Friday, 25 July 2008

Visiting Madison

Between 15 May and 16 June we were visiting Ane’s family (her mum Inge, stepdad Søren, and two sisters Alexandra and Natasha) in Madison, Wisconsin.

One of the north-central states, Wisconsin is situated between Lake Michigan to the east and the upper Mississippi River to the west. The area, originally inhabited by Sauk, Ojibwa, and Menominee Indians, was settled by German, Scandinavian and Polish immigrants. Between 1634 and 1763 the region was under French control, and subsequently acquired by Britain and, in 1783, the United States. In 1848 it became the 30th member state of the US. These days it is commonly known as the Cheese State, or, perhaps more favourably, the Dairy Land of America; it is first in the nation in the production of milk, cheese, and butter. Its landscape is not entirely unlike the south of Scandinavia, with rolling hills, pastures and arable land dotted with red farmhouses. Many place names hold witness to the Scandinavian and German heritage (Little Norway, Oslo, Rheinelander), and even though language shift to English was completed long ago, one often encounters signs in Norwegian or Swedish, such as in the little hamlet of Mount Horeb (below).

Madison, the state capital, is one of the friendliest and most European-like of the American cities, complete with a comprehensive bicycle path network, good public transportation, and a lot of alternative shops and slow-food restaurants. Add to it the beautiful location (on a narrow isthmus between two large lakes), the low crime rate and relative prosperity, and it is no wonder that Madison is widely considered one of the best places to live in the US. Somewhat uniquely, the town, or rather its site, was selected as the capital of Wisconsin before a single house was built there, thanks to the somewhat dubious lobbying activities of the local landowner J. D. Doty.

Central to the life of present-day Madison is the main campus of the University of Wisconsin. Founded in 1849, it is one of the largest state universities, with an enrolment of about 160.000 students. The Madison campus is also one of the world’s greatest research centres, and it is there Søren works as Professor of Human Oncology and of Medical Physics.

North and west of Madison agricultural land gradually gives place to more wooded landscape, with northern evergreen–hardwood forest and larger lakes. Most of Wisconsin is genuine ice age landscape, created during the recent Wisconsin Glacial Stage, and consisting at places of rough, boulder-strewn moraines.

Back to our trip: we had had no idea how Tristan would cope with the challenges of transatlantic travel, but in the end everything went fine. He apparently found it all extremely entertaining, and spent his time playing, sleeping, and charming the stewardesses and fellow passengers. Jetlag was not a problem, either, with the result that he was more or less following his usual rhythm, while Ane and I lay sleepless in the middle of the first few nights.

Although we spent most of our time in Madison, enjoying Søren and Inge’s hospitality, there was time for a bit of walking in the Devil’s Lake state park, drinking beer at the Memorial Union Terrace, and for participating in the famous annual Brat Fest.

Another highlight of the trip was our friend Jiyeon’s visit from Chicago. We managed to invite her just before she was heading off to Norway for a year to rejoin the Camphill movement. We could also test her impressive knowledge of Norwegian, all self-taught.

We also had our fair share of the Midwest’s extreme weather, with torrential rains, tornadoes and impressive thunderstorms. Several weather records were broken during our visit, and we were fortunate enough to witness it all. We also witnessed Tristan passing several significant developmental milestones while in Madison. He learned to turn from his stomach to his back (the movement in the other direction he had mastered for months), and began to stand with support. It was also great to watch him bond with his grandparents and aunts, and playing outside when the weather permitted it. If he continues to develop at the present rate, he will be running around when we next visit Madison at Christmas.

See also: slide show beside

1 comment:

Søren said...

Hi Zsolt, enjoyed reading your new blog...

Just a couple of supplementary notes on Madison. The population of the Madison Metropolitan area is 540,000 people. And it is true that it is a very livable city. I had a cab driver once, who claimed that in other parts of the US, they refer to Madison as "65 square miles surrounded by reality". Besides cheese, the state is also famous for its good beer... which explains the Wisconsin souvenir T-shirt with the print: "I am tired of the cheese, but I still like the beer".