Monthly Archives: November 2012

R & R @ B & B

We had a getaway last week, right before Thanksgiving: an overnight stay at one of those Victorian-style Bed & Breakfast establishments. The place was unique and very enjoyable, and it came equipped with the prime requirement of all B & B’s or historic inns, or luxury hotel suites, or any other “Wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-stay-THERE” place: the giant soaking tub.

I’m married to the sort of spouse who needs a fairly good reason to go to the trouble of planning a getaway, and there are basically two types of good reasons:

  • a really cool destination that you would have on your life list of awesome places you hope to visit SOMEDAY (you could call it your Bucket List, but, hey, you don’t want to diaparage her tub too much)
  • a giant soaking tub

The tub does not, by the way, have to be of the churning where’d-the-soap-go-now whirlpool sort (though it can be that type, I’ve learned). But it does have to be deep enough that if you get a bit TOO relaxed? Paramedics become necessary.

Here’s where we stayed: It’s 50 miles off US 41, between Milwaukee and Madison in Cambridge, WI.

The B&B proprietors were very sweet to us, taking pity on a sad couple who can’t even get an entire weekend anymore, just a Tuesday night. We were the only ones there, and the place did echo a bit as we climbed oak stairs to find a combo of antiques + modern efficiency (think Claw-foot-tub-in-a-windowed-alcove AND Giant-shower-with-two-oversized-heads-surrounded-by-sleek-tile).

Oh yeah, there were also a Bed and a Breakfast included.

As far as supper, our hosts distinguished between eating and dining (the former readily available in Cambridge–the latter? Not so much.) We found a sandwich place close enough to walk (with an excellent IPA, thanks for asking).

Our accommodation was modern enough that after dinner we watched a DVD (yes, a normal movie, thank you very much), but Victorian enough that the flatscreen sat on top of the mantle. Victorians did not like fullblown entertainment systems with surround sound and everything. Tastes were simpler back then.

The next day was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and we explored the nearby town of Ft. Atkinson: the cheery, renovated public library (a hospitable local explained their community-wide project, restoring our faith in the Walkerized state of Wisconsin’s small town pride), the National Dairy Shrine (there will be cows) (and cheese), and the local supply of Native American Effigy Mounds (these are kept outdoors, but the afternoon was balmy)(for November).

The most unusual event of our day-of-local-exploration? We sought a specific effigy that had been described as unique in all the world. There are many effigy mounds built in the shapes of different animals and even spirit-shapes, some relatively small and some enormous–bears, panthers (both bears and mountain lions roamed the midwest until white settlers paid bounties for their extinction), snakes, and birds are common–however, they are all mounds.

All except one. There is only one surviving Native American effigy that is the opposite of a mound, an intaglio effigy, meaning instead of being mounded out of the earth, it is dug into the earth–and best seen when filled with water after a hard rain. We had directions on a tourist pamphlet, so we knew in what direction to head, but still we didn’t know exactly what we were looking for–its size, its specific location, and how it would be designated as a historic specialty.

Well, it wasn’t. It was on the side of a road, a numbered state highway with ordinary houses lining one side of the street and the scenic Rock River flowing on the other. There were three different signs all posted next to it, but the effigy itself was small enough to fit in someone’s front yard. Which is basically where it is. The houses nearby all have medium to large front yard space, and–there’s the intaglio effigy, the only one in the world, ready to get covered in snowplowed drifts whenever necessary.

There were over a dozen intaglio effigies scientifically discovered and desgnated in the mid-1800s, during Victorian times I suppose. All but this last remaining one were destroyed through negligence or even on purpose–they tended to be found in the middle of fields suitable for dairy herds or tilled crops. So there is exactly one left. It is of the panther variety.

If interested, go to Ft. Atkinson and head out of town, west on State 106. But keep your eyes open, because it just looks like somebody’s lawn.


Cool or what?


How do you define COOL?

Anyone trying to come up with cool places in the US might not initially consider Indiana for the top of their list. Yet the Indiana State Museum is sponsoring an effort to have visitors (both on-line and in-person) help define what cool means to them.

What’s up with this?

Definitions of cool (both words and images can be submitted) will be part of the museum’s effort to recognize a native Indianan who has helped define cool to the world for nearly 60 years. Hollywood actor James Dean died in a car crash in California on Sept. 30, 1955, but he grew up in central Indiana farm country.

Dean was only 24 years old, and only one of the Hollywood film performances that would forever define his image had even been released into theaters (it was East of Eden). He died on the cusp of his impending fame, so when his roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant splashed onto the widescreen audiences knew that his talent had already been swept away.

Maybe that added to the allure that he projected on screen, a sort of vulnerable toughness mixed with a brooding sense of you’ll-never-understand-all-there-is-inside-of-me. Was the real James Dean cool? Or was it just the characters he played?

There is a famous comment on jazz music–“Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”–and that from Louis Armstrong himself.

Maybe that’s how cool is, too.