Monday, October 19, 2015

His Eyes as Big as Plates, Wilbo Explores Downtown Hancock @PureMichigan and Discovers Ancient Women Wearing Bird Nests for Hats.

I've been banished to Cyberia, a coffee house in downtown Houghton, Michigan. Soon it will be as cold as Siberia? I am working and staying in Hancock, the twin city on the north side of Portage Lake, a smaller twin still a twin. I walked the drawbridge over the waters to Houghton because I need exercise and it's a warm night, the last for a while if one believes the weather report. For the first time, my FitBit congratulates me for walking over ten thousand steps. The journey of a thousand miles begins with ten thousand steps. And I still have to walk back to my hotel, the Copper Crown, a motel that has seen better days. The mattress and blankets are fresh and the vanity and tub are over-sized. It was a good landing spot and tomorrow I move.

The walk over the bridge daunted me. A sign said the sidewalk was closed. I kept walking, hardly seeing the problem. At the first support, where the roadbed can be lifted, I saw curious signs. "Bridge cannot be raised until pedestrians are clear". "Good policy", I thought. Another sign awaited for pedestrians, "Wait here for snowblower to finish". "How long could I wait in a wind whipping through the river corridor, chilled by Lake Superior itself"? When I reached the Houghton side, I saw construction cones blocking my way and I just cut across the four lanes to a safe sidewalk, cars waiting behind a red stop light. I had imagined trying to explain myself to an officer of the law who saw me middle river, "Sorry, officer, but I'm a troll and I shouldn't have crossed into the UP in the first place". 

I have walked across the Golden Gate Bridge before. I have walked across the Brooklyn Bridge before. When I looked down from the heights of the Portage Lake bridge and that gave me terror and vertigo. That water had grown as close to freezing as it could without going solid. Just high enough to kill upon impact. I walked and my dizziness subsided. I saw that the sidewalk on the eastern side went all the way through and noticed a final sign. "Snowmobiles Forbidden on the Sidewalk". I assume snowmobiles have the same rights as cars on the snow covered lanes for cars.

I discovered the inviting windows of the Keweenaw Brewing Company. I roamed the bookshelves of Book World, a brightly lit store that also sold fine cigars from a humidor and expensive pipes. Cigars relax most people; smoking an entire Cuban makes me jeaky. The Douglass Saloon has old windows with stained glass panels and an interior that hosted miners, lumberjacks and millionaires in 1890. Cyberia makes two decent coffeeshops with wireless where a person can sit, look out the windows and capture a few thoughts in words.

During lunch, I walked Quincy Street looking for a lunch time alternative to the Kaleva Cafe. I was a little disappointed as an Italian restaurant had closed after decades in business. A pizza place in the Orpheum Theater had closed for Monday after a busy weekend. A pizza place near the Hancock Bike Shop had a closed sign promising to open, and one of my coworkers shared the true story. The promise had gone up a year ago. 

The Mexican place had a slow lunch business, two men at different tables, and I kept walking to the Holiday Gas Station and selected two charbroiled cheeseburgers, two for three-fifty. Not quite what I was thinking as I set off for lunch. I munched on the burgers and looked over at the Houghton shoreline and I looked up at the old buildings that fronted onto Quincy street, studying the blank stone and brick walls visible from the hills of Houghton. Those buildings contained room after room of raw space left over from the turn of the Twentieth Century, when the streets of Hancock boomed with money from mining wages and capital.

Pushing lunch hour into a forty-five minute pause, I popped into the Finnish American Cultural Center to see if I could catch the photographic show called "Eyes as Big as Plates" still on the walls. Alas, I startled the curator when I walked into the gallery of empty walls and declared, "You are too efficient"! Only the monitor looping a short film remained, all the photographs stacked on the floor, ready to mail. We had a pleasant chat and I didn't make a big deal that that gallery had been donated by a member of my grandmother's family. I offered my services as a volunteer and she showed me the signup for email sheet. Hardly the welcome I had imagined but what could I have expected. I cannot write the checks that those rich relatives had written. 

Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, the first Finnish and the second Norwegian, began photographing men and women adorned in mosses, leaves, twigs and what not in natural settings. The series of photographs had gone viral about two years ago, usually with wry comments attached, "Why are these elderly Finnish women going about with hats made of sticks". Instead of "When I'm An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple", it's "When I'm An Old Woman, I Shall Wear the Forest"?  Attacking a the castle of a rouge Finnish lord, the women of Finland could advance attired like Birnam Wood in Macbeth.

I never saw my grandmother, her relatives nor her friends going about with clothing made of moss or hats that looked like nests. I knew her pear trees, we climbed in her apple trees and she brought us baskets of concord grapes in autumn and passed summer evenings swinging with us on a set made by her husband out of northern white cedar. Maybe she kept her hat of moss a secret from us.

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