Kayaking Over Minnehaha Falls: Longfellow Would Have Loved This

You know you’re in Minnesota when you find yourself at the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway.  Overlooking the Mississippi River, Minnehaha Park is one  of Minneapolis’s oldest and most popular parks.  Minnehaha Falls, the park’s centerpiece, became a tourist destination after the publication of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” in 1855.

Longfellow never visited the falls in person and there’s not much fact in the poem; the real Hiawatha lived in New England. Nonetheless,

A statue of Hiawatha and Minnehaha ala the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, sits adjacent to Minnehaha Creek.
A statue of Hiawatha and Minnehaha ala the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, sits adjacent to Minnehaha Creek.

“Hiawatha” became America’s most widely read poem of the nineteenth century, spreading the fame of Minnehaha Falls and the uppermost regions of the Mississippi and the “shores of Gitche Gumee by the shining Big Sea waters.”

The falls are on Minnehaha Creek which flows from Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis, through the city and on into the Mississippi River.   By late summer they are often reduced to a trickle. In fact, one year (almost 50 years to the day) President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to view the falls on a visit to Minneapolis, but they were almost bone dry.  In order to create something worth seeing, the city had to open many fire hydrants, upstream and out of sight, to feed water to the creek.”

That’s not the case this year.  June brought the all-time largest rainfall in Minnesota, which created new bodies of water and raised the level of the Great Lakes.  That meant little Minnehaha Falls became a raging torrent and it lured professional kayaker Hunt Jennings to give it a go.  Over the falls he went to the surprise of many bystanders–and he emerged in one piece.

I don’t suggest kayaking over the falls, but if you visit the park, a safer bet would be to try out Sea Salt Eatery for fish tacos and other goodies amidst the beauty of the park.

 

Books Make a Difference Features Off The Beaten Page

Christened "the bookmobile" our RV was ready for a book club trip to Wisconsin.
Christened “the bookmobile” our RV was ready for a book club trip to Wisconsin.

Many thanks to Meagan Frank for her terrific article in the onlinemagazine Books Make a Difference. It’s about my book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways and how travels with my book club (check out the photos of our RV trip) inspired me to write the book. Check it out:  Book Lover Getaways.

The article offers inspiration for anyone in a book club who has been thinking of organizing a book-inspired getaway.  You’ll want to read other articles there, too, about the “positive difference books make in people’s lives.”  So true.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room (With a View) in Morocco

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A Berber family makes this cave in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains their kitchen and living room.  The entry to the adjacent sleeping “room” is in the upper right corner.

The challenge: share your take on the idea of room.

This is certainly different than my typical idea of a room, but when you travel, you see how other people live and adapt to their environment and begin to broaden your definition of,  for example, what constitutes a room.  In this case, a nomadic family of Berbers in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco uses a series of adjoining caves as rooms to suit different purposes.  Here, they cook (notice the ceiling blackened by cooking fires), weave rugs and entertain guests like us with a glass or two of mint tea.  They use other “rooms” for sleeping and for keeping animals.  Later in the season, the family will move their belongings and their flock of sheep to another grazing area.

 

Combat Artists’ View of the D-Day Invasion

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Sea Wall at Utah Beach by U.S. Navy combat artist Mitchell F. Jamieson

If you can’t make it to France to observe the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, you can see it through the eyes of combat artists who were there in an exhibit at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO.

Seventy years ago, on 6 June 1944, the Western Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France, opening a second front against Nazi Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the massive operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies had gained a foot-hold in Normandy, but at an unbelievable cost; more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded. Yet, their efforts opened the way for more than 100,000 soldiers to land and begin the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.

D-Day has been the topic of countless books (See my post on what to read before visiting the Normandy beaches) and movies including The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. It was also the subject of a little-known group of artists, the U.S. Navy combat artists. The paintings of three of them—Mitchell Jamieson, Alexander Russo, and Dwight Shepler—are on display in an exhibit at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, entitled “D-Day Normandy: Operation Overlord.” The paintings are on loan from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

During the war, newsreels and photos dominated coverage of Unknown-4events, but the generals wanted artists to interpret the war, which is quite different from straight-up photography. Painters can vividly depict subjects beyond the range of of the camera lens such as action at night, in foul weather, or action widely scattered over the sea or in the air. They could also omit the confidential technical details a camera might reveal, thus making many interesting subjects unavailable for publication. So, select soldiers from all branches of the military carried pencils, paints, and sable brushes into battle along with their rifles and fought furiously to communicate the experience of war to the public. “I was scared most of the time,” said combat artist Edward Reep in a PBS documentary (and book), They Drew Fire. “But I always put myself in a position where I could be part of the fighting. That was my job.”

The paintings in the National Churchill Museum portray everything from the horrors of the initial landing in which American soldiers literally fought an uphill battle, to the GIs building an artificial harbor on the beach, to the capture of German soldiers. It’s a lasting record of how soldiers lived and died during the invasion, all on exhibit in Fulton.

Why Fulton, Missouri, you may wonder. In 1946 Winston Churchill  left-image-museumdelivered one of the most significant speeches of his long  career at Westminster College in Fulton. (President Harry Truman, a Missouri native, joined him on the platform.) That address, formally entitled, “The Sinews of Peace,” but best known for Churchill’s pronouncement that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent,” marked the beginning of the Cold War.

In the 1960s Westminster College set out to mark what would be the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s visit and to really make something of its connection to the event. The college settled on the the idea of moving a Christopher Wren designed Church from London. St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury, had stood in London since 1677 but was badly damaged during the London Blitz and narrowly escaped demolition. Instead, Westminster College moved the church stone-by-stone to its campus and rebuilt it to Wren’s original specifications.

The National Churchill Museum resides beneath the church. Its displays were recently rebuilt to incorporate the use of technology to better bring to life the story of Winston Churchill and his world. It features permanent and changing exhibits, along with a variety of related activities and was recognized by the United States Congress as America’s permanent tribute to Churchill. So, while former soldiers, private citizens, and dignitaries from Europe and and the U.S. will visit the Normandy beaches and battlefields to mark the anniversary this summer, those who can’t make it to France can see the invasion through the eyes of the combat artists, smack in the middle of the Midwest. The  exhibit runs until July 20.

Weekly Photo Challenge Split-Second Story: The Loneliness of the Rock ‘N Roll Tuba

Rock Box Tuba Player, France
Rock Box Tuba Player, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France

Serendipity is one of the best parts of travel.  We ran into a performance by the street band  Rock Box one night in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France.  You can’t beat their school-boy costumes and the use of a tuba in place of a base guitar isn’t something one sees too often, either.

They appeared on the France Has Talent TV show with great praise from the judges.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this band perform AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” with the bellowing tuba, so here’s your chance:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/split-second-story/

Eating and Wearing Stinky Cheese in France

At the outdoor market in Honfleur, where I purchased the Livarot cheese. Its scent perfumed me and my car for the rest of the day.

Livarot is one of the oldest types of cheese in France and it smells like it—like its been hanging around gaining strength since the 1600s. A specialty of the Normandy region, Livarot is a soft “washed rind” cheese which means it is typically bathed in a wash of salted water which helps break down the curd from the outside, influencing the texture, aroma and flavor of the entire cheese. The “bath” does absolutely nothing to cure the smell.

It may be an urban legend, but I’ve since read that Livarot is banned on public transportation in France. Its earthy aroma  has been described by some as reminiscent of feces or “barnyard.”  I would never have ordered something with that description, but it first came to me on a cheese plate in a restaurant in Honfleur, in Normandy, a small slice, apparently exposed to the air long enough to diminish its signature odor. And it was great.

Good enough to make me want to purchase some at the market the next morning, in the process of packing up a few goodies for our lunch that day— a little french bread, sausage and a bit of the cider for which the region is also famous, and which smells much better than the cheese.

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Melons at the market
Melons at the market

I packed our picnic into my backpack, which stayed locked in our small closed car until lunch time, imparting a zesty Livarot odor to our car, a smell somewhere between stinky feet and a gym bag full of recently used hockey gear.

We were able to eat our picnic in the open air and again the taste of the Livarot seemed wonderfully unrelated to the smell. We couldn’t eat all the cheese, so frugal as I am, I wrapped up the leftover cheese and returned it to my backpack for later consumption.

 

In his wonderful book French Lessons: Adventures in Knife, Fork and Unknown-3Corkscrew, Peter Mayle devotes a whole chapter to the Livarot cheese fair in the town of Livarot, and in particular, the cheese eating competition. The rules: a time limit of 15 minutes during which contestants must eat their way through two whole cheeses, each weighing about two pounds. “Livarot,” he says, “is not a modest cheese. It announces itself to the nose long before it is anywhere near you mouth, with a piercing, almost astringent aroma.”

That may have been the reason why that evening when we checked into our hotel, I noticed that the hotel clerk and other people in the lobby appeared to move away from me or avert their faces. “Madam!”  I realized that I was wearing the Livarot-filled backpack and exuding that aroma wherever I went. Formidable!

Have you ever had a food-related travel incident?  Please tell us.

Spoonbridge and Cherry, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

When I have guests in Minneapolis, one my favorite places to take SONY DSCthem is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, one of the nation’s largest urban sculpture parks. When the Garden opened in 1988, it was immediately heralded by the New York Times as “the finest new outdoor space in the country for displaying sculpture.” There you’ll see Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985–1988), which has become a symbol of the city.

Part of a miniature golf course, with each hole designed by an artist.
Part of a miniature golf course, with each hole designed by an artist.

No matter what you think of contemporary art, it’s hard not to enjoy the setting against the Minneapolis skyline.  The Walker hosts all sorts of great events during the summer including the Rock The Garden concerts, movies in the park, and my favorite, a  miniature golf course with each hole designed by a contemporary artist.

Best of all, I love watching the way people interact with the art, which is after all, the goal. Click on the gallery below for larger images.

 

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Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.

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