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If I told you I’d gone to the city to see a few shows, listen to some impressive live music, catch a cutting-edge film festival, spend time in world-class museums, and chow down on an astonishingly diverse and multicultural dining scene including Cuban, Ethiopian, Mexican, Italian, Asian and Turkish food, you’d probably assume I was talking about a big city. Somewhere like Chicago or Seattle or New York.
Ann Arbor, with a population of around 116,000 and home to sports and academic powerhouse, University of Michigan, rivals big urban destinations in terms of food, entertainment, and culture.
I spent a few days looking, tasting, and exploring. Here’s a roundup of my favorites:
Feed Your Mind
Ann Arbor boasts a number of superior museums. The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) offers an impressive collection of fine art and artifacts. Two of my favorite pieces were the Samurai armor in the Asian collection and John Stanley’s “Mt. Hood from the Dalles”, a beautiful landscape painted in 1871 with an iconic view of Mt. Hood from the Columbia River.
Another fascinating stop is the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. This state-of-the-art facility, housed in an exquisite Victorian-era Romanesque building complete with turret and Tiffany window, is centered around the late-19th Century and early-20th Century collection of it’s namesake, Francis Kelsey. Some highlights of the more than 100,000 artifacts include Roman glassware, Egyptian masks, and an elaborate sarcophagus. The coffin’s owner, the missing Mummy Djehutymose, has his own popular Twitter feed and Facebook page.
The nearby Gerald Ford Library Museum and archives is also worth a visit. Primarily a holding place for more than 25 million pages of historical documents pertaining to Ford’s political career and the Cold War era, the center offers an intriguing view of the man, including the story of Ford’s birth and childhood.
Taste the World
My first meal in Ann Arbor, a Cuban burger and batida ( a frozen concoction of mango, pinaeapple, scoop of ice cream and a splash of dark rum) and a basket of what may be the best fries I’ve ever tasted, at Frita Batidas, set the tone for the rest of the week. Everything was delicious and often unexpected. Some of my other favorites were the Ethiopian Injera (soft bread) and Gomen (collard greens cooked with spices, onions and jalapeno peppers) at Blue Nile and lamb-stuffed grape leaves and cold vegetable salads at Ayse’s Turkish Cafe. Of course, no visit to Ann Arbor counts unless you stop by world-famous Zingerman’s Deli. For beer lovers, there are a growing number of microbreweries in the area and you won’t regret a day spent tasting local brews.
Football may draw the crowds in the fall, but Ann Arbor hosts large events throughout the year. Seasonal favorites include the winter Folk Festival, a springtime FestiFools puppetry and public art festival, and a three-week summer festival with art, music, food, and film.
The number of antiques, collectibles and vintage shops within walking distance of Main Street was a nice surprise. Treasure Mart, in the Kerrytown area near the farmer’s market and Zingerman’s Deli, is a rambling historic building full of all kinds of interesting things. Some of the rooms are decorated and arranged like an antiques mall, others are crammed with goodies strewn on tabletops or piled in corners just waiting to be discovered.
Located in the Nickles Arcade, a 1918 covered passage lined with unique shops that make the place feel like a bit of Paris in the mid-west, The Arcadian antiques is a jewel box. Crystal and china line the shelves and the store stocks fine antique furniture, but the highlight is a collection of beautiful estate jewelry. I watched a couple shop for wedding rings, trying to choose from trays of lovely old diamonds and gemstones.
I did a lot of window shopping but I didn’t come home empty-handed. At Antelope Antiques and Coins, a funky store on the lower level of a downtown building. I plucked an autographed photo of Woody Herman ($10) out of a box of old photos and postcards, and did a little happy dance when I found a Waterford goblet in my (somewhat obscure) "Kylemore" pattern, for only $15.
Like most travelers, I have a fantasy “I could live here” list in my head made up of places I’ve been and couldn’t forget. After this first visit, Ann Arbor moved to the top of the list. A robust arts scene, a vibrant main street, an energetic farm-to-table movement and a cosmopolitan foodie-friendly ethos, paired with a dedication to preserving the past, makes Ann Arbor, Michigan hard to resist.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
There was a soft summer rain falling, but that didn’t keep people away. Tucked under umbrellas, wrapped in raincoats, the crowd—locals and tourists like me—strolled through the main gate of Vigeland Sculpture Park near the center of Oslo, Norway. We all moved down the wide path and across the bridge lined with carved figures. Without the harsh glare of sunlight, the the rain seemed to soften and illuminate the sculptures, adding warm life to cold metal and stone.
Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is unlike any other; it showcases the work of only one man—Gustave Vigeland. In 1921 Vigeland, already an established artist, made an agreement with the city of Oslo. In return for a home and studio at Frogner Park, Vigeland would create a park built around the bulk of his work and it would forever belong to the city.
For 20 years, the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked there, creating more than 200 projects for the park. The work includes the impressive entrance, impressive two-dimensional iron gates, a bronze fountain with a tableau of the circle of life. The pinnacle is a five-story monolith of the bodies of men, women and children—more than 120 figures—carved from a single column of solid granite.
The bridge leading from the entrance to the crest of the hill is lined with more than 50 bronze figures, including the famous ”Sinnataggen” a furious toddler in captured in full tantrum. The figure of the angry baby has become the park’s signature and his left hand shines from the constant touching and rubbing of visitors.
The theme of the garden is life and all its stages. Vigeland’s figures show mankind from birth to death and the sculptures are arranged in groups along a series of pathways.
Gustave Vigeland’s figures, especially those in granite, are massive, but there is a striking delicacy to each piece. Especially in the rain. I found myself circling them, looking deeply at the expressions on each face, at the language of each body. Taking one photo after another, trying to capture what the artist had expressed.
The true magic of Vigeland Sculpture Park is the way the sculptor imbued granite and bronze with human emotion. His figures carry the joy, anguish, fear and desire of life. They draw you in and stay with you after you leave.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and blogs about antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. She can be reached at email@example.com
Cool story out of U of I: Taking inspiration from their own backyard, architecture students are finding new ways to use wood in architecture with the help of the Idaho Forest Products Commission’s Best Use of Idaho Wood Architecture Design Awards.
Winning designs will be recognized during a luncheon, featuring guest speakers architect Chris Patano and Kevin Esser, chief financial officer of Idaho Forest Group, on Monday, Dec. 9 at 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. in the Idaho Commons Clearwater/Whitewater rooms.
Students, faculty, professional architects and members of the forest products industry are encouraged to attend the luncheon, where they’ll learn of the outcome of the competition. Awards include a $500 prize for first place and two additional $250 awards.
“During the project, the students were able to explore the woods and mills of North Idaho and apply their findings to a realistic design project, “ said Bruce Haglund, UI professor of architecture. “Overall, they've acquired new perspectives on wood as a building material and new skills in systems integration in design. We are grateful that IFPC and AIA Idaho have sponsored this invaluable experience.”
The City Of Spokane is currently seeking applications for the 2013 Mayor’s Urban Design Awards. The program began in 2007 and it's intended to recognize and thank people who contribute to Spokane’s quality of life and help implement the City’s Comprehensive Plan through good urban design.
Projects must be completed between Jan. 1, 2008, and Aug. 1, 2013. They will be judged against 15 qualities of good urban design in Spokane that are consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan objectives. Award applications are due by noon on Thurs., Aug. 1.
There is a house down the street from where I live and I often pass it on my afternoon walks through the neighborhood. It is a small white house, a classic Cape Cod, probably built in the lean years before the second World War. There is ivy climbing up the chimney and a tall evergreen tree anchors one corner of the front yard.
Most days, there is nothing about the little house that would draw your attention. It is like a hundred others in the city. But if you pass it on a summer evening, just at the softest part of the day when the sky is darkening to a deep shade of violet but still light at the western edge of the horizon, maybe a few of the earliest stars are already out, it’s possible the front door will be open. And through the screen door you can see into the small living room of the compact house where two baby grand pianos sit side by side, situated so that the pianists can see one another as they play.
I know nothing about the house or the people who live there, but to my way of thinking it is the pianos that tell the story, the way they fill the room, claiming it as a place where music is, or has been, made. When I look into that room I see love. There are people there who love music enough to make it the center of the house.
Once, at the end of a day in Paris, I walked down a narrow street near the Latin Quartier and past an apartment building. A tiny slice of one of the apartments was visible through the open terrace doors and I could see a faded but still elegant armchair, upholstered in a soft blue velvet that was worn in places from years of use. Tall shelves filled with rows and rows of books lined the wall and a lamp cast a soft glow over the chair.
With nothing more than a glimpse into the room I could imagine the person who lives there. I could see him (I don’t know why, but it felt like a man’s room) come home each evening, scan the shelves, select a book and then settle into the chair to read. From the outside, the building gave no clue to its inhabitants. Rows of windows shuttered the lives of those inside, but the love of books, the familiar and satisfying feel of a favorite book in one’s hands, spilled out out through the open door, carried into the night by the golden lamplight.
The peek into those two rooms has changed the way I think about my house. Now, I try to look past the usual clutter, the sleeping, shedding, cats and dog, past the unfinished projects on my to-do list. I focus hard on the way the chairs sit next to the window, perfect for watching the seasons change and the parade of people on the way to the park. I look at the books I’ve collected over a lifetime and the photographs I’ve taken of the people and places I love.
The places we call home say much about us in ways we don’t always appreciate. We focus so much on the superficial—the wreath on the door, the curb appeal, the fresh coat of paint— that we forget that what defines any room as the place we belong has little to do with the decor and everything to do with how we live, and love, in the space.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a journalist and travel columnist whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
The two-story mercantile, a farmhouse, the old grain elevator, a bank building and a set of abandoned railroad tracks running across the grassland are the only visible reminders of the town of Virgelle, Montana. Settled in 1912 by homesteaders who rushed to claim their 300 acres in the harsh Montana landscape, by 1930 the boom was over and the little town was frozen in time
After the last holdout left in the 1970s, the ghost town could have faded away but the property was purchased by a pharmacist who’d grown up nearby. He filled the mercantile space with an antiques business and turned the upstairs rooms into a Bed and Breakfast. One by one, original homestead cabins, rescued from the surrounding countryside, were brought in and refurbished. A vintage sheepherder’s wagon was added to the mix of restored accommodations.
My room for the night was the 1914 Little Mosier homestead cabin. Big enough for a double bed, an oilcloth-covered table and two chairs, a big iron-and-nickel cook stove and a washstand with both a Coleman lantern and a battery lantern, the cabin faced the grassy slope rolling down toward the Missouri River. To my left, down the road a bit, I could see a working ranch. To my right, a bath house and the Mercantile building. A little further, more cabins and the rest of what remains of the original town.
Dropping my bags in a chair, I opened the screen door and stepped back out to the porch and stood there a long time looking out, trying to imagine the scenes that had played out in the tiny cabin and others like it. I thought about what it must have been like to live there a century ago, a child on my hip, maybe another in a cradle by the stove. The family would have ached with cold in the harsh winters and been baked by the relentless summer sun. It’s easy to imagine early optimism giving way to fatigue and loneliness and perhaps, eventually, even despair. The reality of the hardscrabble life most early homesteaders faced would break most of us. Only the toughest made it.
Grabbing my camera, chasing the golden light cast by the fading sun, I followed the path across the road and walked to where the old railroad sign still marked the town by the railroad tracks. A rabbit, startled by my footsteps, darted out and, deciding I was no threat, skirted me, almost touching my boots, before continuing down what was obviously a trail, worn and defined by generations of other wildlife.
As it always does, gazing out at the vast openness of the Montana sky and rolling grassland soothed the jangled tension inside me. Like many others, I am someone who needs quiet spaces but although I relish my solitude, I don’t need complete isolation to find it. The little cluster of old buildings and cabins was perfect. There were a few others staying in the restored cabins and the sheepherder’s wagon surrounding the mercantile store, but voices were low and each of us seemed to be happy to be left alone with our thoughts.
After a big meal served family style in the kitchen of the bed and breakfast, in the company of other guests—there were only one or two others as it was late in the tourist season—I was ready to call it a day. Flashlight in hand, I followed the path back to my cabin. A bird, startled by my footsteps on the porch, returned the favor and startled me as it flew over my head and out into the night sky. Inside the cabin, the lantern painted the walls with shadows.
I slipped between crisp cotton sheets, burrowing under the heavy hand-stitched quilts. The early September night was already cool, tinged with autumn, hinting at the winter that would come.
As I lay alone in the dark, listening to the coyotes call down by the river and the rustling of nightbirds and small creatures outside, I closed my eyes. Content, warm, safe, and, for the first time in weeks free of the noise of a busy life, it felt possible to pick up the loose and broken threads of work and family and all the other nagging worries that fight for attention in my mind and knit myself back together. I closed my eyes and let the night sounds sing me to sleep.
More information about the Virgelle Mercantile
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Crosscut, a Puget Sound online news publication, listed its 2011 Heritage Turkeys, a list of notable examples of communities and groups failing to maintain historically relevant places.
On the list was the Washington State University decision to sell the Jensen-Byrd building in downtown Spokane. That decision was reported at Spokesman.com the day after the sale was announces.
Crosscut columnist Knute Berger singled out the Jensen-Byrd deal as especially notable since the National Trust for Historic Preservation next fall will hold an annual conference in downtown Spokane.
He quotes Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation saying: "WSU had an opportunity to really be a preservation hero. Instead there will be a hole in the ground where a National Register-eligible building once stood."
WSU in its defense said the buyer will build a new structure with plenty of housing for students using the area's University District.