East Lake Open Streets

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The Open Streets street fests in Minneapolis are some of my favorite community events for the summer, and so far this year, like last year, I attended just one. In July, Lindsay and I rode our bikes across the river from St. Paul to explore what East Lake Street had to offer. In my role as a traveling Hennepin County librarian, I’ve often staffed the desk at the East Lake Library, one of my favorite branches, and was always struck by the energy and diversity of the area. Having the chance to spend some more time in the area with Lindsay, trekking on foot down the middle of Lake Street exploring and encountering local people and organizations. It was a nearly perfect summer day, with blue skies, a nice breeze, temperatures in the mid ‘70s, the kind of afternoon you can only dream about in February.

The street was a frenzy of activity, with people walking or riding their bikes down the center of the usually car filled thoroughfare. Weaving through the crowds, Lindsay and I decided to concentrate on the events and activities going on on the north side of the street before crossing it on the way back to see what was going on on the other side! The new local darling eatery, the Hi-Lo Cafe started the walk out in an memorable manner with a pie eating contest. While we didn’t participate ourselves, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails and street food courtesy of the Blue Door Pub, which we ate while watching a group of children go to town on some banana cream pies.

Continuing up the street, we grabbed some tasty frozen treats from Frio Frio (a standard at these events), and sampled some of Urban Forage’s ciders. We enjoyed the crisp, refreshing drinks and I’m definitely looking forward to when they open a taproom next year to share their locally sourced ciders, wines, and meads.  We checked out the Nordic bric a brac at Ingebretsen’s and had a delicious lunch of tamales at the Mid Town Global Market, finishing off with some beers at East Lake Brewery. By this time, we realized that things were winding down, so we started along the walk back. In the end, we walked more than five miles during the event, and we returned to our bikes footsore and a little bit sunburnt. Next year, we might start earlier to get more on both sides of the street!  The last one of 2016 is this Saturday in Dinkytown, so if this sounds fun, you should check it out!

Camping in the Metro

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Canoeing the St. Croix- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Throughout the summer, Lindsay and I took advantage of our year long Minnesota State Park sticker, as can be seen during our voyages outstate, but there are plenty of Minnesota State Parks within a short drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Two of the nearby state parks we took lovely, relaxing weekend camping trips to over the summer were William O’Brien State Park and Wild River State Park. Each are situated just along the border with Wisconsin, along the scenic St. Croix, probably my favorite river in Minnesota, and offer plenty of hiking trails through mixed deciduous and conifer forests, prairies, and swampy lowlands. We wandered along some of them, plodding through the green, buggy summer woods and fields of these wonderful natural areas, encountering ghost towns and the occasional squirrel or deer. As I mentioned in a previous blog, though, even wearing plenty of insect repellent, it proved too much for us- the mosquitoes were particularly horrible at Wild River, hideous clouds that beat even those we encountered earlier in the year at Bear Head Lake. We had to run back to our campsite in terror! We were also horrified to find a deer tick on Lindsay at William O’Brien, but were quickly able to remove it thanks to the tick removing devices sold at the park.

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William O’Brian State Park

On the whole, though, our favorite times were the pleasant hours of grilling veggie dogs, making s’mores, and reading next to the campfires I managed to start (I guess those years of Boy Scouts were good for something), watching the sun set and the stars come out as fireflies flitted in the woods.

William O’Brien is, in particular, a very popular park for campers from the Twin Cities, especially due to its proximity to the charming tourist town of Stillwater, a place where one can find no shortage of antique stores, bookstores, boutiques, and other high end shopping. I could not help but drag poor Lindsay to yet another brewery, Maple Island Brewing, during our afternoon in Stillwater. We shared plenty of tasty brews, even finding a few that she didn’t think were too bad! I particularly enjoyed the Cup of Joe Freakshow, a dark, roasty oatmeal coffee stout. Also, Stillwater has plenty of places to get candy, from the Twin Cities’ standard, Candyland to the local Tremblay’s Sweet Shop, which contained the most peanut brittle I’ve ever seen outside of Christmas. Because of all of these attractions nearby, most summer weekends at William O’Brien are pretty well booked, so it’s a good idea to take a look at sites early through the online booking system. This allows you to have a better choice of sites, so that you can avoid the one right next to the bathroom but also make sure its not all the way on the other side of the camping area!

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On the river- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Up the road a bit at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, we went on a canoeing adventure down the St. Croix. Renting a large canoe from Taylors Falls Canoes and Kayaking for a reasonable rate, it was a lovely afternoon for a river voyage. Along with a small fleet of other renters, we floated down the mostly unpeopled river, occasionally paddling. I was bit a rusty in my canoe steering (or maybe I never really developed that skill at all), but the current and river were not too demanding. After a few hours of listening to the wind, and the waves thump up against the sides of our canoe, we reached our destination, a park on the Minnesota side across from Osceola, Wisconsin. From there, we waited for a rental bus to return us to Taylors Falls.

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Franconia Sculpture Park

Just outside of Taylors Falls, we encountered one of the Twin Cities weird, hidden gems, one I had never been to before (though I had heard things), the Franconia Sculpture Park. Wow! The sunny fields and shady woods of the expansive grounds were packed with strange and monumental works of art from artists all over the world. Founded just twenty years ago (just twenty years!?), judging by the dates the works were installed, they are always growing. Lindsay and I were not prepared for just how huge the place was, and just how many bizarre, innovative sculptures were tucked away all over the place. It would definitely warrant another visit, I think! The place is open 365 days a year, so I’m intrigued by the idea of checking it out during the winter!

Heading Past the Edge of the Prairie

 

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A stormy day on the prairie, Pipestone National Monument

In July, Lindsay and I went south, driving down to the prairies and farmland of southwestern Minnesota. It was a much different landscape than our trip to the Iron Range and the North Shore, and I was struck by the great range of terrain to be found throughout the state. We began by heading into some familiar territory for me, spending the first night in Mankato. Before getting there, though, we stopped off at what is becoming a popular Minnesota attraction, Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store at Jim’s Apple Farm, known locally as the Big Yellow Barn. A completely overwhelming expanse of treats, from the local to the global; local apples, all manner of obscure and international candies and sodas (or “pop,” as we prefer around here), and much more. We escaped with a few bottles of soda, a tray of nostalgic Runts, some organic popcorn, and a selection of British candy bars. Quite a chaotic scene, there was something weird everywhere you looked, from a talking bear head guarding the immense selection of honey, to Cthulhu mints!

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Minneopa Falls

Arriving in Mankato, my old haunt, we spent some time at Minneopa State Park, visiting the majestic Minneopa Falls, which tumbles forty feet into a rugged gorge tucked away into the Minnesota flatlands. After the wet season we’ve had, the creek was still a raging torrent, sending plumes of mist into the air and making for a great, refreshing place to relax on a hot summer day. Later, we saw some of the State Park’s herd of bison, reintroduced from the population at Blue Mounds State Park as part of the DNR’s Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd. It was pretty awesome to see these iconic North American animals roaming so close to home, where they used to thrive.

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Schell’s Brewery Deer- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The next afternoon, we stopped at the picturesque grounds of the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. The second oldest family owned brewery in the United States, Schell’s Brewery is a pretty interesting place to make a stop, even if you aren’t particularly interested in beer (like Lindsay, sadly). After a lunch of a large pile of cheese and a few of Schell’s beers (hey, it was after noon) we explored the interesting museum chronicling the history of the company and the immigrant German family who started it back in 1860. The lush gardens and woods that surround the working brewery, the historic Schell family mansion, and other cool buildings  were picturesque, and inhabited by peacocks. These colorful birds, along with the company’s mascot deer, made for some surprises along the garden paths.

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A peacock- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We continued our journey across the plains, dotted with the looming white forms of the wind power generators rotating gentle in the prairie wind, soon arriving at our next destination; the unique and ancient Jeffers Petroglyphs, another location of the Minnesota Historical Society. The petroglyphs, images carved onto an outcrop of Sioux Quartzite, date from many periods from about 7000-5000 BCE and are important to indigenous cultures across the continent up to the present.

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A turtle petroglyph- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It really is pretty breathtaking, these intricate carvings etched thousands of years ago on rock a billion years old, on a small ridge above miles and miles of prairie dotted with prickly pears, with constant wind buffeting and providing a welcome respite from the sun. Among the many symbolic and mythical, more concrete figures are seen among the petroglyphs as well, including the atlatl, a hunting tool predating the bow and arrow. The site offers visitors the chance to try out it on a model bison, flinging deadly spears at the effigy animal. After one husky gentleman failed to connect even once, I guess I’m probably a bit too proud to say I managed it! Again, as Historical Society members, we were able to visit the site for free. Definitely one of my favorite places in Minnesota!

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Trying out an atlatl- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

That evening, we pulled into our final destination, the town of Pipestone, Minnesota. We had reserved a room in the historic Calumet Hotel, reputed to be haunted. In fact, as soon as we parked, we could see that the little town was one that was, apparently, obsessed with ghosts. The Pipestone County Historical Society was offering a Saturday night Historic Ghost Walk, and we arrived just in time- after a quick, uninspiring dinner at the local Pizza Ranch, we lined up for the leisurely, informative walk around town to learn about the various ghost stories that have popped up around it. Hosted by a trio of storytellers dressed in Victorian garb, the stories were generally of a gentle, comical nature and rarely very horrifying or gruesome- the worst being the wife-beating confectioner who hung himself in a dumb waiter. Creepy! The stories of the mysteries of Pipestone were also very interesting, such as the missing statue of a nude woman carved and put on display by Leon Moore, a businessman and amateur sculptor who peopled his building with many strange gargoyles. No one knows where it went!

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The Moore Block, displaying a few gargoyles and the niche that, legend has it, formerly held a sculpture of a naked woman; too much for conservative Pipestone- photo of Lindsay Cameron

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Lindsay and I at the Calumet. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Amusingly, while we experienced no qualms with sharing with the tour the exact room in the Calumet Hotel we were staying in (I was both disappointed and relieved to find out we weren’t staying in the most haunted room, where a man died in a fire almost a century ago- not that Lindsay or I believe in ghosts), we were too embarrassed to volunteer the fact that we ate at the Pizza Ranch, which was also a haunted location! The Hotel itself was large and reasonably priced, though the room offered few frills aside from a light that flickered out mysteriously (or maybe the bulb was just old!)

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The next morning, after breakfast at a local institution, Lange’s Cafe, home of what Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood called the best sour cream raisin pie in the world (a fact the restaurant is obviously very proud of) we visited the second National Monument in Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument. The location where the hard red rock was quarried by many different indigenous groups over the centuries to carve peace pipes and other important sacred items, the monument is another breathtaking Minnesota landscape, rich in natural and historical importance.

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Winnewissa Falls

After some atmospheric thunderstorms sweeping in across the prairie, we hiked across the quartzite cliffs, examining the quarries from which the sacred stone is mined, viewing intriguing rock formations and Winnewissa Falls, also filled the brim. The prairie flowers filled the moist but cool air with a host of wonderful smells, and the lichen covered walls flowed with water. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

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The quartzite cliffs at Pipestone National Monument

A Voyage to the Northwoods

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Bear Head Lake on a rainy evening. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Having recently returned a few weeks ago from my family’s annual trip across state lines to Door County, Wisconsin (a first for my beloved), I thought I would write a little on the many adventures Lindsay and I have had this summer exploring the state of Minnesota, from the northwoods to the prairies, taking advantage of the state’s natural wonders and seeing some pretty interesting things.

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In early June, we drove up to the Iron Range and the Boundary Waters, the first time either of us had visited these famed regions. Taking no heed of the late spring rains, we pitched our tent at Bear Head Lake State Park. A beautiful near wilderness, Bear Head Lake appeared a little mysterious, wreathed in mist and rain as we drove and found our campsite, our first of the year. Lindsay purchased the state’s annual sticker, which we would make use of the rest of the summer and into autumn. Bear Head Lake felt like among the most isolated state parks I’ve visited, making it a good place to get a feel for the conditions of the northwood’s waterways and conifer forests before braving the Boundary Waters or the Gunflint Trail someday. A couple warnings as well for those looking to visit; at this time of year, the mosquitoes were pretty intense! Stepping into the forest, it did not take long for a swarm of whining assaulters to surround us, becoming a maddening cloud around our heads. During an atmospheric expedition to Raspberry Lake through a rolling landscape of billion year old rocks and tall pine trees, I  think we ended up with more than a hundred bites between us by the end. This was, at the time, the most mosquitoes I had ever seen. Strong bug spray is a must. Also, I found a deer tick as well, so always self check!

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What you can’t see are the mosquitoes. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

By far the highlight of the trip was our descent into the mine shaft at Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Burrowed nearly half a mile into the ancient metamorphic rock to extract the precious, remarkably pure iron ore, it is an amazing place to visit. The first source of iron on Minnesota’s eponymous Iron Range, the Soudan Mine opened in 1882 and began delving deep into the earth’s crust in 1892, thought of among miners as the best working environment in mining. Miners continued tunneling for iron ore until 1962, in almost complete darkness until the end. Taking a tour introduces you to the dangerous conditions miners encountered underground. In addition to incredibly poor lighting and uneven ground (with the occasional unprotected hole), miners were often organized in groups from different immigrant ethnicities, mutually unacquainted with each other’s languages to cut down on organization but also the ability to communicate danger.

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Soudan Mine elevator

The creaking, rattling elevator takes you and a dozen or so other visitors down to the 27th level, 2341 feet, a damp, chilly 51 degrees. Learning about the how the miners crammed into the same little elevator with only small personal lights to guide them through the treacherous maze of pits and tunnels was pretty mind blowing. However, the history aspect is only one of the tours available, though for the other one, you have to move fast!

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Half a mile underground! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

For decades, a portion of the 27th level has been utilized for an entirely different project- the Soudan Underground Laboratory. Instead of digging hematite out of the rock, the former mine was used to extract knowledge of the cosmos itself. As part of the University of Minnesota’s particle physics laboratory, the thickness of the rock prevents interference from the ambient cosmic radiation on the surface, allowing for physicists to search for exotic particles without contamination. Several experiments have been underway in the massive cavern, with its huge detector plate, designed to catch a variety of mysterious neutrinos and other Dark Matter being beamed through the earth’s crust all the way from Fermilab, outside Chicago. Taking the informative physics lab tour at the mine is a great way to experience a taste of the mysterious of the universe and how scientists are attempting to plumb them. Even for someone so lost by complex mathematical discussions as myself, the tour was entertaining and informative, simplistic enough to appeal to general visitors but packed with enough information about the various forms of neutrinos and other ghost particles to inspire awe. The mural painted on the wall inside the physics lab is also quite awe inspiring.

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The detector plate and mural, Underground Physics Lab. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After twenty five years, though, the two experiments are wrapping up later this year, so people interested in seeing the Underground Lab as a working physics lab have only the next two months to make it up to Soudan to take the tour. We’d really recommend it!

In the nearby town of Ely, the “gateway to the Boundary Waters,” there are many local attractions celebrating the rich ecosystems of the conifer forests and the majestic wildlife that live there. We visited a couple that focus on some of the most popular and feared of the animals native to the region, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Whether you are a fan of gray wolves or black bears, both are worth a stop if you have any interest in nature and the environment, and in particular the effect of human interactions on these populations. While both present at least an official neutrality in regards to hunting as a means to balance populations, and each strive to present accurate information on these oft misunderstood creatures, they also each take a slightly different approach. Both rely heavily on the presence of their focus species to familiarize visitors with them and both contrast scientific studies with the folklore and culture surrounding them.

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Some sleepy wolves. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The International Wolf Center, though, had a more focused experience, centered around the gray wolves and their ambassador pack.  For the most part, they seem to let the pack alone to live as naturally as they can in their several acre habitat. If you don’t schedule your visit, the wolves might be in hiding from annoying human interaction. In the informative, interesting, and exhaustive displays, the wolf specimens were carefully noted as from wolves who died from natural causes or accident. At the North American Bear Center, though, the displays seemed more wide ranging, a little less organized. The bear specimens were often from record-breaking hunting trophies donated to the center, though they were also prepared in a style that minimized their perception of ferociousness. Here, too, the resident black bears (all rescues from situations that would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild) were given plenty of acreage to wander, but were presented with plenty of peanuts to entice them to approach the fences.

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A hungry bear. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We spent the next segment of our trip in one of Minnesota’s most popular vacation locales, Grand Marais. Situated between the North Shore of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains, Lindsay and I had some fun comparing Minnesota’s examples of “mountains” and coasts to her experiences as a Californian. It was a lovely little town, and a place to stay and read alongside the pounding surf of the world’s largest lake, an inland sea unto itself. Even as a driving wind came up off of the lake during our evening jog, making it feel closer to April than June, it was a relaxing stay. The Voyageur Brewing Company offered some tasty beers and good food, and the World’s Best Doughnuts lived up closer to its namesake that you might think.

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Lake Superior, just outside Grand Marais harbor. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We didn’t just enjoy the surf and sun, though, we also checked out one of Minnesota’s two National Monuments, Grand Portage. Some thirty five miles north of Grand Marais, it makes for a very interesting day trip. A fascinating recreation of the North West Trading Company’s 1802 post at the portage, where furs from across North America were traded between the Ojibwe and other indigenous peoples and European newcomers, becoming one of the major zones of interaction between the groups on Lake Superior. After viewing an entertaining and informative video, we explored the lovingly recreated buildings (including costumed living history interpreters who were happy to share all of their knowledge on the canoe technologies that connected the interior of the continent to Montreal and Europe via this bustling spot) and dock on the lake. Walking up the steep hiking trail to the summit of “Mount” Rose gave us a stunning view of the monument, Lake Superior, and the surrounding landscape.

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View of Grand Portage from the top of Mount Rose

On the way back to Grand Marais, we also took advantage of the lovely hiking trails at Judge Magney State Park. We hiked  along the Brule River, leading up to the beautiful Devil’s Kettle waterfall, which plunges a majestic fifty feet, spraying up impressive plumes of cool mist.

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Visiting the Devil’s Kettle! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Of course, before heading home to St. Paul, as we drove back along the North Shore towards Duluth, we had to stop by the most photographed location in Minnesota, the lovely Split Rock Lighthouse. I was so happy to stop by this Minnesota icon with Lindsay, who was visiting it for the first time. It is always worth a stop, especially when you have a membership to the Minnesota Historical Society as we do! It was definitely a great way to finish up a wonderful trip!

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Pride Dabbler

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In the past, I’ve always been busy for some reason on Pride weekend, one of the Twin Cities biggest street festivals and among the largest one’s celebrating the GLBT community in the US. Last year was no different, in spite of living right next to Loring Park- I spent the majority of the weekend on a camping trip in Southern Minnesota. However, I got back home in time to check out the last day of the festival,  as I could hear the alluring music drifting through my windows as I unpacked from the trip. Running out across the street just before an early summer thunderstorm struck, I browsed used books, chatted with co-workers from the Hennepin County Library, grabbed some lunch, and browsed vendors selling local products.

This year, Lindsay and I visited on the Friday that began the 40th anniversary of the Pride Festival with the Pride Dabbler, the Beer Dabbler’s celebration of both Minnesota’s inclusive community and its burgeoning craft brewing scene. With a theme of “Icons,” each brewery or cidery crafted its own tribute to various advocates of bringing awareness to gender and marriage equality. It was definitely a fun time to be in such an inclusive crowd, with people enjoying the amusingly named beverages such as Gandalf the Grapefruit and the Frida Kahlo Unibrau brewed up by more than fifty breweries  from all over the state. There were so many great brews I would definitely like to try again, including Birches on the Lake’s coffee chocolate stout and boysenberry sour, and 612’s Mary Anne ginger lager. While Lindsay isn’t much of a beer fan herself, there were a few cideries offering some delicious varieties of cider as well, such as Number 12 Cider House’s Black Current.

IMG_20160624_193604Thankfully, local food trucks were on hand as well to peddle enough food to soak up all that beer. The giant pretzels from the Neu Bohemia Foodtruck proved quite popular, and one was enough for both of us to fill up. We found passersby to be quite interested in where it came from! All in all, it was exhilarating to see the diversity of the celebrations; people from all backgrounds walked about the shores of Loring Pond- I was amazed at how expansive the park seemed when filled with people- it never struck me as that huge before, but it became a maze of music, booths, and dancing, even as the evening closed on the first night of the festival. Particularly in today’s political environment, it is great to have such a vibrant celebration of diversity in our city. I’m looking forward to seeing more next summer!

 

German Culture in St. Paul

It has been a busy summer, and spending all my time going on fun adventures with my beloved fellow adventurer, I have neglected updating my blog on all the exciting things we have been up to. Over the next week, I’m hoping to get things up to date and, I hope, not let it slip so much in future.

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This June was a good time to be in St. Paul if you have any interest in Germanic and German-American culture. The descendants of the largest immigrant group in Minnesota history, as well as the Austrians and Swiss, still know how to have a good time, and those interested in learning more about it or just enjoying its vaunted cultural amenities such as beer, pastries, and dour religious art had plenty of opportunity to get a taste. With Minnesota (and the rest of the country) still struggling with anxieties regarding the influx of immigrants from around the world, it is always interesting to note how similar fears and concerns were raised by Americans to groups now comfortably part of the white American mainstream, such as the Germans. The presence of such institutions and festivities show that new cultures can preserve their customs and add to the vibrancy of the region’s social fabric. Within a couple of weeks, you could experience Deutsche Tage at the Germanic-American Institute on Summit Avenue and Germanfest at the historic Schmidt Brewery on West Seventh.

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Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Germanic-American Institute hosted their 2016 Deutsche Tage on the weekend of June 11th and 12th. A free event, it offers crafts, music, and other activities, though you must purchase tokens to obtain the beer and food on offer. On a lovely Saturday afternoon, the Germanic-American Institute was an ideal stroll from home, and, sipping some Paulaner beers and some chewy pretzels with cheese and mustard, we listened to the low, puffing sounds of the Oompah bands while we observed the many varieties of lederhosen donned by celebrating German-Americans. The ornate GAI building was filled with craft activities and more treats, but the real place to be was enjoying the summer weather on the Institute’s lawn. After winning another round of beers by completing a simple scavenger hunt, we went back inside the cool basement Rathskeller of GAI and watched an interesting presentation on home brewing as well.

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Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

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The very next weekend, we went down to the sprawling complex that housed the old Schmidt Brewery, one of the large breweries founded in Minnesota by German immigrants in the nineteenth century for Germanfest. Also free to stroll, here a $7 wristband was required to purchase the alcoholic beverages. Under the inspiring stone walls of the old brewery, all sorts of vendors selling European crafts and genealogical resources. For us, the biggest attraction here was the delicious varieties of food, including delectable vegetarian spaetzle, potato pancakes, more pretzels (of course), and some wonderful parfait with rhubarb and lemon (and plenty of fluffy, rich whipped cream). Of course, there was plenty of beer on tap here, too, this time from Minnesota’s oldest surviving brewery, also founded by German immigrants, New Ulm’s Schell’s. We also attended an interesting lecture on Lutheran identity in German painting presented by a curator from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Some very interesting discussion with a pint of froth beer!

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You should definitely check them out next year!

Northern Spark 2016: Climate Chaos, Climate Rising

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I attended the Northern Spark for the fifth time this year, and it was quite the adventure as always. Checking it out with my sister and aunt as well, it was Lindsay’s first time experiencing this idiosyncratic standard of the Twin Cities summer! Spending a sultry summer night experiencing the many wonders brought to you from the innovative and diverse minds on the streets of Minneapolis has always felt like a magical night to me. Wandering around, there were new and strange wonders to experience everywhere. This year, the majority of the festival centered exclusively in the Mill District, utilizing facilities at the Mill Ruins Park, Mill City Museum, and the Guthrie, so Lindsay and I biked in from St. Paul. As the twilight faded and night arrived, haunting images were projected up on the old grain elevators and factory chimneys and eerie music began to drift up from some undersea dance.

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The glowing sea creatures of the Illuminated Reef. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The theme this year’s Northern Spark was climate change and the future, “Climate Chaos and Climate Rising,” a theme that is continuing on to next summer as well, and if you’ve followed my other blog, Reading Rainstorm, you know this is a topic I find fascinating. Many of the events and exhibits brought a makeshift, tongue in cheek “apocalypse” to the Mill District, fitting in well in the industrial ruins of the former milling capital.

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The flags indicate jars of water and their quality from various bodies of water around the Twin Cities, from Lake Calhoun to a puddle from a dog park. 

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Entrance to the Night Library

Having a couple of librarians with us, we of course started out at the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s interactive performance celebrating the role of libraries in the community. Nestled under the Stone Arch Bridge, the Night Library imagined a post-apocalyptic future swampland in Minneapolis, plagued by mutant mosquitoes and moose, as scavenging librarians hoped to piece together the knowledge of the past to share with the future. A little weird, but a lot of fun!

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The Minnesotan Ice bartering storefront. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Minnesotan Ice concessions stand seemed to come from the same world, a traveling caravan carting potable Minnesotan Ice to the parched lands of the future, allowing festival goers to trade random objects for some object frozen in a block of ice, 2.5% of which were edible. While we didn’t come away with a treat, Lindsay did get a cool

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Treasure from Minnesotan Ice. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

“grandma” card frozen in an ice cube!

Over in the Guthrie, the Nerd vs. Nerd event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, was another festival highlight, in which local scholars present short papers while a local artist interprets them. A good way to sit down for awhile while learning some interesting things. Over in the Mill City Museum, we also got some rest watching the intriguing Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet art form from the island of Java in Indonesia in its traditional all night length. A new story, Bimo Gugah, depicts a hero realizing that various climatic calamities were the result of his country’s poor leadership, the lush show featured guest artists from Indonesia and the rest of the U.S.  

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Late Night in the Mill District. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron.

 

As we paused to listen to the music and watch the screen and behind the scene working of the music and shadow puppets, we noted climatic changes of our own as lightning began to arc across the sky above the Minneapolis skyline, followed by distant thunder. Realizing the night was nearly over, as the rain began to fall, we began pedaling our way back to St. Paul, getting soaked during the journey. The wet bike ride was an exciting end to a fun night!

 

The Cure in St. Paul

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The Cure, from the top of the seats!

So, seminal English post-punk band, The Cure, visited the Twin Cities for the first time in twenty years as part of their North American 2016 tour last Tuesday, packing the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and Lindsay and I were there! Lindsay, a bit of a fan of the ‘80s band, picked up tickets for us and we were excited to be present! Of course, we had to be, I mean, these tickets weren’t exactly cheap, and, of course, The Cure! Growing up, I was a bit ignorant of much of popular music, but over the last few years I’ve been trying to increase my knowledge, so this was a great opportunity to see some giants play.  

This was my first real experience with a huge, arena rock show and it was quite the spectacle. Approaching the Xcel, we found ourselves swamped in a hoard of 40-something Cure fans, all clamoring to get through the metal detectors and into the stadium. Lindsay had gotten us some good seats, at least until the organizers decided to open up more of them, pushing us further away from the stage. Up there in the nosebleeds, it was like, as expressed by Lindsay, we were watching an audience watch a show! The flags of the United States and Canada hung above the space usually set aside for hockey, where instead an eager audience awaited a band from Britain. The Cure were opened by The Midnight Sad, a band from Glasgow, Scotland, whose lead singer bantered with the crowd in his Scottish brogue. After their set, the Cure came on!

Robert Smith, founding member and sole remaining original, performed plenty of Cure classics, for nearly three hours, pausing for an encore every forty-five minutes or so. The production values were quite impressive, rainbow lights and pulsing, themed images projected behind the band members as they went through their numbers. The air became thick and foggy with illicit smokes and the screams of fans who, having imbibed too much, were reliving their misspent youth. Lindsay and I realized that we were on the lower end of the average age bracket of the show. Upon the last encore, we left the Xcel along with a dazed crowd, who dispersed into the quiet, midnight streets of St. Paul, a city which had long since gone to bed.   

Grand Old Days 2016

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The crowd takes over Grand Avenue, St. Paul

Last Sunday, Lindsay introduced me to another new event right there in my new neighborhood, Grand Old Days! The first of the year’s summer street festivals in St. Paul, Grand Old Days, celebrating the neighborhoods adjacent to Grand Avenue, from Dale Street to Fairview Avenue. My first time experiencing this decades old event. While the Open Streets Minneapolis events have been drumming up interest in bringing together local businesses, institutions, and residents together in shutting down major thoroughfares for pedestrian and cyclist exploration of Twin Cities neighborhoods, across the river in St. Paul they have apparently been doing this since the 1970s!  

Although Grand Old Days includes a parade in the morning, Lindsay and I made a casual visit later in the day to check out what was going on this year. We strolled down the entire route, from Dale to Fairview and back, around six miles round trip – encountering crowds of festive people, food trucks, and local organizations along the way. There was plenty of food to keep us going; gourmet chocolate mini-doughnuts, Frio Frio ice lollies, and some of Brasa’s delicious tortilla chips and guacamole. We couldn’t pass up some of Topper’s topperstix, too, of course.

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come get your free plungers! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition to the food and drink, there were many opportunities for people watching. Along the route, we passed many other people out enjoying the beautiful weather, along with various booths for local businesses, non-profits, and assorted eccentric groups It was a bit weird to see some of the political outfits, though, in particular the rather cringe inducing National Coalition for Men harping about just how hard it is to be a man these days what with all of those false rape accusations being filed against us. Well, what can you do? Just laugh openly as you pass ‘em, I guess. The only thing more funny than them was the religious whackos taking advantage of the crowd to stand on the street corner shouting at passersby about hell and the sin of having fun, only to be mocked by a woman yelling down from her balcony. Anyway, it is amazing how many people wear t-shirts proclaiming their love of Minnesota and the various breweries that can be found here!

Speaking of that, for those looking to enjoy some libations, an $8 wristband was required, which also granted access to a series of “entertainment district” venues along the route. Of course, that cost does not include the libations! Some offered fun activities, like hammerschlagen and volunteers from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s interactive mural made from festival goer colored panels. Of course, the centerpiece of the entertainment district  was the variety of musical acts performing throughout the day. At Axl’s Bonfire, Your Dad’s Band was there, performing nostalgic rock covers for those drinking the overpriced drinks. Down the street at Dixies on Grand, the local electronic indie band Solid Gold played a pretty appreciative crowd, with a beach ball being lobbed around.

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Solid Gold plays Grand Old Days! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

There really is nothing more fun, I feel, then to walk carefree down the middle of a busy road. It really lets you get an even closer, more detailed view of the neighborhood.I am looking forward to checking out a few in Minneapolis later in the summer.

Festival of Nations 2016

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The crowd perusing treats at the Festival of Nations

A few weeks ago, Lindsay invited me to experience a venerable Twin Cities event I have never tried before; the Festival of Nations, the oldest multicultural festival in the entire Midwest! Held at the St. Paul RiverCentre, this was definitely a fun thing to do as late spring begins to warm up the streets of downtown St. Paul. Celebrating the role of immigrants in the community, each year focuses on a different aspect of the world cultures. The theme this year was a great one for me to start with considering my interests; Folklore and Fairytales, which are always a fascinating way to get deeper insight into the varied worldviews of nations, and how they are similar as well.  

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A bit of Slovenia (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In the exhibition area, a multitude of countries had storytellers to introduce other people to their famous stories and legends they are known for, such as the various yokai and yurei of Japan, a Mongolian storytelling yurt, and, of course, the krampus of Austria, among many others. In addition, there were plenty of vendors selling the arts and crafts of people from around the world, including some very nice Senegalese pottery, of which Lindsay picked up a pretty blue bowl. As St. Paul continues to be a hub for new immigrants to the US, the festival was a diverse and vibrant taste of global cultures. In most cases literally, as the bulk of the festival (or at least what Lindsay and I were most drawn to) seems to be the treats and delicacies offered by the various participating cultures.

Lindsay and I arrived hungry, and we set upon the first couple of nations represented in the line of venders selling the cultural treats of each national heritage- the Dutch and the Palestinians, where we snacked on some Dutch cheeses, some sort of fig bread, and some cheap Lipton-esque tea, along with a tasty mango drink and a thick, doughy spinach pie. It became apparent that, as much as we would want to, we would not be able to taste every single country represented, it was just too much. Staring down the line of painted facades that served as storefronts for the makeshift restaurants of the festival, I was reminded of the Renaissance festival with their funny 2-D cultural monickers on each booth.

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aebleskiver and a young coconut

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Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Grabbing a whole young coconut from the Cambodian booth, a delicious fry bread from the Native American, wonderful Colombian arepas, a pile of delectable Danish desserts (stroopwafels and aebleskiver), and a Turkish borek (another spinach pastry) we quickly dug into our feast. These were all great, but we were stuffed and there was still half the nations to get through, so we digested and went up to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium to watch some dance performances. We took in the national ethnic dances of the Polish, Egyptian, Tamil, and Czech and Slovak peoples performed by local dance troupes. After we’d watched enough vibrant dancing and colorful traditional garb, we headed back for some Korean dumplings and, sadly, the worst churro we’d ever had. Oh well!   

I would definitely be excited to return next year, and $11 for adults is not too bad a price! The food, of course, is not included with admission, but for the most part was not too expensive, though some were of better value than others.