Saturday, July 10, 2010

Watching Dobet Gnahoré Dance at La Fête de Marquette Friday night

We really enjoyed ourselves at my favorite of Madison's summer music festivals, La Fête de Marquette. This is just a short clip from a too-polite fan -- I didn't stand up, because I didn't want to block the people behind me, so there's a kind of peekaboo effect going on here. The crappy mono sound on my D90 didn't begin to do justice to Dobet Gnahoré's warm, lush voice, but it worked better with the percussion, so here's a short clip of this extraordinary performer dancing.

Focused on Dobet Gnahoré's Performance at La Fête de MarquetteYou could see the power of her performance reflected in the faces in the audience at this return appearance at La Fête de Marquette. Here's more about her from the program notes.
The minute Dobet Gnahoré (pronounced DOH-bay gna-OR-ay) steps onto the stage, it is obvious she is something special. She exudes an inner strength and commanding presence that draws you in, even before she has opened her mouth to sing. Once Dobet does begin to sing, her voice is filled with emotion and range. She moves from heartfelt ballads to funky, danceable songs with ease, and is comfortable performing in a wide range of African styles. Eventually, Dobet begins to dance, and the true depth of her talent shines through. She jumps across the stage like an acrobat, a soulful tornado of movement who astounds the audience with her moves. Just 24 years old, Dobet Gnahoré has got it all – an exceptional voice, amazing dance skills and the engaging aura reserved for artistic greats. After masterful performances across Europe and the United States, she has become one of African music’s most exciting young talents.
I'm still wishing I could have captured the rich sound of her singing, but then, that's why we buy music, isn't it? Here are links to her website and MySpace page.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Forgotten Madison: The crumbling fountain with no water in the little park with no name

Annie C. Stewart Memorial Fountain
On the way home yesterday afternoon I stopped at this little park at the end of Erin Street, a place that, because it's a bit off the beaten track, I haven't visited for years, even though it's in my part of town. As far as I can tell, the park has no name, though it's often referred to as "the former pedestrian entrance to the Vilas Park Zoo." [View photo large on black.]

Annie C. Stewart Memorial FountainThe fountain, however, does have a name -- the Annie C. Stewart Memorial Fountain. Viewing it through the surrounding trees is like looking through a crack in time at a much earlier Madison, one whose past has always been disappearing as its future was being built. [View photo large on black.]

One thing that disappeared was the Dividing Ridge, a long glacial gravel ridge between Lake Wingra and Lake Monona, that was 75 feet high in some places and as wide as 150 feet. The fountain stands on the last little remnant of this ridge, which was totally leveled starting in 1870 to provide gravel for Madison streets. With the Loss of the Dividing Ridge, Madison lost not only a scenic feature, but a lot of Native American history as well. Historic Madison recalls what had been there.
The ridge was used by ancient Native Americans as a campsite and workshop. A trail wound along the crest, and another followed its base on the Lake Monona side. It was also a ceremonial site; over the centuries at least 25 effigy mounds were built on the center portion of the ridge, some as much as ten feet tall. Many more mounds were created on the northern and southern ends of the ridge. Among the shapes were thunderbird, water spirit, turtle, conical, and linear. Many of the mounds served as graves.

In 1859 Increase A. Lapham, Wisconsin’s first scientist, platted the mounds as part of his survey of the antiquities of Wisconsin. By that time some of the mounds had already been damaged by settlers making “improvements” to land they’d purchased upon the ridge, and others had been excavated by relic seekers. In the decades that followed the Dividing Ridge yielded fireplaces, flint chips, numerous skeletons, arrowheads, potsherds, grooved stone axes, a copper awl, and a clay trade pipe.
Archaeologist Charles E. Brown said of the loss, “the destruction of the Dividing Ridge was a crime which should never have been perpetuated. It was one of Madison’s most charming scenic features.”

Perhaps what remains of the Dividing Ridge is cursed. Certainly the fountain that stands there now has shared in this history of despoliation. It was vandalized not long after it was erected in 1925, as DANEnet recounts in their Brief History of the Vilas Neighborhood.
At the end of Erin Street, above the black bears in the Vilas Zoo, is a fountain. Water no longer pours from the marble conch shell cradled in the mermaid's arms, but it once did. The water filled a basin that today collects leaves, a sorry memorial to Annie Stewart, in whose memory the fountain was erected. The site was given to the city in 1911, and Frederic J. Clasgens, an artist who studied with Rodin, was selected to design the fountain. He devised concentric circles and shallow basins, spilling into a concrete basin and capped by a Triton, a mermaid and a porpoise. Water filled smaller shells at various levels, to provide drinking water for adults and children.

Mary E. Stewart provided funds for the project, but she never saw the completed memorial to her daughter, Annie. Frank Stewart, Annie's father, was a clerk in federal court. He and his wife died before World War I, when work on the fountain was interrupted. Finally, in 1942 1,500 pounds of Vermont marble was shipped to Clasgens in Cincinnati. He sculpted it and shipped it on to Madison. The fountain was completed in 1925. E.N. Warner, president of the Park and Pleasure Drive Association, said of the fountain that year, "It will be highly cherished and admired by the Madison citizens and the thousands of visitors from other parts of the state and country who come to the park each year."

But the fountain, and memory of Annie Stewart, have not survived well. By 1931, vandals had attacked the fountain with sledge hammers or other similar tools. They destroyed the Triton figure and the drinking fountains. No attempts were made to restore them.
Now the fountain is the oldest work in the Madison Arts Commission's colection, and one of the works most in need of repair at a time of tight resources. Arts Program Administrator Karin Wolf was interviewed a couple years ago in a Wisconsin State Journal story, "Madison's public sculptures are decaying," about the challenges.
Wolf said the Annie C. Stewart Fountain at the old entrance to the Vilas Zoo, the oldest piece in the city's collection, is in terrible disrepair. "There are those who have tried to save the fountain in the past and say it can't be done, that it is too expensive," Wolf said. "I think we can do it and I would like to resurrect their effort."

The fountain hasn't worked in years and collects trash, [former conservator of the state Capitol Anton] Rajer wrote, and pieces of the original statuary are missing or broken.

Restoring the fountain is a mountain, Wolf said. "If you know anyone with an extra $150,000 and a passion for history and art, it would be the cable car ride to the top," she added.
So far nobody has stepped forward, and given all the other problems the city faces now, it doesn't seem likely any time soon. Time will likely continue to have its way with the fountain. If nothing else, what remains of the Divding Ridge will continue to be a quiet, melancholy place to contemplate time and change and the price we pay for progress.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Will there someday be a "bike-in" restaurant just around the bend?

A Quiet Moment on the Southwest Bike Path, November 22, 2009
This is the Southwest Bike Path between Glenway and Commonwealth. Just a little way beyond the bend, between the path and Glenway Golf Course, Madison restaurateur Chris Berge would like to build an environmentally-friendly bike path restaurant that's inaccessible by car, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Chris Berge, co-owner of Restaurant Magnus, the Weary Traveler and Natt Spil and cofounder of Barriques and the Blue Marlin, plans to build a bike-path-bound cafe on the city's Near West Side that would be inaccessible by car, serve local food, produce zero garbage and cater to the city's burgeoning bicycle population.

Described as "a hobbit hole meets the American Players Theatre meets a 1950s National Park recreational area," the "Badger Den" would be a "bike-in" bar and grill open from April through October.
It sounds like a great idea, but I wonder if it will fly. Is there enough traffic? Despite the rustic sylvan look of the path in summer, Monroe Street with its restaurants and the Laurel Tavern are just a couple blocks away via bike-friendly side streets, and the Village Bar is just up Glenway at the other end of the golf course. Would neighbors take a nimby approach, worried about increased bike traffic? Will other objections surface? This is Madison, after all.

The Mayor, for one, does seem to be on board.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the cafe would be consistent with what the city has been doing to encourage bicycling.

"I think it's fascinating idea," Cieslewicz said. "We'd love to work with him on it."
I wish Berge luck. It's a beautiful bike path, and although I more often ride along the lakes because I like the sight of water, the prospect of a tall, cool one along the path just might change my habits.

My, how time flies: Queen Elizabeth at 50

Queen Elizabeth II at 50
The visit of Queen Elizabeth to New York today brought back old memories. The last time she was in New York she was 50 years old and celebrating the Bicentennial. Flanked by nervous security men scanning the crowd for IRA assassins, she was walking up Wall Street to Trinity Church for the ritual collection of back rent in the amount of 279 peppercorns. And I was there with my family, taking pictures. She walked by so close that we could have reached out and touched her, as some people did.

I took this photo (view large on black) with a Nikon Ftn, Tri-X film and a 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor lens, focusing manually on a rapidly moving subject -- which accounts for the fact that the sharpest focus is on the back of her hat instead of her face. Given the legendary sharpness of the 105mm lens, that was probably a lucky accident, giving her face a pleasing softness that matched the emotions of the moment.

Security measures were unprecedented (the IRA was not happy with the Royals, and three years later, they blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten in his fishing boat off the coast of Ireland). Decoy launches disguised the movement of her boat to shore from the royal yacht. The parade route in lower Manhattan was not publicly announced. That's why I got such a great position in line. I had stumbled on the route of the procession as the crowd was gathering, while I was on business downtown. I called T and told her to get on the subway with M and I would save a place. They joined me well before the Queen arrived.

It was an extraordinary moment. Here's how I recalled it a few years ago.
I have never been much of a fan of the British royal family, but when Elizabeth and her entourage -- Prince Philip not alongside her, but several steps behind, as protocol dictates -- passed within ten feet of where we stood I was simply stunned. Diana Spencer had not yet entered her life, and the fairy tale turned nightmare that was to be the story of their relationship still lay in the future. She was radiant. The word "regal" didn't begin to do her justice.

There was an aura about her, and her face seemed to glow with its own pearly light. Partly, it was a trick of makeup, the hazy light of a New York morning, and the euphoria of the Bicentennial in our biggest city. Mostly, though, the aura came from within, illuminated by 1,000 years of British history. Briefly, I was seized by the desire to fall to my knees and pledge eternal fealty. The divine right of kings started to make sense, and ever so briefly, before the moment passed, I became an instant royalist.
The word charisma doesn't do the moment justice. She was the epitome of beauty and grace, a goddess of superhuman poise. Since then, 34 eventful years have passed. We're all older now. The Royal Family have revealed themselves to be all too human. But, at 84, Elizabeth is a survivor. On Sept. 10 2015, at the age of 89, she will surpass Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history. I wouldn't bet against her making it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Starburst over Shorewood Hills

Starburst Over Shorewood Hills
There were fireworks of every kind in the Madison area this weekend, beginning with the big Elver Park event Friday, the Rhythm and Booms extravaganza in Warner Park Saturday (the Midwest's larges fireworks display), and then the smaller events in neighborhoods and smaller municipalities on the date of the actual holiday Sunday night.

We prefer the smaller, more intimate celebrations and T and M and I made our ritual pilgrimage to the Shorewood Hills fireworks, despite the threat of rain after a week of glorious weather. The timing of the volunteer firefighters who put on the show couldn't have been any better. They must been monitoring the approaching storms on Doppler radar. The show started a few minutes early, just to be on the safe side, and the grand finale was well underway when the first sprinkles started to fall. Perfect timing.