I meant to write this post about Madison, Wisconsin as soon as I returned home so my thoughts wouldn’t become a banal, nebulous ramble, but unfortunately I got back two weeks ago.
To be honest I didn’t even see much of the city (and almost nothing of the state), since I was attending a conference most of the time I was there. Consider this post more a set of snapshots as I traversed the main drag of downtown Madison multiple times a day and stole a few hours here and there to explore. (This is the benefit of staying at a hotel a mile from the conference.)
Madison intrigued me for two reasons: 1. Wisconsin makes a lot of cheese and I’m a ‘dairy historian.’ 2. Madison was the site of the community and workers’ struggle against Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting bill in February 2011. Thus, I spent the days leading up to the trip eagerly anticipating a veritable mecca of curd-munching labour activists.
It seems I wasn’t too far off the mark. The Capitol building (see above) is a public space and houses a weekend farmers’ market where they most likely sell cheese curds. One afternoon I had the pleasure of joining a labour tour of the city and heard from a handful of the people who spent the better part of a month occupying the space and demanding that the budget repair bill – a thinly veiled attempt to remove workers’ rights to collective action – be scrapped. (The bill did eventually pass, but unrest has been palpable in the city due to the upcoming recall election in June.)
My hotel mates and I also found this adorable bookstore on our first evening in town but had to wait a couple days to find time to peruse its narrow aisles. It was a test of patience. As we peered into the darkened window I could make out a handwritten sign to my right-hand side: ‘Agriculture.’ Only in Madison – or perhaps Guelph – would a bookstore owner think it a profitable idea to house the agricultural books in the front window. (My fanciful ambitions of a hodge-podge literary cooperative have since been renewed.)
And the beer in Wisconsin is both tasty and cheap. Louie’s Reserve Scotch Ale from Arena was one of my favourites, though there were plenty others whose names escape me. At one restaurant named the Tipsy Cow – fantastic, right? – I enjoyed a basket full of garlic truffle fries and washed them down with a local hoppy microbrew for $4.00 a pint. $4.00 a pint! (I’m clinging to this memory in particular because I’ve recently stopped eating gluten and I think I’m having serious beer withdrawal. I told myself I would never, ever, write a blog with posts devoted to gluten-free living, but I can’t help these occasional angsty moments of gluten nostalgia. Don’t worry – I’ll keep them to the parentheses.)
One morning I skipped the early conference events and went for a solo run through the UW Madison Nature Preserve to Picnic Point. I needed to escape the hustle of the conference, where the stress of meeting dozens of thoughtful academics was draining my limited amicability. I surprised myself and ran five miles. I’d like to say it was the ambience, or Madison’s obvious running culture that spurred me into action. But really, I ran to the Point and the wind had picked up, the temperature was hovering around zero degrees, and I was 2.5 miles from the hotel. So I ran back.