Friday, August 21, 2015

Minnesota 2015

Minnesota, it was virgin territory for me. But, through travel via trains, planes and automobiles, and for one memorable afternoon, the back of a motorcycle, I feel I have now made it's acquaintance. I was able to experience both the urban oasis of the twin cities and the relative wilderness of the north.

I am a city dweller. I like to have my cultural arenas as well as my physical necessities a short walk, train or bus ride away. Densely populated urban areas, correctly planned and managed, are enviormentally efficient places. I, by living in a city, use less land and travel shorter distances resulting in a smaller impact on the enviorment. This density allows us to turn more land over to a natural state. Much of Minnesota is left to this state. I enjoyed the discovery of an area with wilderness vast enough to allow nature to be left to itself.

On the flip side I enjoyed, just as much, the opportunity to experience the art, culture and laid back, friendly vibe of Minneapolis. I felt welcomed. It, through a combination of design and chance, has managed to maintain much of it's history. Too many American cities have destroyed the old and replaced it with faceless new. Minneapolis processes an eclectic charm that spoke to me. Since my return I've said more than once that, if they had to evacuate Chicago and I had to make a new home elsewhere, Minneapolis would be a top contender.

Thank you to my wonderful family, my travel buddy and the state of Minnesota. I had a lovely and memorable time!

Minnesota 2015 - Train Through the Wilderness

As we left the small resort where we had our final dinner we paused a moment to read the historical marker adjacent to the winter ATV trail across the dirt road. The marker suggests that the trail follows the track of a train that traveled through this almost complete wilderness built to serve the logging companies that operated there. Apparently the ride on that train was rough, not for the faint of heart. The sign further noted that when the trains got to their destination they were "splattered" with the remains of the animals they had struck along the way. That was the exact term used, "splattered". As I returned to the car I thought that perhaps the U.S. government department in charge of historical markers should invest in a thesaurus.

Minnesota 2015 - Country Roads and Wildlife

In the upper portion of Minnesota 2 lane paved roads sometimes seem a luxury. The road as well as the driveway leading to the cabin are packed dirt and gravel. Deep, dense wilderness graces each side. In some spots the sun shining through overhanging trees dapple the bare ground of the tiny road with light. Sometimes we traveled through tunnels of green, the dense foliage obscuring the sky. In some areas the trees looked as if they had been trimmed, a 30 foot tall hedge looming over us as we drove, with the car top down, along roads that had no names or numbers.

The paved roads roll up and down, veering off into crazy, unexpected turns like a roller coaster. They follow the terrain. They do not, like some cross country thoroughfares, blast through a mountain or hill to remain straight and unwavering, they commune with them, caressing their curves and changes in elevation.

The wilderness hides the wildlife. Save for the one that jumped across the road some distance in front of us while driving down a forest encrusted stretch my travel buddy remarked on the lack of deer. He has feeders at the edge of the woods that surround the cabin. He fills them with table scraps and corn. Moments after he said this, a deer, as if waiting for us, stood in the yard in front of the cabin as we approached. Startled, it bounded into the tangle of trees. Later we watched from the windows as a doe, accompanied by two speckled fawns, emerged from the brush to feast on the food we had left for them. I saw my last one on my final morning checking the feeder before returning to the protection of the trees and undergrowth.

The chipmunks were almost fearless. They scampered around the deck and along the railing. They dashed around our feet picking up the peanuts we tossed to them, shoving them in their cheeks before scurrying off to stash them in their burrows, insurance against winter's long onslaught.

Red breasted hummingbirds visited their feeder. Other tiny birds picked at the sunflower seeds, the ones the greedy chipmunks had not already made off with, in the tin plates nailed to the deck railing. A family of ducks grazed in the deep grass on the slope that leads down to the lakes edge and the call of a loon was heard in the quiet air in this place where man's footstep is gentle and unobtrusive.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - Lake Series #4

It is late afternoon. The wind is still. The lake lies flat and quiet serenely reflecting all that surrounds it. We watch the clouds in the blue sky, a shade of blue one dreams of, floating by overhead on it's surface. A family of ducks swim by. The ripples that trail them causes the image to waver for a moment. As the water stills the sharp focus of the reflected images returns. Trees on the opposite shore are joined, trunk to trunk, with liquid twins. Soon the wind will rise up again and the lake mirrors spell, lake those in a children's fairy tale, will be broken. But for now we sit quietly, enjoying the sensation of two world's contained in one.

Minnesota 2015 - Lake series #3

Gingerly we step from the deck and board the small boat. This lake is like a four leaf clover, a quartet of similar round areas connected by shallow liquid passageways. It's blue hue is a little darker near the shore, lighter near the center. Looking into the shallow water as we pass through it we see fish swim by. They are too small for the fishermen to worry themselves with, they will be next years catch. The tall white trunks of the birch trees stand out in the dense green of the shore. A loon calls, a bird flies by, tiny brilliant orange and turquoise dragonflies skim the water. They bounce off the boat changing the direction of their travel.

We do not speak much. We have no desire to shatter nature's silence.

Minnesota 2015 - Lake Series #2

A sunny Sunday morning. A couple in a small fishing boat quietly row on the lake while a family of ducks. our occasional companions in this green oasis of nature, come ashore searching for food. The hen stands on a lakeside rock keeping a mother's watchful eye on her brood. The sky is a cloudless blue, the wooded shore deep green. I hear the call of loons and the soft murmur of voices from the cabins down the shore. Sound travels here, the air at once thin yet also rich, clean and pure. Wind flutters the leaves of trees. The ducks swim off forming a single line through the patch of waterlilies in the shallow water along the lake's edge. One moves a little way off before rejoining it's parents and siblings, testing it's eventual independence. A hummingbird, it's breast brilliant red visits the feeder on the deck while another loon calls, flapping it's wings as it rears up and skims along the surface of the lake then dives to feed on the bounty of the lakebed.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - Lake Series #1

It's the sort of quiet you can only find in a remote location, away from the voice of cities and people. There is sound but no noise. A Chicago style window, ironic considering I am in Minnesota, looks out over a deck railing, a lake and the wooded expanse of the lake's opposite shore. Tiny birds hop along the railing picking through the sunflower seeds in the tin plates nailed to it. The ones that the chipmunks had not polished off the night before. Chipmunk leftovers, the birds don't seem to mind. 

At a quick glance the sky and the lake are the same shade of soft gray. The scene might be seen to be painted by nature in a limited palate of two colors, gray and green. But as my gaze lingers I see seemingly infinite variations of these two hues. Light pierces the sky making the gray at the treetops paler than that of the expanse above it. The green is a subtle mixture of new growth and old. A shrub filled sandbar juts out, darker growth permeates the far shore. A small bit of morning fog, appearing like a cloud of dust, rises above one section of the shoreline. The woods are a blend of shadow and light, some of it's deepest recesses almost black. 

Even the small birds are gray, black and white. I am treated to a quick shot of brown as a chipmunk darts along the deck rail. A loon calls and the tiny birds sing. I sat, a camp blanket over my legs, coffee at my side, looking out the window and experiencing this place where cell phones do not work. We have no bars, we have traded them for this beauty.

MInnesota 2015 - Headwaters of the Mississippi

The Mississippi River, it's name conjures up images of a broad waterway, lazily making it's easy way down the center of the North American continent before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at the fabled city of New Orleans. I had seen it's end on a trip to New Orleans a number of years ago. The middle part of it's journey I have viewed from several different vantage points, St. Louis, Eagle point in Dubuque, and, closer to home, Starved Rock State Park. On this trip, far north in Minnesota, I had the opportunity to see it's headwaters. To visit the spot where the legendary liquid behemoth begins.

Water trickles over a line of rocks along the shore of one of Minnesota's ubiquitous lakes. There is one mile of water for every 15 miles of dry land in the state. The water forms a small ankle deep pool before flowing, between banks of tangled grass, towards it's destination a continent away.

It is not a place conducive to contemplation. The hordes of people present make quiet thought difficult. It is actually, from a scenic point of view, rather underwhelming. It is the idea of what this small, shallow, unassuming stream becomes that it the magic of the place.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - Bemidji and Paul Bunyan

Bemidji, Minnesota is a county seat. It, like several others I saw during this trip, has it's small, or in this case, looming civic treasures. There is what remains of the courthouse. Unfortunately the original historic structure has been marred by modern additions. There are several charming older homes, a modest Carnegie Mellon library and, what, as we were informed by the elderly man in the visitor's center, is the biggest roadside attraction in the state, a massive statue of the folktale hero Paul Bunyan and his blue bull Babe.

It is a photo op, pure and simple. You pose by the giant statues, get your picture taken, perhaps grab a bite to eat and continue on your way. A nicely built man, I could tell he was not a local due to the flatness of his stomach, offered to take me and my travel buddy's photo together. He was from Minneapolis and traveling the state capturing photos of local color for a Minnesota themed cookbook.

Lunch that day was at an establishment that advertised itself as a "pub". As we scanned the menu on the sidewalk someone passing by recommended it as a good place to eat. We stepped inside. An assortment of characters lined the bar. There was a group of redneck looking men, drunk, loud and wearing identical black tee shirts from a rock band tour, a trio of vastly overweight men waiting for their wives to return from shopping at the lakefront art fair taking place that afternoon, a crew cut man, who might have been considered attractive until alcohol grabbed hold of him leaving behind sagging skin and a loose, jiggling spare tire around his midsection. Apparently the woman he was with overlooked these shortcomings as she grabbed his ass upon his return from a restroom visit. 

There was a small stage, the place occasionally features live entertainment. A corrugated sheet metal and garage sale cast offs decorating scheme completed the redneck atmosphere. We ate, attempting to act as butch and heterosexual as possible, then hightailed it out the door.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - The Judy Garland Museum

When I was making plans for this trip my travel buddy mentioned that the Judy Garland Museum was located a short, by Minnesota standards, distance away. Many of my friends suggested, and I personally felt, that as a gay man it was my obligation to pay it a visit. More than one referred to it as "Gay Mecca".

Judy spent the first 4 years of her life in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parents were part owners and operators of The New Grand Theatre, a vaudeville house in the small city. They lived in a modest home, which has been moved to the museum's site, a shopping mall stands on it's original lot, from 1919 to 1926. The home was originally built by a steamboat captain in 1892.

One of the first of, as we were soon to become aware, many impressive artifacts on display is an original script from the MGM and Judy Garland classic "The Wizard of Oz". Understandably the lions share, pun intended, of the museum is dedicated to this movie. There is case after case of trademark kitsch. Dolls, games, cookie jars and toys, all tied to the film. There were wall pockets, bric a brac and key chains each referencing the iconic movie. It all appears to be on loan from the same person. This got me to thinking, "How much Wizard of Oz crap does this woman own? This is one sick obsession! This woman needs professional help!" 

There was one piece that spoke to me in a special way. A plastic showboat with backdrops based on scenes from the movie. We had a similar toy growing up. A theatre stage with changeable sets, backdrops and set pieces made from cardboard allowing us to create our own unique imaginary landscapes. Another unusual piece was a replica of Professor Marvel's wagon reimagined as a rolling magazine rack.

After this almost exhaustive display we got to the good stuff! As I turned a corner I saw, set on a turntable like those used a car shows, the carriage in which Dorothy and her posse ride upon their arrival in the Emerald City. The "Horse of a different color" sequence. I almost wet my pants. My travel buddy looking at the information placard on the wall said to me "Read this!" The carriage was owned by a "prop jobber" who would rent props and set pieces to the studios. Bette Davis also rode in it in "Jezebel". During a renovation in 1990 a small plaque was found affixed to the carriage stating that it started life as a gift from several supporters to Abraham Lincoln. A group of benefactors got together to purchase it and give it to the museum. It is, to me, the definition of a national treasure. The thought of the doomed president riding in it as well as the childhood memory of seeing it each year during the annual telecast of "Wizard of Oz" was deeply moving, almost haunting. One of those completely unexpected surprises that life occasionally hands us.

In this section there is also a test dress for Judy's "Oz" costume and one of the spears, made of wood, carried by the Wicked Witches guards.

The house is accessed through another room in the museum. A T.V. plays a continuous loop of people talking about Judy as well as tape of her performing at different points in her life. A collection of Judy Garland paper dolls and dresses is also shown here. The house would be just, well, a period house were it not for it's connection to the show biz legend, although one can imagine Judy and her sisters rehearsing their act, as they sometimes did, on the staircase landing.

Returning to the museum one is treated to a viewing of an Andy Warhol silkscreen of Garland, her boots from "The Harvey Girls" and leopard print hat and muff belonging to the star. There is the hat she wears while singing the "Peanuts", number from "A Star is Born" contracts and a mike from her television show, a costume sketch from her final film "I Could Go On Singing" and the gold record for "Over the Rainbow" commemorating 1,000,000 copies sold.

Sadly a pair of the Ruby Slippers, one of only 4 known, loaned to the museum each summer, were stolen 10 years ago. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. A documentary short has been made about the robbery titled, aptly, "Who Stole the Ruby Slippers". The base of the display case sits in the gift shop of the museum patiently waiting their return.

Minnesota 2015 - Hibbing and Points West

Hibbing is the childhood home, from the age of 6 on, of Bob Dylan. He moved to Minneapolis to attend college in 1959. His legacy is memorialized by Bob Dylan Drive, which seemed to run for only 2 blocks. It is also home to one of several regional airports in the upper part of Minnesota. A new building, which, from it's stage of construction I witnessed, looked as if would, when finished, be quite nice, stands next to the present airport, which resembles, and very well could be, a Quonset hut.

As we flew over Minnesota during our descent and I gazed out the plane window taking in the tableau of field and forests beneath me one word came to mind......green. Green, green, green, green. I tried to come up with an alternative but found it extremely difficult to do so.

My travel buddy picked me up and we drove to Hibbing's historic town center. A lovely courthouse graces one block. Nearby the town "main drag" appeared vibrant. Nearly every storefront was occupied, unlike the decay sometimes found in county seats fading from local poverty, disuse and disinterest. We lunched at a sports bar/restaurant then briefly took in the street fair taking place that day. We stopped at a local antique shop then drove off over 2 lane roads lined with verdant wilderness the likes of which I would become increasingly familiar with over the next few days.

We turned onto a narrow, packed dirt road. The convertible top was down giving us a beautiful perspective of the trees that towered over us on each side. We turned onto the packed dirt driveway leading up to my travel buddy's cabin. Prior to leaving Chicago I had joked that, from the photos I had seen, the cabin looked like the setting of a slasher movie where a group of weekending teenagers with raging hormones are picked off one by one by a hockey mask wearing maniac. I need to keep a vigilant eye out for anyone sporting sporting equipment and wielding a chainsaw. In truth it is a comfortable, commodious space of pine paneled walls and cabinets, a stunning lake view and the homey air of a placed owned, lived in and cherished by members of the same family for over 40 years. A small, steep stairway leads off a large deck to a dock where a 12 foot aluminum fishing boat is housed.

The quiet is remarkable, almost unnerving to one like myself accustomed to the unending din of city life. Waterlilies, an unexpected delight, occasionally grace the shallows which abut the shorelines of the thousands of lakes the state is noted for. We relax, drink scotch, whiskey and Drambuie served from bottles last used so long ago we had to wash the dust off of them first and have dinner, listening to the sound of the approaching thunderstorms. I anticipate a peaceful sleep that night accompanied by the soft patter of rain on the roof above me. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - Checkpoint Shuffle

Arriving at the airport for the short hop to Hibbing, Minnesota I am informed that the plane will be delayed 22 minutes. I, after my previous airline misadventure on this trip , was willing to settle for the plane leaving sometime within the next 24 hours.

The security checkpoint, from a distance, looked daunting. As I was approaching the line a man, wearing the vivid yellow nylon vest of someone that would know about airport stuff, came up to the last few people in the winding line instructing them to follow him. I figure, what the hell, my flight is late, I am early and join the pack. He leads us down an escalator to an airport tram entrance. He informs us that he is taking us to the little known security checkpoint 10. After following him onto the tram and up an escalator I see the man at the head of the pack begin to pump his fist in the air. As we get to the top we discovered that the dozen or so of us have a checkpoint all to ourselves. Shoes off, pockets emptied, body scanned, patted down, shoes back on, now to find concourse B. 

Down an escalator, down a moving walkway, restroom pit stop, down another moving walkway, down an escalator following signs telling me I was heading towards concourse B. On a tram, up an escalator, at this point I was beginning to wonder if I am still in Minnesota. Perhaps I am the latest victim of some horrible concourse B hoax.

Eventually I do find my gate. The plane that was supposed to be late has been switched for one already at the airport so at the gate we are informed that the flight may take off on time after all, we are just waiting for the crew. I was still processing my arduous trip to the gate. Information overload, I was becoming dizzy. Text message, travel buddy leaving for the airport to pick me up. Text message from husband, "Are you at the airport yet?" Please let me on the plane so I can have an hours peace! First officer arrives, rest of crew MIA. Plane that was supposed to leave late, then on time, will now leave even later than before. At this point I've almost gone mad! Gate agent, bless her heart, is trying to keep us up to date. At this point she should get hazard pay. Plane now delayed a further 10 minutes. Plane late, plane on time, plane late again, plane later. My head is beginning to swim, my vision is beginning to blur. Flight attendant arrives, only one, it is a tiny plane. Now just waiting for the captain, the one who actually flies the plane. Still, we're were seeing progress. Good thing I had a good, substantial breakfast that morning. I found myself becoming spiritual, "The plane will leave when the plane will leave. It is in the hands of God." They ask, half joking, I hoped, if there was a volunteer willing to fly the plane. We were still waiting for the captain. As we are boarding the captain appears. I might get to Hibbing after all.

As I said as I got on a train 4 days earlier "What's life without a little adventure.?"

Minnesota 2015 - St. Paul Cathedral

I had two requests during the time I was to be in Minneapolis. One was a visit to the Institute of Art, check, the second seeing the cathedral in St. Paul, highly regarded for it's exterior and interior beauty. Heading towards St. Paul we pass a restaurant we have driven by several times prior called "Rusty Taco". My nephew insists the food is quite good and the name is derived from the establishments humble beginnings as a food truck. Their good reputation notwithstanding I felt they may have wanted to consult with marketing experts. I, given their present name, would hesitate to dine there.

The cathedral sits on a bluff overlooking St. Paul's downtown. It's placement as well as it's massive size would make it visible to much of the city, a constant symbol of the dominance of the church over the lives of the people of St. Paul during the early part of the 20th century. Or, taking a different viewpoint, if you are a city named after a saint it makes sense that your cathedral should be impressive, in this case verging on imposing.

I have visited many houses of worship in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe. Many are places of astounding man made splendor created and decorated by some of the greatest artists in history. Yet, as I admire the beauty of these, to some people, sacred places, I find myself questioning the magnificence of them. What if the money and energy put into a church had instead been put into the work of the church? While awed I remember finding the Vatican, with it's extreme display of material wealth, offensive. The bible tells us Jesus was committed to serving the poor. He set an example by living a simple life eschewing the trappings of other religious figures of the time. I fear that over the course of 2000 years many religious leaders have, through their pursuit and acquisition of money and power, turned their backs on the teachings they profess to follow.

The cathedral, built in 1915, is an interesting mixture of a classic style with distinct Arts and Crafts influences. A wrought iron chandelier would seem equally in place in it's present surroundings as it would in a prairie style structure. Molding is at one time simple and stripped down, in the early 20th century style, yet opulent. The most visually impressive feature, to my eye, are the leaded glass windows, again showing the influence of an Arts and Crafts sensibility. In the Shrines of the Nations folds in the cloth of the costumes worn by the biblical figures are delineated by a plethora of colors held within the confines of lead outlines. In some of the glass panels shades mix, changing from one hue to another within a single pane. Silver pieces with gild overlay, gifts to the church from wealthy parishioners, decorate the altar. Here again I think of what could have been done for people with the money spent on these lavish offerings. Downstairs in the visitors center a stunning 16th century carved wood lintel is displayed, rather oddly as my nephew noted, over the door leading to the elevator.

Leaving the cathedral my nephew directed us through streets lined with the grand turn of the century homes of St. Paul's gentry. The structures were beautiful, massive verging on intimidating. It was wonderful to see such a sizable intact area from that era. Too often in American cities we have been neglectful in preserving, protecting and respecting our architectural history.

We placate the grandniece with a trip to an ice creme shop which I am told is well known in the area. As I do last minute packing the next morning she begins to reclaim her room. Sitting on the top bunk, swinging her legs, she tells me about a dream she had the night before. "I dreamed that you didn't have to leave, that you lived in the house next door." She elicits a promise from me to take care of the heart necklace she had gifted to me on my first day with her. "It will remind you of me", she states. I, in turn, promise to send her a photo of it, hanging with my other necklaces, when I get home. I cherish her sweet, tight hug as she, my sister in law and niece drop me off at the airport. 

Minnesota 2015 - Minnehaha Falls

It was at my nephews suggestion that we pay a visit to Minnehaha Falls and park, a  short distance from downtown Minneapolis. It's a natural water feature, although augmented through the years by water being pumped in for aesthetic reasons. Due to concerns regarding enviormental damage, including the spread of invasive species, the decision was made to shut down the pumps leaving the flow of the river and falls up to the whims of nature.

The falls are large, broad and powerful. A single rush of water plunging over a sharp limestone precipice into the stream below. The stream ripples over rocks and under fallen tree branches which span it from bank to bank. It's gentle sound as I stood on one of the bridges which crossed it imparted a soul refreshing sense of peace and contentment. It splits around a tiny island, one side forming a shallow pool where children wade and play in the cool water. On the far side of the diminutive isle it reforms itself again into a single ribbon and continues on it's path. We hiked along it's banks enjoying natures mix of water, air and the sunny sky of the summer morning.

Returning to the car my grandniece shouts "Adventures Commence!", apparently a catch phrase of hers, as she buckles herself into her booster seat. I make the decision not to disappoint her by pointing out that they already have.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Minnesota 2015 - Minneapolis Skyways

The final leg of my motorcycle tour was a quick ride through the downtown financial and business center of Minneapolis. Several large corporations, among them Target, U.S. Bancorp and General Mills are headquartered there. Many buildings are connected by overhead skywalks, allowing people to move from one place to place without having to brave the frigid conditions of a Midwestern winter. The manner in which they are used was brought home the next day when my nephew planned a trip to pick up groceries while my grandniece was in her swimming class by utilizing them. The streets seem broad and plazas in front of many buildings give the area an open feel as opposed to the claustrophobia inducing downtowns of other cities. I noticed throughout all my travels that day the large areas of open space In the city. Neighborhoods form a ring around downtown making it easily accessible. I also noticed in the neighborhoods a certain entrepreneurial spirit. Small shops, restaurants and service businesses occupy storefronts along the commercial strips. Many of these are housed in the surprisingly large number of historic buildings intact in this vibrant, charming and friendly city. 

Minnesota 2015 - Minneapolis Institute of Art

My nephew and I pulled up in front of the Museum's front entrance and I performed the ritual of the helmet. As we climbed the steps I noticed a sign in front of the doors which read "The Minneapolis Institute of Art bans guns on these premises". Minnesota, for all it's live and let live vibe, has gun laws that are well, liberal. Guns anywhere, anytime, we'll shoot you if you disagree. To be fair, in a state with vast amounts of wilderness housing God only knows how many varieties of flesh loving carnivores, these laws, or the lack thereof, do, in a sense, make sense. 

The museum opens with a collection of ancient classical statues which echo the building's classical fa├žade. In the center is a sculpture of an athletic youth symbolizing the artist's concept of ideal physical perfection and beauty, except for the genitals which appear to have been hacked off, possibly in a spasm of religious zealotry. There are similar works from the same classical era in the Vatican's collection bearing the same alteration.

The rest of our family band had used another entrance. Going to meet up with them allowed me to gat a look at a large Calder mobile perfectly displayed in a stairwell. We decided to begin our visit on the museum's 3rd floor, home to it's European and American collections. 

We came upon a gallery which holds a collection of pieces showcasing the American Arts and Crafts movement. A plate glass window forms one wall of the area giving the museum visitor a spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline. An informational plaque shows an outline of the skyline with information on the architects and dates of construction of the more notable buildings visible through the window. The collection of Arts and Crafts pieces includes architectural fragments, period furnishings and architect models of important structures emblematic of this style. I felt entitled to bragging rights as the Chicago area is mentioned more than once here.

The galleries are small allowing the visitor to focus on the art in each one instead of being overwhelmed by it. A trio of Russells, an almost trademark O'Keeffe, I recognized it as her work from across the room, and Remington sculptures are shown together in a gallery devoted to art of the American west. A Rembrant, my nephew claims it as his favorite piece in the institution, is found in an area featuring Dutch works. Other Rembrant's, his etchings, in a small exhibition of prints and etchings, show how he changed his work over time. The work may be of the same scene but a town's skyline is made more distinct and moved from the left hand side of the setting to the right. In another, Jesus, in an early example, is an almost ghostly figure. In the later version he is a blood and sinew human being. The crowd beneath the platform on which he stands has been eliminated, changed to a symbolic depiction of the pit of Hell.

There is Thomas Hart Benton's powerful piece "The Slave Market". His unyielding, almost angry brushstrokes and colors show the cruelty and horror of humans forced into labor and bondage.

The impressionist gallery is filled with a soul soothing mix of Van Goghs, Monets, Gauguins and a lovely view of St. Mark's Square in Venice by Renoir. In one room two artists I would never put together in my mind, Matisse and German Expressionist Max Beckman, are juxtaposed, each providing a surprising complement to the other.

The final stop is a special exhibition focusing on art rock, in particular the music group Devo and the punk art of Mark Mothersbaugh. It proves that art can both soothe and assault the senses. Art does not need to be conventionally beautiful, art needs to awaken emotions. To make us ask questions that we may never have known existed. To make us think or feel in ways different than we have thought or felt before. 

Minnesota 2015 - Tales of Lunch and Tattoos

Lunch that day was at the outside area of a restaurant in a hipster and, judging from the 2 large rainbow flags I saw, gay friendly neighborhood. One of the flags was hanging in the window of a Walgreen's. I was slightly befuddled by the notion of  gay friendly Walgreen's but decided thinking about it too much would make my head hurt, and I already had the rigors of taking off and putting on the motorcycle helmet to contend with.

Our bearded, bespectacled, tattooed waiter took our order. Wine, beer and hard cider were involved. He carded my niece. In all fairness I in his place would have carded my niece. He carded my nephew. That act seemed to emanate from an excess of caution. When he got to me I noted that although asking for my I.D. would be exceptionally flattering, it was probably unnecessary. He replied, "You look honest", at least he didn't say old, and brought me my wine. He continued in a manner that seemed to swing between friendly and flirty. Perhaps had family members not have been present I would have been better able to ascertain which of these two behaviors he was exhibiting.

As I left to visit the restroom I saw the bartender, young, heavily inked, the cashier, also young, also heavily inked, I began to wonder if there was a place on the job application for that restaurant where one noted the number of their tattoos. 

I commented on the handsome silver ring worn by the waiter. Jewelry is my business, I notice such things. He told us how he came about owning it. Friendly, flirty, I still couldn't sort it out.

We finish lunch and my nephew and I return to his bike. I go through what I begin to refer to as "the ritual of the helmet" and we are off to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. 

Minnesota 2015 - Weissman Sculpture Garden - Part #2 - The Garden Party

Arriving at the gardens I discovered a beautiful park like setting with sculptures by artists of varying degrees of fame. It's centerpiece is Claes Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry". I had seen photos of the sculpture, a typically whimsical Oldenburg work of an over sized cherry resting in the bowl of an equally over sized spoon. That it was a fountain was news to me! A mist sprays from the top of the cherry and water pours down it's sides which flows down the spoon and is captured in the shallow pool where the sculpture resides. Another whimsical piece is a clapper less bell which swings back and forth through the use of a magnetic motor titled "For Whom". A rendering of a giant fish graces one room of the conservatory on the grounds. There are two works by Henry Moore featuring the trademark muscular look and feel of the artist. Several of the pieces are interactive allowing children to climb around them and in one case swing on a platform suspended from the work of art, suggesting to even the youngest of children that art can be enjoyable and fun. What a concept!

We returned to the bike and my nephew and I donned our helmets. Bear with me and allow me to digress for a moment to describe what, on paper, sounds like a fairly easy, if not downright mundane, act. I revolves around the actions required to put on the motorcycle helmet. My nephew has a half bowl helmet, popular with bikers in movies from the 50's and early 60's' as well as The motorcycle riding troops in World War 2. The spare helmet is the sort of thing worn by extreme riders and astronauts. First my glasses needed to come off. Then, I squeeze my head through an opening the size of a nostril and push the helmet around until it is properly aligned with my head. I return the glasses to my face and fasten the straps under my chin, occasionally having to dig them out from within the helmet where they have become lodged during steps one, two and three. Taking it off is an even more arduous task. First my glasses come off. I then wiggle the helmet until my head emerges from the nostril sized hole. I swear I almost heard a pop like that of a champagne bottle being opened every time my head was freed from it's fiberglass confines. My glasses are returned and I check my ear to ensure that my earring is still in place, also to ensure that it has not ripped the lower part of my ear in half during the preceding steps.

I am not complaining, I was having the time of my life.

Minnesota 2015 - Weissman Sculpture Garden - Part #1 - The Ride

Stop number one of that day was to be the Weissman Sculpture Garden adjacent to the Walker Art Center. It's wonderful collection and beautiful surroundings would be considered a civic treasure by any metropolis fortunate enough to house it. It is free to the public and provides children with an opportunity to experience important 20th century artists at an early age without the sometimes intimidating nature of a museum visit.

As we headed across the backyard to the garage I called "shotgun" to be better able to see the city as we traveled around it that day. My nephew was taking his motorcycle as there wouldn't be room for all of us in the car. When I mentioned, offhand and half joking, that the back of the bike would the best way to experience the sights he said "You're welcome to it". My eyes went wide, my knees went weak, he handed me the extra helmet and we were off.

Yes motorcycles can be dangerous. Yes you can be severely injured if there were to be an accident.....blah, blah, blah........

Yes I didn't care a wit as I rode on the back of that bike on that sunny summer afternoon.