The first thing I noticed in the shuttle on the way from the airport to our hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, was all the deciduous trees. Living here along the Northern California coast (almost Oregon), I am used to everything being green, but our green is made up of evergreens (which are darker) and more brush than grass. [Think the scenery in the “Twilight” movies.] In the tiny area of Wisconsin I saw, it was deciduous trees and grass.
The next thing I noticed were all the brick buildings. We don’t build with brick in California, because they don’t survive earthquakes. I remember uptown Whittier, CA (which was founded by Quakers) had a lot of beautiful brick buildings, and when they had that earthquake in the late 1970s it destroyed the downtown area. So all the brick buildings in Madison fascinated me. That, and the age of some of the buildings (1840s and 1850s). Some of those buildings went up when the area I live in still belonged to the Tolowa and Yurok Nations.
One of our first evenings there we walked along State Street, which runs from the capitol square to the University of Wisconsin. It reminded me of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, CA, but cleaner and with no panhandling. There were lots of interesting shops and places to eat. It was hot while we were there, so I got the idea that most of the people out there (not crowds, but quite a few people) had waited to be outdoors until the evening, when it was cooler. Hence, many of the shops were open into the evening. It was fun to walk, look at buildings, look in shops, and do some people-watching. There were some interesting sculptures along the way, including this sculpted piece of lava rock. Beautiful!
There were some older buildings around capitol square, but more new ones. There was an Art Fair on Saturday and Sunday, with lots of booths and beautiful, local art (all the way from crafty/affordable to the high-end stuff). Madison also hosts the largest organic Farmer’s Market in the United States, and the booths from the combination of both circled the square and over-flowed onto the streets leading off it. Honestly, I did not get to see as much of it as I would have liked, because the crowds were so thick. And they all moved in one circle around the square, counter-clockwise. I have never seen that many people ALL moving in one direction without specific direction from signage. It was amazing! I wanted to go against the flow to a specific store on the square, and it was like a salmon fighting up-river against a very fast current.
We were in Madison, and had been up on capitol square each of three days, and there was one thing that seemed a little surreal — there were no homeless people. It seemed a little Stepford-like. Had their Tea Party Governor, Scott Walker, had all the homeless people rounded up and shipped off somewhere? Was it now illegal to be homeless? On Monday evening we were up on the square again, and now there were homeless people. Not a lot, and they were not panhandling, but they were there. We figure the local law enforcement must have made it clear to them they should be elsewhere during the Art Fair. Whew!
Unless you live outside the United States, you have probably heard about all the protests that occurred in Madison when Scott Walker pushed through his union-striping bill. He is not terribly popular in Wisconsin right now, and there are re-call elections scheduled. There was one man sitting on the square outside the capitol on each of the days we were there, doing a hunger strike. There were fresh protest slogans chalked on the sidewalks around the capitol each day, and even some protest signs in the capitol windows. (Many legislators fought the bill, but there were not enough of them.) While we were there, we noticed a couple of the high-rise buildings along the square are private residences. No matter what your ideology, imagine living above a square that had protest crowds of 80,000+ for days on end. That must have been a pain!
Madison is a lovely city, but I do not imagine we will be returning, unless it is another special occasion (like the convention). Which is too bad, because I would love to explore Wisconsin. As a friend told me, it does not all look like Madison. 🙂 We saw lots of farms and fields from the air when we were flying in. There are lots of places I would love to visit for weeks or even months at a time (such as Paris, or Ireland, or Japan), but until we are independently wealthy, that is not going to happen. But am glad we were able to visit Madison, WI. 🙂