Frederick Miller, a young German immigrant, founded Plank Road Brewery in Milwaukee in 1855. I’m sipping on the pilsner – a type of pale lager first produced in the Czech Republic in the mid-nineteenth century, in an unobtrusive pub on the corner of Dickson, trying to relax before my flight. Ignoring the gaggle of sorority girls in from some recent function (I surmise by their formal dresses and the cloud of perfume lingering well after they pass), I return to my book – Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. I enjoy this quiet novel about sisters in the Pacific Northwest primarily because it isn’t my normal foray into literature and because Robinson pays attention to the sentence. I sip, slower and slower, as I force myself to slow down, savoring every hop and every word, every clause and phrase. The reward is a decent beer (or three, as the night eventually goes), and an elegant piece of fiction that satisfies the soul. At the story level, the plot wraps up nicely and the charaters’ journeys feel satisfyingly resolved, even as the last words wring harmonically in the ear.
My first stop is to visit a hops farm in the Pacific Northwest. A friend of mine from grad school – Marty – depended on those local hops to craft some amazing beer, always a treat for our literary salons. Seattle has some marvelous craft beer and I enjoy a stop at Pike’s Place Market.
But this is a quick trip and I hurry on to Milwaukee, reading poetry by Susan Firer and some science fiction from Wisconsin resident and Chicago transplant, Arthur Tofte. The flight is long enough for me to finish his seminal work, The Day the Earth Stood Still.