Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Created | Updated Jan 9, 2012
Would anyone be dim enough to put an entire city on the narrow strip of land between two huge lakes? The answer may surprise you. It is exactly on such a piece of land, or isthmus as it is commonly called, that Madison, Wisconsin, is built, which resides between lakes Monona and Mendota.
Madison was named after American President James Madison, who died in the year it was established. This would set the stage for nearly every president to follow him, all of whom passed on though various means, presumably also looking for a piece of the action.
Today, Madison supports an eclectic community with an intense passion for freedom of speech, which serves as a harsh contrast with the rest of Wisconsin's citizens and their cheese-shaped attire1. This has earned Madison titles like 'Athens of the Midwest' and '78 square miles surrounded by reality'.
Madison's true centrepiece is the state capitol, the third capitol built since Wisconsin's birth. A previous capitol burned to the ground, and the original was so shoddy that pigs lived in the basement - their oinking often interfered with the legislative processes. While such practices are kept to a minimum today, Madison still keeps cattle on the Capitol Square once a year or so, and its citizens agree that this is the most sensible option.
Less than a mile from the capitol building lies the university campus. Renowned for its liberal policies and mindset, The University of Wisconsin in Madison, or UW-Madison, was one of the first to admit female students. However, former university president Paul Chadbourne held strict guidelines at the time, prohibiting females from taking mathematics, philosophy or language classes. Decades later, the university ironically erected the all-female Chadbourne Hall. Chadbourne himself did little to protest this, as his own death had been detaining him for some time.
The progressive mindset that was synonymous with the UW and Madison culminated in clashes during the 1960s. In 1967, the UW was put into the national spotlight during protests against Dow Chemical's Agent Orange. At one point, the National Guard was called in to generally demonize the demonstrators and beat the masses to a bloody pulp, both of which they did cheerfully. Since then, the Statue of Liberty has been spotted in Lake Monona and minorities are spliced into brochures for the sake of faux diversity, but these are considered relatively mundane events by comparison.
Since Madison is a melting pot of views and people, it is actually quite difficult to look like a tourist. Even those who have lived there all their lives are taken to click a quick snapshot of the capitol. Still, here are a couple tips to avoid looking like an outsider when visiting:
While beer is not as crucial to Madison natives as it is to the rest of their Wisconsin brethren, it is nonetheless an important part of casual life. Madison's surrounding area is dotted with several breweries and bottling plants, so the universal rule of not insulting the local brew applies here as well.
A linguistic quirk of Madison natives is the tendency to call a drinking fountain 'the bubbler.' The Wisconsin-based Kohler plumbing company used the title when it marketed the drinking fountain as its 'bubbler' model, and 'bubbler' was adopted as the proper name, in the same sense that a facial tissue is often called a Kleenex, or a vacuum cleaner a Hoover. Rest assured that outside Wisconsin and throughout the rest of the universe, you will receive only blank incomprehension if you use the term.
Perhaps the greatest mystery of Madison is that of the Farmers Market, which occupies the square block around the capitol building. The Market itself is not odd, although it's a strange fact that the path of those who browse the market (which is typically thousands every Saturday morning) always runs counter-clockwise. Anyone who walks clockwise will be automatically presumed to be an outsider, if they are not trampled first.