The Breath of Boston

The Massachusetts State House, Beacon Street

The Massachusetts State House, Beacon Street

For many runners, the road to a marathon ends in Boston, toeing the starting line in Hopkinton, dreaming of the finish on Boylston Street. Running the Boston marathon is the amatuer runner’s loftiest goal, often requiring years of training and several marathons to qualify for the race, thousands of hours on feet, pounding pavement. Last April, I watched my sister battle out some of her toughest hours on the Boston marathon course, cheering her on silently in the shared graduate student office in East Lansing as she raced towards Heartbreak Hill. Two Aprils ago, while running a Girls on the Run practice, I received a breaking news alert on my phone, a notification that there had been explosions at the marathon finish line.  Our own 5k event was just a few weeks away, so in order to keep our team of 3rd-5th grade runners working happily towards their first road race, my co-coach and I waited until after practice to grieve and worry for those runners who lost life and limb on that course. After those Boston marathons, I woke up the next morning, bundled up, and headed out for a run, thankful for the ability to breathe and to move.

The Boston Marathon Route, set in the corner of Copley Square

The Boston Marathon Route, set in the corner of Copley Square

It has become somewhat cliché to write running memoirs inspired by the incomparable Boston marathon, and I am aware of the fact that I am veering into that overwritten territory. But I have no intention of making the Boston Marathon my ultimate goal; in fact, I know I won’t likely qualify for the race, and even I draw the line at running those sadistic hills for 26 miles. On the contrary, my training began in Boston last week, as I toured the city in between sessions of the American Literature Association Annual Conference. Held in Copley Square, the conference overlooked the Boston Marathon seal affixed obliquely across the street from the magnificent public library. On my runs from the impossibly narrow streets of North End through downtown and the waterfront, I tread over the seal several times before I stopped, looked, and smiled at the serendipity of starting marathon training where many, many runners have finished theirs. There is something about Boston that makes you want to get up and do things, to reach for goals, to run faster and farther. The Boston marathon is part of that story. But the city itself breathes that spirit and that life, and would do so, I think, if the marathon were not world-famous.

George Washington, like a boss, Boston Public Garden

George Washington, like a boss, Boston Public Garden

For the first-time visitor, Boston is packed with reminders of greatness, surprising you as you wander through its old-world streets. It’s hard not to be inspired here, under the watchful gaze of our founding fathers; while I may have had Taylor Swift playing on my headphones, my heart sang sweet lands of liberty all the way down Beacon Street. I was arrested by treasures like Sam Adam’s gravestone flashing through my peripheral vision as I bounced up hills; Paul Revere Mall was an especially lovely surprise, my favorite Boston spot. Statues of patriots bring to life the spirit of the city; these bronze statues seldom depict our founding fathers as stationary; on the contrary, they are often on horse, moving towards a new future, our grand experiment. The buildings too, towering edifices that in photos appear like ghosts of the past, take on new life when you come upon them on foot, surprising you with their beauty and their kinetics. Creaking and settling their way into the cityscape, these buildings make room for life, new and old, to settle into their centers. However you happen to feel about American exceptionalism and the mythology of our country’s founding, Boston’s architecture and artwork make you feel something, bringing to life ideas, emotions, and dreams you may not have known were there.

The courtyard of the Boston Public Library

The courtyard of the Boston Public Library

Although there were many moments from my Boston trip that reinforced my experience of the city’s spirit, one memory in particular brought Boston to life. I heard and presented papers on the embodiment of poetry, and I took in the Boston Pops playing the music of John Williams, quite literally making art from the breath of life. These were magical and fascinating encounters with the line between body and art, but it was Sunday service at Old North Church in North End, the church that features the signal tower where Paul Revere lit the signal at the start of Lexington and Concord, where the city’s spirit came to life for me.  The church is like other buildings in Boston–bafflingly old, and yet surprisingly alive–a maze of partitioned cubicles with doors that congregates share, little cells of believers in the body of the church. Uncharacteristically for an Episcopalian Church, the pulpit towers above the pews, backlit with sunshine and white washed, a central nervous system from which blessings flow. I listened to the rector deliver a homily about the Holy Spirit as the breath of life (with a sailing metaphor, as is appropriate in New England) as a morning breeze shifted through the open windows, carrying voices from tourist groups outside. From the choir loft, both the church choir and the visiting Southeastern Michigan Madrigal Chorale (another serendipitous moment!) sent breath into vibration, bringing Palestrina and Schubert and the 1982 Hymnal to life again. When we sang the final verse of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” after the offertory, I couldn’t help but feel both happy and alive, patriotic and inspired, connected to everything old, everything new.

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Old North Church, North End

This blog is not about religion, but it is often about spirituality, something that I think sits just below the surface of skin, in breath, voices, hands and feet. One need not run a marathon to feel it, and undoubtedly, there will be moments in training where I certainly won’t feel it. I know that there will be points in the journey when I will need to readjust the sheets, pull myself back around to the point of sail, and let my sails fill with wind. Beginning my training in Boston set me on course with full sails, inspired by the beauty, history, and life of a city that is full of runners on foot–and in spirit.

As I stepped out for my first long run of training Tuesday morning–an easy 6 miler– the sublimity of my Boston trip had already begun to fade, most likely deadened by the delayed, late-night flight home on the ironically named Spirit airlines (upon which I always feel my spirit bruised a bit, if not demonstrably crushed). But I laced up my shoes anyway, running into the wind at my 9:30/mile long run pace, listening to a Fresh Air interview with Tom Brokaw. I plugged through four miles of my usual route, a path through our tiny town of Chelsea and into the countryside beyond, picking up steam as I turned towards home, the wind shifting behind me. Buoyed by the wind at my back, I floated through the last two miles with the memory of my last Boston run to carry me into Week Two, a run marked by this magnificent sunset, and the bracing New England gusts that took my breath away.

North End sunset

Sunset run, North End

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The Breath of Boston by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://apiedonfoot.wordpress.com.

A Savannah Sestina

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Savannah Sestina–

“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

my husband, Dan, sings gleefully, passing a porch

on which a lone hipster, pierced, holds church.

Her tattoos echo the form of draping Spanish moss,

her stare admonishes the white polka dots, clean

against the background of my red anorak. She sips udon.

In search of sushi, we settle for udon.

Spring feels less like Georgia, more like Portland.

Dan questions how clean

the divey vinyl upholstery feels. We dream of porch

sitting in southern towns, watching moss

grow on menus, knowing almost everyone here is at church.

Impatient, I jump when a church

bell strikes noon. I slurp my udon

quickly, and push afternoon sluggish like moss

out of my ears. “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

I whistle, walking past soaked columns and porches.

I am attempting to arrive at my reading both dry and clean.

Two hours later, I become aware, again, that the minds of English majors are less than clean.

It is good that the conference is not held in a church;

the walls would surely burn. I think about porch-

sitting conversations akin to conference proceedings, perverse as eating udon

for lunch in the South. More appropriate for Portland,

my lunch begins to squirm in my stomach like worms in moss.

Dan finds me under hanging moss,

both ill and worried, red and white polka dots looking scrubbed clean.

I feel conspicuous in the flood of flannel, a staple style of Portland,

adopted by hipsters and hippies alike. They sit on benches by churches;

none of them ate udon for lunch.

They can’t afford a porch

Or pretend not to be able to. Who needs a porch

when you can have mochas and moss

and skinny jeans? Moss, like udon

dangling from chopsticks, dripping fish on your clean

flannel, loose and messy against rigid church

columns. The dream of retirement at age twenty-two

is alive and healthy in Savannah, as in Portland.

“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

Dan laments, longing for a sports bar, finding a church

reincarnated as a brewery, not quite dirty, but not real clean.

Summer Fun: Ann Arbor–The Universe of Michigan

Many, many apologies, Readers, for accidentally posting a version of this essay earlier today.  If you read the post, then you got a nice little look at my writing process, which can be snarky and long-winded.  In the writing of this post, I struggled to paint the portrait of Ann Arbor, a town about which I have mixed feelings. I have been trying to appreciate the many lovely slices of A2 life the way that I know I should.  I know I am being a brat.  But there is something about this town that gets under my skin, confuses me, irritates me, alienates me.  Ann Arbor is not an easy place to love, and I am still working on making it my home.

If you have seen the movie, “The Five-Year Engagement,” then you have been introduced to Ann Arbor, Michigan–and you have a basic understanding of my first year here.  In this movie, Tom (Jason Segal), moves to Ann Arbor when his fiancé, Violet (Emily Blunt) is accepted to a post-doc program at the University of Michigan.  Tom leaves his successful job as a chef in San Francisco to work a grunt-work position making sandwiches at Zingerman’s Deli; I left my graduate program behind me to do the sandwich-making of the academic world: teaching as an adjunct professor.  Tom gives into the winter months here, falling on ice while scraping windshields; I not only fell on icy driveways, but totaled my Subaru on a tree.  Tom feels isolated from the University world; if I have ever been close to being part of the University here, it is only when forced to rub elbows with college girls in the bathrooms of the Blue Leprechaun.  We both planned weddings while living here, although my wedding planning was a much smoother affair, thank goodness.

Things don’t work out well for Tom.  He succumbs to the depressing Michigan winters, wearing his pink bunny suit to hunt deer and eat stale doughnuts, proving Violet’s hypothesis that unhappy people make bad choices.  I am trying to avoid this particular fate by shirking bunny suits, hunting, and stale baked goods, but I am also trying to find the things about Ann Arbor that I love.

I can’t let this happen.

I know that I love summertime here in Michigan.  There is no better place to laze away summer days; this year we had sunny weather, low humidity, and temperatures ranging from the high 70s to the mid-90s.  I spent afternoons by the pool of our condominium complex reading On the Road.  I wrote essays in my new backyard, with Pippin running around chasing bugs.  Dan and I spent many nights drinking at one of Ann Arbor’s downtown bars, blissfully free of undergraduates from mid-May through late August.  Professors are on vacation this time of year, or at least on vacation from teaching, and they are emerging from their school-year cocoons to relax about life for a few months.  Sweet elderly couples take Sunday walks, and young families kayak in Gallup Park, splashing their way up and down the Huron River.  Townies soak up sunshine, gorging on enough Vitamin D to last from October through April.  The tone of the city is entirely different from the self-absorbed, over-serious tone of the school-year; everyday is a holiday when the sun shines in our little Maize and Blue universe.

But because being too comfortable seems to be against the Ann Arbor ethos, the peaceful summer atmosphere is upended with the swish of flowing skirts and patchouli.  Something wicked this way comes around the end of July: The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

To be fair, there are many folks, even some of you, Readers, who place a lot of value in the Art Fair’s ability to “increase public knowledge and appreciation for contemporary fine arts and fine crafts.” This is certainly an admirable mission statement.  I happen to have a great appreciation for contemporary arts and crafts because of my first college roommate, Mary, who was an economics major and an art minor.  Her specialties as a potter are woodland-themed dinner ware featuring the creatures/culture of the American South.  She also does fine renderings of famous economists in clay.  Her artwork is either overt caricature or completely without irony–I have never been able to tell–but it fascinates me nonetheless.  I was thrilled when Mary decided to visit during Art Fair, to help me find the good in the disastrous maze of yard sculpture and perspective-puzzle paintings.  I needed someone with good wit and a steady sense of reality.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, immortalized in a cereal bowl. Artwork by Mary Turner.

Despite my appreciation for arts and crafts, I do feel like I need to explain to my readers why the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is not one of my favorite things.  Art Fair has been an institution in this city for 53 years, beginning in 1960.  Things were very different in 1960 than they are in 2012, but Art Fair is a chance for Ann Arborites of all ages to regress to the behavior that made the festival politically revolutionary in the 1960s, and relatively mundane today.  The art itself is pretty, but little of it makes the grandiose cultural statements that made the festival a ground-breaking event.  There are some lovely booths still, but it has lost sight of its original mission (you know, about increasing knowledge of arts/crafts, etc). Now, I would revise this statement to state “increase public consumption of beer, street food, pretension and over-priced art.”  Festival goers drink in public, smoke pot almost-legally and look at pictures of naked people at Art Fair–dangerously cool stuff in 1960–but these subversive acts have become so mainstream that they aren’t subversive anymore.  Like any good subculture, Art Fair has worn itself out.

It is also, from my humble perspective, the magnum opus of the typical Ann Arborite culture, which is a mix of hippies and hipsters.  This culture is the heart of my problem; how am I supposed to find friends, me, a politically moderate, well-educated but farm-raised twenty-something?  I am not even sure what a hipster really is; all I know is that I am not one.  I don’t find a spirited debate about Nietzsche enjoyable. I am not currently pursuing a graduate degree, or teaching in one.  I have some regard for the lives of others behind the steering wheel.  I keep my politics to myself, unlike Ann Arbor’s ubiquitous bumper-sticker political junkies.  I don’t drink coffee in skinny jeans or big sunglasses. I don’t feel the need to tattoo my beliefs on my person.  Hipsterism is Ann Arbor’s new normal; a lot of Ann Arbor’s citizens from 25-34 do these things, find them normal, want them in their lives.  Not me.

Doing his/her part to start a revolution. If this doesn’t make a blazing rhetorical statement, I don’t know what does.

I am not the only person who has noticed Ann Arbor’s weird ability to be both new and clichéd.  My hairdresser has lived here her entire life and finds the city–and especially Art Fair–to be bizarre.  Many folks living in surrounding counties describe Ann Arbor as four square miles of idealism, surrounded by reality.  My students often don’t even know what to think about Ann Arbor; they either love or hate the football team, but the culture is a world unto its self for most of them.  From various foot adventures in and around Ann Arbor, I have noticed two over-arching attitudes about the city: 1. That it is a Mecca of intellectualism and contemporary liberalism or 2. That it is where the crazy people live.

I think both assumptions are probably correct.

It can be irritating to live inside this giant university’s gravitational pull. It is great to live in utopia, but even in the best worlds, something is always missing. Sometimes I feel that despite its best efforts, Ann Arbor lacks an awareness–a genuine awareness–of human life outside the sanctuary of fine dining and high-brow intellectual entertainment. Sometimes I long for some consideration of the things outside of this “Leaders And Best” universe.

The Big House, via the Ann Arbor CVB

When I first started writing about Ann Arbor, I had several cutting posts of snarky, judgmental commentary ready to roll, but something about my writing felt disingenuous.  I didn’t give the city the best shot to prove itself to me, and I focused more on the A2’s warts than its jewels.  I felt like a jerk for judging Ann Arbor so harshly. When Mary came in July, bearing harrowing stories of life in Louisiana’s bayou, I decided to stop being a whiny brat and start appreciating my new city, starting with a good walk.  While searching for the genuine culture of Ann Arbor, I found that touring Art Fair with Mary was the best way to find lovely things.  And no, Art Fair was not where I found the best and brightest stuff.   Honestly, the ridiculousness of Art Fair pushed us away from its orbit and out into the unexpected and unexplored nooks and crannies of my new city.

Most surprisingly, I have come to find that there is more to the A2 social scene than hipsters, and that Ann Arborites are really something to love.  These characters are funny and fascinating, even if they do let a touch of hipster or hippie peek out of their shirtsleeves from time to time.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Lunch-Time Conference Caller: Start your touring by eating lunch at The Produce Station, on State Street, a lunch spot that features a beautiful, complex and yuppy-ish salad bar (think artichoke hearts and quinoa salad). Sit outside in the little eat-in garden shed–it looks better than it sounds–and listen to the sound of business getting done, Ann Arbor style. Everyone talks loudly on their cells in tight public places here, so just accept the social awkwardness and listen in. Demands to order more tabbouleh for the Saturday shift or changes to the African-drum choreography ring through the little garden shed, where customers take the opportunity to replenish their Vitamin D levels in the summer sun.  Mary and I sat here, ate salad, caught up on life, and drooled over the smell of meat on the grill.  It is a perfect place to while away an afternoon, and to get some grocery shopping done too.

The Professor: If you have eaten a big salad at The Produce Station, walk down to the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market in Kerrytown, or take the Ride, Ann Arbor’s public bus system. While perusing the stalls of fresh basil and Amish eggs, you will run across a world-class expert or two, stuffing their canvas bags with heirloom tomatoes and $12 loaves of artisan bread. They are prickly until you get them talking about their nuclear fission project or their new book on labor market economics. Once engaged, they will talk for as long as you can snack on samples. This is one of the great things about Ann Arbor; everyone is doing something interesting, and everyone can teach you something new.

The Summertime Festival Goer: Ann Arbor is home to several summer festivals, the most popular and extensive of which is the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, and even if you don’t attend Art Fair, you will run into the sweeping-skirted festival goer, most likely sporting tattoos and tangles. He/She may offer you a controlled substance. You will want to decline. They will engage your opinion on Romney’s political gaffs.  They will encourage you to dread your hair.  These conversations can go on for a long time when you are a polite person, so escape the heat, humidity and/or conversation, by stopping into the free University of Michigan Art Museum. Mary and I were very impressed by the extensive Asian art exhibits, including a statue made of re-purposed Cambodian weaponry, and this mosaic:

The University Art Museum is one of the few places on campus that actually feels accessible to the public, and they work hard to bring truly evocative art work to their space. It was my favorite find of the weekend.

The Student: When you have had your fill of artwork–and you will fill up on it at the Art Fair–it will be time to grab a table at one of Ann Arbor’s downtown restaurants. This town is known for some incredible cuisine, especially when the summer garden season is in full swing and eateries support our local Michigan farmers by designing menus around their efforts. My favorite spots are Pacific Rim for fish and shellfish, The Prickly Pear for the closest thing to Mexican food that you can get here, Grizzly Peak for reasonably-priced, local American food, and Palm Palace, when I am craving huge amounts of kitsch and lamb shwarma.

The shwarma, some stuffed grape leaves, leftover pita and hummus.

Mary and I had salmon and summer veggies (green beans) at Grizzly Peak, where we ran into the summertime student waiter. Most of the waitstaff in Ann Arbor in the summer are students who were having too much fun to go home, or graduate students who are paying the bills that their post-doc doesn’t cover by picking up a few tables. They are generally knowledgeable and helpful, like the staff that Mary and I were lucky to have at Grizzly Peak and Palm Palace (where we partook of some shwarma). Waitstaff are responsible for some of the best discoveries that I have made in A2, including The Raven speakeasy that has some delicious champagne cocktails, and the Blue Leprechaun’s karoke night, quickly becoming a favorite Wednesday night entertainment.

Other characters worth getting to know are the Stay-At-Home-PhD (incredibly well-educated Mommies and Daddies who now raise their children with an educational standard rivaled only by the Ivies), the Michigan Man (decked out in Maize and Blue from head to toe to pick-up truck),The Asian Grandma (tiny, grizzled and tenacious in the produce section) and the Runner (intense and hard-bodied, probably wearing minimalist toe-shoes).

I know that I am dealing in stereotypes here, a dangerous and limiting thing to do.  But there is something about the closely-knit university community that powers stereotypes into over-drive, drawing these characters in sharp relief against a backdrop of rural, conservative Michigan. Ann Arbor’s citizens are happy to live these characters too, something which I both admire and am puzzled by. This town is a far cry from the Western and Southern towns where I grew up. It still feels like a whole other world to me.

At the same time, I have just scratched the surface of the iceberg.  There are thousands of jewels to unearth here, and they are far less ostentatious than Art Fair.  For me, the hoopla of a festival pales in comparison to a favorite hiking trail, a perspective-changing plate of food, or a revolutionary piece of art.  These little discoveries remind me that despite the starkly-drawn borders of our city, Ann Arbor does have a cosmopolitan connection with the rest of the world. This is something I love about our town.

Stale doughnuts are looking less appetizing too, at least while the Vitamin D holds out.

Stay tuned this week as I finish up my summer series with posts on Ann Arbor area hiking–and some beginning thoughts on our first attempts at distance back-packing– gorging myself in Traverse City, and a languid reflection on Charleston.  A Foot Fiction feature on Heart of Darkness and Into Thin Air is on the schedule for early October.

Chicago, Myths and Legends: Sir Lancelot, Sir Pippen, Sir Votto

Photo Licensed by creativecommons.org

Sometimes, buying into a spouse’s sports legend is important for a relationship, and not just on a logistical, I must-get-along-with-you way. The stories we cherish are the stories that create new family histories, and that make our own legends come to life for our kids (don’t read too much into this, Family Members). I think about Chicago fondly as an idea that inspired the myths and legends of my father and mother; but now, I know I am making the stories that I will tell my children, and they will tell their grandchildren.  In my last post on Chicago, at least for awhile, I am writing about faith, family, and the stories that we live for.

I live for sports. Chicago, as my readers know, lives for sports too. Its sports chronicles are epics, played out over decades of winning and losing, battles fought on the court and off. In Chicago, sports and stories are one and the same, a tradition passed down from family to family, season after season.

Everyone knows about Chicago’s sports mythology, featuring some of my favorite heroes, villains and supporting characters. We know who they are:

Michael Jordan=King Arthur

Scottie Pippin=Sir Gawain

The Black Sox=Sir Lancelot, that dirty betrayer

Phil Jackson=Merlin

The Cubs=the hapless knight, Sir Kay, who never manages to win a fight unless by accident, and whose bravery is always in question.

I could go on. I won’t.

Chicago’s sports legends are ubiquitous, influencing fan-bases very far removed from the windy banks of Lake Michigan.  This is why I was introduced to the city’s sports mythology, thanks to the grainy WGN station that our 1990s TV could just barely pick up.  In the desolate, wind-swept waste of cow feed-lots and alfalfa fields, my brother and I bought in, heart and soul, to the story of Jordan.

I was reading La Morte d’Arthur just about the same time that we moved to a house with cable access, and I was deep into the journeys of King Arthur and his court when I watched my first Bulls’ game on TV.  There are few epic tales that I like more than The Arthurian Legend (pushes glasses up nose), but the story of the 1990’s Bulls  bolstered my understanding of the heroics of Arthur and his knights in ways that my stilted, Americanized translation couldn’t do.  When I watched Scottie Pippen play beautifully, but still in the supporting cast, I could see in him the same patience that Sir Gawain exhibited quest after quest, always a hero and often taken for granted.  Maybe that’s why I liked Scottie the best; even his complaints about his role on the team didn’t phase me in my misguided but well-meaning characterization.

The Bulls were the knights of my Round Table, and I followed their battles as often as I could during basketball season. My brother and I would turn on WGN and watch Michael and Scottie make magic on the basketball court. We acted out their heroics on our back-yard basketball court, where I learned the power of practice and perseverance (and the pain of a basketball to the face).  I learned to love sports and athletic achievement in those years, dreaming of the day when the crowd would cheer for me, when I would be the hero of the hour.  I was enthralled by the story.

I certainly never expected to actually see a Bulls’ game.  I knew, in my heart of hearts, that there was not enough magic in my basketball talent to get me from Southeastern Colorado cow-country to the United Center.  Merlin would not get me to Chicago, and my height and my general tendency towards panic in game situations wouldn’t either.  It was the first time that I let a dream go, and when I moved from Lamar to Kentucky and my brother went to college, I had all but forgotten the longed for pilgrimage to our much idolized temple.

Imagine my surprise when, last Christmas morning, Dan pulled out a silver gift bag with sloppy ribbons and two pieces of printer paper sticking out of the top.  I was doubtful, but then I remembered seeing that cash payment out of our bank account to something titled “ChiBlls.”  I was expecting a t-shirt or pair of socks; I was not expecting tickets to my first Bulls game, in Chicago.

And so I became part of the story, when Dan took me to the United Center last March.  The roar of the crowd, mixed with the smell of popcorn and beer, made my blood race with an adrenaline I usually only feel when crossing the finish line of a race (or buying a new book). I gawked like a bumpkin at the retired #23 jersey and the six NBA championship banners. I cheered with the crowd, fulfilling my obnoxious childhood desire to boo the Pistons’ free-throw shooters.  And even though the Bulls’ most recent hero, Derrick Rose, was injured, and I find Joakim Noah’s fuzzy ballerina bun disturbing, I remembered some of that same rapture from our basement stadium 18 years ago. Dan got to see that delirious happiness, and I think he got just a little excited too (even though he despises NBA basketball).

What Dan loves–and what I have grown to love–is a legend vastly different from the glitz and glamour of the Jordan years in Chicago.  Dan loves a baseball team with a scrappy if historic reputation. His team was the first baseball team in Major League Baseball.  It was named after dock workers’ sun-burned legs as they toiled on the banks of the Ohio.  This team is the home of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Barry Larkin.  Dan loves the Cincinnati Reds.

In fact, the only time Dan geeks out on par with my literature obsession or my estimation of Dennis Rodman’s rebounding skills is when he tells Reds’ stories.  Just as Dan is still getting used to listening to my random Arthurian references, I have had to get used to baseball trivia questions, complex explanations of scoring and statistics, and endless hours watching this team.  Learning to love each other’s sports has been a process, and it took me a long time to love the Reds enough to allow my living room to be decorated with their memorabilia.

At first, in those early, idealistic days of a young relationship, I was thrilled to do whatever Dan wanted, and I would never turn down an opportunity to see something new, regardless of how sunburned I could get sitting along the first base line. Later on, but still in the early days, I became irritated by the way that our dates could revolve around Reds’ managing foibles. I blame Adam Dunn’s sheer laziness in the outfield for a variety of sub-par date nights.  Then the Reds got better, and I succumbed to Joey Votto’s classic movie-star charisma.  I started to watch games with Dan willingly, not because my nagging conscience demanded that I take an interest in his activities, but because I was excited to see what Joey would do next.  I loved to watch him win awards: Best hitter in baseball.  Golden Glove.  National League MVP.  Winning is fun to watch.

Now, I am a happy Reds’ baseball fan, watching as they sweep series after series on their way to the playoffs, and hopefully a World Series. I don’t even mind spending most weeknights watching MLB.TV instead of my beloved ‘Real Housewives.’ I am drinking the Kool-Aid to the point that when I watch this season’s MLB commercial, I tear up a bit when I see the curly ponytail on that little girl in her Johnny Bench jersey.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not a die-hard fan, and I am the first to become apathetic when the Reds don’t make it to October.  But I am starting to buy into the story and I love watching, in the most American of traditions, the artistry of bodies in motion.

Why, exactly, have I allowed the Reds to be so close to the center of my relationship?

Why, when I got off the Red Line at the Addison Stop two weekends ago, did I feel the swelling of adrenaline that I felt in the United Center when I was living out my own childhood dream? Have I adopted Dan’s dream?  Am turning into a Redleg? (My legs are susceptible to sunburn). I classify myself as a fairweather fan, but when “Let’s Go Redlegs” rang out over Wrigley Field two weekends ago, I felt decidedly proud, despite my lack of loyalty. Why has a team and their story become so central to our relationship, and the life we live together?

Wrigley Field

I am tempted to explain the phenomenon by using the old “sports-as-religion” metaphor, especially since I come from Kentucky and basketball is a family religion there, as explained adeptly by Professor David Hall of Centre College in his class of the same name (ie. Basketball As Religion). The class makes sense in a state that bleeds Wildcat Blue, and it has received a lot of attention from major media outlets and the Paul Harvey show. Paul describes basketball as a deeply individualized ritual, one that changes among groups of friends and families.  I couldn’t help thinking about this religion metaphor as the 8th inning wore on and Reds fans all over the stadium chanted the hymns of Reds’ Nation, much to the chagrin of the down-and-out Cubs.

I am struck by the irrationality of this adopted obsession, and my visceral response to the excitement of watching the Reds at Wrigley Field was both frightening and fascinating. Fandom, like faith, requires irrationality, a willingness to suffer, and over all, a common narrative.

The tie that binds us is the thrill of narrative.  Narratives catch our attention, hold it, and embrace us in the myths, legends and heroes of our favorite teams. We become attached to stories on the same kind of chemical level that makes us fall in love. Stories make us human, give us hope, encourage our faith. They give us something to believe in.

Maybe if you are in love with someone, then you are in love with their stories too.

Chicago–Myths and Legends: Crossfit Helga

In my last post, I wrote about how Chicago became part of my imagination; it was one of the most memorable places of my childhood, where I experienced the sheer bigness of the world and yearned to explore it.  It was also a symbol of my father, the Piper whose name I carried for 26 years, until I got married last May.

There is something called post-wedding blues, a state of depression that brides often face after the hub-bub and extra attention of engagement and nuptial events, and I had it bad.  I wasn’t convinced, even after all of the words of love and support, that I was really “part of the family.” I wasn’t convinced that I felt comfortable being a Greulich, and I was hesitant to take the trip to the social security office to change my name.  I didn’t feel bonafide.

As weird as this sounds, I needed to prove to myself that I was someone worthy of a last name that is Bavarian for “gruesome.” Clearly, Dan’s ancestors were some strong individuals.  I imagine the wives of the first Greulichs chopping wood in the Black Forest while pregnant.  In my reverie, they have at least 10 chubby-cheeked children running around, and they make pastries while defending the cottage with a battle-ax.  They are strong women, either ridiculously blonde and gorgeous, or ridiculously blonde and burly.  They have names like “Katja” and “Helga.”  They run 10 miles daily and throw heavy objects.  They drink beer.

Will I ever be this cool?
Photo: AP Photo/Diether Endlicher

I don’t know why I fell victim to this ridiculous myth, but for some reason, I felt the need to prove that I was one of these merciless German ladies, in a small, non-committal way.  I don’t know if this identity crisis is something that a lot of brides go through; maybe I am just a weirdo.  But I came to conquer Chicago, Greulich-style, by making myself as miserable possible, and bragging about it later.  I came to earn my battle-ax in the Chicago Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon.

The half-marathon was at the top of my trusty, masochistic to-do list, which I pull out when I am feeling in need of reinvention.  It is written in my best, no-nonsense-Helga imperative syntax:

1. Run a half-marathon (now marathon).

2. Give up sugar. It’s the devil.

3. Go to Bikram yoga–get used to it.

4. Re-read Foucault, and take notes this time.

5. Give up gluten, dairy and wine.

6. Get up early to write and exercise.

7. Stop watching “The Real Housewives of New Jersey;” you are wasting your life.

8. Do another degree.  Pick one: PhD in Literature, PhD in Rhetoric, and/or Law school.

9. Have twins: one boy, one girl.

…and it continues on in this vein.  Basically, it is a list about how not to have any fun, ever.

I decided that a half-marathon was the only goal on this list really worth the heartache, so despite the tight training turn-around, I managed to increase my mileage and buy some new shoes in time for the race in August.  I read Matt Frazier’s Half-Marathon Guide from his excellent blog, No-Meat Athlete, and I even considered being a vegetarian for about 45 minutes (I think I decided that no self-respecting Bavarian did without meat).  I told a new group of Ann Arbor friends that I would run this race with them, so I had to suck up some of that ancient Greulich gumption and just ignore the fact that I felt unprepared.  I highly doubt that it was acceptable for a medieval-era Greulich to show weakness in front of others.  So I showed up in Chicago, “ready” to run, with some nagging reservations and no experience.

And then I ran a half-marathon.

The race was equal parts empowering joy and demoralizing, embarassing pain. Lest you think I had no fun at all, know that this race is beautifully organized, like all Rock n’ Roll races, with good bands, lots of spectators, and plenty of water and Gatorade.  Through the first eight miles of the race, I felt like I was flying on the sidewalks, passing runners who were a little too ambitious in their corral placement.  My friends are experienced distance runners, and I followed their pace for most of the route–a good plan, since I had no concept of how running 13.1 miles would feel.  I watched for Dan’s cute face in the crowd of spectators; he is easy to spot in Chicago, a land full of short Irish people.  I remember yelling to him in passing, “It’s been seven miles!  I can’t believe the race is almost over!”  I ate some GU packets (more on this later), and chugged along, thrilled that at long last, I was doing it. I was living up to my potential, living the myth of the strong German wife.  I was being a take-no-prisoners, gruesome-to-the-core Greulich.  It felt awesome.

I maintained that feeling through most of the course, which takes you through some of the most memorable places in the Inner Loop.  Runners start in Millennium Park and cross the Chicago River three times before running an out-and-back loop on South Michigan Ave and Lakeshore Drive, back to Millennium Park and the finish.  The views of Lake Michigan are lovely, and if you are paying attention, you may spot the Bean and the Sears tower, in addition to some of the restaurants that were featured on Top Chef Chicago.  As the race wore on, I started a mental list of dishes I would like to eat later, my stomach growling pleasantly, until I hit mile 9.75.  Then things took a turn for the worse.

The course.

It started when I hit a pack of cheerleaders from Crossfit Chicago’s staff.  I have a few friends who do Crossfit, friends who I know are exceedingly perky, and whose muscles are exceedingly big.  One bold cheerleader in that crowd had been doing a lot of squats.  She was Helga in the flesh, and she looked like she was about to smack me for enjoying myself too much.  As soon as she told me that, I did, indeed, “have this” in the characteristic Crossfit Marine-officer bark, I hit a wall.  The GU I ate two miles before started to expand in my stomach in uncomfortable and surprising ways.  My muscles were crying out for Gatorade,  but I was too afraid to drink anything with the disgusting strawberry-banana GU doing its thing in my stomach.  I was, after all, following the “Don’t eat or drink anything you haven’t trained with” rule, with the exception of the GU.  I still don’t know why I made that exception; I’m sure it was peer-pressure.  Regardless, the irony of my last visit to Chicago reared its ugly head.  I knew what was going to happen next.

Determined to ignore the increasingly unpleasant rumbling until I couldn’t anymore, I powered through Mile 10, hoping to stay with my friends who were pacing along peacefully, one of whom was even singing.  I ran along the lakeshore, blindly following my singing friend and failing to look out over Lake Michigan and the dazzling architecture of the Chicago Aquarium.  Then I got left behind with other runners who, like me, didn’t follow their training or race plans, antagonized by GI trouble and Charley-horses.  Bounding strides became shuffles, and with Mile 12.5 in my sights, I had to stop.  Bloated, filled with water and whatever petroleum-based substance they put in GU, I walked.  I hated every moment of it.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t end up running this race at all, but walking it in.  Some part of me, a rational part, didn’t care.

And then Crossfit Helga appeared out of nowhere.  I looked at her thighs and then at her face and became more terrified of staying where I was.  So I picked up the pace, prayed against exploding, and finished that race, light-headed, violently ill, and disoriented.  I vowed to myself that I would never run another half-marathon, and I told Dan that too, when he found me post-race, wandering dazedly through the chute and passing up popsicles and anything that reminded me of strawberry-banana.  I had never felt like less of a Greulich.

Five hours later, after Gatorade, a shower, deep-dish pizza and a bloody Mary from the Emerald Loop, I changed my mind.  I ran the Detroit Half-Marathon just eight weeks later, and redeemed myself by not puking and by finishing 15 minutes faster, breaking 2 hours.

My Chicago story continues to be interwoven with the disjointed themes of wanderlust and vomit–through every fault of my own–so I have come to see the city as a place where reality gives idealism a pretty hard sucker-punch.  This time, I learned that my self-punishing goal-setting didn’t make me a Greulich: my husband did.  I have never been so grateful to see his smiling face, with a bottle of my favorite all-natural Gatorade in hand.  I have never been more grateful for a slice of Giordano’s deep-dish pizza (full of gluten and dairy), and Dan’s skills at ordering the best combination of fillings.  I am always grateful when he brings up Crossfit Helga, and we can yuck it up, even in the worst situations.  Most importantly, I am grateful that he told me that he was proud of me.  I was proud of me too.  Mission accomplished.

Being part of the Greulich family does not require one to feel more like a Germanic warrior-princess.  It is about hard work and reaching ambitions, but it is also about love and adventure. Having a name that strikes fear into the hearts of your enemies is simply a bonus.

Chicago–Myths and Legends: Take Me Back to Chicago

Chicago, August 11, 2012

Some places stick with you. They become part of your imagination, a Camelot of personal myths and legends, the settings for family histories and love stories. They have their own smell, feeling, and soundtrack. An image, a word, or a melody remind you of the imprint of that town, and the experiences you had there. These places are portals of nostalgia, and places for new discoveries. They bring us back to ourselves, and stretch us beyond our comfort zones too.

When I was a little girl, living in a pretty desolate part of Colorado, my list of mythological places included Disney World, New York City (populated by city-slickers, who I envisioned as leather-clad, cyclops-like creatures without an appreciation for Pace picante sauce), and wherever Chicago was. Chicago became part of our family history long before any of us actually stepped foot there.  Years before our odyssey east of the Mississippi began, my Chicago story started with another a theme on this blog: trumpets.

My father played trumpet very well, for someone who loved Einstein and engineering and ham radio, and he loved Chicago. The band, along with Willie Nelson and Herb Alpert, was the sound that brings my father back to me, any time, any place.  I remember the tunes the way little kids remember songs; indistinctly, not knowing the words or the artists’ names, but remembering the rhythm nonetheless.  You feel a kinship with that music, played over months and years of infancy and childhood, at parties, in the car on errands and trips, in the womb.  The songs become an extension of your family, the vehicle for remembering things before the age when logic starts doing remembering work and into that earlier time when memories are held in bodies, in muscles and joints and tapping feet.

Chicago’s greatest hits album is the sound of my dad, and one of the only things that I remember about him now, 21 years after his death.  When my mom pulled out a CD version of the album several years after my father passed away, the music was immediately new, and yet familiar all the same. I don’t remember hearing my father play along with the records, but when I picked up his trumpet and started tooting around, my mom regaled me with stories of his musical prowess; he could pick out any horn line from any song, and play it perfectly. I could hear him squealing out the tunes on the same trumpet that I was buzzing through.  I could see his hands, gripping the instrument in the same places that I gripped it, places where the silver plate had given way to corroded greenish brass.  I wanted to be a daddy’s girl.  He was, after all, an Emmy-award winning broadcast engineer, a trumpeter, a genius. I inherited his passion for excellence, but I craved being near him.  Trumpet made me excellent, while experiencing a kinship I wanted.

Much to the rest of the household’s chagrin, “25 or 6 to 4” became the machine that started to tie my random recollections of my daddy to Chicago, both poignantly and annoyingly.  And so my earliest memories of the city are not actually about the city at all; they are about whiskey-laced whiskers and practical jokes, played on me, of course, to teach me to develop a sense of humor, for which I had no patience as a child.  These memories are about afternoons spent watching M*A*S*H after kindergarten, and showing off my first report card to my Daddy, which was of course, all As.  Chicago/Chicago was safety and home and love, and some classic 70s trumpet licks. But these memories are definitely a childish chimera, even if they are happy, and they left me dreadfully unprepared for experiencing Chicago for the first time.

To some extent, I still keep these early illusions, but in each subsequent trip to Chicago, they fade in the real city’s vibrancy.  Just a few months after our last post-kindergarten pow-wow, my father passed away, and my mom, brother, sister and I rode the Amtrak from Lamar, CO to Harrisburg, PA to see our wild and massive group of cousins. I was seven. We stopped in Chicago to change trains and do a quick tour of the city during our layover. Coincidentally, I was suffering the first of my concussions at the time and remember Chicago as the place where I got car-sick taking my first cab ride (I also learned an array of new vocabulary words and hand gestures from our cabbie), and where I got sea-sick while touring Lake Michigan. It was the first time I puked in a cab. It was also the first time I puked off a boat. It was the first time that I breathed in smog and stared up, dizzy, at skyscrapers. It was not the happy-go-lucky place that I imagined from listening to Saturday In The Park;” it was huge, and nauseating, and full of people moving and going and living. I felt like I think we all felt: disoriented and afraid, without our dad there to show us the joy of this big, bustling city.

Puking your way through a town tends to ruin the romance of a place, but despite the fear and disgust, I left the city with a new myth, and a new hero. In the deep green tank rooms of the Chicago Aquarium, I stood entranced by sharks. The aquamarine silence of the rooms surrounded my brother and me as we stared up at the hugeness of the tanks, the stillness of the silent awe of visitors–whole families–watching fins and tails dive and swirl and occasionally bump the glass. I remember chattering excitedly at first, and then simply staring at animals I had never thought I would see–in a place I didn’t know existed–holding my big brother’s hand to stay found. In those big rooms, my Chicago myth began to take shape, and the city stopped being an extension of Daddy. Chicago, with its imposing grandeur and foreign urbanity, was also an indescribably lovely sanctum, a place to experience new life.

My mom stood in that room with us, quieting our concerns about the sharks breaking through the glass and biting us (and believe me, a few of us were very concerned).  It was there that I started to see her as the real epic hero of our family, the behind-the-scenes person who always made things work, but never got the glory. She proved her true grit in taking her three young, country-bred kids to Chicago by herself. Her white-knuckled death grip on my sister’s hand in Union Station belied her confidence, but she stormed her little 5’4 body through a crowd that could easily swallow us whole in its cogs and wheels and never-ending waves of feet, moving, marching, running. Even I held tight to my brother’s hand, forgetting to be affronted by the assumption that I was not, in fact, a big girl. In that immense crowd of people, a mom and her babies ran to the first adventure of a new life on their own. Despite the mingled tastes of fear and adrenaline (and honestly, a little puke), my revised memories of this city are flavored with courage and wonder. They are memories of a family knitting back together and learning how to heal.

In this 3-maybe-4-part series on Chicago, I am sharing some of my favorite experiences in a city that continues to be part of my story. This week, watch for posts that describe my love for the 1990’s Bulls, more nausea at the Chicago Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, and a newly-found passion for baseball at Wrigley Field. Read about a city that has taught me a lot about gumption and love, and the healing that we find through adventure.

Itinerary-In-Progress–Traverse City, MI

Good news always comes with at least a little bad news, and I have a some of both for you today.

First, the Bad News:

1. I am compelled to comment on  the loss of Sally Ride, one of the most inspiring ladies I had the pleasure of reading about in my elementary school library.  Back in those days, I was thirsty to get out of the high-plains town in Colorado where I grew up; Sally’s story fueled many of our escapades in the mulberry trees and grain silos of our farm.  While I haven’t pursued a career in math or science and I have become a writer and teacher, not an astronaut, I love and envy Sally’s tenacity. Her wanderlust shaped not only feminism, but the way we see our planet.  Thanks, Sally Ride, for being intrepid.

And she had a BA in English. Winning!

 2. Dan and I are cancelling our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and the summit of Longs Peak.  Unfortunately, I am still not fit enough from my concussion to do the hike, and Dan’s work schedule has kept him from doing much training.  We could attempt the climb, but I am almost certain that altitude sickness would defeat me in a fury of up-chuck before we even hit the Keyhole.  I don’t want to risk long-term brain damage.  We are sad to be cancelling this itinerary, but rest assured, we will take on the challenge next summer.  In related news, Dan is still convinced that hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is a good idea.

The Good News:

We are taking two other trips to replace the loss of Longs Peak and Dan’s maiden camping voyage.  In August, we are spending a weekend in one of my absolute favorite cities–Chicago–watching the Reds beat the snot out of the Cubs. Be on the lookout for a Weekend Suitcase feature on this trip.

This week, we are taking a short little jaunt up to Traverse City, MI, a much-lauded locale that is brimming with Northern summertime goodness.

Picture courtesy of http://www.city-data.com.

The decision to go to Traverse City was made when Dan couldn’t go on Greulich Family Vacation.  While I was in Charleston, swimming in the ocean and eating shrimp, Dan was here in Michigan, consoling himself with endless internet searches on 2 lovely locations: Traverse City and Maine.  I received calls that informed me to pack for Maine, only to be rebuked an hour later by a call that told me to pack for Northern MI. The next day I was told that Maine was, once again, the plan.  I started tallying points for both locations; in my personal opinion, Maine edged out Michigan by a hair because of the availability of $3.99/lb lobster.  I tried to help with the decision, and when I left Charleston, Northern Michigan seemed like our next destination.

But then I got home from Charleston after a 14 hour drive, only to find a cranky, over-worked husband who had cancelled any and all trips.  Our spontaneity did not work in our favor; there were simply no hotel rooms available in Northern MI for the weekend of July 27-29.  We had previously booked a couple of rooms for Wednesday and Thursday night, but it seemed ridiculous to travel 4 hours for three days.  Then we cancelled the Colorado trip too.  It was quite clear that Dan needed a vacation, and soon.

Things looked very dark in the Greulich house for a bit.  So dark, in fact, that I started planning a harebrained trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (destinations inspired by my love of Anne of Green Gables), knowing full well that it was mid-season and there would be nothing available.  Dan wasn’t sold on Canada.  I didn’t even tell him about the plot of Anne of Green Gables, a feature of this particular trip which would have put his certainty into even more doubt.  

Imagine my surprise when Dan told me that going to Traverse City for three days would be a good idea and that we were using our hotel rooms (since we couldn’t cancel them so late in the decision-making process).  After the indecision, a thousand visions and revisions, and several takings of toast and tea, we ended up with a pretty loose-y goose-y plan for the week.  Here are the details:

Dates: July 25-27, 2012 (tomorrow!)

Lodging: The only hotel that could accommodate some very laid-back, under-prepared Greulichs.  Will share details from the field.

Getting There:  From Ann Arbor, Traverse City is a 4 hour and 14 minute drive up US23-N and I75-North, our very favorite interstate.  You can also fly to Traverse City’s municipal airport from Detroit–and if you have a good aviation friend with a plane in Ann Arbor, you can get there from A2’s airport as well.  The flight isn’t cheap though, and you will actually travel greener via car.

Foot Travel:

1. While not necessarily a place where you spend a lot of time on your feet, we will be spending a good amount of time on a few of Traverse City’s gorgeous white sandy beaches.  We plan to visit several while we are there; www.traversecity.com claims that it is possible to enjoy solitude on a Lake Michigan beach in peak season as well as to play beach volleyball with strangers.  I am looking forward to both.

2. Traverse City is rated by Bon Appétit magazine as a #5 foodie destination, and by Livability.com rated it the #1 Foodie City in America.  There are several walking food tours that are available here, of varying prices, and we may plan to do a food tour through Tasty Morsels Food Tours.  The official tourist website also provides visitors with a self-guided food tour, which at a grand total of $0 (not including the price of food), looks great to this visitor.  Here is the brochure.  I hope we run into Mario Batali, who vacations here every summer.  If not, I hope to run into another favorite Italian, who spends his summers teaching trumpet at Interlochen.

3. Finally, because the original plan was to spend some time hiking in Northern Michigan before we attempted to climb Longs Peak, we will probably do a fraction of the hiking that we had originally planned. I can hike for about two hours until I need a nap and a snack, so Dan and I will most likely explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  If I am feeling up to it, we can do the Dune Climb and explore the shorter trails up and around the dunes. Weaving in and out of the city are several hiking and biking trails which look altogether too tame for a Dan-style hike, but would be a lovely running route (sigh).

Photo: mnkreations.

 Equipment:

Nothing fancy needed for this trip; just the basic summer essentials: bug spray, sundresses, bikinis, and sunscreen.

Playlist:

Classic country-western.  I am embracing my reddish neck of late (thanks to a long weekend in Tennessee) and have been listening to altogether too much Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.  I am obsessed with The Highwaymen right now, especially “The Road Goes on Forever.” Old Crow Medicine Show is another favorite for letting my hair down.  There is nothing better for a beachy road-trip destination than real good country/western/bluegrass.

Look for a From-The-Field photo/haiku gallery from Traverse City!

Retrospect–Mendoza, Argentina

We stepped off the plane into a deep, dry dusk.  Sunlight poured into the dust devils tearing across the tarmac, shattering late evening rays.  I took an inhale of the dusty air; it tasted of mesquite and sage and dirt.  The grit between my teeth felt familiar, imprinted on my palette after years of Southern Colorado summers.  It is the taste I remember from Mendoza.

Metallic and tangy, the Mendozan dirt slips into sandals and suitcases, settling in the bottom of wine glasses.  The taxi ride to our hotel in midtown Mendoza City wove through shanties covered with a fine silt, dredging rusty tin roofs.  Arbor workers live in these tin homes, tending the vines that drink up the thinly-oxygenated air.  Dust and poverty tango here.  I felt American, white, too clean–but simultaneously, tenuously, at home.

We arrived at our hotel drained from the colorless heat.  We settled in, then hit the streets, breathing in more dusk, looking for something red.

We found a good bottle, reasonably priced–like all Argentine wine–for $10, American.  There was nothing especially memorable about this bottle, aside from the smooth richness that defines Malbec, and the bite of Kentucky-bred oak barrel. For a slapdash selection off the bodega’s wine list, it was delicious.

In the morning, the dry air was chilled with altitude.  We hit the streets again, wandering this time, through Mendoza’s plazas.

In each plaza, we found more red; fountains flowing with wine, honoring the late summer  harvest.  Plaza de Chilé, España, Italia, and San Martin, frame the city streets in neat quadrants, with sprawling Plaza de la Independencia in the center.  We wandered them all, drinking in tiles, Spanish, red wine fountains.

The afternoon slipped by, awash in malbec, and we drifted through the park, into evening.  Music, lights and cheers interrupted the haziness of afternoon, ushering in the dry night air, the parade through Plaza de la Independencia.  Floats of beauty queens, representing the vintage regions of Mendoza, sparkled.  Locals cheered for their favorite wine, their girlfriends, their hometowns.  Fist fights broke out in small scuffles, quickly dispersed by long droughts of green bottles.

We stopped at Estancia La Florencia for steak and paella.  My seafood was tasty, the wine was effortless, and Dan’s lomo was a dark red, charred and rested.  I had been learning to taste Argentina in the wine–the subtle metallic smoothness, the oak from Appalachian barrels–but I was surprised to taste it in the steak.  Underneath the beef, I tasted dust and the sun-baked grass of the pampas.

We fell asleep, after pushing through the plazas, ablaze with festival lights and drunkenness.

Sun, dust, steak. Es mi casa lejos de mi casa.