Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Minnesota 2016 - Fort Snelling

First let me state that I am a pacifist. I feel, and have stated many times over my life, that after over 5000 years of civilization we should have come up with a better way to settle our differences than blowing one another to bits. That being said, the idea suggested by my nephew of visiting Fort Snelling appealed to me. When I think back on our visit to Puerto Rico the 16th century El Morro stands out as a high point.

Fort Snelling stands at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. At one time it was the furthest outpost of the U.S. military. After the war of 1812 a chain of forts were constructed to repel any further Canadian incursions. The fort was founded in 1819. John Emerson brought his slave Dred Scott with him during a stint at Fort Snelling leading to an early and important ruling regarding slavery in the U.S. During the Dakota War of 1862 women, children and elders of the tribe were captured and kept there leading to the deaths of many of them. It was decommissioned in 1946 and fell into disrepair before it's designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The walled portion of the fort has been rebuilt and restored to it former appearance.

The sun was bright and the weather warm during our visit. A stark contrast to the cool and rainy conditions of the previous couple of days. The focus at the fort that weekend was World War I. Staff in period costumes stationed throughout the fort provided information about the era. The subjects ranged from weaponry to Morse Code to the women's suffrage movement. My nephew and I played chauvinists stating that we still questioned the wisdom of the decision to give women the vote. Our joke did not go over well with the niece in law. My grandniece was fascinated by Morse Code. After tapping out several random letters on a vintage telegraph machine the staff member told her she had just spelled "I,m going to clean my room."  That joke did not go over well with my grandniece.

One room held a display about the history of conscientious objectors during World War I. Although I was aware of the Navajo language being used as code during World War II I had no idea that this idea was preceded by members of the Choctaw tribe using their native tongue as code during the last days of World War I. The men were sworn to secrecy about the operation, only being allowed to speak of it in their old age. My own family history came alive when a staff member spoke of German immigrants coming to the U.S. before and after the war. My own ancestor was part of that migration. According to the family lore he reversed his first and last names in order to downplay his then unpopular German heritage, although I have always felt that his presumed accent would have given him away. I and I think my nephew, who was standing next to me, felt a connection to our past during that moment.

We concluded our visit by taking in the view from the top of the fort's roundhouse. From the vantage point of the 200 year old structure the modern skyline of Minneapolis appeared in the distance over the treetops.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Sunday Morning Brunch on an Outdoor Deck

After returning from church, an activity I chose not to participate in as I would have felt extremely guilty had the holy building burst into flame once I entered, my nephew, grandniece and I left for brunch at a restaurant with a large outdoor riverfront deck space. My niece in law, remembering a theatre group meeting at the last minute, was to join us for our other activities later in the day. There, over mimosas and an ample cinnamon roll we began to play one of my favorite games. Who Are These People and What Are They Doing Here? A cheerful waitress took our order, a rather handsome in a hipster sort of way, humorless server brought us our food and the game was afoot.

A large, bearlike, bearded man, young enough looking for the waitress to ask for his I.D., shared a table with what were obviously his parents. Was he visiting them or were they visiting him? At another table was a larger group. A couple with a tiny baby, an older couple and two men close in age to the presumed parents of the aforementioned newborn. One of the younger men seemed to favor the baby's mother. He was handed the baby at one point. New uncle was the concensus between my nephew and myself. The other man was harder to read. His taut, athlectic body was clad in a tight fitting gray tee shirt. He wore his baseball cap backwards, although he was advanced enough in age where this look no longer really worked for him. He was accompanied by an extremely large, fearsome looking dog with a barbed choke chain around his neck. He seemed to maintain little control over the massive animal. There was some concern among us, not entirely unreasonable, that the dog, if allowed to, might eat the baby.

Later that evening relaying the story to my niece in law, she turned the tables on me. She suggested that other diners may have been playing the same game with our table as the subject. She suggested that they may have taken me for my grandnieces grandfather. I suggested that this was dismaying as it could easily be true.

Minneapolis 2016 - From the Outside In

Having now visited Minneapolis twice I made an observation. Wanting to make sure I was not projecting on to the city something that wasn't there I discussed what I had observed with both my nephew and a former coworker who had lived in Minneapolis for a period of time. I observed that unlike some U.S. cities, particularly sunbelt ones, Minneapolis seems unconcerned with expanding it's footprint. Instead it seems to have a knack for "filling in it's spaces".

For instance my nephew's home is a sweet, late mid century bungalow. Next door is a home similar in size and age to his. Yet on the same block are homes perhaps half a century older and much larger. My nephew explained to me his understanding was that originally some of the homes sat on much larger lots then they do now. He and his neighbor's home we built on what, at one time, may have been the side yard of one of the older homes on the block. This makes for a charming eclecticism.

Likewise the mansion housing the Bakker Museum appears to have once been on a lot surrounded by gardens, most now turned over to the museum's expansion. On an adjacent street another large, older home which overlooks a park and lake has for neighbors spacious yet decidedly more modern homes. They too appear to have been built on what was once that mansions expansive grounds.

The mill district, once derelict, has been re imagined as an upscale mixed use area. Along with the loft apartments carved out of the old mills, other apartment complexes share space with the Guthrie Theatre and the city's stadium, all newly constructed. Near my nephew's home a fantastic, late 19th century brewery building has been reused, a portion of it turned over to the public library system. Turn of the 20th century riverbank commercial districts, spared demolition, have become vibrant with nightlife. Bars and restaurants fill the spaces behind blocks long strips of historic facades.

The Frank Ghery designed University of Minnesota Art Museum, with his signature sensuous, swooping metal facade, sits on the riverbank behind the tracks of the city's public transit light rail line. Proud yet unobtrusive it does not compete with the more venerable, historically important structures on the campus grounds. This stands in comparison with his bandshell in Chicago's Millennium Park, so blatant and visible it has become an iconic symbol of the city. As recognizable as the Picasso in Daley Plaza or the Lions which grace the steps of my beloved Art Institute.

There is some new construction on the city's edge, but it seems to be confined to the tracks of the light rail system. Tight apartment blocks built for convenience rather than bland sprawling subdivisions.

The city sits in a setting of lush, fertile land and glistening lakes. It seems to understand it's good fortune. It appears to be content within itself leaving that which surrounds it unspoiled.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Rainy Day, Hence Another Museum

I had looked at the forecast before I left and knew that rain was likely on Saturday. The prediction was  correct so we were forced to decide on another indoor activity It's parameters, it needed to interest adults and entertain and distract an 8 year old. We chose the Bakken Museum, an interactive institution emphasizing electricity, electrical currents and how they are generated and transmitted. This included how electricity can be conducted through the human body.

The museum began life in a gothic revival mansion built in 1928. Like mush in Minneapolis there is a connection between the mansion and the retailer Target. The home was built with money made from the sale of a dry goods store to the eventual founder of Dayton Hudson which through a  series of mergers and acquisitions eventually became Target, one of the largest employers in Minneapolis. More space has since been added to house additional exhibits which pays tribute to the gothic nature of the original structure.

There are games powered by brain waves and hand grips where one can measure their heart rate (mine is in the mid 50's beats per minute range). On a screen musical instruments can be dropped into the pictured heart which then emit tunes in time to one's heartbeat. There are vintage electrical devices on display, including several medical ones that illustrate how far we have come in that field. There is a book from the 13th century, an early polygraph machine and an early 20th century telephone housed in an small gallery which showcases pieces from the museums extensive archives. The gentleman that started the museum was fascinated by electrical devices and collected them by the thousands forming the core of the museum. In the mansion's grand hall are tables with batteries, cables and small electrically powered objects where children can play and learn how electricity is conducted through wires. In another room electricity is sent to a device which when touched will make one's hair stand on end. A good natured, long haired biker type agreed to demonstrate much to the delight of my grandniece who giggled at the sight of the rough looking character's hair flying wildly around his head.

While my grandniece built various electrical gadgets I took in the mansion's architectural details. It is as if a grand centuries old European castle had been transported to the U.S. and then scaled down. In one room there is a large copper hooded fireplace. A photo from 1975 shows it as the t.v. room where a caption states the family liked to gather to watch, as many others in that era did, Bonanza. Other photos show the home, despite it's grandeur, appearing lived in, homey and comfortable. A stunning carved wooden fruit basket decorates a newel post at the foot of a staircase in a small hall. Beautiful painted glass panels grace the tops of many of the windows. Outside is a small lovely garden where, despite the light rain, I was able to steal a few quite moments. Water trickling over rocks in an ornamental pond created a tranquil background as a tiny blue bird flew across the setting of lawn and flowers.

As we left my grandniece and two other children were treated to a conversation with a small tuxedo clad robot named Oscar. He was remotely controlled by a museum worker sitting in a corner. By texting he can make the robot speak. My nephew asked the robot if he ever had a problem with auto correct. "Ja, you betcha" came the robots authentic Minnesota reply.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Theatrical Labyrinth Followed by Ice Creme

The new home of the Guthrie Theatre stands nearby the Mill Museum. A blue glass structure my nephew thinks looks like an oversized IKEA store. Rather dark inside it is a complex of three stages and several restaurants and bars which were, as we were soon to discover, complex. As we entered there were posters announcing the shows playing at that time. "Disgraced" an excellent Pulitzer Prize winning drama. I had the good fortune to see it in Chicago. It opened the Goodman's 2015/2016 season. As well as the Oscar and Hammerstein warhorse "South Pacific". A deck on an upper floor affords one another excellent view of the river, the green expanse of a park along it's shore and the venerable arched bridge we had traversed earlier in the day.

We reentered the building prepared to make our way out and move forward with the adventures of the day. This is when things started to go a little south. In an effort to "conserve energy", a noble cause, the escalators, which we had used not 30 minutes before, had been shut down and roped off forcing us to find an alternative route to the first floor and the exit. We went down corridors which all seemed to terminate at doors marked "authorized personnel only" or "emergency exit, alarm will sound". Several elevators surveyed did not go all the way to the ground floor. If we had tickets to a production the pathways to various seating areas were clearly marked, however these were no help to us in our present predicament. We passed by the aforementioned bars and restaurants, all closed so there was no one we could ask for directions. I began to feel like a mouse whose intelligence was being tested by being run through a maze ala "Flowers for Algernon". Eventually we did locate an elevator which let us off at the ground floor just before my patience and sanity had reached their breaking point. Bear in mind I had gotten up at 3 a.m. that morning in order to make my plane. The 8 year old grandniece fared better than I, partly due to the fact that she had been bribed by the promise of an ice creme cone at a local shop after we left the theatre.

In a moment of irony the only time the sun broke through the clouds that day was the period of time when the ice creme was purchased and consumed. I left this activity to my nephew and his daughter while I copped a 10 minute cat nap on a park bench, my baseball cap, a memento of my trip to Italy, pulled over my face.

The trio of us returned home via my first UBER ride. It is an app unnecessary in Chicago, one of the few city's in the U.S. where an upraised index finger is just as effective, if not more so, than a cell phone.

Minneapolis 2016 - Mill Museum

Storms slowed down travel causing me to arrive almost an hour late. Once safely on the ground I was whisked away by my nephew and grandniece to a hipster restaurant in St. Paul where two thirds of the menu options were precede by the word "organic". The sky remained gray and a suggestion was made to walk from my nephew's home to the Minneapolis Mill Museum.

From 1880 and continuing for 50 years thereafter Minneapolis was know as the Flour Mill Capital of the World. The museum is built in the ruins of what was once the largest flour mill in the world. The structure was accidentally destroyed by fire in the 1990's set by squatters living in it after it had been abandoned. The riverfront during those years had fallen on hard times and was known as a dangerous area of town The destruction of the mill spurred redevelopment . New construction began and old mill buildings were rehabbed into loft style apartments. Some ruins of old mills along the riverbank were saved and serve as historical artifacts connecting the city's past with it's present.

We crossed the Mississippi on a 19th century arched bridge.Originally built for trains it is  now given over to pedestrians and bicycles. A breast cancer awareness walk was taking place that day. My young grandniece, sporting a pink necklace handed to her at the foot of the bridge, cheered them on.

A sign rises from one a tall tower of one of the converted mill buildings, a five pointed star with the word North Star Blankets. The sign is simple, elegant and inherently iconic. The building, like others in the area, dates from the last half of the 19th century. Build in 1864, by 1925  North Star had become the largest manufacturer of wool blankets in the country.

Visitors to the Mill Museum are led into a large freight elevator outfitted with seats that moves between floors set with tableaus and showing videos of what it was like working at the mill. Recorded voices of former workers tell their stories. A deck on what would have been the roof of the ruined factory boasts an impressive view of the section of the river that was engineered, via spillways, locks and reinforcement of the waterfalls which were once eroding at an advanced rate, to power the mills along it's shores.

By the 60's advanced automation and convenience foods began to toll the death knell for the mills.
Why bake bread, cakes, pies or muffins at home when you can simply drive to the store and purchase them ready made? Apparently housewives felt they had better things to attend to. You go girls!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - Group Two May Now Board

Airports are fascinating places. Who are these people?. Where are they going and why? Men with suit bags paraded by. It being a Friday it was not unreasonable to assume that they are bound for weekend weddings, rental tuxedos in tow. Perhaps some were even the grooms themselves, heading home for the big day where friends and family are more prevalent. A young girl walks through the food court. A red bandana covers her hair. Her ensemble is completed by brightly colored striped knee socks and a long white lab coat. An attractive, heavily tattooed young man with close cropped bleach blond hair waits at the gate next to mine wearing bright red headphones. He is what is sometimes referred to by gym rats as a chicken. He possesses a thick, muscular upper body, his sleeveless tee shirt revealing powerful looking arms, supported by thin, undersized legs. A more evenly proportioned specimen strode past him, his strong arms also bared. Summer travel does have it's advantages for the voyueristically inclined among us.

I suppose these days one expect air travel to be a horrific experience. Not so this flight. Public transportation was reliable and efficient. Security lines moved quickly and boarding was uneventful. The wait for this last made more enjoyable due to the close proximity of the aforementioned males. There was a short delay taking off due to air traffic backing up over Minneapolis but if this was the worst that happened I considered the hand I had been dealt that morning more than fair.

As we taxied down the runway the glow of the rising sun created a beautiful backdrop to the silhouette of city skyline of the place where I have made my home. The metropolis I have grown to admire, love and respect.

As we neared Minneapolis the clouds resembled drifts of snow as we began our descent.  

Minneapolis 2016 - Preamble

It was early. I mean really early. I mean the time I used to stagger home during my club kid days early. I was waiting outside an el station in the comfortable early morning late summer air for the first run of the day of the bus that would carry me on the next leg of my trip to the airport. I was Minneapolis bound to visit my nephew, his wife, I suppose she is my niece in law if such a designation exists, and grandniece. They are family, fortunately family so cool and fun I would hang out with them even if we didn't share a bloodline.

As I left that morning a small hare greeted me in the parking lot behind my apartment building. As I waited at the bus stop there was an odd bird call from a tree and a sizable rat dashed across the street. Chicago welcomes and harbors a large variety of wildlife.