The Next Pfister in Residence Finalists

Gallery M in the Intercontinental. Patrons get to know the finalists and their work.

This January’s gallery night tested the courage of every driver. The six finalists for the Pfister Hotel’s next Artist in Residence displayed their work in Gallery M at the Intercontinental. I braved the seven block walk from my Wisconsin Avenue home base and spent an evening taking in the feel of a different hotel in the Marcus family. Please help us by voting for our next resident artist on our Facebook Page. For anyone not on Facebook, you can enter your ballot in person at Gallery M, or email amyhansen@marcuscorp.com with your selection. Below is what I was able to briefly glean about the artists and their work, feel free to click their names and see more. For larger views of any photo, click on the picture and then click the image again after the photo opens by itself. Vote early, vote often!

 

Hal Koenig

Hal Koenig's wall display at Gallery M.

Hal is an architect who studied at North Dakota State University and with further study at UW-Madison. He grew up on a North Dakota farm and now lives in Bay View. Hal enjoys highlighting the juxtaposition of nature in urban environments, of which Milwaukee has an unending supply.

Hal Koenig's painting Dusk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pamela Anderson

Works on display by Pamela Anderson.

In Pamela’s paintings she utilizes acrylic, oil, and watercolor to represent emotion. Her work can be classified as abstract expressionism. Ms. Anderson has studied at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and MIAD. She previously curated the Underwood Gallery in Wauwatosa. Pamela has since taken the plunge and is working as a full-time artist.

Two works by Pamela Anderson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Duckett

 

Examples of Matt Duckett's work.

Matt’s trip from LaCrosse took 6 hours in the snow but he did make it to Milwaukee. Unfortunately I’d already taken off for the night so the following information comes from his webpage.  Matt studied both Art and English at UW LaCrosse and UW Stout. His work has been shown and commissioned all over Wisconsin and Minnesota. Matt is the founder and director of Vitamin Studio, a standout in LaCrosse’s developing arts district.

My favorite of Matt Duckett's portraits, The Turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albin Erhart

Albin Erhart's display chronicles his experience applying for the Artist in Residence position.

Albin is an exuberant ball of energy. His works on display chronicle his attempt at becoming the Pfister’s next resident artist. Each work represents his experience and emotion throughout the process of applying all the way up to being selected as a finalist. His toolbox is not limited to paint and brushes, for example he explores with markers and sometimes even re-purposing thrift store canvasses. Albin is originally from Southern Germany but now lives in Hartland.

Detail of one of Albin Erhart's marker-based works

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Minga

Brandon Minga's work relaxing with champagne.

Brandon is a designer by trade. Web design, clothing design, footwear, tattoos, album covers. The guy keeps busy. Brandon is a graduate of MIAD. His work on display in Gallery M features paint, digital prints, found objects, drawing, and most works are encompassed within unique custom frames. He works in a collage style, which is sometimes three dimensional.

Detail of one of Brandon's 3-D collage pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Timothy Westbrook

Two of Timothy Wesbrook's creations.

Timothy is the first artist to apply from outside of the immediate Milwaukee area. Having recently graduated from Syracuse University, Tim is looking to stretch out to new locales to further his form. Tim’s work can be most easily described as costume design. His garments are created from a combination of common fabrics (wool, for example) mingling with uncommon threads such as cassette tape. Tim discussed his work with gallery attendees while dressed in a tuxedo of his own creation.

Two more of Timothy Westbrook's works.

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of one of Timothy's garments. This piece was commissioned for a theatrical production.

Snow!

Our Milwaukee finally became the winter wonderland we’ve grown to love. Here’s a look at January from our home at 424 East Wisconsin Avenue. Also in honor of our resident artist Shelby Keefe’s Winter Snowball event.

 

Looking East on Wisconsin Avenue from the Imperial Ballroom.

 

Jailed, oh no! Nah...just looking west from the 8th floor fire escape.

 

Whoa...don't look down! Mason meets Jefferson.

 

A Miro painting hanging out on the wall of the DeLind Gallery across from Mason Street Grill.

 

The bridge named after Daniel Hoan stretches south over the Port of Milwaukee on the right and the Summerfest grounds to the left. The federal building reclines out in the foreground.

 

Those air conditioners next door won't get much use for a few months.

 

Wisconsin Avenue rests between these two very different architectural geometries.

 

The Mason Street Grill Mascot dusted with January. Created by sculptor Jeremy Wolf.

 

Snow takes the fire escape route from the roof of a downtown building.

 

Too early in the day for the Wisconsin Gas building to predict upcoming weather.

 

Believe it or not there is a river running through all these streets, if you look close you can catch a glimpse. The Milwaukee River gave rise to industries which settled along the river beginning in the mid 1800's.

 

The Time Spends Like Water

 

This is a poem written after a brief but meaningful conversation in the lobby lounge. I never asked the gentleman’s name, it seemed silly after discussing important life conclusions; regressive somehow. It would have been like asking for steak sauce at Mason Street Grill.

 

My wife and I were able

to travel the world.

 

All those years

my colleagues

missed t-ball games,

and watched sunsets

through office window blinds.

We were in our 30’s, then our 40’s

– just starting out

and I urged them not to wait til 65, or 70

while we visited Australia, New Zealand,

South America, Europe several times,

we always loved Europe.

 

Last year we took a road trip

around the U.S.

That was pretty tough.

Not at all

like our other trips.

My wife, she’s…

 

My wife is not well now

and when one of you isn’t well

neither of you feels well.

The travel is hard now.

 

My colleagues, I talk to them,

-good people mind you,

but we’re old.

They’ve planned their retirement

and their grandchildren will inherit

college educations

 

But the difference

is that some of us

went to see the world

when we could

and some of us didn’t.

All that money doesn’t mean anything, now.

Even to an accountant.

 

You’re young. You’ll know someday

what I’m talking about.

 

You never believe

at your age

that you’ll get to be my age.

It starts with your friends.

You suddenly wonder,

“When did they all get so old?”

 

Oh, I remember that grin. It’s a beautiful thing.

At your age

I was convinced

I’d never have gray hair

or wear a hearing aid.

 

But the time spends like water my friend

and you’ll never think you’re old

until one day you are.

 

 

Well, best of luck to you young man.

I believe I’ll finish this Manhattan

Bartender, may I settle my tab,

and see how this city looks

from the 23rd floor.

 

 

Meeting “The Captive”

The Captive by Paul Louis Narcisse Grolleron is an appropriate match for the subject of this story. Listen in to hear our guest Jessica tell about a ridiculous first date.

One morning I was having breakfast in the lobby lounge and ended up speaking with a young lady. She was enjoying a Healthy Start Frittata and I’d ordered my favorite, The Vegetable Omelet. This young woman’s name was Jessica and we spoke about many things including art, cuisine, travel, music. Most of the topics you hope a new acquaintance will be able to discuss at length. Eventually we got to the topic of relationships and Jessica told me a story about a preposterous first date she had recently gone on. One might say say her experience was uncannily similar to painting immediately to the right. Listening to her story again I return to the conclusion: “Who would take a girl to the grocery store?”

This story is a part of The Lunch Counter storytelling series which I curate on Milwaukee’s NPR station 89.7 WUWM.  The piece originally aired Thursday January 5th during the Lake Effect show. To be clear, her awful first date didn’t take place at the hotel, she merely recounted the story over breakfast in The Cafe at the Pfister.

Come to think of it, it’s been awhile since I’ve taken my lady out for dinner. The holidays have wound down and now it’s easier to get a table in most restaurants. Perhaps Mason Street Grill should be in our near future…

To listen to this comedy of modern love errors simply click the player below. If you’d like to hear past editions of The Lunch Counter storytelling series visit here.

 

The Lunch Counter goes on a really bad date by Ed Makowski

Details, in photographs

So much of the Pfister Hotel is about details. See if you can pick out where I took some of these photos. A cheat list is included at the end. Happy Hunting!

 

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1. Frame Detail, 2nd floor

2. Face on a planter in the lobby

3. 2nd floor chandeliers

4. Light and shadow compliments of a chandelier

5. Entrance to Mason Street Grill

6. Door frame detail of the freight elevator

7. Table setting at Mason Street Grill

8. Detail of metalwork on a table near the 1st floor ATM

9. Light and shadow detail from a light near the Mason Street entrance

10. Letter box detail across from the Cafe at the Pfister

11. Lobby mural and plaster detail

12. Rainy Reflections by current resident artist Shelby Keefe

13. Signature on painting by Henri Matisse in Mason Street Grill

14. Radiator guard in Wisconsin Avenue entrance

15. Railing

16. Looking at the front desk

17. Floor mosaic outside of 8th floor South elevators in the original Wisconsin Avenue building

18. Detail of ornamental railing between the 7th and 8th floors

19. “Down” light for the 8th floor south elevators. There is no “Up” light because you’ve hit the top!

20. Entrance to Cafe Rouge

21. Thanksgiving menu from 1899 on display in the 2nd floor mezzanine

22. Chrome polished to such a shine that one can see their own reflection

 

 

 

 


Take your grandmother out for Afternoon Tea

Tea butler Juan Rodriguez assists patrons. Outside sun sets on the Federal Building.

Last weekend my grandma and I decided to go out for afternoon tea. I don’t believe anyone’s ever taken tea with my grandmother, aside from a bag she dropped in a mug above her stove. When my mom called to remind her, my grandma asked what she should wear for such an occasion, what is appropriate attire for tea? “We didn’t go out for tea when I was a girl. Am I supposed to wear her long white gloves? I would if I had them.” Fear not, we found that beautiful silver can be placed in front of you in an environment that isn’t stuffy.

My grandmother, Phyllis, grew up in rural North Dakota. People have asked for years why her skin looks so fantastic and she attributes this to never smoking or suntanning. Like everyone in her hometown she worked on the farm before and after school and despite the fact that all the kids worked on a farm they did their best to not look like farmers. She’d work in the field wearing a long dress or slacks (her word), a long sleeved shirt, gloves, and a big floppy hat. When Hollywood started producing suntanned movie stars the population of Minot, ND decided the west was a bunch of fools.

Our tea date happened on one of the last sunny days of autumn. I decided we should take our time and drive through the Miller Valley en route to the hotel. Somewhere near Hart Park I could feel her looking at the side of my face. After a few moments she announced, “Eddie- you’ve got white hairs in your beard. How old are you anyway?” We’ve reached ages where it’s now the younger person’s job to remember details. She’s 86 now and as a mother of 7 has recently acquired the title of great-great-grandmother.

Mary Keppeler’s harp pairs perfectly with afternoon tea.

A sidebar reason behind our afternoon date was to record my grandma recounting some of the stories our family has heard many times over. When I was offered the position of Pfister Hotel Narrator I immediately purchased the professional-grade audio recorder I’d been lusting after (Instead of replacing the clutch on the Subaru. What can I say, art uber alles) and I’m still getting acquainted with my new toy. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to record Grandma’s stories for our family archive.

No need to conclude your evening with tea. This is the Wisconsin Gas Building as seen through a glass of red. The flame changes according to the weather forecast. A blue flame means unchanging skies ahead.

After parking we rode the elevator to the 23rd floor. Straight out of the elevator my grandmother wrapped her arm inside of mine. This is not something often done by ladies of my generation. It caught my attention akin to aftershave.

My grandmother wore a lovely sequined blouse and pant combination and I had on some variety of tweed poet/1920’s iron worker juxtaposition. Once inside Blu we walked past the harpist, Mary Keppeler and sat across from the ceiling to floor windows overlooking Lake Michigan. Assistant Manager Juan Rodriguez brought over the tea cart to explain our tea options for the afternoon. Juan explained the ingredients and offered scent samples of all the teas. During his explanations we’d look at one another from time to time and grin. We’re announced simpletons when it comes to tea. Juan was patient and concise in explaining the origin and nuance of every leaf and spice and how flavors interact. Grandma went for Earl Grey and I opted for the same but with mango thrown in.

Our tea arrived and shortly after our food also arrived. Crab cakes, fresh baked scones with lemon curd and strawberry preserves, curried quail eggs, smoked salmon, herb roasted turkey. Oh, and there were just as many desserts too. Chocolate dipped strawberries, pumpkin muffins, opera torte, savory crepes.

My grandmother and I sat next to one another watching as Lake Michigan whitecaps tickled the breakwater. Cars the size of ants entered and exited 794, which was once “The Bridge to Nowhere.” Grandma told me about the tiny convertible that looked like it was smiling; the one her dad drove after all the kids were grown up. From time to time we’d raise our teacups and tilt the pot until our cup filled steaming once again. There was a table of young ladies seated with their mothers and aunts near us. My grandma told me about the aunt and uncle I’d never met, the twins whose monument she visits annually. She told me about her brother Kenny, who my brother Kenny is named after. How Kenny and my grandma and my great aunt Shirley were like the Three Musketeers. The skyscrapers began reflecting the west golden sunset. She talked about the time my uncle got sprayed by a skunk. The time her uncle was accused (Falsely, darn it all to heck!) of being a horse thief. We watched the sun fade while a woman played the harp. My grandma has the stomach of a bird, I finished both of our food trays. Suddenly the Wisconsin Gas Building’s blue light brightened the Milwaukee skyline sparkle. We kept talking and enjoying our remaining Earl Grey after the sun went to bed, even after the bartenders began pouring cocktails. She told me part of the reason she married my grandfather was because his father was such a nice man. I didn’t record any of it. Why interrupt a perfectly perfect afternoon?

A brief history of Spring Street, Grand Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue

Bridges crossing the Milwaukee River in Downtown Milwaukee

The Pfister Hotel is located on Wisconsin Avenue and sandwiched between Jefferson, Milwaukee, and Mason Streets. 424 East Wisconsin Avenue to be exact. That may seem like a simple enough fact; Wisconsin Avenue is a main street through the heart of downtown Milwaukee, a city not coincidentally located in the state of Wisconsin. However the history of Wisconsin Avenue is not as simple as one might guess. It’s actually a tale of Spring Street and Grand Avenue. To understand the story we actually have to delve into a tale of two cities. (Technically three considering George Walker and Walker’s Point, but for our immediate purposes only two are necessary to reference.)

Solomon Juneau relaxing for the camera.
Byron Kilbourn sported quite the beard.

Solomon Juneau was born in Quebec, Canada and arrived in Milwaukee in 1818. Juneau made his fortune as an employee of the American Fur Company. The American Fur Company was named by another man also imprinted in Milwaukee, John Jacob Astor. Upon moving to what we now call Milwaukee Mr. Juneau learned to speak fluent Menominee and Potawatomi before learning English. In the 1830’s the fur business was starting to appear less fruitful compared with real estate and Solomon had a ground floor opportunity to begin developing. The place where three rivers converge upon an enormous lake is not bad positioning for the start of a city. His portion of land was between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan and he opened an outpost store. Shortly after Juneau became the city’s first postmaster. He went on to be Milwaukee’s first elected mayor.

Byron Kilbourn arrived later than Solomon Juneau. He didn’t show up on our shores until the 1830’s. Kilbourn had already been involved with real estate in Sheboygan and Manitowoc and from the start seemed to have a much wider scope than Solomon Juneau. By comparison Kilbourn had more of a “fat cat” scope for his Milwaukee plans. Even though Chicago holds the title of the Windy City, Byron Kilbourn’s town was pretty liberal with bribes and corruption. Eventually Kilbourn’s railroad company was exposed for bribery relating to railroad land acquisition.

Looking west on Wisconsin Avenue. Notice the angle of the bridge across the Milwaukee River; crooked to accommodate for the angle of the two streets. This was taken during a 1919 parade.

In 1837 both men officially dug in their heels and named their plots, predictably, Juneautown and Kilbourntown (come on guys, a little creativity?). Competition between the two cities eventually came to a head during the Bridge Wars of 1845. Milwaukee’s east side is effectively an island between Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River. Bridges are a necessity to get to the larger mainland. Byron Kilbourn and the residents of Kilbourntown hoped to freeze Juneautown out of access to the mainland. A resolution was reached to build a new bridge as the current network of bridges was deemed inadequate. But Kilbourntown refused to share in payment for the bridge’s construction. Residents of each side spent weeks voicing their opinions. Eventually violence erupted and in protest residents smashed and burned two of the existing bridges. Eventually each side concluded they needed one another and merged to become the City of Milwaukee in 1846.

What does this have to do with street names? While each side of town operated independently they developed their own road system. They even laid their roads at different angles so their streets wouldn’t easily meet with one another.

Painting "Bridge War" by Clarence Monegar.

Spring Street was called such due to the luck of a spring that existed on the street prior to indoor plumbing. The street also came to be called Grand Avenue. The Grand had, and still does possess many theatres, department stores, and other entertainment. It’s likely the name was also a result of the grand mansions built farther West on the street (such as the Pabst Mansion). Eventually everyone agreed on Wisconsin Avenue and the Pfister has it’s current home at 424. Voila!

My favorite lady lives on the 2nd floor

Georges Jules Victor Clairin's "The Dancer" gracing the 2nd floor mezzanine of the Pfister Hotel. Yep she's my favorite. Le sigh...

My mother has always had portraits of women around the house. Her taste for paintings and sculpture spans the 1870’s up to early art deco. Overall she’d probably list Monet as her favorite painter. I grew up with these ladies hanging around so they’ve probably influenced which variety of painted ladies I find attractive and prefer to have in my walled company. I’m sure Freud would have plenty to say…

The art collection encompassed in the Pfister is the world’s largest hotel art collection on permanent display. Given that the hotel was initially completed in 1893 most of the hotel’s artistic style dates from near this time period.

I asked the Pfister’s Chef Concierge Peter Mortensen if he could fill me in on a little about Georges Jules Victor Clairin’s “The Dancer,” and he had plenty to whet my curiosity. But first I was lambasted for not knowing much about Sarah Bernhardt. Allow me to explain…

Clairin was a French painter who began exhibiting at the Salon in 1866. For folks like myself who haven’t yet visited Parisian museums or galleries, The Salon was an annual showcase of France’s premier academic artists. From what I can conclude the Salon shows fell in prominence around the rise of Impressionism. Impressionist art of the time was not generally accepted into the Salon shows and may account for it’s gradual skid in importance. Impressionists such as Cezanne, Monet, Degas, and Renoir are household names but I had to look up the Salon. I guess history shows who won that debate.

Georges’ specialty in painting became the female form. He loved to paint lavishly costumed women. Dancers and costumed actresses became models, muses, and lovers.

Clairin's rendering of Sarah Bernhardt as Ophelia. To be clear this piece is not possessed by or displayed at the Pfister Hotel and is merely shown for purposes of comparison.

Sarah Bernhardt was an actress. Well, more correctly she was the actress. From her very start Sarah Bernhardt is a story not easily discerned. Sarah is believed to have been born in 1844 as Rosine Bernhardt to a mother named Julie and an unknown father. She began acting in the mid-1860’s but her birth papers were lost in a fire. She became Sarah by creating falsified birth documents. By the 1870’s her star grew to the point that she was known simply as “The Divine Sarah.” Bernhardt was the most sought-after actress of the time and traveled to the United States and Cuba to perform and teach aspiring lady actresses. Along the way she got married, had children, was known to sleep in a coffin (method acting preparation), got divorced, lost a leg to gangrene, had affairs, (in no specific, often overlapping, order) and performed exhaustively until her death in 1923.

Clairin ended up painting Ms. Bernhardt’s likeness several times. He often rendered her while costumed. Our concierge Peter explained that at one point Mr. Clairin and Ms. Bernhardt shared a house in the south of France. Although Georges Clairin is probably best known for painting Sarah Bernhardt, she is far from being the only woman to see the end of his paintbrush. Walk up to our second floor mezzanine to see the beauty my photograph of “The Dancer” cannot replicate.

As for Ms. Bernhardt, I’ll give you one guess where she stayed in Milwaukee.

Resident Pfister artist Shelby Keefe gives walking art tours Fridays and Saturdays at 4pm (Or by prior appointment, stop by her studio on the first floor to schedule directly with her). Tours are free and open to the public.

 

The Good Life in Blu (is a cocktail too)

Patrons enjoy Afternoon Tea on a Friday near dusk. Your table waits in the foreground...

Last night I was able to listen to a concert with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander. The good doctor plays every first Thursday of the month on the 23rd floor at Blu, the cocktail lounge which looks east over Lake Michigan. Patrons sat at tables which radiated from the piano. Couples sat close to one another in a piano-dangled warm quiet until the last few songs, at which point I began looking for a singer who appeared to my ears from of the middle of nowhere. I looked around the room to find someone now accompanying the piano. I then realized there wasn’t a singer who was sharing the floor with Jeffrey. The entire room had joined in song for the last few numbers in a way that happens often in black and white movies but rarely in color ones.

While listening to the concert I ended up speaking with a gentleman named Bill. Evidenced, I suppose, by his being seated next to me, Bill remarked that he preferred to enjoy a *ding-time* 6pm workday whistle cocktail in Blu. I asked where he was in town from and he chuckled that he worked a few blocks away and this was his nightly cool-down. No traveler was Bill at the moment, this was his customary place to relax once the office turned dim before heading home.

Prior to this position I’d never considered spending time in a hotel in my city (or any other city for that matter). I traveled for business when I was younger and that traveling amounted to seeing an airport, freeway, hotel, and identically designed retail location. Wash, rinse, repeat the process for 55-70 hours per week for a few years. The corporation who employed me had a very cost-conscious mindset so many of the hotels (er…often motels) I slept at were not the type of place one felt incredibly welcomed. After the first few trips I didn’t bother to pack a swimsuit and brought a book to read instead of assuming there might be cable television. The definition I’d learned a hotel to be was a bed and shower acting as the peanut butter and jelly sandwiched between 13 hour workdays.

Mary Keppeler's harp accompanies Friday Afternoon Tea

I thought about the hotels I’d stayed at for business and they were never like this. Sitting in one’s room with a book felt like being sequestered in a hospital room. I’d walk downstairs to the lobby and they might have a couch but not the type of couch you’d ever sit on because you wanted to. The type of a couch you’d only sit on only if you were stuck waiting. I’d walk across the street, or a few blocks away, or to the other end of the strip mall where there was a chain restaurant and the meal tasted boringly identical to the meal they’d serve in Birmingham, or Seattle, or Hoboken. I’d try to strike up a conversation with the staff or neighboring patron but all of the 14 sports games on 72 televisions commanded the room’s entire attention. The staff seemed confused as to why you would want to engage them in conversation. They had no idea I’d come from Milwaukee to Brick Town, NJ, for four days and wanted to ask about their town. Aside from that, I’m a human and we’re social animals.

There are many reasons to like this bar: calming ambience, incredible view, the free concerts. But all that aside Bill said it was the people who attracted him to Blu. Both the clientele and the staff. The bartenders are social and their conversation stretches far beyond the weather. If there’s a game you’d like to watch they’ll turn on the TV but it’s not the mouth-gape focus of all the room’s energy. Neighboring patrons don’t find it strange when you ask how their day went, or if there’s a museum in walking distance, or what book you’re reading at the moment.

The Good Life at Blu is all a-glitter once the sun goes down.

The funny thing is I started this blog post to write about the cocktail I had in Blu. The drink is called The Good Life. It’s an exquisitely simple combination of fresh lime, cucumber, mint, raw suger, and Veev Acai Berry Liquor. The sipper tastes every flavor all at once in an even, balanced manner. None of the flavors shout for your attention in a way that would seem obnoxious or out of place. Jason, the vested and Windsor knot necktied bartender, suggested I try this as my invitation to the drink menu. Then I had another one, which I suppose that’s the ultimate endorsement. But that cocktail is just one detail, seemingly unimportant by comparison, to the candlelight speckled chandelier city glow surrounding the miles around me.

This really is a preferable way to travel- even if you’re just a tourist in your own town. Bill is right. The drinks are well-poured, yes, the food is as advertised and requested, he says this and shrugs. Those are all great but it’s the people and the experience which resonate in one’s memory. It’s Milwaukee, you can have a drink nearly anywhere. Where else can one relax while the golden coast touching Lake Michigan gradually turns to a shimmering tapestry and the bartender asks if you’d like your usual? It’s that intangible combination of service, location, and amenities which combines to create this brilliant ambience.

I was about to click the Publish button on this blog entry but then there was a sudden bit of “ooohs” and “aaahhhhs” and brief applause which distracted me from the current task. I asked the bartender what had happened. Jason leaned in and explained that a man three tables over asked the woman sitting to his right if she’d marry him. I look over and the woman’s head is on the man’s shoulder. Her fingers take turns tracing the lashes underneath her eyes. She’s giggling and sniffling all at once. How can I write about just a cocktail?

Your City Through Visiting Eyes- “Absolutely Gobsmacked!”

 

The other night I was sitting in the lobby lounge editing photographs on my computer. Something a bar patron said caught my ear and made me laugh. I don’t remember what exactly he said, but the gentleman’s tone and volume invited anybody within earshot to join. Hearing my chuckle he turned around, delighted that another was entertained by his observation. As he approached my table with a glass of beer in hand I closed the screen on my laptop and returned the machine to it’s case.

See that white whale tail in the distance? It's a piece of artwork masquerading as a museum.

Wayne was this fellow’s name and he was in Milwaukee for a very brief stay. Wayne is the director of a company called SMAC Technologies and they’re located just outside of Adelaide, South Australia. SMAC is an acronym for Shaw Method of Air Conditioning. Wayne’s company recently won the Australian Clean Technologies Ideas Competition and he was in the U.S. to spread word of his company’s innovative take on the cooling process. As you might guess air conditioning in Australia isn’t a mere creature comfort; when living there it’s something closer to necessity. Imagine grandparents retiring to Florida without air conditioning. Not likely.

Straightaway Wayne told me he was “absolutely gobsmacked” with Milwaukee. Throughout our conversation it amazed me the sort of reverence Wayne had for the opportunity to visit our part of the world. He remarked, “With Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, Honeywell in Minneapolis, Carrier a bit farther in Syracuse, it’s very exciting for me to visit what can be considered the birthplace of my field of study.” I’d never quite thought about our region that way, that far back. I suppose the Midwest was a vital epicenter of the industrial revolution. One’s definition of hometown is specific to their experience. Milwaukee’s always been where I’m from and to hear someone so impressed made me think more critically about the prominence of this city.

My new acquaintance told me that he’d walked five blocks east on Wisconsin Avenue to see the moving sculpture we call an art museum. Strolled his feet in the sand on the public shores of Lake Michigan, the 5th largest body of fresh water in the world. Came back and sat at a bar sampling beer that was brewed within walking distance. He then traveled in an elevator and slept in history’s first building to feature individualized temperature controls in each room. Ensconced in indigenous Cream City Brick. Absolutely gobsmacked indeed.

I suppose living in the same place for a long time can be like marriage. You wake up in the morning and consider your sleeping wife’s adorable curl above her right temple. You go about the morning routine and while in the shower think of how the relationship has evolved but you still love those dimples on the small of her back and admire her stubbornness (most of the time). After toweling off you walk down the hallway to mention her haircut, but her words arrive first. She asks how one of the kids is getting home from soccer practice. In your mind you envision the soccer schedule and forget about her hair, her dimples, her cleft chin. Her calf muscles’ perfect taper toward the ankle. You imagine sitting in the car while driving to soccer practice. That car should have the transmission fluid changed. Before winter. Better buy a snow shovel by December, the old favorite’s blade is too curled to be of use any longer (but shall remain lovingly displayed in corner of the garage). Do the gutters need to be cleaned of autumn leaves before snow and ice? We have to remember to go ice skating at Brown Deer Park this winter… “Oh, yes, sure I can pick them up from soccer.”

I was born in Milwaukee, my parents too. My dad graduated from Granville High School, my mom Brown Deer. Same school, but the town’s name had been changed from Granville to Brown Deer. Brown Deer Park is one of 9 public golf courses in Milwaukee. At nearly 750 square feet per person our city ranks 8th for park acreage in the United States. Lake Michigan is free, public, and welcoming your presence. Olympians train at the Pettit. We host the world’s largest music festival. We offered electric temperature control to the world.  We invented the typewriter and consequently the QWERTY keyboard. From a list of 30, Milwaukee claims 3 of the country’s top restaurants. Wayne is right, there are no shortage of reasons to be absolutely gobsmacked with Milwaukee, regardless if you call it home.

I suggest spending some time at the lakefront- because you can, because it’s yours. It’s even more lovely in winter. Or visit a new park you’ve yet to see. There are 136 in Milwaukee.  And go tell your spouse something. The something only you know.