0

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Little Winery on the Prairie

After a tumultuous semester, it was time for some exploring. So, today, I went west in search of wine and cheese. I found one of the two, and some other things as well. Join me for another episode of…

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 2: Little Winery on the Prairie

About 45 minutes northwest of Madison, just where Dane County meets Sauk County on the Wisconsin River is the town of Prairie du Sac, home to the Wollersheim Winery. I had tasted their wine before. Their most well-known vintage is Prairie Fume, which is light, white, and wonderful. At their beautiful vineyard, their hour-long winery tour and subsequent tasting is worth way more than the paltry five-dollar entrance fee.

Wollersheim Winery dates back one hundred and fifty years. The “modern” era, as they call it, started when a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and his wife bought the land and revived the practice. They hired a French man to work for them, and sure enough, he ended up marrying their oldest daughter, and now the two of them run the winery. Funny how that works. After a short film, we walked outside through the carriage house to see the slopes of grapes. It was a gorgeous day. Back inside, we saw the huge vats where they process the wine, and then went downstairs to a pungent underground wine cellar with casks and barrels of wines. One barrel had a window so we could see inside, but it was mostly sediment. Then, we went back up into the carriage house for a wine flight, which is a fancy way to say “wine tasting.” We got to try six wines: Prairie Fume, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, River Gold, Eagle White (a special!) and a Semi-Sweet White Riesling. Obviously the Prairie Fume was the best, but the River Gold and the White Riesling were quite tasty as well. Outside, we walked up to the top of the hill, where another wine cave is built inside the hill. There are also wine gardens where you can sit and enjoy wine bought from the gift shop, ten dollars a bottle (eleven in stores!). They also had these cute miniatures in the refrigerator. It was my first ever winery tour, and overall, it was lovely.

After that, I drove to Plain in a vain attempt to see the Cedar Grove Cheese factory; alas, they were closed for the day when I got there. However, we weren’t far from Spring Green, which is famous for the House on the Rock.

It took so long to get there on winding, twisty roads up a hill, but The House on the Rock is something to be seen. When you drive in, it’s like an alien garden with giant Chinese urns covered in flowers. Alas, I only had an hour left before they closed, so I could only do one section of the three-part tour. But of that one section, I saw a heck of a lot.

Walking through the winding staircases, you enter a tiny, dark house full of Asian art and sculpture. The ceilings are low, but the atmosphere is so architecturally high, and high above the valley. There are rooms upon rooms of Asian furniture, hidden waterfalls, and so much art. Then comes the Infinity Room, which is truly a sight to behold. It’s a long, narrow room that seems to go on forever and ever, jutting out over the valley. They also had an automated violin/tambourine/harpsichord thing that scared the hell out of me whenever it came to life. Then, you go back inside to see even more rooms, sit on the couches, and climb the twisty staircases to the sun deck. The Japanese garden is splendid as well. I hope to go back and visit again.

0

An Adventure in Snow and Ice

Last night I got an idea for a story to write, so I stayed up writing until 3 AM for no good reason at all, after which I told myself I’d get up at 10 at the latest…yeah, didn’t happen. I was in bed until the afternoon and then on the couch, not doing much, until I got dressed, dragged myself out into the snow to Michelangelo’s for a cappuccino and sandwich around 3:30 (ironically, when it started becoming night again). I decided to head out to do some last-minute shopping before the trip: Marshalls, Walgreens, and Metcalfe’s, for some candles, toothpaste, and last minute sustenance items for tomorrow’s drive back to Baltimore.

Walking back to my car in the dark, I realized that the accumulated snow on my car merited a cleaning, so I figure, no problem, ten minutes. I wipe off the snow, and what greets me is something that I’m completely unprepared for…

ICE.

Not just ordinary ice, thick ice. Coating all the windows, front, back, and side.

I took out my ice scraper and began to…well, scrape the ice away. Seeing as I couldn’t find a single spot in which to stick the scraper end, I bashed it into the windshield hoping I wouldn’t shatter it (that’s not possible…is it?) to make a small crack in the impenetrable wall of ice, and used that to scratch a tiny hole that slowly grew bigger. I did the same on the side and back. A half hour later, I had barely made a dent in the windshield, but decided to go anyway. I got into the car, with about a ten-inch window of visibility towards the front. Ok, I’m just going to have to duck and be extra careful, I said to myself. With the defroster cranked up and the wipers going, the back window was beginning to thaw out and I could roll down the side windows for some extra perception, but the windshield was going to be a problem. I just hoped that I’d make it out and back alive.

My first stop was going to be Metcalfe’s, so I prepared to turn right on Langdon, when I realized…I can’t see a thing out of the passenger side of the car. Well, left turn it is then.

After a few carefully navigated turns, I found myself on Johnson Street, which was slightly more paved than Langdon. At this point, I was starting to feel a pain in my neck from the awkward angle at which I was twisting it to see out the sliver of non-iced windshield. I can’t go on like this much longer, I gotta stop, pull over, and scrape some more. The problem: there was nowhere to pull over and there were other cars on the road as well, making it difficult to change lanes or make any sudden stops.

The heat generated from the car started warming up the bottom of the ice sheet so that if I sat with my head forward, granny-style, I could see the whole road through the thin strip that was slowly getting clearer. Only that hurt my neck even more, so I kept going.

All of a sudden, it got darker. It was then I realized that I had no idea where I was driving, or what road I was on. All I knew is that I was heading east. Then I realized I could barely see in front of me. Were my lights on? I turned my brights on just in case. Wait a minute…had I scraped the snow off my headlights?

Fuck.

I was driving on a dark, country road with an ice-covered windshield and the only light coming from a car that was behind me, shining on either side. This wasn’t good.

However, I was keeping within the lane as best as I could, obeying the speed limit (like I had an option) and remaining on the road without crashing. I saw some lights up ahead – maybe there’s an intersection coming up. At this point, Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need A Hero” came on my iPhone, and with a chorus of dun-dun-da-dun-dun, I was tearing through the wintry road like a crazy person, the ice melting away just enough to get a clear picture of the whole road if I looked forward a little bit. It felt so intrepid, like that daredevil showdown scene in Footloose, only with just myself, a bunch of snow and ice, and no Kevin Bacon.

At the song’s end, I came to a large intersection – Route 15 – where instinct told me to head south. I had no idea how far I had gone – perhaps I was in Columbia County by now or something – but the intersections on this much larger and better-lit road bore names that I didn’t recognize. Just when I felt hopelessly lost, I saw a “Welcome to Madison” sign, and the lights of West Washington in front of me, ensuring my safety. The icy windshield was about half-gone. At a red light, I opened the Maps app on my iPhone. I had taken County Road CV out to just past the airport, where I have to go to pick up my dad tomorrow. Unfortunately, I missed the turn onto West Washington, but took Milwaukee Ave to get me there just as well, arriving at the East Towne Marshalls at about 8:15. I parked and turned off the car.

I’d made it. Through the ice and snow, and dangerously low visibility, I rode it out and got there alive. It would’ve sucked on a National Lampoon level if they were closed…

But they were very much still open, so I did some shopping, and then made my two more predetermined stops before getting home. I was about eighty dollars poorer, but my windshield was almost completely clear and I felt so alive.

4

Book Review: Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

After about a month of picking at books like so many scabs, I finally actually finished one: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Awfully tempting cover…and does not disappoint

I bought this book in the airport bookstore in Orlando, Florida on my way back home, since I was very close to finishing whatever I was reading at the time, but it was mostly read on the trip up to Madison from Houston. I finally finished it earlier this week at CoffeeBytes.

My initial reaction upon reaching the back cover?

“GIVE. ME. MORE.”

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an adventure/fantasy novel that could be described in a word as, “curious.” Starting with the cover, which shows a photograph of an angry-looking little girl floating several inches off the ground, it only gets more striking. We meet 16-year-old Jacob Portman, of Miami, who has had a rough life socially despite coming from a well-off family. His one close familial connection is to his grandfather, who is mysteriously found dead. After his death, Jacob goes through his grandfather’s belongings and finds notes from someone named Emma on an island off the coast of Wales, referencing Miss Peregrine and a children’s home, and a number of creepy photographs of children in his grandfather’s stories. Jacob remembers that his grandfather often spoke of the children’s home where he lived after fleeing mainland Europe in WWII. He suspects something’s up and asks his parents if he can go to Cairnholm Island in Wales for the summer, to which his ornithologist father reluctantly agrees after finding out there’s an endangered species of bird there.

So off they go to the island. While exploring, Jacob comes across an old, abandoned house that he presumes is the remains of the children’s home. Going inside, he discovers a trunk full of old pictures of children that are of a similar variety to his grandfather’s, when all of a sudden, said children appear. Determined to find answers, Jacob chases them, and ends up passing through a cairn into the past, resurfacing in World War II, when the house was a children’s home run by the mysterious Miss Peregrine. There, he befriends the children and realizes that his grandfather’s stories were all true: he lived in this home, full of children with special powers, and that Jacob himself may have a power, he just doesn’t know what it is yet. The reason that they all exist in this limbo is because of a time loop: every night at the same time – right before a bomb drops on the island – the clock is reset to the day before, making it September 3 for all of eternity, and keeping the children young and safe forever.

But this idyllic world is not immune to danger. Creatures called hollows are causing mayhem, panic, and destruction in Jacob’s world and Miss Peregrine’s world. Jacob and his new friends – Emma, who can conjure fire; Millard, who is invisible; Enoch, who can wake the dead; Fiona, who plants magical gardens; Bronwyn, who has super strength; Horace, who is psychic; Olive (presumably the girl on the cover), who floats away if she’s not chained to anything; and Hugh, who has a stomach full of bees (?) – set out to stop them. After several trips between the world and surprising revelations, the time loop gets destroyed and the children must figure out a way to stop the hollows – before they all rapidly age in the real world. The sequel, which I will be buying and reading immediately, is set to come out in January.

The book is a fun, magical adventure that mixes old and new, and doesn’t try too hard to play up the fantasy angle (Harry Potter, Twilight). I was captivated and couldn’t wait to pick it back up whenever I put it down. Periodically, when new characters are described, their photos appear on the succeeding pages, so you never know what you’ll see each time you turn the page – a technique Riggs refers to as “vernacular photography.” This makes me want to go to an antique shop right now, get some old photos, and write stories for them. Or maybe even match them up with old postcards with strange messages on them. IDEA. YES. The only thing that I didn’t really like about the book was that some of the characters’ names were too similar (Emma/Enoch, Horace/Hugh) and sometimes I forgot each one’s powers. I often confused Fiona with Bronwyn and vice versa. I also found the character of Emma somewhat problematic. She had a romance with Abe (Jacob’s grandfather), and starts one with Jacob, which is kind of creepy, not to mention the fact that she’s young enough to live in a children’s home, and Jacob is 16. I forgot how old Emma said she was, but at some times she seemed like a child; at others, a young adult. She must have been 13 or 14 or else her and Jacob’s relationship would’ve been weird. Then again, Jacob refers to her as “one of the children” – is he referring to her being a child, or her living in a children’s home? Peculiar.

And the main character’s name is Jacob, so, bonus points for that.

Overall, this is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Get yourself a copy, read it, come to my apartment, and let’s get peculiar.