Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Where Time Stands Still

"Baby where's that place where time stands still
I remember like a lover can
But I forget it like a leaver will"
(Mary Chapin Carpenter)
I can answer that question; I've been there. That place where time stands still is way up north, beyond the reach of direct flights or RVs. You must cross the Straits on a ferry and see your luggage arrive on a four wheeled wagon behind a team of shaggy hoofed horses. It might be accompanied by some mulch and a weed whacker....or a 12 pack of Bud Light and 24 rolls of Cottonelle. But once you've pulled up to the entrance of the Grand Hotel, you are subject to the rules and aesthetics and expectations of another time. Let go of the present: it's hurry, it's preoccupations, it's media barrage, it's truncated and compressed timeline. Time lingers; time stops, hesitates, lingers and moves along with reluctance on Mackinac Island.
It is by design, of course. The first horseless carriage arrived on the island, then spluttered and smoked and coughed to such an extent that the Carriage operators complained vociferously. They were either genuinely annoyed on behalf of their animals...or perhaps prescient about the way their island transportation monopoly would be affected by self determination. Either way, they had power at the polls and voted the pesky gasoline monsters off the island, Survivor style.

With automobiles forbidden, the air is ripe with horsy smells and jingling with horsy sounds. Tourists travel to their destinations by the dozen behind blinkered pairs of patient behemoths. Their suitcases and carryons cling together by virtue of shrink wrap or balance precariously on the handlebars of practiced cyclists. Spring is barely come this last day of May. The visitors in shorts and tees appear to be out of sync not just with the seasons, but also with the era; the bellmen are red capped and red caped; the guests are handed actual keys instead of the ubiquitous magnetic entry cards.

  Etiquette is observed at the Grand Hotel. There is HighTea with a harpist performing for those wishing to partake and those curious to observe the ritual. Etiquette is the kind of stodgy old fashioned word appropriate to a place where being seated for the evening meal means walking down a mirrored aisle fit for an audience with the Queen.

Downtown Mackinac has its quota of fudge makers and t shirt stores....frequented by those, no doubt, who failed to add a sweatshirt or fleece to their summer resort wear. But walk the Pontiac trail along the West Bluff and enter the 19th century when well-heeled Midwesterners brought their families north to vacation and rich ones built gingerbread palaces with open porches to catch the summer breezes and glassed sunrooms to turn them away. On this day, the homes are silent save for a couple of guys who might be on perennial painting duty. Fish scales, spool-and-spindle, sun bursts, or festoons require the kind of care and artful makeup of an aging diva. All this for a short summer that left the mansions to face the frigid icy winters after their people deserted the island in October.

There's not much suspense on Mackinac, just the stately rhythm of time passing to the accompaniment of horses' hooves, the wind in the flags, the cries of the gulls and the unrushed greetings of those who meet afoot or on two wheels on the narrow paths. It is a place apart, where past and present coexist, where cell phones work, but courtesy keeps them on buzz, where you expect Patrick Swayze in the ballroom and the sparkle of the evening meal evokes the Titantic.

And yesterday pedaling down 4th Avenue, between the stalls and the bookshops
The sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront
And inside the air was thick with the past, as the dust settled onto his heart
And here for a moment is every place in the world and ideas are like stars.
(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

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