Saturday, July 30, 2016


Madison, Wisconsin is linked with a sisterhood of cities :Austin, Texas, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco among them, cities with a personality outside the conventional. Many might say they all possess a unique oddball personality. These are places marching to their own drum and proud of it. When any of them hold a festival you can count on it having a flavor, a twist you won't see anywhere else. Where else can you find a place like Madison where the plastic flamingo has been formally written into the city's books as its official city bird. Madison is also known for such outlandish rituals as the nude bike ride and the Willy Street Fair where the city's hippies come out in full regalia to relive the sixties in all its many splendored colors.
One ritual that happens every spring is the Fools Flotilla, a boat ride that traverses the Yahara River connecting lakes Monona and Mendota. Hundreds of daring souls man their kayaks, paddleboards, and anything else they think will float them down the river in an outrageous display of tomfoolery. It's a neighborhood-generated event ending at Marquette's neighborhood party, the Marquette Waterfront Festival.
The flotilla starts at the lochs just beyond Lake Mendota and then proceeds down the Yahara traveling under nine bridges that cross the river and then ending where the river dumps into Lake Monona.
It was Thing One and Thing Two that led the flotilla in their mossy green canoe.
Tethered to the back of their canoe was some sort of fish that I had a hard time figuring out. At one minute I thought it seemed shark-like and then the next I felt it was a little Pinocchio and the whale.
After this the only real boat came carrying one of the most eclectic mess of musicians drunk enough to play tune after tune in spite of the sway of the current and the drag of the rest of the armada.
From there it was a sea of the truly ridiculous.
A canoe filled with Vikings one of them having discovered the cellphone. Only a Viking would try to pull off the historical impossibility in Packerland.
There were so many mixed messages like the canoe led by Scooby-Doo with a band of total misfits.
A bunch of escapees from the zoo somehow managed to take flight in a set of canoes tied together and powered by a polar bear and two tigers
The tropics appeared in a boat festooned with a plastic palm tree the only ones that could grow and live through a Wisconsin winter manned by a pair of real chimps
Who could resist a pirate on a paddle-board armed with a bubble gun
Another group of Wisconsinites mashed their boats together using a rubber Holstein as their mascot
Love appeared to be in the air or more accurately in a rubber dingy.
A college slumber party seemed only appropriate as one of the last to paddle on by. It was a lazy run down the Yahara and these students seemed justifiably stunned and dazed since finals had just ended
I'd never seen the Fools Flotilla before but who could not enjoy watching all these floating devices making their lazy way down the Yahara accompanied by a band of misfit musicians.
The event is billed as a celebration of water art and music and like all the events in Madison it has its own unique spin.
Zissou, Rouzat, 1911
Jacques Henri Lartigue, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYCs

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