Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The ease of conviviality - Top of the Park, Ann Arbor



It was one of those perfect early summer evenings. The sky was sending out les bisous d'or and there was just a faint enough breeze to play with the ends of my skirt. 


My Mom had been telling me about the Top of the Park Festival, which takes place each summer on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, for years. She had her first date with Leonard - now her fiancé - there and had passed many a happy evening with my Sister as well, dancing under the stars.


Last Saturday evening, it was finally my turn. My Mom and I stocked up on a Mexican feast from one of the food stands set up by local restaurants and went to find Leonard, who was waiting...


...in an area under the trees called the Grove, where the fairy lights blinked and plastic tumblers of red wine awaited us. Just as we arrived, plates balanced precariously in hand, a family got up from where they were sitting at the front and center of the action and said, "We are leaving, do you want our spot?" It was one of those gifts that fall into place on such an evening. We smiled and offered copious thanks as they melted into the crowds.


As I settled in, I couldn't help but be delighted with the calmness of the scene. People of all ages, races and styles chatted quietly with one another. Kids did cartwheels across the lawn. There was no pushing to be first in line or to procure seating closer to the stage, no frantic texting or gasping theatrically into cell phones. Perhaps I have been living in Europe for too long but it did surprise me, even though I grew up largely in the Midwest where we are known for our polite behavior. Such ease of conviviality, natural and without decorum, only added to the sweetness of the evening.


I think that it was Adam Gopnik who, in his excellent book "Paris to the Moon" nailed down the contrast that in New York you are anonymous and in Paris you are given the head to toe glance by each and every person that you pass. I had experienced the shock of that transition when I moved from Manhattan to France and am now used to that attention in Arles. At the Top of the Park, no one was particularly looking or not looking. We were all just there, together. And while the three of us were unanimous in our dislike for the main band - a let down after the swing of the Joe Summers Gypsy Jazz Trio that had opened for them - we didn't mind leaving early, for we had already passed a wonderful moment on a perfect night, the simple peace of which I will not soon forget.


From a smaller venue at Top of the Park in 2011:


Many thanks to Leonard Wells, my Mom's wonderful fiancé, who loaned me his snazzy Samsung Galaxy to take these photos. Alas, I forgot that I can't download images from my trusty Canon on my laptop, so I will either continue sharing the posts from Provence that I had prepared in advance or smartphone snaps while I am in the States...

And I would also like to express my gratitude to the extremely generous David Terry, who has sent me two care packages of fascinating books to entertain me during the rest of my time in States and beyond...Merci, David!

48 comments:

robin said...

Hooray for Ann Arbor! Yes, you nailed the easy breezy quality of an evening at Top of the Park; laid back, yummy food, cool (but not pretentious) vibe. Did you like your food? (looks delicious). And from which vendor did you get it? I'm glad you had such a lovely evening - you deserve it! Certainly the weather gods are on your side this visit! And, hooray for Leonard and David Terry for helping a sister out!!!

Heather Robinson said...

Oh! I knew that I was forgetting something - thanks for asking Sister! :) The food was really good (even Mom approved) and cheap too. It was from Chela's - here is the menu: http://chelas.co/menu/ See you...tomorrow. Love you...

simpleimages2 said...

The rewards of being anonymous and can meld in the crowd without security clearance.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Heather:

This sounds to have been enormous fun and we are so pleased to know that you are having a really good time with your mother and Leonard in America. Yes, we can readily believe that the ways and culture are very different from that of Europe which, as you will know, can even in one continent vary considerably from country to country. What we like about what you describe here is the warmth of the people and the relative simplicity of the whole occasion.

Silke Bauer said...

The parisien "head to toe glance" is much feared by a lot of Germans. And yes, the ease of conviviality and anonymity may not be easy to find in France.

But you do find it in London, Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and other European cities. Though I do believe there may be even more casual implicitness in the States.

I don't quite know the situation now in Berlin, but some years ago you could walk the streets of Berlin in your nightgown without anybody remarking it.

Enjoy your time left in the States!

PS: Have you ever come across the Stereotype (and you know I do neither appreciate nor support those) that Europeans think of Americans that "they are always so polite but never tell you what they really think" (;
That must be a multiple cultural misunderstanding....

Gros Bisous,
Silke

Teresa Maria said...

Sounds like a Nordic sort of an evening (except perhaps for the mixture of races as the population around here is rather homogeneous). You should visit our part of the world one day to experience another kind of Europe.

david terry said...

Well, Miss Heather.....

First of all, give my continued congratulations to Yer Pretty Mommer and Lucky Leonard (sorry, but hereabouts it's still pro-forma and de rigeur that the boy has to count himself and be counted by other as "the lucky one" if a girl accepts his proposal). The obvious song for them is this....go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es60unGCGKw

As for you?....thanks for the shout-out, but I do hope that your readers won't assume that just anyone and everyone is going to compell me to take advantage of Amazon prime-shipping, and subsequently ship them cartons of books. For various reasons, you're the first adult in years to have brought out the skoolmarm in me. As very general rule, I'm very glad (these post-professorial days) to not feel responsible for what folks read or, for that matter, whether they read anything at all. I gather they're all busy with texting....."LOL!!!!:)"

You, however, are a special case, Heather......I want to make sure that you're reading good stuff that feeds that remarkable brain/imagination of yours. My longtime friend, David Hammond (we've discussed him; you seem to have justmissed his classes at Yale Drama) once looked at me while I was unproductively whining and fretting in my late twenties....and he said "You're not FEEDING enough"......and he bought and brought about ten books for me the next day. He was and is, as you might guess, a very fine teacher/mentor.

Fondly (and there's actually some music coming your way in Ypsilanti; presumably, it'll arrive while you're still there, and someday I'll learn how in the hell any town outside of Scandanavia got that name......),

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

I Dream Of said...

Hi Heather! Thanks for this peek into your Michigan adventures. What a lovely evening and your observations are so interesting (BTW, that head-to-toe look is not limited to France, it is very much a way of life on the Nordstrom corporate elevators, too.) It does my heart good to hear and see that you are (of course) having such a wonderful trip. I'm sure the puppies miss you, but wonderful to have a nice long visit with your family. Big thanks to Leonard for loaning you his camera!

Enjoy every second! XOXOXO

Jackie and Joel Smith said...

Heather, you've nailed 'that look' so well. That rather intimidating look the first few times one visits in Europe and the rather non-look we Americans are famous for as well. Sounds like a great even. Congrats to the bride-to-be! Don't you hate it when you realize you can't download photos for whatever reason?

Marsha Splenderosa said...

Ahhh, this is perfect! Your mother is getting re-married. How wonderful !! This just shows where the spirit of adventure comes from. Ann Arbor must be beautiful this time of the year. xx's

La Contessa said...

That DAVID is so thoughtful!!!!You have a lot of beautiful people in your follow group!

UM IGR said...

Oh my goodness! I was so excited about your post because I am from Ann Arbor! I had no idea you had a connection to this area and that you are here right now! My husband and I just got back from Arles and LOVED it there more than anywhere else in France. I am enjoying your blog so far, quite a bit. How long are you in Ann Arbor for? I work two streets away from Top of the Park and live in Ypsilanti.

Loree said...

Sounds like the perfect evening. Well I am glad that I am not the only one who noticed that in America you are kind of anonymous. It always made me feel a bit weird. But then, this island is so small that even when you venture to another town you are sure to run into someone who looks vaguely familiar. Especially if, like me, you never forget a face.

puppyfur said...

The sweet delights of a lovely American summers' evening. I haven't experienced one in many years. France is wonderful, and I am privileged to be here, but I do miss "home" a great deal sometimes. So glad that you are having a lovely visit with your family. And David Terry is, it appears, a very kind soul.

The Auntie Times Online said...

Mexican al fresco - Yay! Let's hear it for North America and its culinary diversity! Looks like you're having fun on your summer vacation abroad. xxoo Tabby

Joan McKniff said...

Wonderful to see your photos here, especially the food one, as a reminder that it's not just that Arles and beyond are so beautiful but that you have such a good eye in composing the tray and more, and taking photos, making Tex Mex in Ann Arbor look romantic, exotic, and irresistible. The magic and beauty are in you, more than the place.

david terry said...

Okay, Okay......enough compliments......NOW, I want information.......how did a town in the USA get named "Ypsilanti"? I know...I could probably google it, but I'm 2 lazy/tired tonight. I spent the day trolling around this 220 year old joint with various landscapers, talking about supposed (by them) contracts, and I eventually realized that I don't need a gardener....I need a forester to start off with).

So.....what's the deal with "Ypsilanti"??????

And, by the way?....I think everyone should send Heather presents, all the time. She's already going pretty-steady with Mister Remi, so you don't have to worry about her trying to snag you just because you sent her a few books, CD's, certificates of stock-deposits, and/ or emerald necklaces, etcetera......as far as I've been able to determine, she's doing her best to be an Honest Woman in a Wicked World. SO.....everyone should send her lots of presents. Don't you agree with me?????.....

Advisedly yours as ever,

david terry
www.davidterryart.com

Silke Bauer said...

Reading some comments here, am I wrong or is there a certain generalizition taking place?

Paris, Rome, Nice and other tourist centers, especially in the Meditarrenian are not reprensentative for Europe or "european attitude".

Compared to the USA Europe is much smaller but does consist of many very different countries which you can see from the list below. (I did not bother to translate the names.)

Would nobody look at a foreigner in the States?

In terms of getting looked at and cell phone activity, please try a gallery venue in Manhattan, Boston or the Artfair in Miami.

Eurpope and States that belong partly to the European Continent:
Belgien, Bulgarien, Dänemark, Deutschland, Estland, Finnland, Frankreich, Griechenland, Irland, Italien, Kroatien, Lettland, Litauen, Luxemburg, Malta, Niederlande, Österreich, Polen, Portugal, Rumänien, Schweden, Slowakei, Slowenien, Spanien, Tschechien, Ungarn, Vereinigtes Königreich, Republik Zypern Zypern, Albanien, Andorra, Armenien, Aserbaidschan, Bosnien, Herzegowina, Georgien, Island, Kasachstan, Liechtenstein, Mazedonien, Moldawien, Monaco, Montenegro, Norwegen, Russland, San Marino, Schweiz, Serbien, Türkei, Ukraine, Vatikanstadt, Weißrussland

It is a lot, isn't it?

As a German tourist in the States, outside of New York, it happened that people think that Germans like Hitler, eat only Sauerkraut and Potatoes and run around in Lederhosen.

Not very polite...but I would not generalize...(;

Janey and Co. said...

Heather....looks like you are enjoying your visit home. Great shots.
I for some reason get a kick out of reading the comments on your blog. me oh my....I find then entertaining. I am also trying to figure out what I can send you!

Heather Robinson said...

It was a simple evening Edgar in the best sense...

Heather Robinson said...

Yes, that is what meant the most to me about it as well. My Sister has said that it is always like that but that we were lucky to have such perfect weather to top it off. Michigan, as I remember from the few years living here in my childhood, is a land of extreme weather! Yesterday there was a thunderstorm that rattled the bones of the house. So I will take whatever of that gorgeous breeze that I can get. :)

Heather Robinson said...

I can't say that I have! But then again perhaps people have been too polite to mention that idea to me. ;) And your mentioning the possibility of walking down the street in a nightgown made me think back to my years in NYC where it was a point of pride to never look at either a) a celebrity or b) anything unusual. I remember walking past a man who was standing stark naked (he didn't seem crazy, I think he was performing an art piece) on 5th Avenue and absolutely no one would give him the time of day!

Heather Robinson said...

I would love to!

Heather Robinson said...

A generous response from a generous man. And yes, I am often telling Remi that he has to "refill the well" because you can't just endlessly give away your creative output without, as David Hammond said "feeding." But what I especially loved about your gifts - beyond just the sheer luxury of so many words in front of me, so much promise - is that they are not books that I would have necessarily found on my own. Actually I am sure of it! So thank you for opening doors as well...

Heather Robinson said...

I think that you would have loved this evening Jeanne. And I bet you held your own just fine in those corporate elevators!! ;)

Heather Robinson said...

It is driving me crazy! Mainly because I am eager to share what I have with you all! :)

Heather Robinson said...

It is, Marsha. It is so lush - everything is so green and the birds are singing non-stop. I love it! And my Mom is a strong woman and yes, an adventurer - last year she went on a gruelling trip through India and Nepal to retrace the path of Buddha and was the only one who was not sick the entire time.

Heather Robinson said...

Such as your fine self! I brought the beautiful shoes that you sent me on this trip and wear them all the time!!

Heather Robinson said...

Oh how funny. What a small, small world it can be at times. My Mom and Sister are here and I love visiting - although this is the first time that I have been in summer and it is just gorgeous. As I am usually here for either Thanksgiving or the Christmas holidays the weather is quite different! Ann Arbor is such a fantastic town and full of such good restaurants - of which we have been making the most of - that is why I am frustrated not to be able to download my photos. So far, the Slurping Turtle, Aventura and Grange have been my favorites of the "new" (to me) crop plus we did my "must" visit to Jolly Pumpkin for truffle fries. :)
Glad you loved Arles and that you are enjoying the blog - bienvenue!

Heather Robinson said...

Oh Loree, I wish that I had that quality! Of my various memory problems, the most embarassing for me is that of forgetting people's faces - which, when you live is such a small town as Arles, can really be a problem. I have offended more people than I mean to!

Heather Robinson said...

He is the real deal. I already knew that but I certainly don't take that kindness nor his friendship for granted.

Heather Robinson said...

Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan and so it is an especially ethnically diverse area with the restaurants to prove it! I have had excellent Lebanese food, Mexican, Spanish tapas, Chinese, Japanese tapas plus really good farm to table contemporary American. All at prices that wouldn't buy me an entrée back in France.

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you for making my day with that compliment, Joan.

And you have lived overseas far longer than I have in your amazing life - you know how exotic Tex Mex is when you haven't had it in years!! ;)

Heather Robinson said...

David, you are a fine agent of giving if ever there was one - and your appeal seems to be working! Just look at Janey's comment below...

Now, I am glad that you asked about "Ypsi" as it is commonly called here because who would have guessed that this small town was home to so many interesting things? Thank you Wikipedia! As to the name, why, there is a specific reason and not at all what I had first imagined:
"Originally a trading post established in 1809 by Gabriel Godfroy, a French-Canadian fur trader from Montreal, a permanent settlement was established on the east side of the Huron River in 1823 by Major Thomas Woodruff. It was incorporated into the Territory of Michigan as the village Woodruff's Grove. A separate community a short distance away on the west side of the river was established in 1825 under the name "Ypsilanti", after Demetrius Ypsilanti, a hero in the Greek War of Independence.[9] Woodruff's Grove changed its name to Ypsilanti in 1829, the year its namesake effectively won the Greek war, and the two communities eventually merged."

I actually think that the rest of what I read is worthy of a post on it's own. But if you would like to dive in ahead, take a gander here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ypsilanti,_Michigan

I have been checking my mailbox on a nearly hourly basis in the afternoons, as you know, so I will eagerly await your gift of music. Folks take note! Is there any finer gift than words and music?

Resignedly yours as ever,
Ms. Heather

Heather Robinson said...

After reading this, I had to go back and look through all of the comments again! Well, if there has been generalizations taking place, it was my fault to start with - although I honestly didn't see anything hurtful. But you know how much I appreciate your perspective AND your blasting through generalizations. :)
PS. The Republik of Zypern Zypern? Now I have to go and look that up!
PPS. An email will be heading your way this afternoon...
xo
H

Heather Robinson said...

And a PPS (!) - I have had quite a few people in France tell me their fears about visiting the States because they are convinced that is like the crime shows (NCIS, etc) that are so popular...

Heather Robinson said...

And Greek! I knew I was forgetting one...OPA!

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you, Janey! That is very kind of you (and for the compliment too) but I now have, thanks to David, more books than I normally read in a year and new music to look forward to! Plus my Mom and Sister are spoiling me with their love and attention - not to mention all of the fun places that they are taking me to.

And I am right there with you about the comments. Why do you think that I have kept this blog going? ;)

Judith Ross said...

David seems to be raising the level of reading singlehandedly -- not that you and your blog followers aren't already reading at a very high level, Heather.

Why is it that I only get short visits to my husband's hometown of Detroit, Michigan. As always, I take notes on your Michigan post -- we ate at Slow's last time we were there (for a funeral) and perhaps when we are there in August (for a wedding, thank goodness) we can take a side trip to Ann Arbor. Always good to hear from you Heather, wherever you are.

Unknown said...

Your description of an evening at the Top of the Park Festival reminds me of what I have enjoyed about celebratory public gatherings in the Upper Midwest (where my husband was raised). The relaxed conviviality was a big part of why I wanted to try living there. (That hope died after I realized I would have to do without a nearby ocean and mountain range.) Anyway, I'm so glad that you were able to tell us this story, with photographs, while it was fresh in your mind. How long will you be in Michigan? I wish you could stop here on your way back to France (via Asia), because our low-humidity, sunny summer is in full bloom and the river awaits! Someday... Enjoy the rest of your time there even more, Leslie in Oregon

david terry said...

Oh......as far as European (or at least French) attitudes/responses towards Americans go?.....

My favorite anecdote concerns how (and this has been happening to me for YEARS now), at family gatherings and parties at Herve's parents' house in Tours, four or more people invariably say something about "Oh?.....the American Uncle!!!!".....and everyone begans rocking with inexplicable laughter, including the actual niece and nephews (who are six, nine, and 11). Then, someone will repeat the "How lucky!....an American Uncle!!!!"....and they all start splitting their sides....again and again. As I said, this has gone on regularly for years.

The juicy-inside of this speciman of wry, Gallic wit has been explained to me by my mother-in-law, who has stopped laughing long enough to tell me "Oh...it is a FRENCH joke....everyone says 'American Uncle' because this means he is RICH!!!!! Ha-ha-ha!!!! It's very good joke, do you think?"....and I wonder "I guess.....but who's the joke ON?"

Herve later explained to me that it's rather a double-edged, snobby witticism; his family and their circles are all highly-educated, urban, & minimally haute-bourgeoisie, with a fair smattering of minor aristocracy and a large number of snooty-boots. The "RICH American Uncle" business is a distinctly provincial phenomenon (which does, after all, make sense; poor country families and villagers would, I assume, traditionally regard the relative who-went-off-to-America-to-make-his-fortune as "RICH!".). Essentially. the upper-class Tours circles are cultivating the sort of class-based humor that my Tennessee family could indulge in if they began imitating hillbilly twangs and mocking country beliefs (let me emphasize that we DON'T do that; my mother would have smacked any of us who began doing so).

So, the "Rich American Uncle" is essentially class-based mockery.....made all the more delicious, I assume, by everyone's being quite aware that David the Artist isn't the rich one in this marriage.

Nice manners, don't you think?.....

----david terry

mizms said...

I have yet to go to the Slurping Turtle but I can't wait!! You really found the best food places here :). I don't know what Aventura is - will need to check it out. My favorite restaurant in Arles was L'Autruche- very close to Rue des Marbriers- where we were staying in an airbnb place. If this interests you, I'd suggest checking out the Luminarium at the summer festival- I am going this Sunday and it sounds amazing. Enjoy your stay here! I accidentally wrote you the last comment from my work email so this time it's from a personal account :).

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you so much Judith - I feel the same about you! And it is a short trip up here from Detroit if the time of day/traffic is right. Only thirty minutes or so from the airport. We have gone to some really fantastic restaurants this trip so if you do decide to make a day trip, please let me know and I will make suggestions. :)

Heather Robinson said...

Oh are you back to swimming with your puppers? How lovely. I always appreciated that image of you back where you belong. :) And even if that would be the long way around I certainly would be tempted to visit if I could afford it!
And ps. The winters here are BRUTAL.

Heather Robinson said...

In the manner of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" I will just reply with an additional book thank you as I started reading the Annie Dillard last night and the grounding peace in her language is a great comfort to me, David.

david terry said...

Oh, Heather....Annie Dillard used to live, for a couple of years, in this tiny, 6-street, 18th century town (which is STUFFED with Southern writers) . She's, of course, wonderful and brilliant and surprisingly prolific and all sorts of other fine things.....but she IS, as you might guess, intense.

A good friend of mine (who's also been a great admirer of Dillard's writings for decades) was her next-door neighbor. She very wryly tells of being initially quite excited to hear that Dillard was moving-in next-door, but eventually slipping into the habit of, as she was about to go out into her own yard, realizing that Dillard was in her own yard....and wondering "Oh Lord....do I have the energy for this, today?????". Annie is, as I said previously, a very i-n-t-e-n-s-e woman (that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's read "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" or the essays).

All of the above is meant as a compliment to Dillard, of course; she's simply not the sort with whom you can pass the time by making small talk (she doesn't DO "small talk" of any sort) about the weather or how your tomatoes are coming along. You can,indeed, bring up those topics, and she'll happily join in.....but it ends up being a three hour dissertation on the damned Existential MEANING and Implications of the weather or the state of your tomato plants.

In short?......she is not a simple woman.....but, if you've started the book, you've probably already figured that out.

----david terry

Glamour Drops said...

Just as fascinating as the post itself, the comments about generalisations have really intrigued me. Some varied and valid points, especially those made by Silke Bauer, and also by the Hattat's. Here in Australia, I wouldn't dare to say we fit into one category or the other, because in some parts of the country people will stare, and in other parts they avoid a gaze. And that even varies in different parts of one city. But we are a very multi-cultural society, so of course our behaviour is a medley of our backgrounds.

On another note, I am sad that you aren't able to upload more posts of your adventures in the States, because they are truly interesting. (I love the observations of people's behaviour, it's one of the best things of travelling, even if it has commanded a lot of attention in the comments!)

And as for that Mexican feast on your picnic blanket….oh, yum, yum, yum!!

Clare M said...

Looks like an absolutely perfect evening. Mmmm, how I'd love a glass of wine... (haha! Couple more months for me!)

Clare x