Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lost In America:

Hello Friends of Lost In America!

I vaguely remember the last time I wrote, something about bread and beer. Well, it turns out that not much has changed. No, that's not entirely true; a lot has changed except for the bread. Another loaf is going in the oven pretty soon. It's a sweet one, with applesauce, raw honey, and nutmeg. Tomorrow is a roasted garlic loaf.

We are not lost in Chicago anymore; no siree, we headed out nearly two weeks ago for Wisconsin (you're right, it's not exactly west). Wisconsin, unlikely as it may seem, is the Eden of the Brussat name in the states; back in the 1870s, a Brussat who had been mayor of Koenigsburg, Germany (after fleeing France) came to Wisconsin and set up shop as a cobbler; that is, he made shoes and not delicious fruit-and-crisp desserts. The Brussats have mostly scattered since, setting up shop in DC, Providence, Arizona, and a nebula of other places (I think Tony holds the record for living in at least 7 distinct areas since I've been alive). The Brussats we stayed with in Wisconsin are actually Mary & Glen & Claire Elliot, but they'll have to wait a paragraph for chronology's sake...

You (the royal "you"), not being from Wisconsin, may hear the name and think such things as "cold," "Packers," and "cheese!" and while you'd be right on the money, there is so much more going on in Wisconsin than you think. Madison, the capitol, is hipper than you'd expect from a capitol city (sorry, Providence), brimming with brews, arts, and lakes. Liz and I decided to bum a couch there before going up to visit the cousins, and stayed in a student house that has Taco Tuesdays; how fortunate that we were there on that very day! Instead of the usual beans or meat substitute, we prepared some onions, carrots, and beets/greens from that day's farmer's market (there's one just about every day)-- and I managed to proselytise a beet skeptic into a beet worshipper! We also received the blessings of a local schizophrenic man while throwing the frisbee. He claimed either one or both of the following: that the frisbee floated like an angel from god, or that he himself was an angel sent by god. I told him we were throwing the frisbee all across the country. He said to Liz, "You GO, girl!"

The next part of our trip lasted nearly a week, which is long enough to become sedentary and not want to leave a place that is good, even if there is a World Summit of Deer Flies and Mosquitoes taking place in the front yard. Glen & Mary & Claire Elliot are in the final throes of a four-year house-building convulsion; the remaining work, which is minimal compared to the last few years, is being coughed out in little bits; a cork floor here, a ceiling fan there. In fact, the latter two activities are what Liz and I did during our stay. So what's hip about this house, you ask? It's a straw bale house, for one. For two, it's been built entirely by Glen, Mary, Claire, and their community friends using as local and "green" materials as possible (hence the cork floor; while not local, it is a continuously regenerating material, and thus sustainable; also very pretty to look at). If you are now asking, "What the ____ is a straw bale house? Is it susceptible to horses?" the answer is: the house is timber framed, and walled using tamped and baled straw (not hay, so no danger of equine damage). Straw provides a crazy amount of insulation, so the house stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer-- it was about 70 in the house while the weather outside was 85-90, and that's with no a/c.

OK, end of sermon. Build a good house if you get a chance, that's all. I'm gonna.

The Elliots and their two chipper, loving dogs Sam and Spencer live outside of Princeton, WI, which is the liveliest small town in the world. What a community! Mary and her sister (also a Brussat cousin) Sherry run a book/antique store called Pastimes, and they know everybody on the main street; when the flood waters rose a month ago, everybody came out and helped; when it was time to enlist help building the straw bale house, it was friends, not contracted labor, that came to the straw-tamping potlucks. This is why we're Lost In America, sniffing out a place where home isn't just a house and a yard, but the cheesily romantic description I just set forth. Home is where the party's at.

I could go on about the last week. In fact, I could have stretched the last seven days into seven weeks. It was a home. Anyhow, the fun parts: I made three of my best loaves yet, drank some wonderful Wisconsonian beer (New Glarus has some good ones-- Uff Da bock, especially), talked some good music, and got to see under a dog's skin (ok, that wasn't so great; Spencer, in his lustful chase after a frisbee, collided with a broken branch and tore himself open under the right armpit. He's doing fine, just wobbly, stitched up, and unable to chase a frisbee for a week or so; I would compare this to having my left hand in a cast, unable to play the guitar: torture). There were two nights of fireworks, two house parties with great people, a parade, and a theater production at a library starring Claire Elliot as Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, a young cockroach who's ready to give her leg in marriage, but unable to find the right suitor. Needless to say, Claire should get a Tony award and a degree in entymology for her creative interpretation of the body language of a young female cockroach.

Yesterday (I think it was Tuesday) we left with many goodbyes, this time north and west, across the great Mississippi River to St. Paul, Minnesota. Our friend Beth lives here with her folks; her dad is on the board of a local bike shop and knows all the good beer, and there are a lot of groovy things happening. The Minneapolis art museum has an artist-designed mini-golf course, and there's a zine workshop, and a drive-in theater, and... well, probably too much to do by Saturday or Sunday when we'll head off, definitely west, decidedly well-hosted, destined for badlands, a boulder, more beer, and maybe some more Brussats!

With yeast in my eye and doughy wishes for you all,

Lost In America

PS: there has been a Dave Ellsworth spotting! For those that know him, his picture is in a book called All My Life For Sale. Apparently Professor Ellsworth took part in an ebay experiment and bought this guy's jacket (not a bad jacket...). This guy then visited him and took a picture of Sir Ellsworth wearing said jacket. Liz saw this picture in the book at Pastimes and emitted a loud exclamation/profanity and showed it to me, whereupon I emitted the exact same exclamation/profanity. Dave Ellsworth, Esquire, you've been seen!

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