Glorious in Ann Arbor

It was a glorious afternoon.  In trying to take it all in, I was inspired to try a haiku (a form I’ve never before employed):

Lunch by chance on State

Old stone cut by green space and bells

Goofy smiles on faces

Why do we love Ann Arbor?  It is a mix of experience and circumstance, individual to each of us.  But this afternoon exemplified it for me.

First, in anticipation of a matinée, we tried a new restaurant near State Street, Tian Chu  (they show the two syllables joined or separate in different applications).  It has been reviewed elsewhere but we had wandered in just as they opened.  Because the proprietor seemed so proud of it earlier, I chose the Bamboo Tofu and my husband chose the Bulgogi lunch box.  As noted by the linked review and our earlier chat with the proprietor, this family has lived in China (as Korean minority persons) and operated a Korean restaurant in Hungary.  They are truly cosmopolitan and the menu is an intriguing mixture of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese specialities, blended without apology as appropriate.  So my husband had as part of his Korean (main dish) meal, egg drop soup (Chinese) and I chose the miso.  Then we shared three Korean-style side dishes as appetizer, a clearly homemade kimchi (yes, Napa cabbage), mung bean sprouts with sesame oil dressing, and a light pancake with scallion.  My bamboo tofu was delicate, served in a bamboo section.  It was vegetarian, with a light broth (seasoned with chili and sesame), silken tofu, bamboo sprouts, and thin slices of green squash (zucchini, I think).  His bulgogi came with rice (as did my dish) but in the lunch box (a Japanese construct) were included a sweetish pickle and soybean sprouts, plus a slice of vegetable/egg sushi (Japanese) and two deep-fried dumplings (he said they were like Chinese spring rolls) and a sauce for dipping.  It all came with a special tea that the waitstaff said was based on several grains.  This in a tranquil peach-colored interior and with a ceremonial presentation.  Next time I want to try the Tonkatsu lunch box (a Japanese specialty) and then maybe the Mapo tofu (a Chinese dish I crave sometimes).  It was a lovely leisurely lunch.

We emerged into one of those magical spring afternoons. Early April and sunshine.  Some chain restaurants were closed for Easter but we were able to obtain ice cream at Amer’s, picking our way over the trash left from Hash Bash.  But who cared?  It was a lovely afternoon, everyone of every age I passed seemed to be in a daze and many of us returned smiles to one another.

Then slowly, slowly to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League.  We reminded ourselves that this building originated as the women’s union when the male undergraduates wouldn’t let them into the Union.  But let’s put all that behind us.  It was too early to go in for our matinée performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, so we wandered about the Burton Tower area.  I realized that one part of the charm of the UM campus is that it provides copious amounts of green space.  I imagined myself as an undergraduate lolling on the lawn or leaning against a tree with a book (there were one or two but most gone for the holiday).  The UM provides allées, majestic sculptures and fountains (donated, not from taxpayer dollars), sweeping plantings, benches, and green, green, green. The buildings themselves have a monumental quality, set off by their surroundings.  I realized that nearly every building has either a major open space in its vicinity or a particular one closely associated with it.  There is a nice little area just at the Lydia Mendelssohn end of the League that has some benches, some plantings not yet in flower, and a winding path.  Some people in my general age range (plus) were clustered there enjoying the sunshine.  Meanwhile Burton Tower chimed the quarter-hour, then the half-hour.  There were not many other people around but whether they were pushing strollers or warming old bones, virtually every one had the same rather goofy smile that I’m sure I was displaying.  It was just a lovely afternoon.

Then to the performance.  It was another UMGASS production.  The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society has been active since 1947.  I’m a member of FUMGASS (Friends of…).  There is a whole network of G&S societies across the United States and elsewhere.  It is a perfect fusion of students, University personnel, and community members in a labor of love and delight.  The artistic director  (Joshua Borths) of this particular performance wrote a preamble to the program explaining the ongoing importance of G&S in this time of troubles. “For me, the operettas of G&S convey life at its most innocent and love at its purest…the experience for the audience becomes one that isn’t found in the rest of our popular culture – an experience of pure joy”.

But another aspect is that this is one of the purest community endeavors that I am engaged with.  The audience is a wonderful intergenerational mix.  But the cast and production is all “amateur” (a term incorporating “lover”) – unless you count the budding professionals from UM musical studies who will add this to their portfolios.  Many members, though, are UM students or staff who have been appearing in these performances for years though their specialties are in other fields.  Others are simply members of the community at large.  From the staff and cast bios: “major in UM Vocal Performance and Musicology at UM” “Student services coordinator in the College of LSA” “Master’s Candidate in Orchestral Conducting” “Wildlife Biologist” “UM Professor Emeritus” “vocal performance and neuroscience major”  “a graduate of UM with majors in linguistics and physics, now in his 13th semester with UMGASS” “A mom, singer, and server from Philadelphia” “retired lawyer and law professor”.  I’ve left many out, apologies.  A longtime presence has been the Zinn family, including Karl Zinn in production and David Zinn, the local illustrator whose drawings have graced many environmental and governmental publications as well as UMGASS programs over the years.

This was one of the best-performed UMGASS productions that I’ve attended for a long time. (Not that I’m complaining.) All the principals were very good, managing the trademark G&S patter song beautifully, with good strong voices.  And the joy and pride were evident.

All in all, the day typified what is glorious about Ann Arbor.  Local quirky but serious business effort.  Community-based cooperative effort to celebrate a long-term tradition.  Beautiful campus opening even to us townies.  And the sunlight.  And the goofy grins.

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2 Comments on “Glorious in Ann Arbor”

  1. Diana Dyer Says:

    Hi Vivienne,
    What a great afternoon! Sounds like the only thing missing was a sighting of the campus peregrine falcons (unless I missed that notation in your post). After living in and loving Madison, WI, I confess it took me a while to put down roots here in Ann Arbor. However, my reaction to your post was in the line of “I love living here, too!”.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Thanks, Diana – alas, I missed the falcons. I’ll watch for them in the future.

      We spent seven years in graduate school at Madison and for a long time it was the only good place. I still miss the lakes! But this town is my home now.

      To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “A wonderful city, if you can keep it.”

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