[GGG mom-in-chief Julie Podulka sends a dispatch from the wilds of Michigan.]
There are not many things more American than the practice of erecting public displays of patriotism along rural roadsides (e.g. barn roofs painted with the American flag, corn fields mowed to provide an aerial view of the outline of the Mayflower, hay bales crafted into replicas of Mount Rushmore).
I saw this peculiarly American practice spread out in spectacular fashion when on a recent trip back home to the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. I had occasion to drive over to Rogers City, a small town on the Lake Huron side (aka “ the quiet side”) of the state. There are few state roads as remote and rural as M-68 East and fewer still that hold as many startling examples of the aforementioned displays. There was new snow on the hard plowed fields even though it was nearly April, and I almost rammed my CRV into a bald eagle as it swooped low from the dark pines, chasing a crow in dead silence across the road in front of me.
My first glimpse of something incongruous along the route was a fifteen-foot-tall bronze metal bust of President Gerald Ford complete with kaleidoscope blue eyes.
About one hundred yards away in the field was an equally massive bust of George Washington. “Well. That was interesting,” I thought.
But the patriotic metal parade just rolled on. There was a deep red bust of Lincoln, a fiercely pugnacious bald eagle, and a wonderful, empty eye-socketed head of the Statue of Liberty in patina copper green outside the local car wash.
All of these incredible works and more are the creation of the owner of Moran Iron Works of Onaway, Tom Moran. Mr. Moran has been making these huge metal art pieces for floats in the Onaway, Michigan, Fourth of July parade since 1989. Afterward the pieces find homes all over northern Michigan, and many of them end up along M-68.
At the end of the road is Rogers City on the shores of Lake Huron. At Lakeside Park there stands one more giant metal sculpture, the Liberty Torch. This is the kind of true blue Americana that has always been a part of our national landscape, especially along rural roads in the way back of beyond. It is sort of reassuring to find that there are still earnest individuals ready and willing to wear their love of country not only on their sleeves but writ large in their fields, front yards, parking lots, and parks.
The cynic might say these are misbegotten creations, the products of misplaced and romantic notions emanating from minds besotted with nationalistic fervor. But I don’t know. They tug at my heartstrings. They make me wistful. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a sucker for big metal stuff.
To see more of these art pieces, go to http://www.moraniron.com/artwork/html/artwork.php
Charlie brushes up on his knife skills.
[Brenna Graham is a grad-student researching for a year in Rome, Italy. When she's not flitting about the continent, you can find her at the nearest gelateria or buried in any one of Rome's dustiest libraries.]
Visiting a foreign country, particularly on a new continent, for the first time is exhilarating and overwhelming. Language, food, the sound ambulances make, public transit, the lack of to-go cups–all of these things, great and mundane, are different and take figuring out or getting used to. Due to guidebook recommendations and advice from online or other adventurers, travelers are usually prepared for these major differences. However, there are a few minor necessary adjustments that nobody tells you about in advance, which can surprise, confuse, or maybe even delight the rookie traveler. Even after years of wandering in Europe, the following three things still tend to confound me, and, though little, they add up to a significant part of your day-to-day traveling life. So, like in the Boy Scouts, it’s best to be prepared for the following practicalities.
1. Needing a Magellan-like sense of navigation to find light switches.
Navigating foreign cities can be challenging, with unfamiliar street names, complex transit systems, or medieval centers that defy any type of cartographical logic. However, the real challenge is in finding light switches. In Europe it’s not uncommon for light switches to be located outside of the room the light is meant to illuminate. Particularly for small spaces like bathrooms or closets, light switches are nearly always found on the exterior wall near the door. It’s actually an extremely practical idea, but when you’re not used to it, it leads to a lot of fumbling in the dark and embarrassing re-dos on entering public restrooms. Make sure to watch for switches before entering! Speaking of restrooms, that leads to #2…
2. Re-learning how to use a toilet every time you go to the bathroom.
Aqueducts might have helped the Ancient Romans conquer the western world, but that doesn’t make modern European plumbing any less confusing. Before I traveled extensively and lived in Europe, I didn’t realize that toilets could have different designs. Toilets, I thought, were toilets. Oh, how naive I was! Every time you enter a bathroom in Europe, you are forced to re-learn how to use a toilet. The flush might be a small button on the wall, a cord to pull (but don’t pull the alarm cord!), or a large panel on the top of the toilet or the wall. The toilet might use extremely little water, have no seat, or have a platform, which gives you an ideal vantage point for observing your bowel movement. Or, worst of all, it might be a squat toilet, essentially two footrests above a hole, which I understand is NBD for men, but for women is a horrifying game of trying to avoid the urine. Thankfully squat toilets are few and far between, though if you find yourself in an out-of-the-way small Italian train station I hope you’re not wearing your nicest shoes. It’s a good idea to carry tissues and hand sanitizer at all times, just in case!
3. Going spelunking in your wallet for change every time you buy something.
Though tourism is a massive business for major destinations like Berlin, Rome, or Paris, and the hordes of visitors to the glories of those cities might mask it, Europe is still suffering through the economic crisis. The financial situation in the Eurozone is shockingly bad, and the crisis gets put front and center every time you buy something and the store clerk asks you if you have smaller change. It doesn’t matter if the thing you are buying is €3.50 and you’re trying to pay with a five-euro note or if it’s €35 and you’re paying with a fifty. Whether you’re at a little market stall, a grocery chain, or an international retailer, you can always–always–count on being asked for smaller change. Try to develop a thick skin to rebuff the looks you get when you don’t have small bills, or make use of that giant pile of euro change you’ll surely accrue; you can’t always change coins back into dollars (in some instances it’s possible to change one- and two-euro coins but not smaller denominations), so everybody wins when you pay for your coffee with exact change in five-cent coins!
[Mary Ann Starus is a gardener, cartoonist, and English major who is not afraid of the semi-colon; she loves animals, especially cats, way too much.]
I always hoped for a blinking red neon arrow, pointing me in the direction to take in life. I haven’t actually seen the arrow yet, but the closest I came to it was my move to Duluth, MN, in November 2000.
I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know Duluth existed before 1999. Even when I lived in Sault Ste. Marie. MI, for two years, I apparently never looked at the west end of Lake Superior on a map to see what was there. Back in Illinois, when I saw in the Chicago Sunday Tribune a full page review of the book Cold Comfort by Barton Sutter, I was intrigued. The cover photo of the lift bridge looked so cold and mysterious. I bought the hardcover book, something I rarely do.
I’m not expecting company. But I would be pleased if this book not only entertained you, restless reader, but pointed the way to some odd, forsaken place that makes the tuning fork beneath your breastbone hum.
Well, I was a restless reader, and Duluth sounded like the right forsaken place for me.
That was 1999. I was working as a paralegal at the Environmental Protection Agency in downtown Chicago, and living in Villa Park, an older suburb twenty miles from the city. My commute took about one hour and twenty minutes each way, by car-train-walking. To get to Lake Michigan I had to walk the gauntlet of many blocks of downtown Chicago, pretty intense when it was 90° and high humidity.
I had a vague goal “to move to the country” by the time I was fifty–the end of that year. I was hoping that a vague intention would work as well as the successful detailed lists some of my friends had made to get jobs or relationships.
One day at work, I saw an article on an EPA lab in Duluth. I didn’t have much to do with the EPA labs, but I wrote to a scientist whose name was mentioned anyway and told him I would like to transfer to Duluth. He replied that the lab didn’t need any paralegals but that I could write to HR and see if any admin positions were available.
I impressed the Duluth EPA boss when I visited in summer of 1999. He wanted to hire me, saying that the lab needed more generalists, but there was a hiring freeze. He gave me an assignment–to rewrite the lab’s web pages so “ordinary” people (that is, non-scientists) could understand them–and told me “this is not a test” (yeah, right!)
October 16, 2000: Back in Chicago, I visited Lake Michigan at lunchtime.
She said: “Say hello to Lake Superior for me.”
When I got back to the office, the new boss had called: I had the job! No red blinking arrow–but a strong, calm feeling I should go.
I had a month to get ready and move. I said goodbye to the crows in my backyard: “You’ll have to get food from someone else, but I’ll be feeding your Duluth relatives.”
November 17, 2000: My red Honda civic hatchback loaded with stuff, two cats on Valium in carriers in the back, headed for Duluth on the eve of the Wisconsin deer-hunting opener–trucks passing me with “Buck or Bust” on the rear window and huge coolers strapped to the back.
Where the heck am I going?
It got colder and colder as I went farther and farther north. I listened to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories on tape–a real “multimedia experience.”
I got to the rented house–really cold–and my air mattress would not blow up. The cats were walking around making weird moaning sounds. I called Walmart and got complicated instructions from my neighborhood (Lakeside) to the store eleven miles away and managed to get there in the freezing rain. Once there, I got a second wind of energy and shopped–shower curtain, logs for fireplace… and a new air mattress.
That first night I slept on the living room floor, fire burning, cats finally quiet on the mattress with me. Where am I?
No more than 150 feet from the lake! I can hear waves!
Lake Superior used to be an intimidating goddess to me. I always felt awe in her presence. A total vacation destination, except for my two years in the Soo. Since I have been living so close to the lake for twelve years now, she is more like a really good friend who usually feels familiar and comfortable, but who occasionally blows me away with her brilliance and can reduce me to tears by her beauty.
Now I’m here. I’m very calm. My daily commute is very short. I see the lake from my home and office. It’s not as cold as I expected. My cats are really happy and aren’t afraid of the lake anymore. I’ve met some really great people, most wearing those “practical, unfashionable clothes,” as Bart put it in the book that started it all.
Sunbeam? Check. Slipper? Check.
Jason T. Cat begins an unexpected journey.
[Kim Kovalick is a designer, cat-rescuer, and supermom who lives in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. She is Go Go Go's official Mural Spotter™.]
You can find some great street art in Chicago . . . some commissioned, some not. For several years while taking the Blue Line downtown from my stop at California, a few moments after the train had started up again, I would look down from the elevated tracks and see the huge ferrets.
They are painted on the back side of a long, 1-story brick building. The words “It’s not where you’r from it’s where you’r at” (sic) wrap the back and side of the top edge of the walls. Finally, during a temperate day last week, I searched for the alley/lot that contained this building so that I could get a closer look. After walking around Milwaukee Ave. and up and down some side streets, I was able to get to the parking lot that is between this building and a defunct thrift store. Brief, internet research identifies the artist as ROA from Belgium.
See more on the artist’s Flickr page.
Here are some additional murals from Logan Square:
Check out this Flickr Group that features a lot of great Chicago Graffiti and Street Art