Thursday, July 23, 2015


While the East Coast swelters in ninety degree heat and the kind of humidity that makes even an anhidrosisian sweat (you can look that one up) and the West Coast is left baked dry as a bone, we in Madison bask in blue skies with vistas that stretch all the way to our state borders and temperatures that make spending time outside a pleasure rather than a chore.
Every Saturday I get to spend in Mad City, one of the dwindling places in America where liberalism is appreciated and synonymous with compassion and inclusion I itch to get out and walk the Farmer's Market that surrounds the Capitol grounds.
Every year I feel compelled to do a blog on the market if for no other reason than to show off the beauty of its immense bounty.
We belong to a Saturday morning breakfast club. It's not an official club but the membership is pretty tight. We meet at a Greek diner a couple of blocks off the Square that serves unlimited cups of coffee with traditional American fare along side Greek specialties. Sometimes Rick and I try to get up early enough to hit the market before coffee and at other times we leave the car down in the free parking lot by the lake and head up to the market with our oh so fashionable barkcloth grocery bags slung over our shoulders in an attempt at being both sartorial and ecological at the same time..
This Saturday the skies did not disappoint, the view was crystal clear, the lakes as smooth as glass and the weather so perfect it wasn't even a point of conversation . We were walking up King Street from Plaka, our Greek hangout and entering the market from the Southeast corner. It was after coffee and a breakfast of two eggs over-easy, two slabs of ham and two buckwheat pancakes all served with rye toast, butter and tons of maple syrup. The crowds had already formed so walking was a very slow process. By mid-July the bounty of the surrounding farmlands had begun its stunning appearance. Root vegetables were piled high on long tables.
Buckets of yellow dandelion-like flowers produced honey for the sweet tooth of our eyes.
Gooch Farms of Sullivan, Wisconsin, had its freezers filled with red deer meat. Selling Bambi under the name of Gooch seemed right on point. It made me think of the Wizard of Oz and that mean Miss Gooch taking poor Toto away to the pound.
Lilies were out in full force along with that intoxicating fragrance, their intense color range of blood red, magenta, orange and sunshine contrasting against the background of the Capitol's grassy lawn.
Even the Capitol's gardeners added to the color play around the square with plots of Wisconsin red planted at each corner.
It wasn't difficult to find yourself walking behind a bouquet of summer's colorful bounty as you made your way around the packed sidewalks of the Square.
Some of the offerings had already been squeezed and fermented into bottles like the beautiful herbal vinegars from the Violet Rose Cattle Co.
Every block of the market has its resident bakery selling croissants, elephant ears and cinnamon rolls. Thankfully I had had my breakfast so the temptation of all those sweets was marginally avoidable.
But the one temptation I find impossible to pass up is Stella's hot and spicy cheese bread. They either bake it or heat it up on site. I'm not sure, but the aroma is more enticing than perfume. You have to eat it the minute you buy it. There's an overwhelmingly fragrant steam that's released when you pull apart the soft hot dough.
The unusual is never far behind when you're at any event in Madison and the Farmer's Market is no exception. This trip found a farmer selling garlic scapes, the strange looking stem of the garlic plant. I was told that they are edible in the same way as the garlic bulb and equally beautiful in flower arrangements minus the pungent smell.
Our favorite beekeeper held on to his regular booth selling his honey dressed in his beehive bonnet.
Madison is a very political town. We did our market walk right around the Fourth of July, so many of the vendors had dressed for the occasion showing their patriotism and their political advocacy.
But would an assessment of the market be without a nod to Wisconsin's best known export: cheese curds, the kind that squeak when you bit into them served room temp or deep-fried.
The market has a place for everything and everyone. I did say that Madison was a town of compassion and inclusion.

Our patriotic front porch
Photographer, Lee Melahn

Thursday, July 16, 2015


It wasn't quite the perfect evening in New York City but it was damn close. The opening was scheduled for six, the time most art openings start. The Pop-Up shop was on East Ninth Street on a tree-lined block between First and Second Avenues. It's amazing how many blocks in a borough in New York can go undiscovered. You'd think, given the size of Manhattan that eventually you would have traveled over each of them, but then you remember change, the change that happens in every city, big or small, as new buildings are built and others are torn down. The way city blocks change as storefronts move in and out or redecorate their windows for the seasons. The way, I guess we all change, sometimes to the demise of nostalgia but mostly to make way for the future.
I started walking over around quarter to six. I'd dressed for the occasion, black slacks, a seersucker white shirt, a natural linen sports coat with a grosgrain detail running around the lapel. The weather that day was a appreciatively balmy having slipped in between several days of high humidity and heat. I had put on a pair of new shoes that pinched my feet with the hopes of breaking them in before our looming vacation. I hadn't realized how far east I was going to have to walk to get to the block where DL  Cerney's Pop-Up was having its opening.
DL Cerney opened its original shop almost thirty years ago making the most exquisite men's and women's fashions out of vintage tweeds, wools, gabardines, linens and cottons. Flattering fashion designed by Linda St. John and Duane Cerney with the help of Linda's daughter Suzie. Fashion that took its cues from old Hollywood, swing dresses and James Dean jackets.
Then in 2012 the trio decided to take a break and their doors were shut, the iron gate came down and the for rent sign went up on their East Village shop on Seventh Street nestled between Cooper Union and McSorley's, New York's oldest Irish Pub.
When I reached the block on Ninth Street where a new sign, although temporary, with the words DL Cerney in bold black letters on a white field now hung.  There was a sense of both deja vu and revelation. There was a sense of coming back to that old Seventh Steet block, a sweet little block of tiny shops that only got rowdy the day of the Santacon club crawl, but it was also a revelation of an equally attractive block I most likely would never have seen if it weren't for the invitation to the opening. The block on Ninth Street between First and Second Avenues is adorned with shop after shop of independent designers and vintage clothing shops. It was a perfect fit for the Cerney crew and their impeccable wears.
Once I'd walked up the stoop steps leading into the Cerney shop there was Suzie arms open, eyes as big as bakelite coat buttons and a smile that wouldn't stop. Dressed like the engineer on a train she tooted the shops whistle and drove me right into the store. All of them, Linda, Suzie and Duane, are as crazy as they are talented, sweet and prone to disaster.
So apropos to an opening event, the room that wasn't any bigger than a cable car had no air-conditioning or working bathroom The toilet had developed a leak earlier in the day.
For that reason I decided a half glass of champagne was my designated limit, but the spread they put out was very impressive.
It's hard to keep your hands off the fabrics that line their shop. Their texture and pattern appeal is like candy to someone with the kind of fashion sweet tooth I possess.
I pulled out piece after piece and would have succumbed to trying something on I couldn't justify purchasing with a big vacation less than a month away if it hadn't been from the sweat I was starting to produce as I stood too far away from the one fan blowing in hot air by the window.
If I hadn't known how particular our nineteen year-old daughter is about fit and style I would probably have dropped a couple of dresses near the register along with a credit card I've also been trying keep at a low balance for that upcoming trip.
As it turned out there were enough buyers there I didn't have to feel worried that their opening would turn into a bust.
It was at about this time that I was finally able to get close enough to Linda St. John to say hello and hear her Southern Illinois twang jump from under her shock of flaming red hair. If I could figure out how to phonetically capture that twang I'd reproduce it here in words you couldn't find in Funk and Wagnalls. Linda was in high hostess mode and we talked for several seconds before the next guest crossed the threshold and the twang started all over again.
Linda is the mama bear of this organization and has dipped her toe into more than just the fashion swinging on the hangers around the room. No, in addition she's an artist creating mini-menageries of little fashion people with dresses made from fast food wrappers and golden angles made from clothespins.
She's a painter dabbling in cray pas paintings that hang from the walls all done on black paper referencing her childhood,
and she's a writer with a book she wrote about her stranger than strange journey to adulthood, Even Dogs Go Home to Die.
So here's the scoop. If you find yourself in New York City between now and the end of August take the time to visit Linda, Suzie and Dewayne and say hello from Rick, Lee and Emmy

Civil Rights Series, A Street in Albany, 1962
Danny Lyon, Photographer
Represented by Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta

Thursday, July 9, 2015


It was one of those Wisconsin days at the end of June when the weather can go either way. You can roll out in the morning and see your breath but by the afternoon you've peeled off all the layers and are ready to jump into the pool. Clouds were following us eastward as we drove from Madison toward Elkhorn with umbrellas packed into the backseat just in case. Three times during the summer the Walworth County Fairgrounds is transformed into an antique mecca.
Over five hundred vendors lay out their wares on folding tables under plastic tents. Today everyone had their fingers crossed the rain would hold off. The trade-off was the sticky humidity and the waves of heat when the sun took charge over the clouds.
You can purchase an advance ticket that gets you in the day before the event while some of the vendors are setting up but we were discouraged from doing this. The organizers open up the fairgrounds around four in the morning the day of the fair, that's when most of the vendors show up and the diehards' start foraging their flashlights out surveying the goods. The gates officially open at seven in the morning and that's when lines form of the semi-professional buyers ready to pay their five dollar entry fee and start pushing their shopping carts down the many aisles of vendors. We weren't that serious. We showed up around eleven and there was still plenty to see.
The fair rewards collection collectors with a vast array of vendors specializing in specific passions. One of the first booths we came across housed an anthology of firefighter goods. There were documents, photographs, paraphernalia and these fantastic helmets.
We have been collecting vintage pool balls for a long time and storing them in glass jars on top of an old rabbit hutch we use as storage in our family room.
It's a difficult task for me to pass up a set of balls even when all our jars are overflowing. So my current game plan is that I won't buy a set that has a price tag of over twenty-five dollars on it. This set just missed the cut.
Fiestaware is another item we started collecting when you could still pick up a plate for under three dollars and as you can see we picked our share. Although Fiestaware has lost some of its popularity, probably due to the escalating cost, we still look for bargains.
Unfortunately, the people with piles of Fiestaware have the best knowledge of its value and tend to price it accordingly. It's rare to find a bargain with these sellers. We have better luck when we see a single piece in pile of dishes at a vendor who may be less informed and more willing to sell a piece for a steal.
When you're shopping the upper Midwest you're likely to see a lot of Northwoods Americana. The Wisconsin Northwoods is the land of cabins, pine trees and Chris Craft boats docked around crystal clear lakes. There's always an abundance of accessories ready to grace the walls or cover the floors of any home designed to replicate the smell of pine and the sound of a screen door closing behind a gaggle of kids running out the cabin and down to the lake.
Inventiveness was also on hand. We met a woman from just outside of Madison who mixed her antiques with rosemary topiary and constructions she had repurposed from found objects. A favorite item was her cake stand fashioned from rusted tractor parts. I'm not sure I'd let a cake sit directly on the stand but it was beautiful as a display piece with a vintage cloche.
Another vendor made a garland out of bingo cards and a pendant light out of a birdcage
The flea market was held the weekend before the Fourth of July so there was an abundance of vendors showing their best red, white and blue. This vendor was all about the bling. Repurposed denim and leather goods were fashioned to appeal to the patriotic shoppers and cheeseheads alike.
There was something at the Elkhorn flea to appeal to everyone and this vendor tried to hit them all, a vintage Woodstock typewriter, a pair of 1920's dress shoes, and some retro fabric propped atop a chicken hutch.
On the far side of freaky we found this dresser in the form of the Venus de Milo who's stomach was a drawer you accessed through her bellybutton. I have no idea of what might happen if you pressed her nipple.
Around two it was becoming clearer that the rain was not going to hold off much longer. We'd decided we'd walked enough but as we were leaving the last live stock pavilion turned into a multi-dealer shopping mall we spotted a vendor from Milwaukee who had some really impressive pieces. We fell in love with these huge vats. The vats stood about three and a half feet high.  We made a beat with each other about the cost as we dreamed about how we'd get it back and then where we'd put it in the yard. I guessed $300. Rick went a little higher at $375. We had a great conversation with the owner who told us he had three of them but had sold two already. He said if he didn't sell this one he was going to move it into his loft and make it into a Japanese-esk plunge bath. Turns out the vat was $990. We decided to let him take a bath.

Emmy's birthday is July 3rd. Every year Rick makes the same cake and every year there's a new story to go along with it. This year he decided to make a reduced version of the original recipe. You can go back in past posts to the ones closest to her July 3rd birthday to get the full recipe if you really want it. Our advise from this year is don't try to reduce the recipe by unilaterally cutting each ingredient the same percentage. It doesn't work. This year's model ended up more like gooey brownies than lush chocolate cake. Emmy swept the cake away to a day-long celebration with friends at an upstate cabin. The report came back it was well received. We, on the other hand, only got a photograph.

Turning the Tip
Mark Osterman, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC