Category Archives: Minneapolis/St. Paul

A Riverfront Tour in Minneapolis: Where History Flows With the Mississippi

PicMonkey CollageSince the beginning, Minnesota’s lakes and rivers have been the engine of the region’s development and the focus of recreation, not to mention the source of a whole lot of  fish. The Twin Cities, for example, have their roots on the Mississippi River, which has transported timber and grain from the Midwest to markets in the east and powered the four mills of the Pillsbury family, among others, since the early 1800s. That made the riverfront in Minneapolis primarily an industrial area. Interesting, but not particularly scenic.

SONY DSCAll of that is changing as the city rediscovers and redevelops its waterfront. The mills and warehouses have been converted to trendy apartments and condominiums now and that section of the riverfront is part of an expanding Mill Ruins Park. It’s the sight of the Mill City Farmers Market in summer, where you can eat and buy great organic produce under the watchful gaze of some of the world’s great playwrights who look down from the Guthrie Theater next door.

Though the new version of the riverfront is more vibrant, it’s the 18777967 unusual history here that makes it so intriguing. You can revisit the city’s early days in several ways. First, pick up a copy of Mary Relindes Ellis’s novel Bohemian Flats, which is named after the area slightly downriver from the mills which was home to the city’s poorest immigrants, mainly from Germany and eastern Europe (or Bohemia) who are the subject of the story. Set after World War I, the book traces the progress of a German immigrant family who settled in the ramshackle village that grew up along a low point along the river, many of whom worked in the flour mills.

Next, start a riverfront tour at the Mill City Museum, which offers an in-depth look at the flour industry and the early days of Minneapolis. It’s built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. Wander the across the Stone Arch bridge for a terrific view of the river and St. Anthony Falls, which powered the mills and check out the paths and ruins along the water. Grab some grub at the Farmer’s Market and watch the river roll by as you eat.

Book lovers will want to wander down Washington Avenue to explore the Minnesota Center for Book Arts at Open Book. You can view the artistic assembly of the pages, covers, and spines, then peruse the shop at MCBA, which is a reader’s delight of books, gifts, handmade paper, and journals.

Rent one of the green bikes from one of the Nice Ride Minnesota stations near the museum and head downriver for a scenic tour. Make a stop at Izzy’s gourmet ice cream to fuel your trip. You’ll arrive at Bohemian Flats, which is no longer a wild collection of shacks, but rather a lovely park inhabited mainly by University of Minnesota students throwing frisbees. It’s a great pastoral place to enjoy the view of the river, the university campus and, in particular, the futuristic Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum. It makes quite a contrast to the image of the old Bohemian Flats on the cover of Ellis’s novel.

Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis is now a pastoral play area across from the University of Minnesota.
Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis is now a pastoral play area across from the University of Minnesota.
The view from Bohemian Flats is quite a contrast to the site's 19th Century origins with the futuristic Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, atop the river bluff.
The view from Bohemian Flats is quite a contrast to the site’s 19th Century origins with the futuristic Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, atop the river bluff.

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.


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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring!

I was in St. Louis last week where all the trees were in bloom, especially those beautiful Redbuds.  It was beautiful enough to make allergy sufferers ignore their sneezing.

We’re not there yet in Minneapolis, which is what makes the annual “Art in Bloom” event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts so popular.  Gorgeous flowers bloom along side the art, no matter what the weather.

At "Art in Bloom" at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, floral designers create arrangement that mimic or interpret  works for art.
At “Art in Bloom” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, floral designers create arrangement that mimic or interpret works of art.

Great Books for Children on Earth Day

An illustration fron Peter Brown's beautiful children's book "The Curious Garden."
An illustration fron Peter Brown’s beautiful children’s book “The Curious Garden.”

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you know my goal is to encourage people to READ and GO. Literary travel means reading a great book and going where it takes place or to the type of place the book is set, which can be right in your own town. Literary travel allows you to experience both the book and the place in a more intimate way. And, it’s a great way to expose children to the pleasures of reading, giving them more ways to relate to books and their subjects.

Take, for example, the topic of Earth Day. What better way to help kids understand the

Wild Rumpus Book Store in Minneapolis
Wild Rumpus Book Store in Minneapolis
Exiting Wild Rumpus through the child-size purple door.
Exiting Wild Rumpus through the child-size purple door.

concept of caring for the environment than by reading a super-engaging book on the topic and then venturing out on a lit trip to a local park, garden, or community Earth Day event? Listen up grandparents, aunts and uncles and others who seek interesting ways to interact with the children in your life. You should put Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder on your list.

For a few great book suggestions, I stopped by one of the country’s all-time best children’s bookstores, Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis. I have to admit that since my children are grown, I look for just about any excuse to wander into this store, which is full of fun booksellers, live animals, special events, and cozy reading spots, not to mention books, books, books. It’s pretty entertaining just watching children and their families interact with everything in the store. Don’t have kids? Wild Rumpus has a great selection of YA and adult books, and you can still enjoy the animals.

Here are a few of their Earth Day reading suggestions:

 The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Unknown-10Miss Maples’ Seeds by Eliza Wheeler

Unknown-3Celebritrees— Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus






Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney


Jane Austen Mania in Minneapolis

Two hundred years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s work is

Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries, Pride and Prejudice, launched many fans interest in the works of Jane Austen.
Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries, Pride and Prejudice, launched many fans’ interest in the works of Jane Austen.

more popular than ever.  Evidence of that will be on full display this weekend, as Jane Austen fans converge on Minneapolis for the annual meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. You don’t have to be a “Janeite” yourself to be impressed with the excitement that this event inspires in true Austen fans.  For example, when I was at an event in Indiana to promote Off The Beaten Page, a woman who asked me if I planned to attend the JASNA (pronounced like jazzna) meeting in September. The event was news to me so she enthusiastically told me about these annual gatherings which include presentations by world-renowned Austen scholars, breakout discussions about various characters, and the customs of the time.  There are sessions on card games, high tea etiquette, and on the dances of the Regency period. This year University of Wisconsin professor Emily Auerbach will speak on “Pride, Prejudice & Proliferation in Prequels, Sequels, Spin-Offs, Mash-Ups, and other Adaptations and Permutations of Pride and Prejudice.” Capping it all off: the Netherfield Ball, Regency dress not required.

Jane came to Minneapolis earlier this summer when the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis staged a version of Pride and Prejudice with Vincent Kartheiser, a Minnesota guy who is better known as the weasel-y Pete Campbell on Mad Men, playing Darcy. (My review: The real Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, would make mincemeat of out of this wimpy Darcy impostor without mussing his frock coat.)

Lest you think, Janeites are a strictly upper Midwest phenomenon, I must call to your attention other instances of the enduring and obsessive love of Austen worldwide. For example, U.S. singer Kelly Clarkson, caused a huge dustup in England this year when she bought Jane Austen’s ring.  An Austen fan who owns a first edition of Persuasion, Clarkson was stymied when the British government placed an export ban on the gold and turquoise ring, judging it to be a national treasure.  Jane Austen’s House Museum subsequently purchased the ring.

In August, Sony Pictures released Austenland, with Keri Russell who plays a Janeophile on a pilgrimage to find her very own Mr. Darcy at an Austen-themed fantasy resort. Countless other movies and take-offs on all things Austen abound, including Web sites such as The Republic of Pemberly and Bitch In a Bonnet.  Then there are the books including a parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and a couple of more serious non-fiction books that hit the market this year, Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins, and Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom.

The reasons for Austen’s continuing popularity are as varied as the fans themselves.  They read Austen for escape, to find the romance missing in real life, for her great characters, humor, and her analysis of wealth and social class, to name a few. Still, there are those who cannot possibly understand the Austen obsession. For example, Jane is taking her place on the British ten pound note, much to the dismay of literary critic Frances Wilson at London’s Daily Mail.

Jane Austen, with her "great gloopy eyes," is more popular than ever.
Jane Austen, with her “great gloopy eyes,” is more popular than ever.

In his article, “So dull. So over-rated. Jane Austen doesn’t deserve to be on the £10 note,” he says, “Now every time we open our wallets and catch a glimpse of her great gloopy eyes, we can be assured that we are thinking about the same thing she is: money.” He says, “Cash for Jane Austen’s heroines is like calorie-counting for Bridget Jones.”  And, the notes carry an odd inscription for a piece of currency. Says Wilson, “Beneath Austen’s mob cap and buoyant curls festooned on the new note there is a line from Pride And Prejudice: ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’”


Preserving F. Scott Fitzgerald's Birthplace

My book club took a little F. Scott Fitzgerald tour in St. Paul a few weeks ago.  We walked around the neighborhood where he was born and grew up, taking in his various residents and hang-outs and staring as so many Fitzgerald pilgrims do at the house where he was born at 481 Laurel Avenue.  (See my previous post on the St. Paul Fitzgerald tour. We gathered just off the front porch and gazed up like a bunch of tourists and in a few minutes one of the people who live in the building, Richard McDermott, saw us and called us in for a little talk about the building, which was a real treat because he was instrumental in preserving the building. I was sad to see in the Minneapolis Star Tribune an article about him and the fact that he has terminal cancer.  He has done much to preserve Fitzgerald’s heritage in St. Paul and had regaled visitors from around the world, including Azar Nafisi, with stories about the building. Here’s an article about the charming Mr. McDermott