As readers of this blog may know from Twitter, two weeks ago I made a brief (day job) visit to Ann Arbor. It is a university town, home of the University of Michigan and adjacent to, but by no means overshadowed by, the great industrial city of Detroit. Aside from passing twice through the airport (seventies in style; seen better days), I saw nothing of Detroit itself.
I spent only a few leisure hours in downtown Ann Arbor, as I was working for the rest of my very short stay. However, I was fortunate enough to visit its compact and pretty centre on an unseasonably warm, summery day. Brilliant sunshine bathed Main Street in heat and light; the pavement cafes were doing a brisk trade; the local populace sauntered up and down the sidewalks, bare-legged and dressed in T-shirts, most of them in happy and expansive mood.
Talking to a few locals (a taxi-driver, the concierge at my hotel), I discovered that the people of Ann Arbor are particularly proud of its trees, which are at their most glorious in early autumn. By the standards of distance that pertain in the USA, Ann Arbor is not far from Canada, and its ‘fall’, I imagine, has similar characteristics to its neighbour’s. In early October, the trees sport every hue from palest lemon-yellow to deepest russet and ruby-red. This may sound just like our own English trees in the autumn, but there are two spectacular differences: in the first place, the colours in Michigan are often more vivid; in the second place, the trees ‘turn’ in a very uneven way. Thus you might find half of the same tree still sporting leaves of glossy green, the other half already turned a fiery red. My hosts told me that the trees sometimes remain like this until the end of November, before they become completely red or brown and shed their leaves at last.
The trees made an enormous impression, but I was also delighted with Ann Arbor itself. The staff in the cafés, restaurants and shops, many of which were French in style, were friendly without being over the top, business-like without compromising good service. I particularly liked the Café Felix, where I enjoyed a light salad lunch, and Cherry Republic, the wonderful shop a little further down the street which sold everything that could conceivably be made of cherries and was very proud of the quality of its goods (the saleslady asked for my name and address in case I wanted to return any of my purchases: I told her that I’d have a long journey bringing them back!).
It also sold maple syrup – Michigan maple syrup, I was exhorted to note, not the Canadian stuff.
Also intriguing were the squirrels. In this part of the world they are not grey, but either black or red, or red-and-black. Here’s a picture of one that caught my eye.
In case you’re wondering about the name ‘Ann Arbor’, the town was founded in the first half of the nineteenth century by two men whose wives were both named Ann. According to legend, they therefore decided to call the town after both of them. ‘Arbor’ is self-explanatory: perhaps they intended it to be a place of rest and contentment; it may or may not have referred to a particular arbor under which the women sat.
I’m hoping to return to Ann Arbor in December, when perhaps I’ll see some snow. I’ll keep you posted!