Saturday, May 09, 2015

Five Favourite Places

Doing the Friday Five a bit late...

My five favourite places, in no particular order:

1) GilChrist Retreat Center, Three Rivers, MI
I have had several retreats here, and they have been healing and grace-filled. GilChrist is arranged like an ancient Celtic monastery, with retreat cabins (more comfortable than the monk's stone cells!) set around a meadow, with a stone chapel built into the hillside. Another meadow holds a labyrinth, with the main building, Windhill, overlooking it. There's a library, a meditation loft, and a light-filled chapel in Windhill. To one side of the Lea (the larger meadow with the chapel) there is a medicine wheel, and the Path of Many Faiths--mini-gardens reflecting many faiths: Christianity, Judaism, First Nations, Islam, Buddism, etc. In the summer, they keep an organic garden, and retreatants are welcome to help themselves from the garden.
Part of the value of GilChrist for me is this arrangement--I am alone, and yet not far from others; I can attend yoga or meditation sessions at Windhill or not; I can tramp over the trail to one of the other retreat centers nearby for Vespers or Matins, or not. I like to being my retreats there by walking the labyrinth; a meditative exercise that prepares me for the time apart from the world; and I close it by walking the labyrinth, in preparation for returning to the world and a farewell.  (All photos mine)

Jeremiah, my cabin for most of my retreats


The labyrinth, with Windhill in the distance on the right.

2.) Munich, Germany
Pretty much the whole city! Like others of my favourite cities, it is on a river and that river remains a vital part of the city life. Samuel Johnson once said of London (another city centered on a river), "One who is tired of London is tired of life;" that is equally true of Munich. It's far more than the Hofbrauhous and the Glockenspiel at the City Hall. The architecture is beautiful--much of the Nazi-era stuff has been removed--and especially in the downtown pedestrian zone, the feel is almost medieval. Culture--the Deutches Museum collects all kinds of technology, from clocks to musical instruments to electrical stuff. There\s music to die for--the Bavarian State Opera and the Orchestra are world-class, there are concerts of medieval music in the medieval Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall), local bands in the bars in Schwabing (around the university), and--one of my favourite places in a favourite city--a biergarten with a jazz band, sited on the banks of the river Isar in a leafy suburb (but easy bicycling from where I lived). Don't even get me started on the food and beer...

3) Windsor, ON
Windsor often gets a bad rap--called the armpit of Ontario (from its location on a map of the province), and Detroit's Canadian suburb, it's much more than that. One of the first settlements in Upper Canada (so-called because it was up the St. Lawrence from the Atlantic) was Sandwich, which is now an area of Windsor. Sandwich was the British post during the Battle for Detroit of the War of 1812. During Prohibition, a lot of Canadian booze crossed to the US surreptitiously! And it was an easy trip to Chicago with that contraband, so Windsor/Detroit was the center of a lot of smuggling. Windsor was also the center of a lot of immigration, even at the turn of the last cnetury, before the growth of the car industry. The immigration continues today--we are the most diverse small city in Canada. I also look to the restaurants as an index of diversity, and Windsor has just about anything you could want. There's a whole street of Italian restaurants, and no shortage of Greek, Indian, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Lebanese, and Caribbean--even a Hungarian place and a Ukrainian restaurant as well, with a food festival (Carrousel of Nations) celebrating that diversity every year.  The city's festival plaza, down by the river (there's that river again!), has a festival every weekend from June through September. There are several farmer's markets, some gorgeous architecture, a company town in the Walkerville section (from Hiram Walker's distillery, see above for booze and prohibition). Art in the Park is a juried art show and sale on the grounds of Willistead Manor. And if you want big city stuff, Detroit is next door, with all kinds of shows and shopping and such.
But most of all, I like the ambiance of Windsor--small town enough that it is easy to make a lot of linkages and actually know city leaders, but large enough to have all those wonderful amenities (I haven't even mentioned the theatre scene, the music scene, or all the activities around the University, or the casino, or...). I think it is telling that many young people leave Windsor for Toronto or New York or Vancouver, but end up returning after a while, missing Windsor.

4) London, GB
Well, what's to say that hasn't been said before? Historic, vibrant, handsome, a living city. Would go there anytime for almost any reason!

5) Washington, DC
Again, very much a living city. once you get away from the tourist spots, although some of them are worthwhile in their own right, like the many museums of the Smithsonian, the Folger Shakespeare Library (which hosts plays of the period in their replica of the Globe, as well as a huge blowout party every April for the Bard's birthday), Kennedy Center, the monuments, etc. The architecture, again, is varied and interesting--just touring the churches of DC is facinating! There are so many parks and green spaces, not least Rock Creek Park, running down from Maryland into the heart of DC. Again, the river, and the history.

Looking at these as a whole, apart from GilChrist, of course, what draws me to these cities is not so much how much there is to do, but how the doing of things in each of those cities is tied up with wonderful memories. Bicycling to the Jazz Biergarten (as we called it; I have forgotten its real name), listening to great jazz, munching on wurstsalat and roast chicken, washing it down with a RadlerMass, laughter and conversation with friends under the blooming chestnut trees... Or having coffee in my favourite hipster cafe with a friend when two more friends happen by and we add chairs to the table... Sitting at dusk on a friend's porch in the heights above the National Zoo and hearing the wolves howling... Visiting the Deutches Museum with my mother the civil engineer and watching her fascination with the various displays... Taking a driving tour of DC in the spring to see the blooming azealas, cherry trees, magnolias and other beauties... Taking my son to the Air and Space Museum to see the Star Wars exhibit... Standing in front of the Rosetta Stone, peering into the British Museum Library, seeing the MS for Pride and Prejudice...

It is not the places themselves, really, but the experiences attached to and inseparable from them. I am sure there are others who find GilChrist pleasant but not exceptional. who have visited DC but have no desire to go back (as I feel about New York City), who would be just as glad to stay home as travel to Munich.   It is the memories and the experiences attached to them that make these places special to us.

1 comment:

jo(e) said...

Oh, that retreat place looks wonderful.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...