When I left you last Toronto had just lodged itself in my heart, but when the day came to leave the road felt right again. Climbing into my little four-wheeled home, I packed at dawn and found a spot on Lake Ontario for my cup of coffee. Flapping gulls and vivacious septuagenarians were my only companions, but none of us felt like breaking the seal of that early morning. I drank and drank and drank that sunrise. Somehow, these feel like things I must do. Sunrises, and lake dunks, and beautiful shady spots; all feel weighty in a way that I usually miss in my day-to-day. I'm not going to write about how each of us should take time every day to find moments like that, because I'm not sure that's all it is. There is something about cultivating the voice that encourages you to attack those weighty moments that is worth paying attention to. But then we just hold on for the ride, or at least that how it feels for me.
This was to be my first big day of driving. 274 miles to Ann Arbor for lunch with an old friend, and then 259 more to Evanston, just outside of Chicago, to stay with my relatives. Crossing the border was trippy, like any of these moments of sudden intimacy with a humungous governmental machine. At first, I am always a little peeved with their rehearsed, slightly-suspicious attitude, but driving away from his kiosk I was struck more by the little parts of his delivery that required personality and warmth. Over an 8 hour day, that's a lot of warmth; good on him.
Lunch was excellent, Indian, a "cross between curry and stir-fry," said their menu. Anything festooned with shreds of raw ginger automatically gets a VIP pass into my stomach (and out of it, apparently). And seeing my friend, a violinist at U of M, was inspiring. Without ever wavering, her commitment to getting elbow-deep in music has been like a lantern for the rest of us to follow since I first played with her in 9th grade youth orchestra. Being at the university has allowed her to take classes that seems scrumptiously poignant ('Music School of the Future'), while her own innate hunger for good, new stuff has led her to all sorts of tasty premieres (playing with the composer), chamber groups and teaching experiences (teaching graphic notation, with balls of yarn, to 5 year olds? yes, please). There are people like this all over the country, folks, so PLEASE GO SEE NEW MUSIC. Ahem.
Driving away I felt buzzed to try new things, but in a way different from when I was younger. Without just trying a skill or a technique or an area on for size, I love the idea of sending little tendrils of growth out from my established and cultivated garden of experience. What I mean, I guess, is that the new that comes out of the old is of worth in a way that make them definitively not fads. Stay tuned for such new things.
But the buzz didn't last, and pretty soon I was blinking my eyes open, never a good sign when behind the wheel. Pulling over, I threw down one of my better KB workouts thus far, right there on the grass by the semi-trucks. Woke me right up.
The rest of the drive stretched long, but time zones were on my side in a surprising (to me) way. For the record, 25 hour days really are an amazing thing. At one point, though, I stopped in Gary, Indiana for gas. While it recalled my one and only musical theater experience (Music Man--I was 5, so no I won't sing any tunes from it), things have changed from how they were presented to me. I have never seen a more desolate town. Buildings were bombed, out with deep gapping holes where windows should've been, chewing on the tired town's overheated and underpopulated sidewalks. The only activity was at the town's 2 gas stations, where a full-bore competition for my car-wash business was in effect. While I didn't stop for the wash, the scene was poignant. The dark house where the washing apparently took place stood empty, with 15 or so men getting old right there. I wondered what our conversation might be like, but my schedule (or my fear?) pushed me onward.
And then, after a quick skirmish through Chicago with the most tense traffic this side of Istanbul, I got to Evanston at sundown. In case you didn't know, Evanston is the nicest suberb in America. Okay, maybe not, but heysoos kristo, the wide avenues! the beautiful, gigantic houses! the lawns! the perfect dance of classic with modern! I felt a little trashy for liking it so much.
And of course, my relatives have, since my last visit, moved into an incredible Art Deco house, one of the last in the area apparently. A big, white brick affair, the house is edged with classy, square ornaments. Warm wood and careful craftsmen accents fill each corner. Amazingly, such a beautiful home felt lived in, too, what with my cousins and their awesome bebes (aged 7 years and 20 months, respectively) staying there for a month or so. Somehow I scored a visit with three distinct pieces of that clan in the same pass-through. Mega efficient.
And then I had one day to see Chicago. Somewhat dreading the 17-mile trek to downtown, I got a late start (having to attend to some serious cousin play-time at the park followed by Breakfast, capital B). But once i got going, all the pieces fell together.
The Lakeshore bike path was coursing with Sunday recreaters (right? recreation-ers?), and I was more than happy to slow down around them. Lake Michigan was righteously frothing with wind, charged with the hot air in that special Midwestern way, and I dipped my toes for a bit. Riding on, I found the Art Institute and dipped my toes in there, too (my uncle's yearly pass getting me fo' free!). It felt like a buffet at La Bernadin, like karaoke at the Berlin Phil--like any type of fine art I could want was there, and all the very best.
One exhibiting artist, Zarina, had an exhibit almost entirely done in paper, exploring texture and shadow and reptition--some of my favorite stuff. But one aspect called to me, being on this trip and all: her extensive travel has taken her all over the world, and obviously informed her work. But through it all, she says in one quote, the idea of home has been her guiding vision. Whether that home was the crappy rental apartments in '70s New York, or her car during long drives through Eastern Europe, or anywhere else, the idea of four walls and a ceiling, filled with herself and her art, kept her warm. This is important for all of us, I think.
And somehow, I realized at this point, that all the time with my people helped to refine my inner rudder. How different this town felt than Montreal, and not just for the obvious reasons; by being in orbit with people I knew for just a little while, the gravity of myself felt firmer and more ready to negotiate all the excellent pieces of Chicago that I found.
After a quick jaunt through Millenium Park, and some pictures of Gehry's incredible pavilion, I took off. Navigating Chicago by bike was a real trip. Such a huge city seemed cut down to size as soon as I stood up on the pedals and grabbed a lane. Weaving through skyscrappers and under the columns of the L train tracks, I wound through Lincoln Park to see another friend, and got back to Evanston just in time for the end of dinner.
The next morning, with all the kiddos gone, I got to practice in that big, beautiful house, with a big, beautiful Steinway B, no less. My trumpet loved dancing with the acoustic of the room, and while my fingers were stiff on the piano keys, playing my stilted Bach felt very, very right. Buzzed, I left for Madison.