at least explained what all those chunks of concrete and blacktop were doing at the bottom of its north side.

While Starkweather Park is surely safe, much of the rest of that area looks like it will be developed in the near future. This coupled with all of the new construction on Cottage Grove Road will transform Eastmorland. I would not scoff at a coffeeshop at Milwaukee and Harding.

I look forward to returning to Starkweather Park. Next time, though, I will be using the trail. If I remember to bring my binoculars, I can do a little birdwatching. And my feet will stay dry.

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