Thursday, August 28, 2014


3829 Busse Street is the address of my childhood home, in the middle of a working class neighborhood on Madison's far eastside. We were in spitting distance from the C&P grocery store, one of Madison's first mega groceries; at least that's how I remember it. In front of us were a couple more streets serving as a buffer to the farmland that lay beyond. Behind us was Atwood Avenue; all we had to do was cross the avenue to get to Olbrich Park. The park of my memory was a long sandy beach with a couple of lifeguard stands and a changing house with a concession stand. As kids we were sent to the beach for swimming lessons the city provided. I don't remember my parents ever going with us. I guess they thought we'd either learn or sink. It didn't seem to matter which option was the winning one I was the first, they had four more for backup.
The park stretched from the East Side Businessmen's, around to Starkweather Creek, across the creek and just beyond the hill where Oscar Mayer would set up its toboggan run in the winter, a huge scaffolded structure lined with blocks of ice and big enough to hold an eight man toboggan. The area on the other side of Atwood between the abandoned sugar beet factory and the Hungry, Hungry, Hungry an A&W drive-in with carhops who brought your frosted mugs of rootbeer to your car on metal trays that attached to the driver's window. I don't remember thinking this area on the other side of Atwood Avenue had anything to do with Ohlbrich. It was a pretty seedy area.
The plan for the park and garden that I knew nothing of as a kid had begun decades ago at the beginning of the 20th Century by a local lawyer, Michael Balthazar Olbrich. Once I saw his picture my gaydar went into full tilt the Geiger counter needle shaking like a leaf. I looked up his bio and couldn't find anything about a wife. He ended his life in suicide at the age of forty-eight. For me, the signs are there.

The man loved nature and the less fortunate. He had the vision to see a connection and Ohlbrich Gardens has become his legacy."No greater mistake can be made than the belief that taste and esthetic sense is a monopoly of the merely well-to-do or purely a product of formal schooling. The park proposed is intended primarily to bring back into the life of the worker confronted by the dismal industrial tangle, whose forces we all so little comprehend, something of the grace and beauty that nature intended us all to share. For this park has not a passive, but an active function. It is not to stand aloof, a treasure of the city, beautiful, still, reserved. This park above all others, with a warmth and strength of love - of love of all the working world - should hold out its arms, should invite them to itself, until its naturalness and beauty enter into their lives."
Michael Balthazar Ohlbrich, 1921
It took thirty plus years from the inaugural granting of the land that was to become the park to the first shovel establishing the gardens as more than a dream in the heart of Michael Ohlbrich.
From there the gardens have grown to become one of the ten most important gardens in the U.S.
A Rose Garden, a Perennial Garden, an Herb Garden, and an All-American Garden are just a few of the jewels in this botanical crown that now covers more than sixteen acres.
An extended set of administrative, convention and event buildings along with major greenhouses also occupy the site.
In 1991, the Bolz Conservatory was opened. The diamond-domed structure is a year round attraction housing tropical flora.
In an area of the country where almost half the year hovers around the too cold to swim zone, the ability to romp around in a jungle is a life saving opportunity.
The current crown jewel and karmic soul of the garden is the Thai Pavilion. The Pavilion was donated to the University of Wisconsin by the University's Thai Alumni Association. It was the University's decision to have the pavilion placed in the Ohlbrich gardens. The pavilion was built in Thailand by local artisans out of plantation grown teak and weather-resistance ceramic tile.
A coat of gold leaf ornaments the supports.
The ceiling is a blessing of symbolic Thai rosettes. The miracle of the Pavilion is its travel story. After the pavilion had been built then disassembled, packed and loaded on a boat for transport to Madison the artisans who built the sala were put onto a plane to come to United States and reassemble the pavilion. They boarded the flight to Chicago on September 11, 2001. They were the last flight allowed to land in Chicago.
While chaos had stunned an entire world a peaceful group of Thai artisans were taken by bus to assemble a small monument to peace in a garden far from the violence of the day.
It became a talisman of serenity and love for a garden built on a piece of landfill next to a polluted creek.

Orchid, 1987
Robert Mapplethorpe, photographer
Represented by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Who says travel has to be a drag with nothing but plastic over-priced food, long stress filled lines and TSA officials with big chips on their shoulders. If this has been your travel scenario then you haven't been to Milwaukee. General Mitchell Airport is no slouch of an airport.
In "Love Actually" you see Colin Frissell entering the US and leaving from an airport with Milwaukee Airport signage placed in a snow covered art director's version of Christmas in Milwaukee. Had it been the real MKE Colin might have thought twice about his hasty departure.
First there's the shopping. For the conservatives there's a Brooks Brothers
and the PGA Tour shop filled with monograms, Weegens, and LaCoste. It's all a little stiff for me so I'm safe bypassing these two shops. But if tartan plaids and shoes with tassels and spikes on the bottom are your thing Milwaukee's got 'em.
For those with a bit more zip there's a Harley-Davidson shop for your Easy Rider side. If the smell of leather and feel of real steel are your thing then spread those legs and mount a hog at this store. Actually I'd never connect my desires and the word "hog" in the same sentence but the leather fashion can still be a real turn-on.
The gift stores sell the ubiquitous objects you can find worldwide: earphones for your ipad, blow-up neck pillows and four dollar bottles of filtered water but what makes these gift stores special is the ability to purchase real synthetic Wisconsin cheese heads. You can drop some real coin for cheese heads in four different sizes from Papa bear to Mini Me.
Yet the most impressive retail outlet on the concourse is Renaissance Books, a rare and used bookstore that would be equally at home on the Left Bank in Paris as it is in Milwaukee.
Peter Greenberg, The Travel Detective, said it is one of the reasons he inserts a trip through Milwaukee into his itinerary at least once a year so he can submerge himself in the smell of old books at Renaissance Books.
History is not left out of the package of things to do at General Mitchell. There's, appropriately, the Mitchell Gallery of Flight. A museum dedicated in general to the history of aviation and in particular to how it connected to the Milwaukee area.
There's a replica of the Wright Brother's plane attached to the ceiling rafters.
A model of Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" flies just outside the museum entrance commemorating Lindbergh's visit to Milwaukee on August 20, 1927.
General Mitchell was a significant military figure and is considered the father of the U.S. Air Force establishing air power over ground conflict as the over-riding force in combat.
There is also a large tribute to the astronaut, James Lovell, another Milwaukee hometown hero.
The dining and drinking, what would Wisconsin be without beer, are not neglected at General Mitchell. There's a standard food court,
the ever present and ever needed Starbucks (at least for me)
and one of the best burger and malt joints this side of the Mississippi. I've downed a slider and slurped a super thick black and white while waiting for a flight sitting at one of their formica table and vinyl chair sets.
The newest addition to the food emporium is the Miller Brewhouse. The swankiest bar in Milwaukee serving perch tacos, steamed edamame, the world famous Wisconsin butter bacon cheeseburger and what else…beer.
You can sit at your own personal pub table with self-serve draft beers purchasable with a credit card. The only catch, a two-pint maximum on your card.
But the most amazing bit of Midwestern creativity isn't in the shopping experience but occurs after having passed through the metal detector machines on your way to your departure gate. After having suffered the humiliation of stripping off my watch, my shoes and my belt, after having to place my computer in a separate plastic bin and then being asked to take off my jacket, after dumping my change in a small plastic cup, after having to walk through the detector for a second time because I forgot I had my cell phone in my back pocket and had to dump it on to the conveyor before I could proceed through the metal detector for the last time, I finally crossed to the other side and what to my wandering eyes should appear but an area with extra chairs and a very official sign  designating it as a legitimate recombobulation area. Now I know the word and I can easily define it but my spell check won't recognize it no matter how I try to reconfigure it. With my shoes, belt, jacket, watch and change tucked under my chin, wrapped around my arm and grasped tightly in my hand I could think of nothing more likely to put a genuine smile on my face and diffuse any hostility I might be harboring than an area officially designated as a place to recombobulate. I dumped my belongings onto the floor just in time to catch my unbelted pants before they slipped to somewhere above my ankles and below the point of decency and began recombobulating. As I secured my pants and redistributed my worldly wealth of quarters and dimes to their proper pockets I began to relax and reflect. My recombobulating made me wish the world had a recombobulation area, a place where we could all reombobulate. It's nice to see that even in the most serious of places, an airport screening area, TSA employees in this part of the world still have a sense of humor and you can have a laugh without feeling as if you're jeopardizing the safety of the planet.
If you end up having to fly from New York to San Francisco or any itinerary that could possibly pass through Milwaukee. Take the one stop flight and rest a bit at General Mitchell.

Southwest Boeing 737-700
Jeffrey Milstein, photographer
Represented by Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

Friday, August 15, 2014


We were sitting at a table next to an open window in a tiny French restaurant in the West Village. It was a Friday night in August some time in the mid-eighties. Not the dog day kind of August evening but a refreshing version of mid-summer. The sun was just starting to fade. Three green bottles of Chardonnay were turned upside down in the wine bucket standing to the side of the table catching the light of the setting sun.
"What do you think Paris looks like tonight?" Rick was swirling the last bit of our fourth bottle of Chardonnay.
JoHannah, who had been toying with the last few Haricot Vert on her plate, did a slow slide of her eyes from her French beans to the voice that she thought had mentioned Paris.
"Yea, I was just thinking how great it would be to get something spontaneous, something besides ordering another bottle."
"I dare you."
"What, to do something spontaneous?"
It was my turn, "Yea, something beyond ordering a fifth bottle of wine."
"Okay y'all let's go."
Before the buzz could wear off the three of us were on the last plane leaving La Guardia that night. It wasn't Paris. We could only get as far as Chicago. Without the aid of sobriety Chicago seemed way far enough. We spent the weekend doing the Midwest including a trip up I90 to Madison and a Wisconsin dinner of steak and potatoes with my family. It was New York to Wisconsin.
Many many years later the little French restaurant at the corner of Waverly and Christopher has gone in the reverse direction via a group called Little Wisco, a collection of six restaurants scattered throughout the West Village all the inspiration of Gabe Stulman, a University of Wisconsin graduate. These culinary jewels are the new links in our chain of restaurant hopping through the city that doesn't lack jewelry. We've now completed tastings at two of Gabe's six Wisconsin inspired restaurants. Joseph Leonard has taken over the space of our French spontaneity from many years ago.
We went for Sunday brunch. The restaurant was packed with what one might have been mistaken for a clientele made of Wisconsin graduate students recovering from a Badger football blowout. The only seats available for us were at a counter looking into the kitchen.
This was a bonus. Our chef stood on the other side of the counter. He was the final hands that touched the food before it was picked up by the wait staff and delivered to a waiting customer. This meant we got to see more than our own order and we also benefited from his ongoing commentary.
In addition to our meals, where I had a warm mushroom and panzanella salad with a pair of poached eggs, torn bread and a drizzling of sherry broth and gruyere
and Rick had a fried chicken sandwich with mayo, tangy Tabasco, honey, and bread and butter cucumbers all topped with a side of Wisconsin cheddar grits, we got to see a lot more.
There was a trio of biscuits smothered in Thai gravy, pork sausages, red curry and coconut milk
A plate of saucisson a l'ail; pork and garlic sausages, fried eggs, hash browns, crème fraiche and arugula slide across the counter and wafted its aromatic fragrance across our noses.
Rick made me go to the bathroom hidden behind door 149. He wouldn't tell me why. He only said I had to go. Over the toilet was typed a manifesto titled, "Why Write????" It was worth the trip even if I didn't have to pee.
The second restaurant we hit was right across the street from Joseph Leonard. We walked in for a late lunch on a weekday.
Not so crowded. Jeffrey's Grocery has a similar ambiance to Joseph Leonard.
Despite their enticement of  "It is a beautiful day for breakfast and booze" we both started out with a pair of non-alcoholic cocktails they had predominately placed on their permanent menu.
Rick chose the Island Moon DJ, a mix of pineapple, honey, lime and coconut while I grabbed a Loosey Goosey a shaken combination of pomegranate, orange, ginger beer and jack ruby grenadine.
The restaurant swims in a nautical theme and features a menu developed mainly from the sea.
The raw bar is their strength with oysters high on the menu.
I opted for a crab grilled cheese with pimento cheese and fries topped with fried green tomatoes.
Rick grabbed the daily salad special of mixed greens, shaved almonds and Wisconsin tart cherries, a slab of sourdough toast smeared with chevre on the side.
Both of their restaurants possessed the kind of atmosphere conducive to a leisurely lunch or a repeat five bottle wine dinner with a trip to Paris for dessert.
We still have four more restaurants in the Stulman stable of eateries we are destined to try: Montmartre, Chez Sardine, Perla and Fedora. We'll let you know how that all works out.

Why do I spend so much time at this broken down typewriter? Isn't it just a big waste of time? I could be watching television or get into a game of cards or some other recreation. And what is so great about writing? There is an answer and I will try to tell about why in the following paragraphs.
Something happens to the inner side of me when I sit down to type. I just get completely lost in what I am doing. It is just like I have entered a different world. My imagination is at it's highest peak. I am kind of floating in a sea of thought. I am lost in thought, please don't disturb. I want to be alone.
The spoken word is very volatile. It disappears into the atmosphere and does not stay with us. It is gone until spoken again. It only has instant impact. Words are usually soon forgotten.
A written message is different, it does not disappear and can not be altered unless rewritten. Interpretations by others might differ, but the wording remains the same.
Some times I have an instant desire to say something, but when I do say it it doesn't come out right. What I say and what I mean are often different. I am not a good speaker. But, let me at this old typewriter biding my time, I think I do a much better job of expressing my true feelings. Some thing just builds up inside of me and my one finger just keeps on telling what I am thinking. I think that I do a better job when this old machine and I are to-gether. We get along. I just love to type. Ideas come easier when I do. I wish I had found this out earlier in my life.

Roland Bartels
504 Oak Pk Dr.
Shawano, Wis. 54166

Framed on the wall in the bathroom at Joseph Leonard
Waverly Place, West Village, New York City