Ann Arbor is in Michigan, not so very far from Detroit, and currently at about the same point of spring as the Pennines of Yorkshire, with daffodils just beginning to decline from their best, the arrival of swallows and the fresh green of young leaves in sheltered places; a good deal of grass cutting was going on when we were there. The city is home to the main campus of Michigan University and the whole place was filled with graduating students, accompanied for some of the time by, it seemed, more than one generation of family supporters; a good deal of photography was also going on.
When I travelled with Christina to Amsterdam, you may recall that I provided a range of photographs to capture the spirit of that lovely city; she asked me to wander around Ann Arbor and take some pictures to add to the ones she took when she was last there, for she would not, this time, have the leisure to do so herself. (As you can tell, she has also asked me to do a blog post, as she is still very busy!) I didn’t take pictures of the grass cutting, but allowed myself one graduation moment. The rest of the pictures have no particular significance, but US readers of this blog may forgive my including things which to a Brit are strikingly different from back home. The school buses, for example, are perhaps as iconic to us in the UK as London red Routemaster double-decker buses are to the rest of the world (there seemed to be an awful lot of school buses in Ann Arbor, but I then discovered that their depot was just around the corner from our hotel!). Most people appeared to take taxis or drive themselves around town and there were very few pedestrians outside the downtown area; the campus itself, of course, was full of walkers, bikers, monocyclists and skateboarders. Nobody in the hotel could tell me where to catch a bus, but I hopped on and off a few to give my legs a rest (I’m still recuperating after surgery earlier this year.). The houses were largely clapboard homes, the more modern of them part brick, and, apart from the student-rental homes (typically dilapidated and with piles of garbage on porch and in garden!) were immaculately tended, as were their gardens. Blossom time had arrived to set them off nicely!
One real surprise was that not much has been made of the beautiful River Huron, though I understand that there are places for kayaking now. I had to ask several people before I could find one who knew how to get down to the river; he seemed genuinely astonished that I wanted to go. Another place that I visited was Aunt Agatha’s Raven Award-winning (2014) crime bookshop, which Christina had heard about from one of the regular commenters on this blog, who I think lives not far out of town; she therefore asked me to go and browse, which I duly did, meeting Marty, the knowledgeable and long-serving bookseller there. He didn’t really want his picture taken, but, what the hell! I’m not surprised that the shop has such a reputation – its stock of used and new crime books is extensive. Sadly, I didn’t get to meet the owners, who were out of town. I enjoyed a Notting Hill moment there, by the way, as Marty, in the role of Hugh Grant, dealt with someone who wasn’t grasping too well (in spite of the window image below) that it was a crime and mystery store!
I enjoyed the wildlife, the most ubiquitous of which were American robins (not at all related to the English robin, but more thrush/blackbird in behaviour), the reddish-grey squirrels and Canada geese. In the shrubbery next to the flyover of Eisenhower Parkway, I was pleased to get a close personal view of the quite common northern cardinal, but he flew before I had chance to get the camera out.
I hope that you enjoy the pictures! The little boy in me loved the trucks!
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!