Still In Madison, and My Eyeballs are On Fire!

Madison Travel Blog

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Hey Guys, it's me, Rachael, and NO I have not yet left for France. I'll be gone in a week exactly, gaily and daily doing blog-worthy activities, but in the meantime, nope I'm still in dear old Wisconsin. I've been doing mainly Sconnie things, things like eating cheese and tipping cows and NOT learning French and walking slowly and ominously around the Capitol at night because it's finally above freezing and I am bored not to mention naturally kind of a creeper (which reminds me: why, WHY is the capitol lit up red right now? Anyone know? Is it because of Valentines day? If so that is the lamest thing I have ever heard in my life...). I've also been thoroughly enjoying speaking my gloriously low dialect of American English to anyone and everyone willing to converse with me. The more twAng in those "A"s the better these dAys, Eh?

(Picture Courtesy of Karen)

What is more, I am once again bumming my pathetic existence off of a couple of unsettlingly kind friends, who, though I went home to the 'burbs last week to do utterly brain-bursting activities such as get my visa, sleep too much, and make nice with my Green Bay relatives, took me back in unexpectedly and without question the other day for another near-week of malodorous girly soaps and lotions in their usually manful bathroom. (Seriously, who are these people and why are they so kind to me? And what's with all the scrumptious baked goods? Could they possibly have ulterior motives, like fattening me up and selling me at market? Really must look into that but in the mean time this piece of apple cake looks particularly yummy...)

As you can see (she says through her baked good), it is all very lame and anti-climactic here, though in a comfortable, don't-want-to-leave-because-it-will-be-like-getting-out-of-
bed-on-a-cold-morning sort of way, and I fear that despite my choice to write this evening, tonight bodes hardly a convivial writing occasion. Honestly, in addition to tonight's general lack of ado, I have very little to show for myself storytelling-wise in general these days, due to my having been doing nothing but showing up on people's snowy doorsteps for some TWO MONTHS now. Revolting. In fact, currently as I sit on the boys' couch, writing run-on sentences and trying my darnedest to think about Life with a capital "L", all I can think is that I've wasted two months of the "best years of my life" listening to Cat Power and re-re-reading my Dearest, Most Beloved Shoebox Project until 4am. What's worse, I must say this couch is getting comfier by the second. Seriously guys, I could fall asleep right here right now and easily miss my flight next week, leaving me with nothing to do until September except write meaningless blogs like this one in-between long naps.

...... And THAT'S when they would sell me at market! I get it now! I'll be both fattened AND tranquilized! Brilliant!

Okayokayokay. So the purpose of this incomprehensiblog WAS going to be to describe to you in literary detail my many illuminating pre-France break experiences, but I suppose I have rather admitted already that instead of hunting ghosts, plumbing, cooking Italian food, writing songs on the piano, penning fantasy novels, and being calm and reassuring in a dead-sexy fashion (I love you Grant Wilson, I really do), I have been doing absolutely nothing at all, nothing but eating things Chris bakes and staring at my laptop screen for 14-hours at a time, which is why my eyeballs ARE ON FIRE. (If I can't see a single painting in the Louvre, it'll be no one's fault but my father's for having charitably bought me this laptop.)

Still, I feel it is my duty to share briefly with you, Citizens of The World, at least a one thing which has come to my mind over these past two months while you were all out there busy being productive members of society instead of bored, Capitol-orbiting creepers.

It has come to my attention that Wisconsin is a ridiculous place, but I rather love it. This entire statement can be easily explicated with two points, one a fact, and one an anecdote. Fact: soon I will be in France, and so naturally in my state of fear and enormous dread I am these days inclined to have Romantic rumblings for my native land. Makes sense. Now, anecdote. My family always gets lunch at this one particular ancient and greasy restaurant in Green Bay whenever we go up there on family business, like we did last weekend. My parents both grew up in the City on The Web Between The Thumb and The Forefinger and we've all visited loads of times, so this restaurant wields a particular nostalgic gravitation for the 3 generations. Also, it is a stone's throw from Lambeau Field and they have delicious pineappley malts. Now, I have a certain picky nephew named Shamus who is cursed at this moment with being a 15 year-old and is thus way too cool to keep even his own company, much less the company of various hamburger condiments. So when the waitress comes up to take our order (you have to push a button to get someone to come to your table, it's all very exciting) Shamus says, in his charming monotone, "I want a hamburger, but I don't like all those things they put on it, so I want it plain. Absolutely nothing on it." The waitress, a young gal with her hair in a bun, doesn't skip a beat and responds blithely, "So just butter?"

Hopefully you see the humor and understand my point, unless, of course, you are like the rest of my family and do not think this buttery tale the least bit unusual even after I spell it out for you slowly, clearly, and mid-malt. Seriously people, Wisconsin natives and non-Wisconsin natives alike, how could you not have a soft spot for a state that elevates butter beyond the level of condiment to the realm of meat, and perhaps beyond?

In all seriousness though, I have traveled a bit before and have learned just by spending a summer in Philadelphia that not only is the butter burger far superior to the cheese steak, but there is something else pleasantly different about the Midwest. There is a distinctive culture buried under all those layers of modern American suburbia, and like it or not, I am a born and bred Midwesterner. We are laid back, but we are stubborn. We work hard (or if we don't we feel damn guilty about it, see above), and so yes, occasionally we like our arteries full of buttery goodness or State Fair cream puff or deep fried pickled chocolate candy bar on a stick. In other words, we appreciate life's simple pleasures and are not afraid to show our enthusiasm for them whether or not our eagerness be couth. All in all, it makes for an open, down to earth quality in the people who live in the Midwest. Unfortunately, more and more as wealth and selfishness spread and places like my hometown become the norm, this open forwardness often translates into an in-your-face refusal to look beyond the shiny upper-middle class SUV-driving conservative suburban scene. But in rural or middle-class places like Green Bay and my imagination, it seems to still mean at its root an honest, hard-working ethic full of community and tradition and simple pleasures like beer and football and cheese, lots and lots of cheese.

Now, I have to attach the obvious disclaimer that of all people in the world to appreciate the supposed "working-class pleasures" like beer and football, I may appear the least likely. I cling perhaps too-ardently to the pleasures of a more privileged class, one with copious amounts of education and an appreciation for "the finer things". Still, being a true Sconnie native, I am convinced that one can be a dedicated intellectual and citizen of the world and a warm, open, and hard-working lover of the simple life at the same time, making a strange love of men rolling over each other wearing glossy spandex entirely optional. What is more, this combination educated open-mindedness and Midwestern warmth could be a serious force to be reckoned with if more of my countrymen tried it on for size, I think. No longer would the Midwest be the fourth armpit of America, I would think, but a colossus of cultural incorruptibility!

It is also this perceptive warmth which I felt called as an American to demonstrate to my Danish floor-mates this past semester. My friends and I may not be the picture of American normalcy, but our amalgamated lifestyle of serious perspective and silliness is something I am extremely proud of and was excited to share. And sure enough, within a couple of months Sofie was one of the gang, loud and happy, throwing random theme parties for no reason, cooking large meals with the group, and trudging through the snow to the Essen Haus to drink beer and polka with the best of them. In the end the Danes had fun and so did we, we had some damn interesting conversations and all learned a lot, and I think us Americans did our part to help clear the bad name of not only our country, but our region as well. We may not live in the most interesting and culturally forward place in the world, but I think we proved that the in the Midwest we know how to keep warm and have a good time, a quality that lasts and sticks with you. A quality one wants to come back to.

When I switch sides shortly, I am going to devour everything I see or hear or smell and appreciate every cathedral, every painting, every non-American that I see. But I am also going to remember where I came from and feel at least a tiny bit proud to be, well.. an American! Not in a "we are the best" sort of way, but in a "I kind of dig us" sort of way. Because under piles and oodles and 50 ton bushels of stupidity, America does have a few things right. Our country may be steeped in hypocrisy, but under it all is a damned good intention and a laid-back jolliness I know I am going to miss while I am gone. And maybe, dare I say it, learning to appreciate another culture may very well teach me once and for all the value of my own. Hell, I may want to stop roving eventually and maybe even live the majority of my life back where I started, in my home culture, perhaps on a little farm somewhere where I can bake bread and grow things and do other unrealistically idealistic things a number of us old-school Midwesterners crave that will probably never happen. We'll see.

So send me your Midwestern stories and jovial tales of laid-back silliness when I am in France guys, nervously nibbling a different sort of Cheese and missing you all across the pond.
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photo by: DaveSwede