Tag Archives: Minnesota

Welcome Home, Home on Fire

I want to go back to the UK now.

A week ago I was trying to enjoy my last day in Oxford without wasting by fretting about traveling during a global pandemic.

It’s hard to explain certain things to people back home, like how cramped and close together people live in a place like Oxford.  I had wanted to take this photo for some time—if you look through the picture window of the house across the street you can see through to my neighbor Wendy’s back garden. I wanted to get a shot early in the morning when—I hoped—she wouldn’t see me.

It seemed to matter at the time.

I took a walk.  How had I never noticed that enormous Monkey Puzzle Tree, now laden with what looked like seed pods?

Were these juniper berries?  If I filled my pockets with them could I make homemade gin? These were my pressing questions.

None of the things I had worried about happened.  The bus to Heathrow had five passengers, all widely spaced and wearing masks except for That One Asshole.  This was Heathrow.

Here’s the main shopping and dining atrium in T2.  Usually my biggest concern is whether the Cath Kidston store will be open (it was not).

Almost everyone was wearing a mask and everyone practiced social distancing.  The plane was about 25% full.  This was going to be fine!

Obligatory farewell photo.

I played with the newfangled window dimmer button. There’s no window shade anymore.  Is it the magic of nanoparticles, I wondered, having worked in a nanoparticle lab years ago.

I watched movies: Rocket Man, Witness for the Prosecution, Book Smart, and Jojo Rabbit.

Every time I removed my mask to sip some water my mask and ear bud cords got tangled up.

We were served food as usual but there were no alcoholic beverages or coffee on board.

Beautiful Chicago.

Re-entry to the US was uneventful.  Public Health Service officials collected my contact details, took my temp, and handed me this.

O’Hare seemed like Heathrow at first.

But here were the C gates, with flights headed for Mexico City, Indianapolis, Washington DC, and Minneapolis.  I spent four hours here.  It was impossible to social distance and only about half of the people wore masks.

My first views of Minnesota on a hot muggy evening.

I retrieved my bag and found my car, which my son had parked in an airport ramp the previous day.  The next morning I would get a grocery delivery which I had set up while still in Oxford.

Phew!  After almost five months in the UK, I was home, with no dramas!

As I was driving home, a man named George Floyd was being murdered in the street by Minneapolis police just a few miles away for the alleged crime of trying to pass a counterfeit bill.

Protests erupted the next day.  The killer cops were fired but not arrested.  The protests turned violent Wednesday night and escalated each night.

Those who wear badges that say, “To Protect and Serve” (the police) abandoned the people of the Twin Cities and let looters run wild.  So far 255 businesses have been looted and/or burned.  Post offices.  Restaurants.  Pharmacies.  Gas stations.  Barber shops. Liquor stores.  Libraries, for god’s sake!

Nonprofit organizations like an Indian dance company, a Native American youth center, and an arts-funding foundation.  The grocery that delivered my food four days ago is now closed indefinitely. We are living under a curfew.  The national guard has now been called in, and Trump is even being consulted about sending federal troops.

The Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors did nothing but make polished, kumbaya speeches.

The cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck was charged with murder on Friday, but the ones who stood by and did nothing must be charged as well.

There have been rumors that the looters are all extremists—anarchists and/or white supremacists. There have been some people from other states among those arrested, but as of what we know now, most are Minnesotans.

I am in shock.  I have to find a way to get involved and keep moving.

Meanwhile, Minnesota passed the milestone of 1,000 Covid-19 deaths.

Summer Summary

From time to time, I’ve taken a break from chronicling my travels in far-off destinations to write about small adventures close to home.  I can’t travel abroad 365 days a year, so I try to find new places and things to do in my own backyard.

This summer was no different.  The highlight, of course, we my son’s wedding. I’ve already shared my amateur photos from the day, but here’s one more, of me and my cousin and nieces lining up to show off our green eyes.  It was funny at the time.

This year, spring lost its luster because of my aunt’s illness.  Soon after her death, I walked around the little lake near my house, Beaver Lake, and did something I never do.  I sat down on a bench and actually looked at the lake, the tree branches loaded with buds, and the sky as spring clouds drifted across and changed the colors on the water.  I listened to the jays, robins, wood peckers, loons, and cardinals.  I didn’t have any great insights into the meaning of life or loss but I felt comforted to know that the wheel turns and the world wakes up every year.

I returned to the same spot a few more times as spring progressed into summer.

I met a friend for a walk at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.  We never did walk.  We got a pitcher of beer and sat at a table for a couple hours, people watched, and talked politics.

On my last visit to my aunt’s house, I took a long walk along the St. Croix River.  It looked to be shaping up as a great year for mushrooms and fungi, with many rainy nights and steamy days.

Molly and I hung out on her deck and laughed at her cat playing secret agent in the tall grass.

Then there was Japan, and then I was back.  I visited my favorite paths along the Mississippi, starting at Hidden Falls Park.   I don’t know why this photo looks like my lens was smeared with Vaseline, or if coyotes are a new thing here, or how they know there is only one.

I spent a rainy afternoon and evening at Irish Fair, an annual event in St. Paul that always has great music.  This year was no exception; there were bagpipers in kilts, of course, but the headliners, the Screaming Orphans, got the crowd whipped into a frenzy.

I hosted a Japanese food-making party for Keiko, my nephews, and my brother.  Almost everything turned out oishi (delicious).

In late July I returned to the St. Croix and canoed with some people I knew from the fabulous mid-Century modern high rise apartment building I lived in for six years.

For once in my life it didn’t start raining as soon as I stepped into a canoe.  I was paired with a woman from Nebraska who had never canoed.  She didn’t follow instructions and had no upper body strength, but she was so nice that I didn’t mind that I basically paddled the canoe myself the whole way.

We stopped for a long picnic lunch on an island.  Afterwards, as if I hadn’t gotten enough of a workout, I did a two-hour hike through the Minnesota side of Interstate Park, which is a park that straddles the Minnesota and Wisconsin banks of the St. Croix River.

A friend and I rented kayaks and paddled around Pickerel Lake. I took some long bike rides, went berry foraging, and sat in my backyard and appreciated the hydrangeas that had been a highlight of Japan and were also profuse in St Paul this year.  I even tried my hand at flower arranging.

As ever, summer closes with two blockbuster events.  First, the Minnesota State Fair.  This is a small selection of seed art.  Winters are long on the prairie.

The poor horses.  Of course they bite and kick, cooped up like that.

Bulls on Parade: not just a song by Rage Against the Machine.

“Eggzibit”—get it?

Then, Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin, paid for by my aunt.  It helped to have a super cute super baby there.

Rain, Snow, and Pesos

Here we are on our walking tour of Medellin.  From left, that’s me, Roxana, Lynn, Daniella our guide, and Ricardo.  See how sunny it is?

The sun didn’t last.  On our walk back from the Metro to Park Lleras, it began to rain buckets.  I was glad I had my packable poncho from the UK—and that I had actually brought it along.

As I write this, the sun is out in St. Paul and it’s supposed to hit nearly 60F/15C today.  Six days ago, we had a record-setting blizzard with 14 inches of snow that closed schools and businesses for the day.  I spent hours shoveling wet heavy snow and trying to get my car moved because the city had declared a snow emergency and there is a complicated set of rules for where you can park or you will be towed and have to pay a nearly $300 ransom to get your car back. I found a spot to park four blocks from my house then had to wade home through calf-deep snow.  The next day I had to move it again.

A guy who lives a few houses from me, and his adult daughter, came and helped.  He wore New York-style tortoise shell glasses and we made small talk about how the post office had accidentally delivered my issue of Foreign Policy magazine to his house. He was wearing gloves so I couldn’t see if he was wearing a ring or not.

My car was parked on a slight incline and the spinning tires had worn into shallow grooves of sheer ice.  It wasn’t just my car; there were people stuck kittywampus up and down the street.  A plow truck was jackknifed across the street, spinning its tires.  After an hour of shoveling and pushing back and forth with no results, another neighbor came along—a large guy with missing front teeth and a cigarette dangling from his unshaven face. “It’s a Mini!” he pronounced, as if we didn’t know that.  “Just push ‘er from the front on the side and spin ‘er around 180 degrees into the street!”  Which is what we did and “she” was free 30 seconds.

“I know cars!” the big guy crowed.  “I’m from Chicago, Illinois!”  I don’t know what being from Chicago had to do with car knowledge, but the next time I’m stuck, I’ll seek his help first.

Later, I helped another neighbor move her car.  When she lowered her window, a billow of pot smoke hit me in the face.  That evening I was so exhausted I could barely pour myself a drink, but at least I had waited until after the herculean physical exertion of car pushing and shoveling.

I got to my yoga class a few days later and realized I had no mat—because I had shoved it under one of my tires to get traction.  It hadn’t worked.  The spinning tire had just sent it whizzing through the air into the street, covered with black tire marks, blue ice salt, and crusty snow.

The point of this long detour of a story is, we Minnesotans tend to idealize the weather everywhere else and arrive unprepared for the fact that it can be bone-chillingly cold in San Francisco or Mexico.  Maybe, in my late 50s, I was finally gaining some common sense. Still, the poncho didn’t save my feet from getting soaked.

We made it to the Park of Bars, as Park Lleras should really be named, soaking and laughing and ready for some drinks and dinner.  We tipped Daniella generously (I hope she thought we were generous).  Roxana’s daughter Gabriella joined us, and we had a great long dinner with fantastic Peruvian-Venezuelan-Colombian food and several pitchers of Sangria.  Ricardo kept refilling my glass. Look how happy we all look!

When it came time to pay the bill, the tab was something like 350,000 pesos.  “I know it’s real money,” I said in a low voice.  “But it feels like we’re playing Monopoly.”

“Just take off the zeros at the end and divide by three!” Gaby kept saying, exasperated.  We eventually figured out we each owed $25 for a three-hour-long, fantastic meal.

Hail, Prince

I’m interrupting the series about the road trip to New Orleans to write about Prince’s death.  It’s very sad, and we in Minnesota will miss him.  He had a huge impact on the local music scene.  In the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, Doomtree rapper P.O.S. credited Prince with making Minneapolis “a city full of musical weirdos.”  That’s a good thing. You want artists to feel free to experiment.

Bob Dylan, another tiny weirdo superstar from Minnesota, lives in Malibu, California.  Prince stayed here, and like most locals I had gone to First Avenue, the club he founded, hoping he would show up for one of his impromptu concerts.  Last year I went to a party there celebrating the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain.  They showed the movie on a big screen and local musicians, including P.O.S, played songs from the album.  Lots of people I know have stories about hearing Prince at some small local venue, or meeting him at a restaurant, and they all describe him as friendly and warm.

1st ave Ist ave stars

The headline in the Star Tribune today was irritating: “Lonely death scene despite legions of fans.”  Yes, he was alone when he died, but does that mean he was lonely?  It’s just such sloppy writing.  Probably the person he would have most wanted to be with in his dying moments would have been a paramedic.  The Strib also referred to his “passing,” which is one of my pet peeves.  It’s sad enough that he died. Can’t we just say it?

I once had a tangential connection to Prince.  I dated his ex manager for a while.  He and I hung out with Prince’s ex drummer, ex driver, ex chef … you get the idea.  Prince was not an easy boss.

I’ll call my ex Larry.  Back in the late 90s there was still a matchmaker for the Jewish community in the Twin Cities.  She also ran the Big Brothers/Sisters mentoring program.  She had matched me with my Little Sister, and after a rocky start it had turned out to be a perfect fit.  Almost 40, I went to her to see if she could do as well with a man.  She was a tiny lady named Bobbie Goldfarb.  She peered at me and said, “Honey, at your age the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”  That turned out to be true.

She set me up with Larry and it was great for a couple years.  Larry had all sorts of Prince and other music memorabilia in his basement, including gold and platinum records.  He told of how Prince came to live with him when Prince was a teenager.  Prince could play the piano with one hand and a guitar with the other at the same time.  He could do it standing on his head.  Well, slight exaggeration but that’s just to say he was a whiz bang genius musician.  Prince also had a wicked sense of humor.  Larry told me a story of how he’d lifted the toilet seat, put plastic wrap over the bowl, and put the seat back down.  You can imagine what happened to the next person to use the bathroom.

Larry rented a converted garage in Los Angeles that was his second home.  It was a lot nicer than that sounds.  You can live in a converted garage in Los Angeles and be perfectly happy, because you can sit outside surrounded by fragrant night-blooming jasmine and all the other lush growing things that can’t survive in Minnesota.  And there was a pool. I love staring at a pool even if I never get in it.  I have Larry to thank for my love of L.A.

New Year’s Eve, 1999.  Larry and I went to a party in a house on the beach near Santa Monica.  There was a sushi chef.  There were fireworks over the pier.  It was a nice night.  Two months later I turned 40, Larry dumped me, I was fired from my job, and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  I was devastated and played Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 You” (written by Prince) over and over and smoked and cried…such a great wallowing song.

Thanks, Prince, for the music, and for inspiring weirdos and sad people everywhere.