Holi 2015

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Revelers enjoy the spring weather with water gun fights, Holi 2015

I am always excited to experience new events I have not been to before and so, tipped off by a friend the other day, I biked across the river to the East River Flats park, under the looming campus of the U of M, to participate in Holi, 2015.

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Clouds of color fly after the countdown.

Holi, the Colorfest, hosted by Bharat, the University of Minnesota’s Indian student group, is a festival originating in India, but  which is popular across much of South Asia, which celebrates the arrival of spring, and we could not have a better April weekend in Minnesota for it. As might be evident by my posts over the last year, I am fascinated by the changing of the seasons here, and the various moods and feelings evoked as the environment transitions. In spite of the freeing feeling of springtime, I had not had many very interesting transitional events in my schedule, so what better way to experience the joy of the rising feelings of summer in Minneapolis?

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Minneapolis skyline, blue sky.

On the banks of the Mississippi, the trees were beginning to leaf out and the grass was already green as a crowd of diverse, white-t shirted revelers gathered. It was quite a crowd, mostly U students, but a few odd members of the community also showed up to partake in the festivities. After the countdown was announced by the DJ’s tent, the group went all out with clouds of blues, greens, pinks, yellows, covering clothing, bodies, hair, in a kaleidoscopic palette. It did not take long for everyone to be completely caked in the bright, pastel, sweet smelling powder, which formed new hues when mixed due to a liberal application of water sprayed from squirt guns and bottles. Each of my arms had its own color scheme by the end, blues and greens on the left, reds and yellows on the right. The pulse of the music from the DJs and created an energy that charged the crowd, people randomly rising and sinking on the shoulders of others in midst of the colorful dancing. Not often you get to see that much human contact in Minnesota, it’s true. All that dancing and chasing people around with squirt guns no doubt took some energy, so some affordable and delicious street food and drink, tea, mango shakes, pakora, and samosas, great to snack on while taking a break.

Best of all, the fest was completely free, which is always a good thing for the college student’s budget (and the librarian’s, for that matter). It has been some time since I was a U of M student myself, so I always feel a bit nostalgic and wistful when I find myself on campus, but this will be a great new memory to establish and I will definitely return in future years.

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Some happy participants showing off during the festivities.

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Events at the Library!

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It may be a bit of busman’s holiday, but I often find myself going to the various branches of the Hennepin County Library system and other local systems, even when I’m not actually scheduled to work there. What can I do when the library offers so many different programs and events throughout the year, all for free! Often cooperating with groups and businesses in the metro, its a great way to learn some new things for a very low prices.

While I’ve mentioned my love of the library book sales, of course, and there are always book clubs, writing groups, author talks, and other bookish activities, there is also a surprising variety of interesting community programs. I took an awesome zine crafting session a few years ago at the Nokomis branch, for instance. Learned some innovative, simple, and cheap techniques. A couple of months ago, the Eden Prairie branch presented a very interesting seminar on tea, in conjunction with the Tea Source. A great introduction to what has been called the world’s most affordable luxury! And what goes better with tea than books?

It is still surprising to me how much tea culture has started to take off in the US. I recall being introduced to tea drinking by my sister, back when I was rebelling against our coffee drinking parents. The loose leaf teas we discovered introduced us to a whole new world of flavors, and the information provided by the Tea Source to library patrons was invaluable, and also fun. It was a great way to introduce friends and family less well versed in the tea techniques; my parents, for instance.

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Tea blending ingredients are set out.

Divided into groups, we were each given a job at our tables to begin to learn the ways of the tea, including a person to measure the loose leaf tea choices, prepare the water, and set up the timer. We sampled three different types of basic black teas, Assam, Grand Keemun, and Ceylon, learned about the origins and the biology of the camellia sinensis plant, the only plant from which real “tea” is derived, the production of tea. There are six main varieties of tea, white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and puerh or “dark” tea. We were given pointers on the proper temperatures and steeping times, and other essential pointers on making a proper cup of tea.

We then were given the opportunity to experiment with our own blend of tea, mixing the base black tea varieties other teas or herbs like lapsang souchong (the smoked tea that tastes like a campfire, an acquired taste I quite enjoy), dried mint, ginger, among others. I mixed my Keemun with a little dried ginger and some lapsang souchong.

It seems that there is always something happening. The next week, I happened to be working up at the Northeast branch, for an energetic and exciting family orientated Asian New Year event, featuring interactive drumming, dancing, and arts, and it proved popular with the local families. Today, working at the East Lake branch, I was lucky enough to see a local group teach Aztec dancing for the branch’s Dia de los Niños event, a vibrant and exciting program. I really like that our libraries are such great venues for such community learning opportunities and entertainment, and it always amusing to see passersby find themselves listening to musical performances in the library. So unexpectedly cool! Coming up are some interesting looking bike maintenance workshops and even some 3D printing classes that look interesting; check out the current schedule here!

Mountain Goats in Minneapolis

I’m going over to First Avenue this evening to catch probably my favorite band right now, The Mountain Goats. Originally slated for the Cedar Cultural Center, there was so much interest in the show, it was relocated to First Ave. While the Cedar seems a lot more intimate of a performance space, I’m definitely excited to see John Darnielle at the city’s most venerated music venue. Darnielle writes some of the most effecting, heart rending songs I’ve listened to so far, each song telling a complex and deep story. Their new album, Beat the Champ, deals with the seedy, raw world of professional wrestling. For those, like myself, who are less than educated about the complexities of the wrestling world, Chaz Kangas at the City Pages wrote a very interesting and informative annotated guide to the album, including some local connections in the song Luna. Glad to have this to mull over before the show.

The last time I saw John Darnielle was at Wits a couple years ago, with John Hodgman  so I’ve really been looking forward to it, and I’d highly recommend seeing The Mountain Goats any chance you get.

She Rock She Rock

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BlindSight performing at Bunkers Music Bar, March 2015

It’s always fun to find yourself at something completely unexpected. On a sleepy Sunday at the end of March, I found out my aunt was playing in a band called BlindSight at Bunkers Music Bar in the Warehouse District that evening. I didn’t even know she had a band, though she had always played the guitar, a talent she shares with my cousin. So, along with my parents, we went down to Bunkers to see what was happening.

I have to admit, I’ve never been the most musical person; while I’m not quite tone deaf, I have no proficiency with instruments; I was in choir for awhile in high school, but that is the extent of my musical experience. While I enjoy listening to many varieties, my knowledge of styles, bands, and composers, weather classical or punk, is pretty spotty as well. I have been trying to bump up my trivia in recent years, though, in particular through seeing performances.

I’ve been seeing some good music lately. I just saw the Decemberists perform at the Northrop Auditorium, recently saw local dance pop duo Koo Koo Kanga Roo perform songs from their disgusting new album Gross at Amsterdam Bar, and am looking forward to seeing the inimitable Mountain Goats perform at First Avenue next week. Not to mention National Record Store Day this weekend, as well.

That Sunday, Bunker’s was hosting the She Rock She Rock annual fundraiser and Ladies Rock Camp showcase, in which several groups of women, who had met at met at Rock Camp that weekend and over the course of three days, put together several bands featuring a variety of musical styles and influences, performing original songs. My aunt’s band, BlindSight, played in a bluesy, rocking style while others had more a ’90s alt rock vibe going. In addition, the show was fundraising cash for Girls Rock n Roll Retreat, a summer camp for musically inclined (or not) youth, which seems like a really awesome program. She Rock She Rock seems like a really great, positive program for women young and old to get involved in to learn more about music. It’s pretty awesome to have stuff like this in our community!

It was quite fun seeing all of the women perform songs that they had written It seemed like a really good time, and was something I had not even heard of before; while I have no experience with musical instruments myself, it inspired me to maybe try something. Of course, that’s something I tend to say on occasion- maybe I should try learning the piano sometime, or something.

They will be playing again in future events, soon.

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BlindSight at Bunkers

Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play at the Guthrie

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View of the Mississippi River from the Guthrie Theater’s cantilever.

One of the facts that people always bring up about the Twin Cities is that we have more theater seats per capita than anywhere else outside of New York City. I am not sure if this is completely true, but it is a statistic that certainly rings true to me. We have so many venues for the performing arts throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul that it can be difficult to keep track of whats all playing, and people really see a lot of plays around here. Probably the most prominent is the Guthrie Theater, the feather in the Twin Cities performing arts’ cap, the big, fancy blue hulk rising up out of the old milling district by the river, inviting the whole city to consider seeing some cutting edge drama. Last week, I made a second visit to the Guthrie to see a show I had been interested in since I read about it premiering in New York a few years ago, the “post-electric” fable, Mr. Burns, by playwright Anne Washburn.

I was excited to find out that playwright  was making a Minneapolis stop, and quickly snapped up some tickets to a “preview performance“, which is a great way to see the show without forking over some major cash. Often half the cost of seeing a performance later in the week, it is also a cool way to see how performances change as well. “Mr. Burns” has a fascinating premise, even for such a lax follower of the Simpsons as myself, one that grabbed me from the second I read about it. While I am not the biggest Simpsons fan, I must admit, I am friends with many people who are so, like the character Gilbert, I can recall a lot without having even seen the show. This may be how a lot of oral culture evolves…

After a suitably vague global catastrophe renders much of America depopulated and lacking working technology, a group of people gather together for protection and begin to reminisce about so much of the pop culture they lost; specifically, the Simpsons episode “Cape Feare,” which itself is a treasure trove of nostalgic parody of other pop culture. We then see the evolution of these memories as the years progress, until, nearly a century later, they’ve morphed into an oral culture preserving aspects of the “time before” and its fall for the descendants of our culture. It makes me wonder how “classics” such as the Odyssey or Beowulf evolved over centuries. The actors do a great job presenting this casual, but fraught, discussion, especially in the earlier acts, and the epic musical finale, the descendant dramatic play, was an eerie, and effecting elegy of our culture after its death. It dovetailed quite well, eerily well, with a certain post-apocalyptic turn I’ve taken in my reading of late, an interesting use of nostalgia and imagination to think of the apocalypse, a theme I saw again and again in dystopic literature.

Rehearsal performance or not, the actors really sold the performances of the play, a dark, melancholy reflection of our current preoccupations with pop culture and fear of the future. There are definitely a lot of funny moments, as befits a show premised on people , but there is also a lot of pathos, and definitely a lot to ponder after having seen the show.  I also enjoyed the “localization” of the setting, citing worries of nearby nuclear power plants in Monticello and Prairie Island melting down.

I would definitely recommend seeing Mr. Burns at the Guthrie while you can. I often know a lot about various episodes without actually having seen them, by piecing together quotes and scenes recited by others.  Definitely check it out before it’s over!

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Sunset over Minneapolis

MNopedia Article

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I last posted! I had a better track record on writing about my Twin Cities adventures when I didn’t even live in the Twin Cities! It is not that have not been doing a lot of awesome stuff lately, it’s just, well, I’ve been doing a lot of awesome stuff lately and have been a bit overwhelmed about writing about it. Yeah, yeah, I know, excuses, excuses! I think you can look forward to several new updates in the next few days, though.

In the meantime, while living in greater Minnesota, I was able to do some fun research for a very interesting, not well known topic of Minnesota history, Julia Sears and the “Sears Rebellion” of the Mankato State Teachers College, 1873 for the people at MNopedia, the Minnesota Historical Society’s online encyclopedia of Minnesota. Recently, they published my work in the encyclopedia, and It’s pretty amazing to be included in such august company! Check it out! Just today, the article was reposted by MinnPost, an awesome online newspaper, so I’m feeling kind of beside myself. Thanks for sharing my work!

Look forward to more adventure coming shortly…