Bird chirps create a wall of sound behind my eyes. The drone of the hospital helicopter in the background breaks through momentarily. I hope it’s a new pilot being trained, because if it’s a true emergency, it’s been in the air for what feels like an awfully long time. The whirring dies down and the birds are back full force. It sounds like hundreds of birds – all the same, peeping in the same constant monotone; why haven’t they flown south for the winter? They start early and wake me up; I testily inch open one eyelid and look up to the skylight: white sky (if I can even see the sky at all, or just the snow piled on the glass). I easily roll over and push back to sleep, waking up in a few hours, bird free. If the sky is bright blue (a rare occurrence these days), a wave of sleeping-in guilt washes over me and my mind ticks off the tasks I’ve set for myself for the day. Do I need to get up and get cracking? I’ll just shut my eyes for another 30 minutes.
Yeah right. When they groggily open one, then the other, two hours later, the sky has clouded over and I no longer feel the pull to be productive.
Taking advantage of all that Ann Arbor has to offer has been more difficult than expected. Not physically or logistically difficult. More like, the excuses are endless and it’s difficult to overcome the mental barriers I’ve thrown up for myself: It’s too cold to go outside; Mark’s tired when he gets home from work, but I don’t want to go places alone during the day; I am too busy with more mundane pursuits and activities such as reading and drinking coffee. To be fair (to myself), I did try to leave to go to the gym last week, made it a block and had to turn back for all the skidding in the snow. The plowing here is not the best, and I don’t see how people still seem to function like there aren’t six inches of snow on the roads at all times.
When I moved to Paris in January of 2006, it was the same story. For the first few weeks before classes started, I mainly stayed in my apartment (especially after it got dark at 4pm), eating bread and cheese, drinking tea to try to stay warm, and watching France’s version of The Amazing Race on the TV/computer (somehow TV came in over the computer). It was cut-to-the-bone cold in Paris in January – the damp cold that you can’t shake no matter how many layers you wear. I didn’t know my neighborhood well. I didn’t know a lot of people with whom to explore. So I stayed in and told myself that I would be more adventurous and relaxed when it warmed up, not yet realizing that it wouldn’t “warm up” for another three and half months.
One morning in the second or third week of my stay, standing in line to register for classes at the maze-like, government-style Sorbonne building, I noticed a calendar hanging on the inside of one woman’s cube. I quickly calculated that as of that moment I had 14 or 15 weeks left in my Paris adventure. That seemed like forever, overwhelming, I couldn’t get through it, I was homesick. And what did I have to show for the time that had already been spent? Not much. I hadn’t really seen anything or found any hidden gems.
What a rotten story this would make: Friends: Hey Hannah, what did you do in Paris? Me: Welllllll, I ate a lot of cheese!
At that moment I decided to put on my big girl pants and venture out into the cold, even if just to walk the streets and get my bearings.
I started with my favorite: Musee d’Orsay where the Impressionists are in charge and press up against those who came before and after. Then I started ticking off the smaller museums, because, really the museums are endless (and a good way to stay warm): Musee Picasso, l’Orangerie, Musee Rodin, Le Petit Palais, Victor Hugo’s home. Along the way, I picked up friends, and friends of friends, who hadn’t yet been to these places, and so we visited together: Marche aux puces (huge flea market on the outskirts of town), Place d’Italie (for pho), La Defense (business center of Paris). And when visitors from home arrived, we also made the rounds, and luckily most were game to go to places I hadn’t been yet, rather than the obvious Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe (although there had to be some of that too of course). Each week I read the Periscope magazine (which detailed all the arts and cultural activities for the week for 50 centimes) cover to cover, circling the various temporary exhibits I wanted to see or should see because they were so unique or housed in a unique location. I saw an exhibit of Rembrandt drawings at the Dutch embassy and one of erotic drawings by Picasso at the Musee de l’erotisme. We scooted through that one pretty quickly and came out the other side red and shrieking with laughter. Very mature, 23 Year Old Self.
So back to the point. Here in Ann Arbor, I’ve done similar research with the monthly Ann Arbor Observer that literally has a day-by-day account of everything going on in town, from music, to sports, to museum exhibits and lectures, even though I never see 90% of what I’ve circled. But here are few things I have done:
I attended a fascinating lecture in the graduate library about the history of Jewish food and Jewish cookbooks in America, given by one of the preeminent American culinary traditions curators in the country. I not only learned that the first Jewish settlers in America (in New Amsterdam) were immigrants from Brazil, but we also saw Ashkenazic and Sephardic cookbooks from various the centuries, and even menus from Barney Greengrass and the like.
We went to a free rock-bluegrass concert with some friends at The Ark, an intimate-feeling music venue on Main Street that’s also North America’s oldest continuing not-for-profit music club. The Ark has a show nearly every night of the year, which is pretty incredible. We also saw a movie in the historic State Theatre, which was a must-do experience, although as you can imagine, the seats in a historic movie theater are super small and Mark is pretty tall.
We’ve tried many restaurants (of which there seem to be an endless supply), including Zingerman’s (famous deli with exhorbitant prices and super excited staff), Mani (sleek Italian restaurant with some of the country’s best pizza according to Eater.com, but you can read my review here), Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor, two bars that brew their own beers, and Cafe Zola that has an extensive menu on which I have yet to find anything that isn’t amazingly good (including really good crepes).
We’ve gone for walks on the many trails around our home and even kayaked down the Huron River on Labor Day Weekend. We’ve been to a University of Michigan football game, a Detroits Lions football game, and plan on checking out some college basketball, hockey and even gymnastics (I hear they have a world-class team here).
(Our resident heron we keep spotting along our Island Park walks. This was taken during the snowstorm Sunday Jan 5th. He was standing perfectly upright with just his shoulders hunched up and neck pulled down, like a tall old man waiting at a bus stop with his overcoat pulled high over his stooped shoulders.)
A few weekends ago, Mark and I went to the town of Plymouth, about 35 minutes from Ann Arbor to walk around. Surprisingly, not many places were open for Saturday lunch, so we just wandered around the small town square that was lined with uniquely-styled Christmas trees. We drove from the “downtown” to the old village, where I thought maybe there’d be more restaurants. It was more residential in fact with bungalows and Victorian homes, but we did find Liberty Street Brewing Company, which was a fantastic little bar that brews their own beer and serves a few bar snacks, such as popcorn. There were a fair number of people in the homey bar for a Saturday afternoon, the bartender was genuinely friendly, and the “Punkin’ Pie” beer was delish (made with zero pumpkin).
Last week, I went with a friend to the University of Michigan Museum of Art for the first time. I really loved the modern galleries that allowed for natural sunlight to stream in. They were having a temporary exhibit of color-blocked sculpture by Adolph Gottlieb, one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement, who is best known for his paintings. They were fun and reminded me a bit of 3D versions of Matisse’s later works. The museum also has an impressive permanent collection, boasting a snowy Monet oil painting (appropriate for the local climate), multiple Picassos, and rooms of African and Asian art. It’s small enough to be manageable but large enough that you will want to return to explore the work in more depth.
So, as you can see, in the last few weeks I’ve been trying to push myself to discover all there is to do here. I’ve driven all over the place, and know my way around fairly well. But there’s still a lot to explore. I haven’t yet been to the University’s Museum of Archaeology, the botanical gardens, the Gerald R. Ford Library, or (I’m highly embarrassed to say) the Kerrytown Farmers’ Market (I have been to the Sunday artists market however). It comes back to the cold and not wanting to do some of these things alone. But like in Paris, winter lasts a long time here, so I’d better get cracking.
I’ve started a list of places to go and things to do, so I can start checking them off and holding myself accountable. Maybe chronicling my activities in this blog will help do that. Otherwise I’m sure to end up snuggled in bed with a book and some tea. Although that sounds pretty good right about now 🙂