Monday, September 29, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part One

The time was right for a leisurely drive Up North, so a couple of weeks ago we headed out from New Buffalo, at the extreme southwest tip of the state of Michigan, on a meander up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  We eventually reached the very top of the state’s lower peninsula, Mackinaw City, where we hopped a ferry for a day trip to storied Mackinac Island.  We encountered unseasonably cool weather, at times 20 degrees or more below average with frequently overcast skies and the occasional drizzle, but it stayed just warm enough to allow for an enjoyable cruise.    

We passed through towns large and small, some thriving, some struggling, and some half-abandoned.  In all though, the coastal area seems to be doing better than many parts of inland America, as the sightseeing, recreation, and industry supported by the Lake bring people and money.

At Grand Haven we left the highway and toured around the town.  We found a lively, orderly city with a downtown filled with shops and businesses, a marina on the Grand River for boaters, and of course a beautiful stretch of lakeshore.  The public beach is wide and clean, with a pier and lighthouse a little off to the north and tree-covered high sand dunes spreading out to the south, with spacious Queen Anne houses overlooking it all from a great bluff.

Looking South from the Lakeshore at Grand Haven
We were struck by the number of large, inland lakes so close to the Big Lake, some separated by distances measured in yards rather than miles.  Residents can enjoy the majesty of Lake Michigan but retreat to a smaller, inland lake for swimming and boating in water warmer and calmer.  We stopped briefly at Onekama on Portage Lake, which actually communicates with Lake Michigan.   Like so many other towns along the Lake, hidden from the main road, down small, winding roads, are summer houses and inns.  Petoskey and Walloon Lake further north may have Hemingway, but Onekama had its own famous annual summer resident up from Chicago – Paul Harris, an attorney who founded the service organization Rotary International.

Portage Lake, Michigan, on an Overcast Day Looking Toward Lake Michigan
Just north of Manistee begins M-22, the fittingly fishhook-shaped scenic highway that hugs the coast up to and around the Leelanau peninsula and then heads back south along the western shore of Great Traverse Bay to end in Traverse City.  It passes through scenic lakeside towns and one of the most beautiful places on the Great Lakes – the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Just north of Arcadia there is a scenic turnout worth stopping at:
Looking South from the Scenic Turnout Just North of Arcadia on M-22
M-22 took us by one more large inland lake, Crystal Lake, before entering the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We stopped near a row of small, neat houses lining the small strip of land between M-22 and the water:

Crystal Lake, Michigan, from its Northern Shore
Partway along the northern shore of Crystal Lake, M-22 takes a sharp northward turn away from the water and heads into the remarkable Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  For my next post.  

R Balsamo

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

A few days ago the Lyric Opera of Chicago put on its annual Stars of the Lyric free concert in Millennium Park to kick off its new season.  The audience was under the stars, but the performers were sheltered beneath the Gehry-designed bandshell that bursts out in a cacophony of curvilinear silver shards and folds.  It was a great night for outdoor music, clear and dry, with just the faintest breeze off the lake.  

Three of the six selections were taken from operas in the upcoming season: the overture from Tannhauser; the Te Deum from Tosca; and the final scene from Don Giovanni.  There were also scenes from Verdi’s operas Rigoletto and Macbeth, plus a not-often-heard piece from Mascagni's Iris. 

The Don Giovanni performers included Ana Maria Martinez, whom I saw last year sing Mimi in La Boheme at the Lyric.  Once I was invited to a dress rehearsal of Don Giovanni at the Lyric and for the first time there sat in box seats, which are very cool for anyone who likes moveable chairs with extra leg room.  Not a bad way to listen to Mozart.  The offering from Rigoletto, a tale of what-one-sends-around can come back around – with a vengeance, was the complete Act III, which includes a particular favorite of mine – the quartet. 
Macbeth undoubtedly carries lots of memories for people – who didn’t read it in high school?  And what a story – out damned spot and from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.  As I sat there, I recalled that Macbeth is the only opera I have seen at the Met in New York, and, aside from the great spectacle of it, I remember thinking how incredibly comfortable the seats were there compared to those at the Civic Opera House, where the Lyric performs.  Of course, hard to beat is enjoying the music and voices of Macbeth from the comfort of a spacious canvas folding chair while working on a bottle of pinot noir under a beautiful night sky.    

R Balsamo
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