Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the Advisability of Maps

We came to Ann Arbor on this last leg of our trip because Hank has his quarterly EPMG directors' meeting here. That means that today, he is stuck in windowless rooms looking at slides of people's colons. This does not strike me as a good time, so after wrapping myself affectionately around a garden omelet and some coffee, I rented a PT Cruiser (don't judge; it was cheap), and set off for the University of Michigan.

If we were still in Chicago, I wouldn't have the nerve to do this, but I remembered from our last trip that drivers in Ann Arbor are mellow to the point of comatose. They do not honk at you or flip you off if you make a mistake. In fact, they will graciously allow you to turn wherever you want, and I've noticed that they're remarkably tolerant of jaywalkers. For some reason, these mapless forays always end with me on the phone to Kathy, having her look up streets on Mapquest and tell me where the heck I am. The tradition of hotels handing out useful maps of a metropolitan area has really gone by the boards.

What I wanted to do first was go to St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (cf. "cathedrals") to pray for the son of friends who is in critical condition in a nowhere-near-state-of-the-art hospital in Nepal. (What is it with Nepal? I do not want Christopher to get wind of all this; he's anxious enough as it is.) I discovered that parking anywhere near St. Thomas was out of the question, and of course, one doesn't need a church to pray in, but I was looking for the focused intention that churches bring.

I found it in a huge photograph of a Portuguese cathedral that covers most of a wall in the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The museum was such a serendipitous find. It's small enough to be manageable -- unlike the Carnegie, in Pittsburgh, which needs a couple of days, or the National Gallery, in DC, which could take the better part of a lifetime. Art has to be ingested in small doses. You CAN rip through a musem and glance at everything, but enjoying what you see takes time. You have to be able to walk away, come back, stand and look from different angles, and generally mosey around. The UMMA galleries are perfect for this. I particularly liked line drawings by Gustav Klimt, small Chinese porcelains, and a wall of modern woodcarvings. My favorite thing, though, was a modern sculpture called "Stones from the River." Carved wooden bowls nestle in a low, teardrop shaped bench. The entire installation is about six feet long. When I was there, the sun was just touching the side of it, and it reminded me, for some reason, of Dad. This tiny picture doesn't do it justice, but it was the only one I could find.

After walking through the beautiful buildings of the law school and the elegant Student Union Building, I was headed home, but got sidetracked by the Forest Hill Cemetery, where I spent a happy half-hour lost on the myriad paths. I don't know why people find cemeteries morbid -- they're green and beautiful and full of quiet. This one was immense and full of the light-honey smell of blooming spirea. It was peaceful and gave me the energy to locate Division Street and the only way I knew back to the hotel. I can't expect Kathy to always put her job on standby while she helps me navigate long-distance.

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