Tuesday, July 19, 2011

day trip to viroqua: part one

Today it is extraordinarily hot. (Yes, this is a post about Viroqua, but it's impossible for my real conditions right now to shrink to the background.) Just like the rest of the Midwest and various other parts of the country, Wisconsin is experiencing a heat wave. From Sunday til this upcoming Thursday it will have been in the nineties with a heat index hovering around 105 degrees. At night the heat index has remained at a steady 90 degrees. In an AC-less house, there is little refuge.

So, what is the heat like? The heat is like velcro snapping onto your skin as soon as you step out the door, locking the sweltering warmth within you. It swarms your lungs, filling them with cottony humidity. Breathing is heavy and laborious. My nights have been a feverish blur, like my brain is melting to the consistency of gelatin. It is hard to stay clearheaded and it is even tougher to maintain a positive mood. For the past two days I've pulled up our window fan to the square of carpet in our wood floored bedroom, plopped a pillow down and sprawled star-shaped in my underwear reading Patti Smith's Just Kids. The modesty I once felt in this boy-filled house has been eclipsed by the fervor of this unabating heat. Just Kids, the story of Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's years of love and friendship, drugs and sex, art and music, has also infiltrated my brain with its slick poetic prose. The heat turns the words molten and while I take them in I feel almost as though I'm one of the junkie hippie girls that Smith and Mapplethorpe spent time with in the late sixties and seventies.

I'm trying to drink water, read, accomplish small things, refrain from unleashing any negativity. This will pass. Two more days. Meanwhile, I will fondly reminisce about Viroqua to pass the time.

One sunny Saturday JohnaLee and I took a daytrip to Viroqua, WI. We left La Crosse at around 9 am and arrived in Viroqua at 9:45. The drive was enjoyable. Let me set the scene for you: Iron & Wine playing, the windows of the battered blue pickup rolled down, a feisty breeze turning my hair into a tangled mane, Wisconsin roads unfurling tidily in front of us. Blue sky. Talk of Norway, Sweden, Germany and shared heritage. Endless promise for the day to come.

After reaching Viroqua, our first stop was the small, bustling farmer's market located right downtown, which was filled with vegetables, ceramics, Amish quilts, honey, maple syrup, baskets and woodwork. 

To my surprise, we came upon a French crepe stand run by my librarian friend Teri and her French hubby Jean-Luc. They live in La Crosse, so I had no idea they would be in Viroqua. Apparently they adore Viroqua and want to move there, a fact that doesn't surprise me at all. They are exactly the sort of people who would want to settle in such a liberal, organic-friendly enclave, and they are exactly the sort of people current Viroquans would want to settle there. Teri and JL are two are amazing, creative people.

I'd had JL's crepes before at their house, so I already knew them to be quite worthwhile. JohnaLee and I both ordered the ham and swiss on buckwheat and retreated to a nearby bench to eat them. We considered sharing, but the temptation was too great. It practically makes my stomach growl to even see this picture again...

Post-crepes, we headed to the indoor market, a large high-ceilinged redbrick building filled to the brim with antiques and handmade goods.

Unfortunately this photo turned out blurry, but I'm pretty obsessed with these local bumper stickers and postcards. Especially the driftless ones!

The public market.

Haphazardly-placed treasures.

Does this floral print look familiar? It should. I bought the set!

Pretty doves.

After leaving the public market, a rack of sale wedding dresses caught JohnaLee's eye.

Imagine our surprise when the first one she tried on ended up being the one.

She was radiant. Though she tried on two other dresses, this $99 dress was perfect for her. Before she bought anything, however, we opted to walk around to give her more time to think about the purchase.

Downtown Viroqua was elegant and charming.

Stopped at a yarn shop.

Next up was the Optimo Cafe, which is only accessible through the public market.

At the Optimo, JohnaLee and I drank sweating glasses of ice water and indulged in midday pastries. We plotted our next stop (the Tobacco Shed filled with antiques) and she mused about whether she should buy the wedding dress. (After I showed her the photos I captured, it was pretty much a done deal.)

I was very content to explore Viroqua. I never really appreciated how beautiful my state is before having to contemplate leaving, possibly for good. Seeing new places refreshes me and reminds me to look for the beauty in all things.


  1. Great post, your writing is so decadently rich it practically drips off the page. You must have some short stories you could share...

  2. Ah, short stories, perhaps someday! :)

    I do enjoy writing. Keep pressuring me and maybe I'll be able to overcome my nervousness about making my work public!


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