Saturday, August 13, 2005

Aug 13 - Trip to MN - Minnesota's Fringe Arts Scene

Marco and I got the old bicycles out of mom's shed. We walked them to Brooks Gas Station and filled up the tires, then biked around St. Croix Beach. (I saw Emily's dad walking his dog, but was too shy to stop). Oh, it was so much like the summer days I spent growing up here.

Then we headed into the city. We picked up Lauren at his home in Saint Paul. Marco and Lauren barely met only one time 6 years ago, so I wasn't sure how they would get along. Seemed to go well enough though.

Lauren's a baker now with Saint Agnes bakery. As we drove towards Minneapolis he told us about the baking business and about ciabattas and sourdoughs that he was working on.

We arrived at our destination - a place called the Soap Factory that indeed used to be a soap factory. Now it is a converted industrial space that houses an art gallery and theater. Some of Lauren's friends were performing their own play there as a part of the Twin Cities Fringe Festival.

The Fringe Festival is a yearly opportunity for Minnesotans to sample their local, grassroots performance artists. It's become a popular festival and according the the newspaper, this play that we were about to see was shaping up to be it's big star. It was a somewhat abstract piece that represents the ongoing experiences of the people of Iraq during the US war and occupation. It's called Don't Blow Up Mr. Boban. Mr. Boban is a cafe owner, and he watches normal life and tragedy weave together as friends and strangers come in and out of his restaurant.

After the play we met a couple of Lauren's friends, one of whom was the writer and main actor of the play. We chatted in the art gallery amidst an exposition of decorated ice fishing shacks.

We left the Soap Factory. I felt a little silly because in the Cities I really don't know any places to go so I never have any activities to suggest. But Lauren came through with the idea of walking to a nearby pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi.

First we descended to the banks of the Mississippi where fly fisherman were angling for trout (even in the middle of a city). Then we crossed the bridge and looked at the locks and dams over Saint Anthony falls. One tiny boat was going through an enormous lock big enough for industrial barges. We gazed at the spacey new Guthrie Theater building being constructed on the banks of the Mississippi, and we looked at the old flour silos from the days of Pillsbury and General Mills. Lauren knew a ton of history.

On our way to the car we walked through an empty lot with train tracks running through. Abandoned grain silos loomed over our heads and it was as industrial as it could get. But the afternoon light illuminated the area, making it glow with that ever-present emerald green of Minnesota, and for a bried moment it was beautiful. I took a picture.

Marco and I dropped Lauren at his home. Then we were still in a social mood, so we went to Stillwater, a historic old town on the St. Croix river, near home.

We sat on the patio of the Freighthouse restaurant and watched the sun set over the river. Boaters and people with fancy cars had all come out to make the most of the beautiful evening, including one guy with an amphibious car - a sky-blue convertible which can drive into the water and become a boat.

We ended up eating at the Freighthouse. It still serves the old-style Midwestern food that I grew up with which involves lots of heavy, greasy and bland. We even headed over to the attached nightclub and watched bachelorette-party girls dance to bad rap tunes. Cheesy though it may sometimes be, it still had this nice Minnesotan way about it and I was happy to be there because I could see this town of my origins differently, and probably more warmly, after having been gone so many years.

Marco and I drove home, through Bayport, past Clydes, with the windows open, the fresh summer night air and the crickets chirping.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Aug 12 - Trip to MN - The Leinenkugels Brewery

Marco and I headed east, into rural Wisconsin, for a visit to the legendary Leinenkugel's Brewery. Leinies may sell alongside Miller and Bud, but it's actually a local brew and tastes good. It's a true Midwest icon. Heck, it's the flavor of the Northwoods!

We took backroads. This meant vistas of red barns and cows, soybeans and corn, forests and hills, punctuated by the occasional farm town.

We ate lunch in Glenwood City, which is not a city. On the main street we found a one-room diner with framed deer posters and modest folding tables. It was packed - the whole town had come for lunch. One might think that after living in Paris for two years I'd look down on such a small-town place. But I loved it.

We continued on. On one curvy, woodsy road we rounded a corner and saw a sign for honey and stopped.

We rang the doorbell and a long pause later an old man came out of the garage. He invited us in and apologized for the mess and said he was an old bachelor. The house was actually tidy, except for pots and buckets of honey scattered around the kitchen. He pointed to the beehives across his driveway and said the bees made their honey from the wildflowers in the fields that we could see out his windows. He asked where Marco was from and then said he was going to be hosting a German exchange student soon. We bought some comb honey and thanked him. Seemed to be a sweet old man.

But, on to the Brewery!

After getting lost in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, if you can imagine that, we found the brewery. Things had changed since I visited several years ago and now there was an enormous "Leinies Lodge". This is a log cabin with fireplaces and deer heads where you sign up for brewery tours and browse a vast array of merchandise like Leinies soap bars and Leinies canoe paddles. This could have been a disappointing move towards crass commercialism but somehow the merchandise was so odd and interesting that it was rather likeable.

We signed up for the tour, which would commence in 45 minutes. In the meantime we got two coupons each for a free beer tasting, so we went to the tasting area where cheerful Midwestern girls poured free beer. We sipped and wandered in the Leinies merchandise where we also discovered the historic case of Leinies German beer steins, one new model issued every year for at least the last hundred years.

The tour was cool. The brewey is still run by the original family. They've brewed for 138 years and for five generations. We saw vats and steamers and cooling rooms and bottling racks.

After the tour we had one more beer on the patio over the clear, rushing Chippewa River then headed home, west into the setting sun.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Aug 11 - Trip to MN - Dinner with Mom and John

It rained today and Marco still had jet lag so we took it easy. We watched my old scratchy VHS copy of A Room With a View in the morning. I still love that film. (It's definately on my favorite movie list - see my July 23 blog).

In the evening Mom, John, Marco and I opened a bottle of wine, put out a bowl of pistachios and played trivial pursuit. Then I made them a nice dinner. I cooked chicken in a white wine - dijon mustard - shallot sauce with steamed spinach and rice. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Aug 10 - Trip to MN - Marco's First Day

Marco just flew in last night. It's the first time he's been to Minnesota in five years.

To re-introduce him to the pleasures of Minnesota I took him for a swim in the river, the beautiful St. Croix. We went to Steamboat Park in Afton. The sun was bright and the river was shining like a sapphire. Almost no one was around. We passed one mom with a little boy who showed us his boat made from a hollowed-out cucumber. Then we went around the point and we were alone with the warm sand, the fringe of trees, the quiet lapping water and small blue dragonflies. We swam then sat on the beach.

In the evening Dad invited us to Channel 2 (the Twin Cities PBS station) where he works. They were doing a pledge drive during a show on American stained glass. Marco and I met a well-known glass blower named Richard Blenko before the show. His vases and pitchers were the incentive gifts to entice people to pledge during the show. During the show we were supposed to answer phones for the pledge drive, but a whole busload of employees from the Renaissance festival showed up to volunteer (in full medieval garb) so we weren't needed. That was good for Marco, who was foggy from jet-lag. The Renaissance festival women had on those busty medieval corset dresses and seemed to be sweating, so one by one they inserted a small glass of chilled water into their cleavage which they said was medieval air conditioning.

We watched the show from the control room, where we saw all the behind-the-scenes tv editing taking place. It was interesting, and the people working there were cheerful.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Aug 9 - Trip to MN - Nothing's as Good as Good Friends

I'm the luckiest girl in the world today. I got proof that old friends can remain real friends, no matter how far in time or place.

First I met Lauren bright and early for a breakfast at the Hudson truck stop, followed by an in-depth tour of both the truck stop shop AND Fleet Farm. Heh heh, there are no t-shirts like Fleet Farm t-shirts. It's good to be back. Ah the Midwest!

Then with a newly-purchased truckers' cassette tape of old soul tunes playing on the Volvo tape deck we rolled down to the Hudson waterfront, where we roamed out on the jetty, stuck our feet in the water no less than three times, saw geese and laughed alot. Following that we went to Pioneer Park on the Stillwater waterfront, then got root beer floats at Brines.

I was home for no more than 30 minutes after that, when the phone rang and it was Britt. She's not coming home for the reunion but she wanted to give me a call, since it's the first time in 2 years that we don't have a 12-hour time difference between us. We talked for at least 2 1/2 hours! Dang, it was so good.

So in one day my two most important and far-flung friends weren't so far at all. It's easy to write about things that aren't very important, but words often seem to fail those things that are the most important. So I'm not going to ruin the moment with too many words.

Just simply, Lauren, Britt....thanks for a really good day.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Aug 8 - Trip to MN - Going Out With Dad

Dad got tickets yesterday to see Movin' Out, a Broadway show. It wasn't as much a musical as a dance performance. There was no dialogue, no singing, just ultra-athletic dance. We sat in the second row - so close we could feel the sweat spray ;). The dancing was incredible. The main guy was so athletic. I danced for 11 years so I can't help being awed in admiration.

Then we went over to Loring Park, where there is an art fair going on. We got tacos at an open-air booth (mmmmm, something I never get in Paris!) and ate them next to the basketball courts where we watched some guys play a heated match of basketball. We then walked in the warm sun over to the newly-renovated Walker Art Center. On the way we crossed a vast span of green tree-dotted park, then a lovely pond. Living in Paris there are almost no green spaces, and for the first time I was able to appreciated how much green space there is in the Twin Cities - even the heart of downtown. Growing up I had never paid attention.

After briefly stopping at the Walker Center, we drove back to St. Paul. Dad suggested taking River Road along the Mississippi. Again, I was amazed here by the green space in the cities. On our left were the mansions of the Twin Cities (and a number of modest homes) and on our right these homes overlooked the wide Mississippi river from high up on the bluffs. The view was vast and the river's banks were covered in lush green forest. There were natural sandy beaches down below, and the water even looked clean. I thought of the cement-lined Seine river passing through Paris. There is a great move to restore and de-industrialize the Twin Cities and it seems to be going very well.

Then Dad and I went through downtown St. Paul, looked at Harriet Island from the shores of the river and headed back home. After I dropped him off I drove home on the backroads into the Lake Elmo countryside. So green. So lovely. There are still a few farms left wth old red barns.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Aug 7 - Trip to MN - Rough landing

The plane ride home was easy. I flew from Paris to Detroit, then Detroit to Minneapolis. The Detroit - Minneapolis flight was so smooth and beautiful, it felt like flying in heaven. We took off around 7pm and the evening sunset light was just coming along. We glided over Lake Erie and the land became greener and greener. I looked at the scattered farms and the winding rivers and the forests with the golden lights of evening falling across them. The colors were so intense. The sky was clear, but near the ground there was a faint mist that made everything soft. It looked like home, but so mysterious watching it from far up in the sky.

I thought it would be easy to come back, since I was looking forward to it so much. But to my surprise, upon arrival I found myself grumpy and annoyed. There were tons of little things that don't mesh with my ideas of what makes good living. The image of crass consumeristic uptight prudish America came galloping into my field of vision and made it hard for a day or two to see anything else.

For example:
  • We ate on an outdoor patio that had an air-conditioner running OUTDOORS! (category: crass wasteful consumerism)
  • There was a big scandal because (gasp, horror!) a politician swore on tv for all to hear (category: puritan prudishness)
  • There were big, HUGE (5-ft tall) tv screens at nearly every gate at Detroit airport with obligatory sound blasting out of speakers and the usual blood-red shock headlines saying "Opertion: Terror" and "New Health Threat" (category: uptight paranoia)
  • Also at Detroit airport, there was a monorail to transport people along the length of a hallway that took no more than 15 minutes max to walk from end-to-end. With the rolling walkways it couldn't have taken more than 7-8 minutes and there were carts to assist people with trouble walking. So why the monorail? Are people here THAT unable to walk? (category: laziness due to too much crass consumerism)
  • Every menu now notes puts a warning that certain dishes "contain raw meat which may cause illness" (category: uptight paranoia AND a blazing need to label everything for "your safety")

For the average person reading this blog, these things probably don't seem so bad. But they annoyed me and made me grumpy.

Luckily adjustment does kick in, and now I'm starting to see the good stuff around me too. Mom and I walked to Afton yesterday, and Selma's was looking lucious, and had added an outdoor patio bar and barbeque to the ice cream shop that had such a wonderful air of summer that I am sure to bring Marco there when he arrives. Then Mom and I walked into "Steamboat Park" (which is really just an untouched natural space along the river). We passed through the trees and low wetlands and came out to the sparkling blue St . Croix River looking beautiful as can be in the sun....and discovered that there is now a lovely natural sand beach all along the river there. It must have come into existence when the floods changed the topography of the river a few years back. Hardlly anyone knows about it. It's a long lacy fringe of golden white sand, so lovely between cool blue water and emerald-green trees.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Aug 4 - I'm going home

In a few hours I'll be taking the plane to Minnesota. Always a big moment.

Last night Marco was already in the south of France for his friend's wedding (the same one who had a bachelor party a few weeks ago). So I took his cousin Pierre-Emile and his girlfriend Emilia out for tapas in the Marais.

The Marais is an ultra-trendy area of Paris. It's wild, flamboyant and artsy, while still old and posh. It's got gay bars next to uppity 17th-century manors, and wild clothing boutiques next to medieval churches.

The tapas place that Marco and I like is called Les Pietons. It is always packed with people. We had an impossible time to get a table. We didn't eat until about 11 pm. But the food there is great, not to mention the sangria. And Pierre-Emile and Emilia were lots of fun to talk to. They are both charming.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Aug 2 - Wierd Things Happen in California

Marco's cousin has come to visit us again!

His name is Pierre-Emile and he's a young dude, twenty and in college. He spent the past year studying in Finland, where he met a charming Polish girl and now he's brought her to Paris. Marco, being the cool cousin that he is, is letting them stay in our apartment.

Last time Pierre-Emile stayed with us was three years ago, with his sister Bertille. We were living in California at the time. Marco and I wondered what on earth we would do with a 17-year-old guy and a 20-year-old girl for three weeks, seeing as how they could neither drive nor drink, which ruled out a lot of entertainment options. But it turned out to be a riot. They were so funny. They kept us laughing continually. Ah California, good times.

During their visit Marco and I tried to show them the best of the US, but the wily world of America had other things in mind. We ended up with a continual chain of oddball sights.

  • While driving to Sequoia National Park we passed a huge semi truck on the shoulder that was wrapped in blazing flames at least 30-feet high. The temperature was so hot that the metal exterior, the hood and doors, was transparent red and you could see straight through into the engine. It was wierd.
  • We stopped for the night at Motel Six (thereafter aptly dubbed Motel Sex) and were awoken by the noisiest wall-pounding, picture-frames-jumping-off-the-walls couple I've ever heard. Marco's cousins were cracking up. In the car the next morning they came up with the Motel Sex nickname. They'll leave the light on for you....and light the fire too.
  • In San Francisco a guy was arrested, cuffed, spread-eagled and searched by the cops right in front of our hotel window (Marco's cousins were fascinated - it was just like tv!), the next night, out the same hotel window, a man was running around after pedestrians with a live boa constrictor. Finally, in front of the same hotel the next morning, a guy cruised on a bicycle down the sidewalk, nearly hit us, then dashed into the oncoming traffic where he was hit by a car.
  • Also in San Francisco a woman dashed by us then slapped the asses of two female tourists in front of us, who didn't know the woman at all and were extremely surprised.
  • In Tijuana, while eating at a taco joint, the cook came out and unabashedly offered the "services" (wink wink) of his sister in the kitchen to Marco and Pierre-Emile.
  • In the desert, on a long, straight and vastly empty road, a police helicopter descended from the sky and pulled over the car in front of us for what was presumably a speeding violation.

At each of these moments Marco's cousins would ask "is it always like this in the US?" with big, wide eyes. And each time I'd say "Uh no.......I've never seen anything like it in my life.". We did lots of other amusing stuff too, but three years later it's often these moments that they tend to reminisce about. The bizarre always remains entertaining and memorable.

Here's a picture of Marco teaching the fundamentals of surfing to Pierre-Emile. They're at Pacific Beach, right by our old place.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Aug 1 - Weekend by the Pool!

Marco and I got back last night from the south of France (in Valence, near the Alps).

His friend Fred invited a group of about 14 of us down to his family home. It was all Marco's friends from school, who I've gotten to know quite well over the years. Fred's family has a great back yard and a modest but highly entertaining swimming pool. It was great. I haven't hung out in a good ol' backyard with a vast span of good ol' green grass and good ol' lawn chairs for a couple years now. Paris has no backyards, almost no grass, and usually no sun.

On saturday we visited a local vineyard, played a lot in the pool, basked in the sun and played heaps of games. At about 3 am saturday night we were avidly into a card game where two or three people were designated "werewolves" and the rest were villagers and everyone had to discuss to try to figure out who the werewolves were and kill them. A good game.

The next day we played Trivial Pursuit on the lawn and tried to stand on and put chairs onto to a big foam platform in the pool. We had a gargantuan picnic on the lawn and played more of the werewolf game (just couldn't get enough) until it was time to drive 5 hours back to Paris. Our friend Damien rode in the car with us, and he talked all the way down and all the way back up to Paris which was enjoyable because he actually had some entertaining things to say. Just off the freeway we ate at Quik - France's version of McDonalds. It rots the stomach and is not even very quick.