Jeff Daniels and Laura Ingalls Wilder

Look at me, reporting on two days activities as opposed to three. I told you this was going to get easier. IT IS TOTALLY GETTING EASIER (and if I write in All-Caps maybe I’ll convince myself of it too).

So, I have been continuing my tour of ‘delightful-places-in-the-USA-most-people-never-think-to-visit’ in the lovely university town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Home of the University of Michigan. Home of Domino’s Pizza. Once home of Borders before they got too big for their boots and tried to take over the world with giant book and CD stores just before both things became irrelevant.

It is a lovely place, situated just outside of Detroit. Ooh…. Detroit, I hear you say! That is a scary, depressed place still reeling from the collapse of the automobile industry! And, indeed you are right! But, Ann Arbor is still a lovely place existing in a happy ‘university-town’ bubble, blessed with many green, leafy avenues, a river, art house cinemas and a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright (I’m not even joking, bitches, I saw it tonight).

I have spent more time in Ann Arbor, Michigan than the usual traveller to the USA due to the fact that we have some dear family friends who make their (delightful) home there. So, once again, we run into the problem that, even though this is ostensibly a pretty unusual thing to do, I have actually done a lot of it before.

Luckily, however, Ann Arbor has more to offer the visitor than the University of Michigan, the Huron River and the-empty-shell-that-once-was-the-flagship-Borders store. And, without further ado, my new things for Wednesday and Thursday:

1) The Purple Rose Theatre

On Wednesday I went to a charming little town just outside of Ann Arbor, called Chelsea, Michigan. The reason I went was because there was a professional theater company there called the Purple Rose Theatre, which was set up by Jeff Daniels. Otherwise known as, ‘Hollywood Actor Jeff Daniels’. Otherwise known as, ‘The Guy Who Wasn’t Jim Carrey in ‘Dumb and Dumber” . In other words, this guy:

That’s right! Freakin’ Jeff Daniels! He set up a professional theatre company in his little home town of Chelsea, Michigan and, oh my word, is it charming. The light fixtures look to be art-deco inspired, if not actually art-deco. The thrust stage is extremely well-designed and I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house. I saw, ’33 Variations’ by Moses Kauifmann and whilst it wasn’t the best thing ever it was certainly far and above anything I had ever expected to find being produced by a regional theatre company. I think regional theatre in the USA means something completely different to regional theatre in Australia (I’m not being disparaging here, I just mean that I know of very few, if any, dedicated professional regional theatre companies that exist in a town of this size back home in Australia). I also admired the fact that Jeff freakin’ Daniels wrote 15 plays for the company and was still its Executive Director. No dumping the money and running for Jeff freakin’ Daniels. He clearly loves theatre, loves his town, loves artists and wants to give back to all those communities in a real and meaningful way. He is Jeff freakin’ Daniels.

And, ok, so I’m not going to lie, I haven’t ‘always wanted to see a production in the professional theatre company set up by Jeff Daniels.’ But, I mean, that’s only because I didn’t know that was something that was possible! I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a production in the professional theatre company set up by Jeff Daniels? Its Jeff freakin’ Daniels! The best person on earth (I have now discovered)!

2) Met Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved her books, I loved her life, I loved her clothes, I loved her family. Now, don’t get confused. I’m not talking about some tween sensation in the style of Miley Cyrus. No, no. My hero was this woman:

And the clothes I lusted over were something similar to this:

The Ingalls wear the latest in colonial chic. Found at: http://www.theabbevilleoperahouse.com/photo_gallery.htm

The Ingalls wear the latest in colonial chic. Found at: http://www.theabbevilleoperahouse.com/photo_gallery.htm

Anyway. My greatest sadness in life was that, despite reading everything Laura ever wrote (and she wrote a good 15 books), going to Book Weeks as members of her family and insisting I bathe myself in a bucket the way she would – I would never, ever actually meet her. She sadly died well before I was even born – 1957.

That is until I went to Greenfields Village in the town of Dearborn, Michigan! Greenfields Village is part of a complex originally set up by Henry Ford (he of the cars) to house a museum, an academy and also all the famous houses that Henry Ford had collected over the years. That’s right, the man collected houses (I mean, can you blame him? Collecting cars obviously wasn’t going to be that interesting). He would buy houses that had belonged to famous people and then he shipped them to Greenfields Village and made an open-air museum.

Now, Ford didn’t actually buy any of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homes (because many of her homes couldn’t be bought and moved! She lived in a house carved out of a river bed! And she lived in a sod house! And she lived in many other ingenious houses all built by her ingenious Pa!) but he did buy a schoolhouse. And, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a schoolteacher before she was a writer (at the ripe old age of 15). And, so that definitely justified Greenfields Village having a Laura Ingalls Wilder on the grounds who you could meet and who told you stories from her life just outside the schoolhouse. That’s right, I met Laura freakin’ Ingalls freakin’ Wilder. Please understand that meeting Laura Ingalls Wilder for me was similar to other little girls meeting Cinderella or something. I didn’t get to have my photo taken with her (to be honest, I’m glad no-one was allowed to have their photo taken with her – it would totally have ruined my little fantasy), but it was still quite the nostalgic, warming thrill. And certainly the perfect way to end my briefest of visits to the USA.

Thanks again ‘Merica, you’ve been swell as always. Don’t be a stranger now.

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