Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ann Arbor Traveling

The U-M football team was on the road last week so it was a quiet Saturday in Ann Arbor. The sun was shining and the yellow, orange and red of the autumn leaves were brilliant against a clear blue sky.

On the radio, Frank Sinatra sang out to me:

It's very nice to go trav'ling
To Paris, London and Rome
It's oh, so nice to go trav'ling
But it's so much nicer
Yes, it's so much nicer to come home.

Home - just where is that? As time passes, Paris and Pisa seem less and less like travel destinations and more and more like places to come home to. Our cabin draws us "up north" and our childhood homes stay in our memories. Still, it is Ann Arbor where we have our roots and where we are most at home.

Why then, do we take it for granted? On a day such as this in Paris or Pisa, we'd be out and about: walking the streets, poking into interesting stores, stopping at a cafe, visiting a museum. In Ann Arbor, we'd yet to step foot in the new, highly-acclaimed renovation and addition to the University of Michigan Art Museum. Has familiarity bred, if not contempt, at least complacency?

The time had come to be a tourist in our own hometown. With its stately university, traditional Midwestern wooden houses, tree-lined streets and thousands of young people, Ann Arbor looks like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. On our bikes headed toward the museum, we could have been the central characters on a Saturday Evening Post cover.

Two miles and 10 minutes later, we were standing in front of the Beaux Arts building of the original art museum. It's been seamlessly merged with a new light-filled 53,000 square foot addition, housing a collection that would be right at home in "Paris, London and Rome." (Click here to visit the museum.)

We wandered around happily for almost two hours when I was stopped in my tracks by a painting in the modern arts section of the museum - Max Beckmann's Begin the Beguine. One look and I was transported back home to New Jersey and my first job in Princeton. I worked for an erudite European who was a great admirer of the German Expressionists. Trying to instill a little culture into an unschooled girl from Trenton, he gave me a print of Begin the Beguine. It's an odd choice with which to begin an art education. I tried to appreciate it, but never really did. It was put in a drawer and then lost in a move.

Now here in Ann Arbor, right in front of me, was the original painting. It's got great color, good composition and a forceful subject matter that deals with Beckmann's ambivalence about American society - which ties in nicely with my musings on home. I still don't appreciate it, but I know enough now to know that that's okay. I moved on to one of my favorites - Picasso's Portrait of Françoise.

Afterwards, we walked around town a bit, then stopped in a cafe and made a list of all the tourist attractions in Ann Arbor. "Ol' Blue Eyes" was right: "it's oh, so nice to go trav'ling." (Click here to see more photos.)


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Well said! I think that at home, it's a case of "we can go there anytime," and so we never do! Good for you, checking out what's right there.

    I'm smiling at the mention of the German Expressionists--"my" Joe is a huge fan of those artists, and I never quite "get it." Intellectually, I find them interesting, but I am not normally attracted to their artwork, but Joe is fascinated by them, and loves their work. I'm not familiar with this particular one. I'll have to tell him to check it out! Wonderful post.

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