Minnesota Part III: Minneapolis in a Day

When I was in Minnesota last weekend, the 35W Bridge was still standing. I even drove across it last Friday. On Sunday when I took the picture above, if I had pointed my camera in the opposite direction I would have been able to take a picture of it. What a difference a moment can make in the visual, functional, and emotional life of a city and its inhabitants. It is kind of hard to write the final installment of my Minnesota Series without mentioning this terrible event. There are those times when events become defining moments. No doubt the collapse of the bridge will be a defining moment for many Minnesotans. L’Etoile du Nord will still shine, but many Minnesotans will begin to frame memories as having happened “before” or “after”. The following blog post describes the last Sunday before, my last day in Minnesota before…

I began my final morning in Minnesota by having breakfast with two high school friends. Although a little bleary eyed, we had a great time dissecting everything that happened the previous night at our 20-year reunion. After breakfast we all checked out of the hotel and I had about five hours to kill before I needed to be at the airport. Luckily for me there are many pleasant ways to spend a beautiful summer day in Minneapolis. My biggest problem was trying to limit myself.

Not having been in Minneapolis for about three years, I had some new architecture to check up on. I took a quick swing through the warehouse district which has been developing for years but is now starting to really feel like a full-time neighborhood. One of the new anchors on the east end of the district is the new Guthrie Theater building. Perched right on the Mississippi River and designed by Jean Nouvel, the deep blue building nicely complements its 19th century industrial neighbors on both sides of the river. After the failed festival shopping centers of the 1980s along the north side of the river (Riverplace and St. Anthony Main) it is nice to see this kind of draw down on the river. I think the new Guthrie serves a similar function (and has some of the same design edge) as Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern in London. In addition to the bike and walking paths that run in front of the theater along the river, there is a brand new park right next door that strikes the right balance of greenspace and hardscape. At the center of Gold Medal Park (after the flour brand of the same name) is a giant grassy mound that has a spiral path edged in steel that winds up to the top where one gets a view of the neighborhood and the river. The park is already a pleasant place to be, I can only imagine how nice it will be when the trees mature.

Although I would have liked to have taken a more extensive tour downtown to see what was new, I didn’t really have the time. But I did manage to take a drive by the new Pelli-designed Minneapolis Public Library. From what I could see it is a great building. Since I had another destination in mind I skipped a visit the Walker Art Center. Having seen the new Herzog & de Meuron addition three years ago I decided not to make a repeat visit. This decision also meant I missed out on the best free date in town, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the best ice cream in the entire Midwest at Sebastian Joe’s. Having happily gorged myself at Dairy Queen earlier in the weekend, I didn’t feel too deprived—although DQ and Sebastian Joes have nothing in common other than being purveyors of cool, creamy, sweet treats.

My main destination was the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Living in DC and having access to the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn, the Corcoran, the Phillips, the Kreeger, and a host of other art venues, I have a lot of options for viewing fine art. Even against that background I still find the MIA to be one of the most satisfying art museums in the country. Not only does it have a fine collection, but the museum space itself is a pleasure. I was particularly interested to see A Mirror of Nature: Nordic Landscape Painting, 1840-1910. It was fascinating to see these works that would otherwise not be seen in North America or, in many cases, even in Europe outside of Scandinavia. There were some real gems including the Munch painting that heads up my 8/1 posting below. It was also great to see some of my old favorites in the permanent collection that I have seen off and on for the last 30 years.

It was reluctantly that I headed off to MSP to get my flight back to Washington. But even that experience was pleasant. Once you get through security MSP has a lot to offer in the way of food and shopping (Yes, I went to the Dairy Queen again). I was one of the lucky ones whose Northwest Flight did not get cancelled.

After this quick, recent trip to Minnesota, it was awfully strange to see it suddenly the center of media attention. Minnesota is a prosperous state. Minneapolis is a prosperous city. And Minnesotans do the right thing. We understand—or at least used to—the benefits of responsibility and of delayed gratification (all those Lutherans and Catholics). Our industries have been historically and notably philanthropic and our outlook is relentlessly pragmatic. So why on earth did that bridge fall into the river? What priorities have so captured the hearts and minds of the state that something like that can happen? Which tax cuts could have fixed that bridge?

Somerset Maugham and my Addiction to Spreadsheets

Back in 1994, after getting through about 30 pages of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Cakes and Ale, I realized that I had read it before. As a result, I began keeping a log of all of the books that I finished. I had a blank journal where I kept track of the title, author, and the date I finished each book. I loved watching the pages fill up and comparing what I was reading at the moment to what I finished a year earlier. Looking back at the titles on the list conjured up memories about where I was and what my life was like when I read a particular book. I finished Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone on a gorgeous sunny September afternoon in 1997 while lying on the grass in the Place des Vosges in Paris. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto was finished on a frigid January day in Minneapolis while I was on winter break from graduate school. I finished Love in the Time of Cholera while I was lying in a hammock overlooking the Pacific on the island of Kaua’i. These are welcome associations I doubt I would make if it weren’t for the list.

As much as I love this handwritten log, over a decade of entries made it hard to gather information from the list quickly. I had a devil of a time trying to figure out which of Anita Brookner’s many novels I had already read. So I decided to enter all of the data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. And so the mania began. Once the information was entered into a spreadsheet I could instantly sort the list to figure out which of my favorite author’s still have books out there that I haven’t read yet. Sadly, I have already read all of Maugham, Forster, and the late Carol Shields and almost finished Iris Murdoch’s prolific output. Happily, I have a whole lot of Trollope to go and Ward Just, Anita Brookner, Ann Patchett are still alive and writing.

I still keep the handwritten log–there is nothing I like more than adding a title–but now I also add each book to the spreadsheet. In fact, I actually get pleasure from the act of adding data to the spreadsheet. It is busy work that I find deeply satisfying.

Since I started the book spreadsheet I have also created one for every concert and opera that I have been to, one that lists every work of music contained in my 350+ classical CD collection, one that organizes music festivals I want to go to, and even one that indexes all of my favorite recipes by category and tells me which cookbook contains the recipe. Perhaps my magnum opus, is the spreadsheet I created when I was trying to decide which city to move to once I finished my planing degree at Cornell. That spreadsheet has 13 cities and about 22 categories of ratings. Everything from weather, to average airfares to Europe, to the quality of each city’s symphony. Each category was weighted by priority and totalled to give me a city ranking. It was a joy to behold, helped me make my relocation decision, and has proven accurate five years later.

This weekend I plan to create a spreadsheet of all the places I have travelled to.

It’ll be a hoot. You should give it a try.