Decades ago, I lived in Michigan. It was during my early 20s, years of urban unrest in Detroit and of personal unrest in me. The imprint of those experiences had become indelible, so when we decided to visit a New Hampshire friend who had moved to Ann Arbor, it was time for some interior housecleaning. The work of this pilgrimage to here surfaced once again.
We headed to our campsite at Bruin Lake on a cold and windy afternoon, got set up and headed right to town. One of our Wyoming friends, a University of Michigan alum, had suggested some must see and do things while in town, and I was determined to get present and sweep out the cobwebs of time past. We walked around the Law Quadrangle on the University campus. A man named William Cook gave the money to build the Law Quadrangle buildings just before the Depression kicked in (1920s), and worked with architects in New York and England to recreate the look of stone Gothic buildings (think Yale and Harvard and Cambridge). It is magnificent.
The University has some amazing museums and over the next couple of days, we had time to visit just two at our leisurely pace, the Museum of Natural History and the Kelsey Museum of Archeology. The latter had a great exhibit called The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. More than 2,000 years ago, extremely wealthy Romans lived and played on the sunny shores of the Bay of Naples at Pompeii and in luxury villas nearby, unconcerned about Mount Vesuvius in the distance. One of the most luxurious of these retreats, Oplontis, set on a cliff 40 feet above the Mediterranean shoreline, was rumored to be the summer villa of Emperor Nero’s second wife, Poppaea.
For whatever reason, the villa itself had been abandoned by the time of Vesuvius’ catastrophic eruption in 79 AD, but a commercial wine distribution center next door was thriving. Falling ash and pyroclastic flows buried empty dining rooms, a swimming pool, private rooms adorned with spectacular frescos. Preserved next door were wine and oil-filled amphorae, a strong-box with coins, and skeletons of people hiding in the barrel-vaulted storage rooms at the water’s edge, waiting for a rescue that never came. The Villas at Oplontis, now a World Heritage Site at present-day Torre Annunziata, have been under archaeological excavation for many years and large parts of the villa and the wine center have been uncovered.
The murals and the colors and the vibrancy of the paintings and frescoes were astounding. The day we visited was the final day of the exhibition and the next stop is the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, opening on June 18. We are thinking we may head there on our trip to Wyoming later in the summer and see what Bozeman does with the parts that Ann Arbor didn’t even have room to display.
The reunion with our friend included rich conversation over great food and drink at SAVA, a downtown restaurant. I continued my experience of trying local brews with one called Third Coast Old Ale by Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. Pretty darn tasty!
We feel into the cadence of comfortable conversation with Mark, our friend, who retired about one year ago as the rector of the church we had attended in Keene, St. James Episcopal Church. He and his wife have purchased a farmhouse out in the countryside which looks remarkably similar to New Hampshire. Mark has moved into leading a local writer’s group, and is now preparing for an eleven-day trip to Scotland in the fall. Mark’s updates beautifully illustrate how staying open to the surprises of life can open our hearts.
We witnessed this heart-opening yet again when Peter and I headed down to the bike path in the lovely little town of Dexter, between our campground and downtown. A car pulled up and the couple got out and got their bikes set up for a ride. They saw our New Hampshire plates and came over because their daughter has just moved to Hanover, New Hampshire as a chaplain at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Once again, we had established a common and synchronistic bond which deepened when we learned that he (Mike), who is retiring in the very near future, has been dreaming of getting an Airstream and traveling. They invited us over for dinner (Mike is a great cook) of Indian food and more conversation the following evening. We left a copy of Monadnock at the Millennium with them for their enjoyment. Our community connections continue to grow as we travel and meet new people and celebrate reunions with old friends and stay in touch with those of you who travel with us in spirit.
Postscript on the University of Michigan: From the cobwebs came the memory of singing the “Michigan Fight Song” on Saturday nights after dinner at college in Indiana:
“Hail to the victors valiant; Hail to the conqu’ring heroes; Hail Hail to Michigan; The leaders and best!” I know that our Wyoming friends will let me know if I got it right…
Peter and Liz continue their travels, this week driving from Ann Arbor to Ohio and the Airstream factory in Jackson Center for T2’s annual check-up.