Saturday, November 02, 2013

From the Moon to Minnesota . . .

Now that winter is bringing those temperatures down, do you think back to summertime? Sandy Brown Jensen's recollections of her trip to Minneapolis this summer just might provoke you to hit the road. 

Minnesota has always been as far away as the Moon for Northwest Me.

I'd referred to the entire Midwest as "flyover space" as if I were some kind of bicoastal commuter rather than a Eugene, Oregon community college teacher firmly tied down to the ground by the tethers of the school calendar.

Gracious hosts Dr. Jeff and Kathy Larken
How my husband Peter and I got Minnesota friends is lost in history, but said friends, Jeff and Kathy Larkin, suddenly pulled up stakes, folded up the tent of their Eugene life, and disappeared back whence they'd come: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"Come visit!" they said, so come visit we did.

The humidity at the airport hit me like a wet wool blanket; I felt like someone had thrown a sheep in my face, making it about that easy to breathe. Fortunately, we were whisked into an air-conditioned car, and the sheep was kicked back into the street to mug the next unwary tourist.

As this was our first visit, Jeff and Kathy had made a laundry list of local can't-miss icons.

Okay, for starters, I want to say that Minneapolis in the summer is insanely beautiful, as long as you don't want to breathe. Who knew? The city is built around twenty lakes and wetlands, many with estates and old money mansions around them. Jeff told me Minneapolis proper contains America's fifth-highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies, which explains mile after waterfront mile of architectural gorgeousness.

And apparently I am the last person in the contiguous U.S. to know this biggest city in Minnesota is on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River.

St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River
from The Stone Arch Bridge
It was a big thrill to cross this famous river on the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge that affords a great view of St. Anthony Falls for pedestrians and cyclists.

All the lakes and wetlands are connected by parks that make up what is called The Chain of Lakes and the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. This is the plentitude of water that turned the wheels of what was once the world's biggest flour milling capital.

Walking the Stone Arch Bridge
What is cool is the way that urban architecture of a previous century is now integrated into modern ideas of architectural art. The Guthrie Theatre, which Jeff pointed out to us from the Stone Arch Bridge, is a great example.

Out of the "dark, satanic mills" looking industrial brick walls of the old mill buildings thrusts a 178-foot cantilevered bridge (called the "Endless Bridge") to the Mississippi.

Micro-slice of the Mall of America
Thanks to my hair stylist in Coburg, Oregon, I did happen to know The Mall of America is in Minneapolis, although nothing could prepare me for the sheer scale of the monstrosity--seven Yankee stadiums could fit inside.

Nickleodeon Universe
In the middle is Nickleodeon Universe, which is a major theme park.In the lower level is Sea Life Minnesota, an aquarium like the one in my local Newport, Oregon, complete with a 300-foot underwater clear acrylic tunnel with sharks and rays gliding above and below.

Eyes of wonder
In a feature called The Mysteries of the Rainforest, Spectacled Caiman, Poison Dart Frogs, and Piranha all at eye level gave me the serious "I am prey" willies.

The day we were there, we were accompanied by hundreds of very small school children with high piercing cries and upturned faces of wonder: the latter made enduring the former marginally worthwhile.

And a side trip to Duluth. Mine hosts decided our trip to Minnesota wouldn't be complete without the three-hour trek north to Duluth to see Lake Superior. Yes, there it was, blue and calm and stretching away to the horizon.

The highlight of our Duluth side trip was a tour of the Glensheen Historic Estate, memorable for being the site of a double murder. That turned out to be a sad and tawdry tale and the estate itself the real star of the show.

Glensheen was built in 1905 in the Jacobean Revival style on the exterior and Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles on the interior. The original furniture brought into the mansion in 1908 stands where it was dropped, so touring the house is like entering a time capsule full of rich details; for example, some of the wall and ceiling coverings are made of wool, silk, filled burlap, and gold leaf--just a seriously improbable combination of materials.

The art collection owned by Chester Congdon and still on the walls at Glensheen, intrigued me. I saw an original by American Impressionist Childe Hassam as well as beautiful silk embroidery done by Japanese artist Watunabe.

Food is a highlight of any trip, and ours was no exception. I loved fish tacos at the Longfellow Grill next to the Mississippi, where I learned that even though Longfellow himself never actually made it to Minnesota, the locals are crazy for Hiawatha place names: Minnehaha Falls, The Inn on Gitchee Gumee, the Hiawatha neighborhood, which is part of the Longfellow community.

Minnehaha Falls

Bronze of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha across the mere

Tacos at Stella's 
We also ate at Stella's Fish Cafe and Prestige Oyster Bar, on the rooftop with a view of uptown Minneapolis. The waiters wore tee-shirts that said, "Get It Yourself! I'm Crabby!"

Memorable T-shirt at Stella's

Garrison Keillor's brand of Lake Woebegone humor is everywhere evident.

On our last night in town, Jeff and Kathy took us to see a musical called, "The Basement Ladies (Last) Potluck Supper." Acted by an indefatigable ensemble of five actors, this comedy delivered laughs of the Lutheran humor variety, music, and good old-fashioned delight.

Okay, if you are going to Minnesota to encounter the natives for the first time, here is what you need to know about their communication style: Minnesotans are famously "nice"-- so nice that they will rarely come right out say what they mean, and, in fact, will often say the opposite of what they mean.

For example, when I complimented my host on our cool basement room, such a relief after the constant sheep mugging of the hot, humid days, he immediately assumed I must mean the opposite and went to turn up the heat.

There is no understanding this, and it blindsided me every time. But you can be sure their hearts are in the right place because it's true--

Minnesotans are nice; remarkably nice!

Thank you, Sandy, for your words and photos that bring these memories back home. I want to walk over the Stone Arch Bridge wearing one of those t-shirts from Stella's Fish and Prestige Oyster Bar! 

Sandy is an extraordinary digital story-teller and creative writing teacher. Read more of Sandy's writings on her blog Mind on Fire or check out my writing blog which through the month of November will feature Sandy's thoughts on creativity.

Any memories of Minneapolis or Duluth to share?


Sandy Brown Jensen said...

Beth, Well I for one really enjoyed re-reading this and going back down Memory Lane. I cross-posted this to my Minnesotan friends, and I hope they will visit and leave comments, too--though they can be shy!
Thanks for letting me play in your field!

Beth Camp said...

Thank YOU, Sandy. I loved following along your trip and am already looking forward to those posts on creativity! It snowed this morning, shades of east coast weather.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sandy! It was fun to visit with you, and also fun to see our city from a fresh set of eyes. Much of my personal navigation involves planning how I will cross the Mississippi or circumnavigate a lake, so I was pleasantly shocked to see the river as something that is both new and historical; an object to be experienced and observed. I bike along the river several times a week, and once a week greet the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in locations that can only be reached by wheel or foot. This is a fascinating exercise in asking people what they take for granted in their own environment, and making them wonder what newcomers would see in these places often taken for granted by those who live there.
Your example of Minnesota Nice near the end was fun as well. I have read it several times, feeling that there is potential for incomplete understanding of this phenomenon. In Minnesota, we take our temperature adjectives seriously. Very seriously. We also realize that we have a perverse understanding of discomfort. When I wore shorts in rainy 40 degree weather the other day, it was "breezy." If I had been "cool," I would have indicated discomfort that required a change of clothing, behavior, or environment. If I had described myself as "cold," that would be a signal to others to check for signs of frostbite.
Thus, as always, one must be careful with language. In Minnesotan, "It is cool in the basement," means "I am uncomfortably cold. We should do something about this." The appropriate Minnesotan phrase is something like "Oh, this air conditioning is so nice," or "That's perfect."
We must be careful with language here, because if things are "cool" at 65 degrees, "cold" at 35, and "freezing" at 25, what do we have left to say when the windchill is -40?
Again, it was great to see you and Peter. I believe they will be hanging a plaque for our table at the Himalayan restaurant. And the LOLA art crawl group was very glad you stopped by.
Be well,

Beth Camp said...

Thank you, anonymous, for a quite lovely and witty comment, especially on how important appropriate wording is for Minnesotans. Here in eastern Washington, it's gotten a little nippy at 25 degrees this morning in early November. For temperatures that dip to minus forty, however, I have no words.