Hearts afire

There’s an adorable bit of narration from the “Maelstrom” ride in EPCOT’s Norway at Disney world:

“Those who seek the spirit of Norway face peril and adventure, but more often find beauty and charm.”

It’s just a tourism promotion (a tourism promotion within the leading tourist attraction, god bless ‘em) with silly little Viking boats on a track, but it begins to show you that travel can be all about revealing your own misunderstandings.¬†Of a place, of a people, of an experience, and so forth. Then there are the animatronic trolls.

In that spirit, try this adaptation:

“Those who seek the spirit of Wisconsin face heartburn and cirrhosis, but more often find beauty and charm.”

There is a part with trolls, too, in Mt. Horeb. Stumpy, wooden, almost unassuming damn near not jockeying for your attention. It’s as if the town wanted to permanently handicap itself at bed-and-breakfast weight, and never gorge itself into the ranks of tourism sluggers. The trolls will never muster the force to overtake their antique-dealing masters. Then again, you could argue Disney’s Norway is the restrained one, in terms of selling fewer things with the phrase “UFF DA!”

But what really drowns out the novelty factor is that Mt. Horeb is just an easy place to be. The tackiness is only there if you decide it matters, if your obnoxious side is the only one seeking company. It meets the true measure of a destination, which is that even a casual visitor can imagine lapsing into its daily life. Or at the very least becoming a burdensome regular and target of waitress wit at Schubert’s Diner. Really, the only thing on Main Street Mt. Horeb that could mess with your picture of the world is an ad for men’s jeans that diagrams a “crotch gusset,” even depicts a husky man squatting so that you can witness the latest in perineum-positive comfort. Should you encounter this, just obliterate the memory with a pint of Spetznaz Stout, brewed and served around the corner at The Grumpy Troll brewpub. Mt. Horeb is also blessed with a great place to buy books, Prairie Bookshop.

Places like this leave you so damn sure there’s always charm right around the corner in Wisconsin. Charm us up, next turn! We know you’ve got it in ya! We can’t go wrong. You wouldn’t pull anything indelibly eerie on us that sits within our souls like a pool of landjaeger grease, would you, Wisconsin? Naaah.

Enter downtown Eau Claire. Doesn’t that sound idyllic? Bon Iver country? What follows is the most unfair, half-assed, five-minute slimeball spot-check depiction you’ll ever get of the place. Yes, today we happily fling our dart at the map and draw it back gnawed up by something very like fear.

Which is to say, don’t try it on a drizzly Sunday. Everything is closed, the main drag succumbs to the grey and damp, nobody’s around. As for the public art, it makes you miss the folksy warmth of trolls. Anyone got an evil spirit to ward off your doorstep? Face it down with with the harrowing fright-beam of “Ma, Can I Keep Him?” For even a murderous demon must flinch when a child’s face is contorted this way:

Putting a nice fine point on the desertion, there are speakers all up and down the street piping in music you might charitably call “elevator soul.” Whatever it was, it made Earth Wind And Fire sound like Bad Brains. Once we turn a corner, this music will be playing on for no one. Personally, I’d much prefer they stream Pig Destroyer from one speaker concealed in our little cat-wrangler’s terrified mouth.

The only reason the city could possibly have this music going is so that if civilization breaks down, the town won’t have savagery and cannibalism and The Road. Instead, the survivors and the half-dead will stagger out into the streets and have themselves a 40-and-up singles meet-and-greet cocktail hour.

“It’s too bad the food chain was reversed, but divorce is so freeing! Who wants appletinis?”

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