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July 14th, 2009


Worlds too near

(DISCLAIMER: This post is odd and philosophical.  Be warned.)

The other night, in a warm summer twilight, I wandered a few blocks south of my student flat right near the UW football stadium, clad in a Team Rocket shirt with a gray fedora on my head. Despite having spent about 11 months in this apartment, I haven't spent much time walking around the neighborhood--my feet tend to carry me east, towards campus, classes, work, and the shops and restaurants of State Street.

It's an odd neighborhood to say the least. Old University Ave. is mostly bordered by student housing of various types, mostly contained in vintage brick buildings (with a few newer blocks of flats). Upstream, to the west, it fades into more traditional apartment blocks, with a few exotic restaurants (a sushi parlor, an Arabic restaurant, and Lombardi's, which is apparently one of Madison's classier establishments). There's also an Open Pantry, which I tend to raid for milk, Mountain Dew, and Pop Tarts.

North of my apartment, across a bridge spanning University, is the west end of campus, containing the agricultural and medical buildings.

So, out of possible exits North, East, West, and South, I chose South. South is by far the most intriguing.

I'd describe it as "Old Madison"--part of the city's hundred year-old core. The trees are tall and dark, the houses big and expensive, the alleys narrow and the flowers lush in overgrown beds. Almost every house has something particularly beautiful about it--I spotted one which looked like a Chinese city mansion, another that had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as what looked like a triple or quadruple split level, with clean right angles and balconies to spare. Another was a four-story mountain of red brick overlooking a tangle jungle of flowers, vines, vegetable gardens, and shading trees, with tall, etched glass windows pouring golden light. Place even had a round tower.

My single favorite dwelling spotted on this excursion would have to be one I found perched at the summit of one of Madison's many hills. The place's yard was essentially held in place by a wall of rough concrete painted creamy-white, and the entrance was a gate set low in the wall, with flights of steps leading up from a kind of gatehouse entryway to a veranda that apparently encircled the house behind a sculpted railing. The house itself had, again, a generous border of flowered garden and at least three stories of sweeping white wood and stone. It looked like the sort of mansion which might serve as a backdrop to The Barber of Seville.

The most feature which really struck me was a pair of glass double doors, open to the night, that opened onto a round balcony of the sort that Romeo usually howls under. I almost wanted to fetch a lute and lie in wait for some beauty to venture onto it. Too bad I can neither play lute nor sing particularly well. In these un-romantic times, I'd probably also get arrested for trespassing, home intrusion, or stalking.

Continuing my twilight adventure, I passed by a classy looking lawn party with a live jazz band and varicolored garden lights. Liquor gleamed in glasses as a shady student in dark clothing drifted past, a campus vagabond passing like a shadow through their wealthy world.

These people live barely ten minutes from campus, where cheap beer and Halo are the drink and entertainment of choice, and yet their lives and homes are a world removed. Truly, the gulfs separating people reach far deeper than physical distance alone could explain. The contrast between the two environments--the rush of campus and the shady, sweeping avenues of this upscale neighborhood--left me feeling oddly displaced, as if I had stepped into some completely different sphere of existence.

If my eccentricity can be tolerated, I might muse more deeply on this subject in the future. . .but, for now, I leave you with this post. Think of it as a travelogue in brief.