Democracy in action?
September 11. What a glorious autumnal day, though a bit warm-ish. The top is down on my T-Bird as I head north to Atwater Park in Shorewood, a long narrow strip of land embracing a lovely bay. I’ve driven by this place a gazillion times. What I need is to stop, park and walk the paths in order to escape the memory of another September 11.
I stand on a balcony-style overlook (a nearby sign says the water is “good”) and gaze. Several people are splashing. Two males wearing yarmulkes and toting flotation devices head down the stairs toward the beach. The rail I’m leaning on bears an inscription, something about war and peace, but I don’t want to immerse myself in its engraved sermons. Not on so splendid a 9/11 day as this. Next to me are Pastor Mario Navarro and his spouse. For more than a decade, they shepherded a church in Honduras. They recently moved to Waukesha to shepherd another. Pastor Navarro hands me a card, La Vina del Senor.
I talk a bit about the controversy over the public sculpture soon to be unveiled in the park. It’s a stainless steel creation of renowned artist Jaume Plensa. Of it, they know nothing, but “democratic discussions are good,” says Navarro when I tell him that some folks think the sculpture choice was thrust upon them.
A grandmother with dyed-red hair pushes a stroller cradling her grandson, whose dark burnished skin and curly black hair glisten in the sun. I ask myself, “Is he a child of a mixed marriage? The grandmother, who recently lost her job in a downsizing, is quick to reply when I ask her what she thinks about the idea of a sculpture in Atwater Park. Her eyes take in the abundance of late summer, and she asks why the park needs anything more. “Nature itself is plenty,” she says, but of course the park is entirely unnatural, a landscape artist’s dream. But I don’t tell her that. A young mother clad in a burqua cuts diagonally across the lush grass, headed across the busy road to the west. In France, perhaps she would not be allowed to wear her graceful garment. How democratic is that?
The park is filled with women exercising in a big sweaty clump. Led by a summer boot camp fitness instructor, they wipe their foreheads as awards are distributed. Oddly, few among the dozen know much about the Atwater sculpture controversy. “What, huh? Is it already here? Where?” One exerciser remarks, “Oh, I like art. As long as it’s art, and not obscene, it’s okay with me.” I grit my teeth and tell her that in that case some people think Beasties are art. “Oh Beasties are cute,” she quips. I let it go.
On my way out, a young man with Down syndrome approaches. “Hi, my name is Tony. Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Indeed it is. We shake hands.