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I can’t explain what possessed me to start doing this but, similar to the things I find on City of Milwaukee sidewalks and our view of Lake Michigan, I started noticing the cinematography in some of the things I was seeing on TV and in movies, and freeze-framing and taking pictures of them with my iPhone.

A few weeks ago as I was watching the “Cold Stones” episode of “The Sopranos,” it struck me how similar one scene in it is to some elements of one of my favorite stories: “The Awakening,” written in 1899 by Kate Chopin.

In “Cold Stones,” AJ continues acting like a jerk; Vito comes back to town; Vito is killed; Fat Dom is killed; the ghosts of Adriana, Tony B, and Big Pussy appear; and Carmela and Rosalie go to Paris.

In Paris, Carmela and Ro are consumed with restaurants, shopping, smoking, and travel guides. But at one point on a walking tour, they turn on to the Pont Alexandre III bridge over the Seine and Carmela’s arm holding the travel guide drops to her side. She is in awe of the statues there. “Oh my god,” she says. “Who could have built this?” And then she can’t say anymore. The rest of the scene plays out in silence save for ambient sound and Ro’s rumblings. Carmela slowly and surely realizes that the world at large is much bigger than hers back in Jersey. And, as IMDB puts it, she wonders about her place in that bigger world. The whole thing runs maybe one minute.

 

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The scene that immediately follows is Sil instructing someone who’s cleaning the sign outside the Bada Bing. It reminds me of how John and I felt upon returning to the States after our trip to Scotland.

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The last time I posted photographs of the things I find on City of Milwaukee sidewalks, it was December 2012. Here’s a year’s worth, from New Year’s Day 2013 through New Year’s Day 2014.

Last year I found several remnants of New Year’s Eve strewn about Milwaukee’s East Side, which is Party Central every weekend of the year but especially on December 31st. I’m always curious how something like the inside of someone’s shoe ends up on a sidewalk.

The spray-painted carp can be found in several places around the East Side. They travel in groups; there’s never just one. The “R” had fallen from the marquis of the Oriental Theater on Farwell. I picked it up and moved it by the front door; it was heavy, like iron. There was no dead body or dried pool of blood nearby.

Spring in Milwaukee usually lasts one month; two if we’re lucky. Most years we jump straight from winter into summer.

The sidewalks dry up. The salt flies away. Plants and flowers pop up through any opening the sun coaxes them through.

Summer sidewalks make a perfect canvas.

Milwaukee falls generally last longer than Milwaukee springs. Leaves make pretty patterns and get tangled up with lost or discarded things.

One of the funniest things I found on the sidewalks in 2013 is a white piece of paper with the words “Large” and “Wealthy” handwritten on it. I generally leave the things I find on the sidewalk on the sidewalk. Unless it’s money. “Large” and “Wealthy” was just too rich to leave behind. It’s on my dining room table right now.

At the tail-end of fall, we Milwaukeeans hang on to every little bit of good weather we can. We pay tribute to happy, flowery days in chalk. Bees are at the end of their life cycle. They no longer fly. They crawl, looking for warm spots on the concrete before they die.

If anyone ever tells you that Gummi bears and the like never spoil, they are wrong. A Gummi worm lay on the sidewalk near our place for two weeks, and two things about that were amazing to me: first, that no one stepped on it and smooshed it, and second, that it turned jet black exposed to the elements. After three weeks or so it looked like a skinny dog turd. Try explaining that to the young guy who passes by as you’re taking a picture of it.

Fall 2013 in Milwaukee lasted less than one hot minute. It got cold in early October and it’s been cold ever since. On a minus-17-degree day John and I bundled up and took an hour-long walk just to see what it would be like. Our knees were frozen in 15 minutes. The sidewalk outside a small building of condominiums was lined with ten or so discarded Christmas trees, still looking green and fresh. My iPhone was not capable of capturing all them lying in a row, waiting to be picked up for, we had hoped, recycling. So imagine the row of them continuing past your left shoulder.

The confetti was scattered all over the footbridge just north of Winsdor on Prospect. Every week a little bit more of it blows away.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014.

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05. May 2013 · 6 comments · Categories: Photos

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In Milwaukee, this is the time of year when we are so afraid it’s never going get warm again. We’ve had six straight months of hard, cold winter weather here on the west coast of Lake Michigan. Winter is not leaving gracefully and we are paranoid.

This time of year, Winter is also mentally and emotionally abusive to Milwaukeeans. It toys with us, like it did last week, when temperatures shot to the eighties and we went nuts, donning shorts and flip-flops, and sipping German beers al fresco under bare trees.

 

 

Then Winter said, “I don’t think so.” Temperatures plummeted back into the thirties; sleet fell; frigid winds leaked through the windows and we had to turn the heat on again. Friday it started raining just after John and I started out for a long walk. We looked at each other and sighed, pulled down our caps, bent forward and went. Milwaukeeans feel a keen sense of defeat this time of year.

 

 

Although we long for Winter to give up and go home, there’s one thing about it I will miss, and that’s the spectacular effect it had on Lake Michigan this year. I’m no weather expert, but there was something about the cold and snow and ice and the way the light hit everything. I’ve looked out at the lake every day for nine years now and I’ve never seen it look as strangely beautiful as it did this past winter.

Hate to say it, but I will miss it.

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This is our view of Lake Michigan, along the coast of Milwaukee. We’re lucky: even though the front of our apartment faces west, the back of it faces east. And so we are afforded two spectacular views.

Since it’s been a while since I posted shots of the ever-changing lake – and I’m more in photo- and music-mode than reading- and writing-mode at the moment – here is a new group of them. Although a few are from 2010-11, most are from this year, culminating in a shot from this morning during our first snowfall of the season.

The eerie-looking pink-orange-purple one and the one before it were taken October 30, when Hurricane Sandy was expected to create 18-foot waves but didn’t.

As I’ve said before, the two things I love about our view are: 1) it is the same shot every time, framed by three buildings behind ours; and 2) viewed in this way, Lake Michigan – in combination with the sky over it – is like an ever-changing work of art, sometimes changing color and texture three or four times in one day.

I feel honored to document Lake Michigan in this way. I try not to take it for granted. Just as I am ever aware there is a moon in the sky, I am ever aware there is a lake out there.

For more photos of Lake Michigan from our place, see Part 1.

 

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Ever since dog-friendly Park Lafayette opened – two new towers built atop a former green space a block and half away from our building – we have a lot more pups in our neighborhood. Big, small, pedigreed, mutts: they are everywhere now, chasing balls on the beach, sauntering past sidewalk cafés, waiting for their owners outside the market.

It never occurred to me to take their pictures before, but with this installation of “Sidewalk Series” – photos of things I find on City of Milwaukee sidewalks – I’ve begun. In addition to canines, you’ll find fall leaves. Heartwarming graffiti. Heartbreaking graffiti. An intact, left-behind McDonald’s meal. A country-fried steak sandwich still in its wrapper, sitting outside the District 1 headquarters of the Milwaukee Police Department.

There’s Homer Simpson. A page from a very old book written in Spanish. White paint tracked down Brady Street. Hairbands and hot peppers, the two objects I find most often. I wonder why so many bands fall out of hair without their wearers knowing it. The hot peppers – peperoncini and jalapeños mostly – are always strewn about as if someone, upon opening his or her to-go container on the way home from one of the dozens of restaurants on the East Side, was so repulsed as to discard them immediately.

One of the more interesting objects is a clothespin with “Eric Sommer.com” stamped on it. Turns out Eric Sommer is an East Coast musician who’d just played in Milwaukee at The Up and Under on Brady Street and uses the clothespins as business cards.

 

I have a Tumblr now! It’s where the pictures I don’t use here live.

For more photos of fall leaves on sidewalks, seeIn the fog

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of “Sidewalk Series”

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In June I told you about a project I’d started: photographing things I find on Milwaukee’s city sidewalks. My mama had always yelled at me to stand up straight when I walk, but I still do it leaning forward and looking at the ground. The habit became useful when I got my iPhone and started taking pictures of the stuff I find down there.

I posted the first forty shots back then. You can also find them (among others) under my Photos tab. What follows are the next forty shots in the series.

Some notes:

The first “Dad” graffiti I found was “I Love You, Dad” on a sidewalk on Farwell Avenue. Then I found it on the other side of the street and farther south and over on Prospect Avenue. It was nowhere near Father’s Day. At the time I imagined that someone’s father had just died and the writer was grieving on the sidewalks, sensing it in the hastiness in which it seemed to be written and the droopiness of the letters. I still feel this way every time I see them.

I don’t know who or what Visceral is, but I have him pictured as, well, a he, and a rapper or a tagger, like the ones I saw in the documentary “Infamy” a few years ago. His tag is all of a sudden everywhere, usually in black paint. The last one I saw looked as if it had been written in Gorilla Glue: amber in color, drippy, tacky. If anyone in Milwaukee knows who or what Visceral is, drop me a line.

The recliner: I discovered it the way you first see it here. Over a period of two weeks, the beer bottle disappeared. Then the armrest covers. Then the bottom cushion. In the final stages of its evolution, upholstery was ripped from it, padding exposed. The chair got pushed over on to one side, then the other, then on to its back. Then it disappeared altogether.

The magazine rack: I discovered it on my way to a breakfast meeting. Early American-ish, like one your dentist might have hanging in the waiting room. Excellent condition. A flea market price tag on it. I wanted to take it. But: the meeting. I decided to snag it on my way back, if it was still there. It was not.

Something I could not take a picture of I found on a heavily trafficked sidewalk a half-block from our place: a tiny little creature – I did not know what – lying by its lonesome, fetal, eyes that had never opened. A Google search revealed that it was a newborn gray squirrel. It had apparently fallen from a nest in a tree that hung over the sidewalk. It was dead.

I shoved the iPhone in my back pocket, wrapped the baby squirrel in a Kleenex, dug a hole under a tree in our courtyard, and covered the tiny thing with a leaf, then dirt. If you want to know what it looks like, you’ll have to Google it for yourself.

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04. July 2012 · 4 comments · Categories: Photos

Our friend Wendy invited us to her place last night for a party followed by a rooftop viewing of the fireworks Milwaukee puts on in honor of the Fourth of July along Lake Michigan.

The moon was full and glorious and cast its light on the still water. Most of the chairs on the roof were pointed away from it toward Veterans Park, where the hour-long fireworks display took place just off the coast. Several boats surrounded the area; the people on half of them would have had to completely turn around to even notice the moon. A few of us up on the roof pressed against the railing to take pictures of it. But when the fireworks began, our attention shifted south.

I started taking pictures, not sure how they would turn out. At some point early on I realized that I could get the moon and the fireworks in the same shot, every shot, the moon sitting quietly, consistently on the left, burning its gaze on to the lake, while the fireworks, on the right, vacillated among frenetic, grand, gyrating, ear-shattering, choreographed to thrill. Like a little kid running around yelling, “Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

All the while the moon kept whispering, Hey. I’m right over here. 

I’m still here.

I’m still here.

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30. June 2012 · 5 comments · Categories: Photos

My brothers and I walked to the elementary school we attended as kids, just four blocks up the cinder path from our house. All our friends from our development went there too.

My mother would wait until we got down the driveway and on to the street, and then open the door and holler, “Stand up straight when you walk!”

She was talking to me. I’d jerk my head up, thrust my shoulders back and hips forward, but I could only hold it so long before it all went slack and I went back to staring at the ground, bent forward, looking as if I were in a hurry to get somewhere.

It’s a habit I’ve had all my life, and I’m trying to break myself of it as we speak, especially after seeing recent pictures of myself on stage at a music gig, thinking I’m all statuesque, but hunched over as if I’m trying to protect myself.

The habit has come in handy, however. Eight years ago when John and I married, I moved downtown with him. We walked everywhere. Used the bus sometimes. Used our cars seldom. We got rid of one. I walked to school, to meetings, to work, see friends, get my hair cut, all with my head down, looking at the sidewalk. I found money down there. Jewelry. An angry note. Works of art. Profound messages. Slices of American cheese.

And I thought, you just don’t see this everywhere. And that American cheese would make a great framed piece. Finally, a year ago, I started taking pictures of what I found on the city sidewalks. Which practice became easier after I got my iPhone.

What you see here is the beginning of the culmination of an idea I’ve had all these eight years. While I am walking straighter these days, when I’m out on the streets I just can’t help myself. Sorry, Mom.

This and other Sidewalk Series galleries can also be found at the Photos tab above. My Lake Michigan from Our Place galleries are there too.

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31. May 2012 · 9 comments · Categories: Photos

Since moving to Wisconsin I’ve lived in two extremes: out in the country and down in the city.

My husband had already been living in the City of Milwaukee’s East Side neighborhood for a year when I moved into his place: an Art Deco building along Lake Michigan that’s a stop on architectural walking tours.

If you could float high above our building and look down, you would see that it’s shaped like a capital “I” with serifs. On the upper floors, where we live, this means that you can see Lake Michigan from each unit, no matter which side of the building you live on.

Our view is from our dining room, framed by three neighboring buildings: one to the left, one to the right, and one below. I look out at the lake every single day. Its characteristics can change sometimes several times in one day, along with the landscape, the sky, the light. It’s like a perpetually changing work of art.

I started taking pictures of Lake Michigan, framed by the same three buildings, about eight years ago, year round. I have a few hundred now. Here are forty of them. Enjoy.

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