Undertow

 

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Washington and 8th, in the North Loop

On break yesterday evening, I strolled down Washington into the North Loop, pursuing a story I had heard about on the social networks. Holding out my phone, checking the glowing icons as my location was tracked and I approached my destination. I was not quite sure how it would work but I was intrigued. I would not be disappointed. This was, it turned out, a quest perfect for a MSP Reading Time.

Revolver, an arts and cultural magazine I’ve been following since they started in 2012 announced Undertow, a program in cooperation with a local events app, Leav, a “mobile platform” which allows people to access different pieces of interactive art in various specific locations around the city. A very interesting concept, I thought. With Undertow, Revolver invited seven writers from the Twin Cities to write about their neighborhoods, accessible on the Leav app from the locations the stories evoke. Each week, another new story while be shared on the app, and you’ll have to find your way there to experience them.

The first is poet Sarah Fox’s “Somebody Save Me,” in the North Loop neighborhood. I happened to be working nearby at Minneapolis Central Library, so this was a fun and mysterious excursion that I could manage on a half hour break. Walking along Washington, enjoying the brisk weather, I realized that this was a part of town I have not often visited for some reason- a lot of interesting things happening around here, perfect for a bit local tourism on a work day.

Fox’s piece, read aloud, was evocative, surreal, heady. I listened to it standing on the street corner, hearing her voice resonate out of my phone, mixing with the sounds of the city. Next time, I think I’ll remember to bring my headphones. With a lot of interesting elements drawing on many subjects, I will definitely check her work out.

I grabbed a Be’Wiched sandwich for lunch and headed back. This was really cool, an everyday literary adventure that can take you anywhere in the city, illuminating the secrets and magic of places we take for granted every day.You should download the app and experience it! You can listen to “Somebody Save Me” at the corner of Washington and 10th until the end of the week. I am very curious where the next week’s will take me! 

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Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival, 2015

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Geiko from Nagasaki Kenban perform at the Lantern Lighting Festival in Como Park, St. Paul, August 2015

I can’t believe I’ve been going to the Lantern Lighting Festival in Como Park, the largest Japanese cultural festival in Minnesota, for something like ten years now, and it is still one of my favorite cultural festivals of the year in the Twin Cities. The weather, while brisk and very windy, was much nicer than last year, and the participating crowd doubled in size. Every year seems to attract more people to experience the music, food, exhibitions, and camaraderie of this event celebrating the peaceful relationship between the United States and Japan. Como Park and Conservatory quickly became packed with people watching the stage, queuing up for sushi, gyoza, yakitori, and takoyaki, watching martial arts exhibitions, or shopping for thrift store finds.  This year was a particularly special one, as it marked the sixtieth anniversary of the program which founded a sister-city relationship between the city of St. Paul and the city of Nagasaki, the first between any US city and a city in Asia. I particularly liked that this year, the announcements and introductions were in both English and Japanese. Such events really highlight the growing diversity and internationalism of the region.

Throughout the day, various groups from local universities and civic organizations performed traditional and not-so-traditional dances, music, and drumming, which made for a particularly memorable event this year. A few favorites were the Chura-Ryukyu Okinawa Sanshinkai, musicians peforming traditional Okinawan folktunes and the dancing trope, Sansei Younsei Kei.

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Mayors Chris Coleman of St. Paul and Tomihisa Taue of Nagasaki

To commemorate this, the mayors of both cities, Tomihisa Taue and Chris Coleman, were in attendance along with a retinue of dignitaries from Nagasaki. Coleman will be taking his own trip to Nagasaki in October as well. Among other things, St. Paul has honored the relationship by naming a street near Como Park, Nagasaki Road. Taue had also invited a group of traditional entertainers, geiko, Nagasaki Kenban, to perform some of the traditional songs and dances of Nagasaki as well, a even seen rarely outside of Japan, and even in Japan itself. Wow, that was a breathtaking performance as the three women, accompanied by a woman on the shamisen, shared the traditional pieces that they are training to preserve for future generations.

After this, the obon lanterns were lit and, riding on the gusts of the wind, floated quickly across the wind-riffled surface of the moon-viewing pond under the light of the Conservatory. Another beautiful end to the festival for another year. Still costing $5 for the whole evening, with the ever increasing crowds, I’d advise coming really super early. While it starts at 3:00, coming at no later than 2:30 is recommended. Of course, biking or taking public transit (Metro Routes 3 and 83) is also recommend to save the hassle of locating a place to park. 

For me, 2015 was also special in that it gave me a taste to prepare me for my own trip to Japan in less than two weeks! Wow! Hard to believe it’s coming up so fast!

Local RPG Flavor Promotion: Fantasy Renaissance Adventure Modules from Cut to the Chase Games

The last couple days have been wet, moody previews of what is to come in the next couple months as we transition into the long winter season here in Minnesota. Perfect times to grab some hot tea or coffee, a good book, and get comfortable indoors.

Perhaps that’s why the Twin Cities are such a hot bed of nerdy pursuits, as well. I keep meaning to write about some of the history of board games, RPGs, and other weird geek stuff in the area, which go back decades. I can definitely cop to enjoying quite a bit of time in the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, passing the time with a game of D&D in a cozy library or cool basement. When things weren’t happening outside, you could always go on adventures inside. Of course, my memories of the pen and paper role playing games don’t go as far as many people. Is there something about the weather in the Upper Midwest that lends itself to this? I’ll definitely devote more time to this on a later post.

So, in the meantime, feel free to check out what my friend, Weird Dave, who appeared in the last entry, is working on with his company Cut to the Chase Games. He just launched his Fantasy Renaissance Adventure module series for 5th edition on Kickstarter, the latest iteration of D&D, and a variety of other fantasy rpg systems. These adventure scenarios for “low-level” characters (great for beginners) are geared to recapture that nostalgic, cozy feeling, though with a nice, modern kick in my opinion; much fun was had during the playtesting, fun that really did recapture those feelings of exploration and adventure back in the day. I think at least three gnomes died in the course of the first scenario, and one or two humans, but in the end victory was ours!

Yep, promotion, promotion. Judging by the number of “likes” I get, this is a-okay on WordPress! Maybe even toss a few gold pieces his way too. Get it before it appears in the local game shops! Of course, I had been hesitant to join Kickstarter, as it could prove just too much a temptation to dig into- I’m now considering signing on to back three other projects!

Light Rail Brewery Crawl: A Twin Cities beer adventure, pt. 1

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The beginning…

Today’s my birthday, but Sunday, I got a few friends together and organized an outing I’d been planning for awhile, a Light Rail brewery tour of the Twin Cities. For the first attempt, I think I’d consider it a success and I learned some tips that I think will help in its next iteration. I use the Twin Cities’ growing light rail transit systems quite regularly, but I definitely could learn more about them. In addition, I definitely need to up my beer connoisseur game, as I think I’m running out of descriptors for beer tasting quite quickly!

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28th Avenue Station Park and Ride- the Blue Line ad already encourages us to drink!

Inspired by the Rails and Ales event, I thought it would be fun to arrange my own, lower key version of this event on a calmer day. I had put together an elaborate plan of eight breweries at seven light rail stops on the Blue and Green lines, and we made it to three of them. We didn’t quite make it into St. Paul, but we did get across the river! All in all, a good time was had and some good beers were sampled.

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First stop: Harriet Brewing

Meeting up at the 28th Avenue Station Park and Ride; it was a Twins Sunday, so I thought it would be good to have a place for those with cars to park. Park and Rides ramps with free parking exist at the 28th Street Station and the Fort Snelling Station on the Blue Line,   Next time, I’d choose a closer station to meet up at. We started on the Minneapolis side, but perhaps beginning in St. Paul would be even better! For small groups, free street parking can probably be found without too much difficult within a short walking distance of many of the stations. You can buy a one day pass for riding the light rail at any of the stations for $6.

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A trio of Harriet’s Pils, and a Sooner or Later Belgian Blonde

So, after meeting up, we rode the rail past the airport into South Minneapolis and got off at Lake Street-Midtown Station, walking a few blocks to the first brewery on the list, Harriet Brewing. Harriet focuses on Belgian style beers, which tend towards complex, spicy flavors. This was evident in the four beers Harriet had on tap that day- most of us went for the Harriet’s Pils, with one trying the Sooner or Later Belgian-style Blonde. Both were good choices for a hot summer day, I felt, with light flavor and a smooth mouthfeel. As we sipped our beers outside on the patio, listening to some live acoustic guitar, it was a nice start. A food truck was parked nearby, providing snacks to go with the beer.

Hitting the Blue Line again, we went into downtown to the Downtown East station, near the looming monolith of the uncompleted stadium which dominates the sky in this part of town, and walked the short distance to Day Block Brewing Company, a spot that opened up on Washington Avenue last year. This brew pub has a large variety of beers on tap to choose from, as well as some delicious food as well.

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Day Block: We’re all very exited to get some food!

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From back to front; Berliner Weisse, Frank’s Red Ale, Belvarin Hefeveisen, Imperial Stout, and the Federales Mild.

Day Block had some local jazz bands performing, and we sampled a wide variety of the offerings here; the Belvarian Hefeweizen, Berliner Weisse, Frank’s Red Ale, and the Imperial Stout. I had the Federales Mild, which was delicious.

Another nice, light beer for summer, this one had a woodsy pine smell courtesy of the fresh pine tips used in the brewing. I think everyone highly enjoyed their choices, and the food we had, pizzas, pretzels, salads, and pickles, were great as well.

For our last stop of the day, and just before the rain started falling, we hopped onto the Green Line and headed across the river to the Prospect Park neighborhood to stop at the vaunted Surly Brewing, exiting on the Prospect Park station. I had not visited this acclaimed and anticipated new “destination brewery” complex, but it was pretty awesome. I will have to return here, for sure.

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We ended the day sipping our beers on the expansive yard in the back of the impressive new building, under the shadow of the interesting industrial ruins of that area of town, old grain silos towering over us as we enjoyed our beverages. I tried the ‘Merica, a “pre-Prohibition” lager which had an extremely herbal nose, so much so that some called it “skunky.” It definitely had a slightly rough flavor, perhaps as was common in pre-industrial days. I quite enjoyed it, personally. Others had the Schadenfreude, a malty Munich lager, the Cacao Bender, which tasted very strongly of chocolate (as it should!) and the old standby, the Bender American Brown Ale.

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‘Merica, Cacao Bender, Schadenfreudes(s), and Bender

Feeling full and happy, we parted ways for the day, just as the rain clouds began to close in. However, we didn’t leave before all being qued up on the Untappd app on our phones, which of course, proved very useful in keeping tabs on our beers. I love good list making, of course, so this was a good discovery. Thanks, Weird Dave!

This will definitely not be the last local beer adventure I embark upon. After all, I still have six others on this itinerary alone that I’ve yet to check out, plus I still have plans for a biking brewery tour!

Some photos courtesy of Luke Price.

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Lake Street-Midtown Station, Blue Line, looking north towards Downtown

Minnesota Garlic Festival

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McCleod County Fairgrounds, hosting the Minnesota Garlic Festival, 2015

Made my way out of the Twin Cities Saturday morning, heading out a little less than an hour to the west, to the town of Hutchinson, for the tenth annual Minnesota Garlic Festival. I attended once before, five years ago, so it was nice to visit again, even on so muggy an August day. Held at the McCleoud County Fairground, the event was $5 a person with a dollar to park.

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Sometimes, garlic can be… frightening

Organized by the Sustainable Farming Association of MN, the festival celebrates the environment, culinary enjoyment, strong rural cultures, and local farmers. To reflect this, the festival was billed as a zero waste event who, in July, harvested the 2015 garlic crop planted in October and given them time to cure. Garlic is one of my favorite, most often used ingredients, and I just ran out, so of course this was the perfect spot to restock my supplies. And there was a lot of choices.

It is incredible, too, how many varieties of garlic there are, really, with the festival’s website citing more than a hundred different types from all over the world, from purple striped to porcelain. Some are ideal for baking, some perfect for roasting, and some are spicier and some are more mild; I picked up some purple Italian and some Bogtyr, both strong varieties that keep their flavor through cooking.

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Some of the garlic I picked up, in the hot, hot sun.

 

I also sampled some garlic ice cream from Cranky’s, the makers of the doughnut ice cream I’d had at the Northeast Open Streets a few weeks back. Garlic ice cream may seem ill matched, but the pungent, sweet- savory flavor of the roasted garlic chunks in the creamy ice cream really worked well together. I’d go out of my way to have it again!

In addition to the garlic, there were plenty of other local wares on offer, from honey, maple syrup, cheese, baked goods, alpaca wool, and of course, local beer and wine. At the main stage, local chefs and agricultural advocates demonstrated their cooking skills, and exhorted festival-goers to “buy local, eat local, stay local!” Throughout the day, there were also folksy musical interludes by local dancers and music groups.

By this time, I was getting hungry, so I checked out the Great Scape Cafe, which was serving up plates created by a variety of the Twin City’s most popular restaurants, including the Common Roots Cafe, Tilia, Birchwood Cafe, and Brasa, among others. I had some delicious Scandinavian style aged cod from the Bachelor Farmer. All in all, not too bad a little jaunt into the countryside on a summer morning. My breath still may be a little pungent.

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Chefs from Tilia demonstrate cooking techniques.

Internet Cat Video Festival 2015

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People begin to pack the field at CHS Field in St. Paul,

Last night, for the first time, I attended the Walker Art Center’s vaunted Internet Cat Video Festival, along with more than 13,000 other people. You can see why they left the grounds of the Walker in Minneapolis and transferred over the more spacious CHS Field in St. Paul. Interesting how, without seeing any baseball, I’ve visited both the baseball stadiums in the Twin Cities this week! If with the extra space, the stadium was packed to the gills, I’ve rarely seen a larger crowd. I guess we really, really love cats and the internet in Minnesota for some reason. To confess, I’ve never owned, or lived, with a cat. That may change, but by myself, I am not inclined to share my living space with animals at the moment. Thankfully, I’m not allergic to them.

Still, many of my friends do, so I can experience the adorable and mischievous antics of the feline creatures through them. And I must admit, I was looking forward to seeing the internet’s favorite animal celebrated in such a fun, communal setting. The Internet Cat Video Festival, begun just a few years ago in 2012, has gotten really big, really fast. It even sold out this year! It is nice to have our metro know for such a distinctive, positive cultural event.   

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Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask theater’s giant green cat.

 

Hosted by Barb Abney, who spun a good number of cat themed tunes while people enjoyed the perfect August weather on the field, or in the bleachers. With local sponsors selling various cat related art and free cat treats, the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater’s monstrous green cat lurching about with mouse minions, the Fest begun in a low key fashion. People of all ages were there to enjoy the videos and laugh at some cats. 

Finally, the video reel came on at 8:30, curated by Will Braden, the creator of probably my favorite cat video series, Henri le Chat Noir. What makes cats arguably the premier motif of internet based art? Not sure, but the videos themselves spanned the entire gamut of human (and animal) experience, from absurdist humor, to pathos, to adventure. Some worked better than others, though the ones that had cats cued to musical numbers were my favorites. At the end, the vids culminated with the winner of the 2015 Golden Kitty Award. By that time, it was time to attempt to make an escape from the packed stadium. The tickets to the show doubled as admission to the Walker Art Center, so that’s a bonus. Always nice to have an excuse to visit!

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Waiting for the reel to begin.

Farmers Markets on a Lunch Break

 

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Minneapolis Farmers Market on Hennepin.

In recent years, following trends throughout North America, the number of farmers markets in the Twin Cities and throughout the state are burgeoning like rhubarb in the summer heat. Providing conscious shoppers with fresh local, sustainable produce and goods from nearby farms and producers, whether for people into “locavoreism,” “flexitarianism” (and other such buzzwords) or those who just enjoy fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables for their cooking, it’s good to have them. I’m always impressed with what I find; in addition to the regional seasonal stuff the Midwest is known for (rhubarb, squash, corn, etc.) there are also rare and interesting things you don’t see at any grocery store; bitter melons and obscure pepper varieties, heirloom eggplants, or, at the farmers market in Mankato, ground cherries. Those were certainly interesting, and pretty tasty in a pie. 

However, sometimes it can be difficult to schedule a visit during a busy workweek. For those who work in downtown Minneapolis, though, a couple of options exist that you can make a quick stop at on your lunch break. The Minneapolis Farmers Market, which has organized a spin off on Nicollet Mall on summer Thursdays for years, has moved it over to Hennepin Avenue this summer while Nicollet Mall is undergoing some major construction. It’s always fun to grab some ingredients for dinner on your lunch; I got some really nice zucchini and eggplants for a couple recipes I’d wanted to try. I kind of like shopping for cheap, fresh vegetables on the busy sidewalks of downtown Minneapolis, with Hennepin Avenue being even busier and more exciting than Nicollet. The Hennepin Avenue Market is open Thursdays from 6 am to 6 pm.

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The Market, Target Field Station, on a sunny August evening.

There is also a market, called simply The Market, which is being held every Monday evening at the Target Field Station. I checked it out yesterday evening, taking advantage of the lovely weather to do a lot shopping (I needed more zucchini). To be honest, I’d never been down this way before, having no interest in baseball, but it was a nice area to explore. The Market, open Mondays for the rest of the month 4:30 to 8:30 pm, was a little bit more geared to fancier local artisan crafts and products, like salsa, honey, coffee roasters, and such, than the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Still, there were some nice produce stands, too and in coming Mondays, live music will be present as well. 

Autoptic Festival (and others)

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Aria and the Alliance Francaise, site of Autoptic Festival 2015

Another busy weekend, but for me, by far the highlight was the Autoptic Festival,  a two day festival of independent cartoonists, zines, and other graphic art culture. Perfect for an MSP Reading Time adventure. Started in 2013, this was the first time I’ve attended, though I was only able to attend the first day, I will most definitely return next year. The DIY ethos of the artists, writers, musicians, and others who packed the old warehouse of Aria in the North Loop was inspiring to me and really resparked my desire to try my hand at some comics of my own (in spite of my own lack of drawing background). It was almost overwhelming how many awesome people and creations were being shared.  Held in conjunction with MCAD’s week long comic residency program Pierre/Feuille/Ciseaux, an experimental comics workshop which invited cartoonists from across North American and Francophone countries to collaborate in cartooning, the event celebrates the possibilities of comic art. The Minnesota comics scene has been really interesting and Autoptic is a perfect celebration of this dynamic and wonderful artform, and its great that our city plays host.

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Interior of Aria, Autoptic Festival exhibitions

 

I biked downtown on Saturday morning to see what was happening, having not attended Autoptic before. The event was free to the public, and full of really interesting programs, exhibitions, special guests, and art. Two of my favorite cartoonists, Gabrielle Bell and Jillian Tamaki discussed their comics, and independent comics in general. Listening to this conversation was the highlight of the day for me.

Bell’s work has been a favorite of mine for five or so years, with her self-deprecating memoir and semi-autobiographical comics, especially The Voyeurs and Truth is Fragmentary. I find her both her ability to express everyday thoughts with such elegance and her use of magic realist elements to illustrate these feelings to be fascinating and her use of travelog to be a major influence.

Jillian Tamaki’s work has really impressed me as well, and I recently read, and loved, her webcomic Super Mutant Magic Academy, with fandom parodies and absurdist comedy. Of course, I also was wowed by her Caldecott winning graphic novel, This One Summer, written with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, finding it to be a very evocative and thought-provoking look back at the confusion, joy, and fear of childhood.

In their conversation, I was particularly struck by Tamaki’s comment regarding how it doesn’t really matter what the comics look like, but how effective the message is. Of course, her art is beautiful, but it is still inspiring to those of us who are still working on their art, as it were. Bell’s comments on how the internet greatly expanded her ability to share her work were also very interesting, as I toy with the idea of getting more of my own work out there.

Of course, I really identified with both of their statements on how they first were introduced into the comics scene; through newspaper comics, Archie, and Mad Magazine. For a long time, I never really considered myself a fan of comics, having never gotten into the superhero type that seems to be what people think about when the word comes up, but then I thought, too, how big an influence Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side were upon me growing up, and how much I enjoyed those comic versions of classic literature. There are so many different ways comics can express the human condition.

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Portrait by Gabrielle Bell

Later, I listened to the idiosyncratic cartoonist Charles Burns talk about his artistic style, seen in his most well known work, Black Hole and, most recently, his X’ed Out trilogy; his work has always been a little hard to approach for me, but fascinating, and I love his art style and his  melding of everyday suburban banality with grotesque, monstrous horrors; interesting how well they pair…

There were some interesting parallels brought up by an audience member too between Burns’ work, which reimagines mid-century kitsch and pop culture (romance comics, Tintin, etc.) with that of Mark Mothersbaugh, a child of same generation who also refurbishes pop culture into new, and bizarre, configurations.

In addition to picking up a nice selection of rare, limited edition comics and art, I was extremely lucky to get my portrait done by the fabulous Gabrielle Bell herself! I always feel so awkward chatting with authors, but I now have an awesome new picture for my social media accounts. I am writing more about the comics I read, discovered, and devoured on my BookLikes blog, Reading Rainstorm. Also, check out my sister’s take on the event at her comics blog, I’m Reading Comeeks! We were both wowed.

A lot was happening on Saturday in downtown Minneapolis; after heading out of Autoptic, I went a few blocks down the street to check out the Pizza Luce Block Party, also for the first time. A hot, humid day for some hot music, hot pizza, and some cold beer and ice cream. This, too, was free to get in to enjoy the music, though of course you could spend plenty on the refreshments. Izzy’s ice cream is always good, especially on a hot day, and I also tried out some of Summit Brewing’s new Make It So, and extra special bitter infused with Teasource Earl Grey. Beer and tea? Of course I had to try it, and it was a rich, wonderfully citrus beer I will definitely have again. After listening to Minneapolis bands Tiny Deaths and Pink Mink, and enjoying the people watching, I headed to the next thing.

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Pink Mink perform at the Pizza Luce Block Party 2015, in downtown Minneapolis.

Finally, over the weekend I also checked out a couple more Fringe Festival shows before the end of this years fest; The Morning Meal Society and Too Punk to Care. Each of these were great ways to end off the Fringe Fest season. The Morning Meal Society was a irreverent and political parody of The Breakfast Club and ‘80s culture in general, performed by the Young Artists Council of Youths, all under 18! Quite interesting to see the group take on this nostalgic culture that existed before they were born, and use it to reflect their own concerns in 2010s America. Basically, it has everything the Fringe goer is looking for (they say so themselves!).

Too Punk to Care was one of my favorites, the actors debating and fighting as they attempted to pin down the meaning of punk in the Minnesotan hinterlands, starting up bands, playing instruments, and belting obscenely hilarious jokes.  The mayonnaise guy was particularly disgustingly funny. Personally, I’d rather go for some lutefisk than mayo straight from the jar! From the use of a zine for the show’s program, to the song lyrics and the frenetic instruments, the DIY ethos of punk came through very strong, and I was really impressed with the music, too.

August Activities: The Fringe Festival, block parties, and others…

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WCCO Building, Nicollet Mall; the red letters mean it’s getting hotter, right?

There was an interesting article on MinnPost last week, discussing the place of “service journalism” in local television news segments, specifically WCCO’s “Goin’ to the Lake.” To be honest, I haven’t really watched TV lately, but I grew up watching WCCO as my parents favored local nightly news and recall the station with a certain fondness. If I recall, the local news oftentimes devoted a high percentage of their broadcast times to advertising new deals and quirky new things happening around the cities.  Of course, all of is this is to promote commercial activities in the state, rather than foster an  informed public kept up to date with political and current events; it’s all just self-celebratory back patting, isn’t it?

Then, I realized that’s kind of what I do; by “reporting” some of the fun stuff I enjoy, I am celebrating consumerism; though at least it is all mostly local, and is spending money on experiences rather than just stuff. As a history major who never took any formal journalism courses, I had not even thought of my writing as being in any way journalistic, still, I am pretty much engaged in, advising on the things I find out about, mainly just to have something to write about (and, to be honest, a little bragging rights, probably.)  Don’t even get paid for it!

And here we go into a busy month for stuff happening in the Twin Cities, including some of my favorites, like the Fringe Fest. We’ve got one more weekend left of the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, and I’ve seen some pretty awesome shows so far! If you can, check a few out.

I started with a couple of hilariously nerdy ones, No Extra Lives and Kamehamehamlet, both at the Nimbus Theatre in Northeast Minneapolis. No Extra Lives was an ever evolving sideshow extravaganza celebrating classic video games and the extremes to which a human body can be subjected, that pretty much exemplifies what I love about the Fringe. Oops! The Entertainer subjects himself to all manner of impressive and humorous punishment for our entertainment, along with a cavalcade of retro video game puns- the segues between his acts, featuring video game discussions and linking them to his acts, are great buffers for the audience (and Oops!) to recover from the last bout of derring-do. The classic video game tunes played live were great, too.

Kamehamehamlet: Goodnight Saiyan Prince was, a bizarre nostalgic celebration of late ‘90s anime action, melodrama, and pathos as the nefarious but insecure Freeza debates and then murders the pompous but also insecure Saiyan Prince, Vegeta. They mock each other’s pun names and debate each others power levels and true forms. It is all appropriately over the top and bombastic, and quite hilarious to see the show’s epic battle scenes and alien landscapes replicated through the low budget props on stage. This one is probably most effective if you grew up in ‘90s as a fan of anime, or at least know someone who did!

I went to a few more over on the West Bank, at the Mixed Blood Theatre and the Theatre in the Round, respectively. My favorite show I’ve seen so far was definitely Melancholy London, adapted from a tale by Arthur Machen, a British master of the weird tale. Adapted by Tim Uhren, this was an eerie, taut piece with a lot of and great acting; the accents, in particular, seemed spot on. I don’t want to say anymore about the plot, which leads to some very chilling places and ends in a deliciously open ended way, in order to allow others to experience the twists and turns of this weird tale. I definitely need to read some more of Machen’s writing.

The next play, “And then…” was also interesting, allowing audience participation to choose in which direction the adventure goes, via voting. The set ninjas were a great idea in this play, in which two characters tried to discover their dreams as the audience determined in which direction their lives went, with the moral seeming to be that one should just go with the flow and see where life takes them. After all, who ever got anywhere with a Masters degree in Philosophy anyway? Much better to move to Florida with no plan, right?

It was interesting that both of the West Bank plays involved the vagaries of fate and coincidence, with one taking a dark, fatalistic take and the other an upbeat, positive interpretation. Both of them, coincidentally, quoted William Butler Yeats. Another one to add to the reading list!

There’s one more showing of each this Saturday; Kamehamehamlet at 2:30 on Saturday, and later, No Extra Lives at 8:30 at the Nimbus, Melancholy London at 2:30 at the Mixed Blood Theatre and And then… at 4:00 at the Theatre in the Round. Of course, there are over a hundred and seventy shows to choose from, so go see some different ones, too!

So, a lot of other fun things are happening in the coming weeks as well; a host of block parties, taking advantage of the last few months of dependably warm weather, are popping up to turn various Minneapolis streets into party zones, including the Pizza Luce Block Party tomorrow and the Mia Birthday Block Party at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Sunday. So, everyone’s heard about the new branding on Mia, right? Service journalism! Both look fun and have free admission, and involve all that good stuff, like music from local bands, food from local food trucks, and other activities. I am particularly enthused for Mia’s 100th birthday event, which will close 24th Street in front of the museum and offer a lot of free stuff to do, including making your own art.

Next week is the fourth annual Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker Art Center. I’ve been meaning to go for the past few years, but this will be the first time I’ll manage to make it, so I’m curious (like a cat!) to see what it’s all about.  Next Saturday is the Garlic Festival, just outside the metro in Hutchinson, celebrating my favorite allium, garlic! If you want to get enough local garlic to keep your food well seasoned all winter, this is a good festival to go to. I went a few years ago and there was a lot of fun stuff going on there, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again. The weekend after, the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival returns to Como Park, which I wrote about last year, is still an annual summer tradition for me and I’m excited for this year’s Obon, especially with my own upcoming trip to Japan scheduled for September.

I’ll be reporting the scoop on these and more events as the month progresses.

MSP Reading Time: Books and Bars Reads Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members

[Cross post with my BookLikes book blog, ReadingRainstorm]

I attended my second Books and Bars event held at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall last night, which was focused on one of my favorite books I read last year, Dear Committee Members. Written by Julie Schumacher, a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota, I found the book to be a fast paced read, sharp, biting, and delightfully prickly. Making this Books and Bars even cooler than most, Julie Schumacher herself was present to discuss the book and her writing. This led to some fascinating discussions of the novel’s lead character, J.T. Fitger, the state of academia, the neglect of English departments, and writing seminars. Along with a few beers from Bang Brewing, and some of the Amsterdam’s interesting broodjes (little sandwiches, including goat cheese, eggplant, and many other varieties) and some frites, it was definitely a good time. I will have to pay a visit to Bang Brewing, as I found the Como, an American Bitter, to be very good, but I’d have to try more!

An epistolary novel of academic and professional ennui, Dear Committee Members is a wry and bleakly comic account of one curmudgeonly chauvinistic creative writing professor’s rather unfortunate semester.  Told through a collection of sarcastic letters of recommendation, interdepartmental memos, and other correspondence penned by the bitter English Professor and would be great author, Jason Fitger, of the “second rate” private liberal arts college Payne University, we are treated to his passive aggressive barbs aimed at his students, his colleagues, and his former friends and lovers. Fitger rarely passes up an opportunity for editorializing, ranting, and self aggrandizement, particularly in letters to former flames and ex-wives, there is a pathos here that laments the current state of academia in addition to one man’s feeling of personal failure, as we are forced to watch him grapple helplessly with clunky online evaluations, callow undergrads, unsympathetic administrators, and the toxic dust being pumped into his department by the refurbishment of the economics department while his window still doesn’t close; there is tragedy and comedy, as well as a depressing amount of familiarity.  Payne University, located somewhere in the Midwest, could definitely be a Minnesotan institution; in fact, I may have visited at some point!

Schumacher writes with a deft pen, granting the egotistic professor with a pathos that makes him feel sympathetic, and as she admitted, she sometimes identifies with him herself. I, too, could definitely relate to his environment, if not his sarcastic personality, and his wit and venom certainly led to some laugh out loud funny moments. In Fitger, Schumacher has created a great unreliable guide to the world of the English department. I just wonder how he’ll respond when he discovers RateMyProfessor!

I found Julie Schumacher’s insights into the publishing world and how even something as simple as a cover chosen for your book can dictate how you are going to write it. If you’re really sad you missed it, the last few Books and Bars discussions were recorded and will be broadcast on the Story North podcast by September. Speaking of September, the next book chosen for reading is Go Set a Watchman, that sequel that’s been in the news lately. So, better get your reserves set up fast! Currently sitting at 1722 at the Hennepin County Library, but only 25 in St. Paul! Personally, I’d say that Dear Committee Members is probably a lot more fun. I recommend it!