Monday, October 30, 2006

Drive from Madison to Eau Claire, WI

After having lunch at the Bavaria Cafe in Middleton, we started out on Rt. 14 toward Spring Green. It was a rainy, miserable day with temperatures hovering in the mid 30s. Every now and then a little frozen precipitation mixed with the rain, which made us a bit nervous. But we made it safely, thanks to wifie's excellent driving skills, which enabled me to take pictures. I would roll down the window and quickly snap a picture before the rain could soak me.

This town is aptly named. Here's a link to a story about their lutefisk dinner, and this link provides background about a fish kill that happened here in 2001.

This residence has a lovely terraced front yard.

We saw many working farms like this one.

and this one,

along with the Fish Worm, which sells BAIT 'N LIQUOR!

About here Blogger stopped accepting my pictures. So this travelogue will continue another day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Minnesota fun, continued

Continued from my previous post...

The gas station in front of which was parked the pink cadillac.

A little farther down the road I spied another barn.

Next, this old-timey tourist trap.

and this building from another era, now home to the "10 Spot."

When we hit I-94 on our way back to Minneapolis, I glimpsed an opportunity.

And suddenly wondered if I had been transported back to (1) northern Virginia or (2) central Florida.

We went out for dessert Saturday at Baker's after attending "A Prairie Home Companion. Halloween is such a weird holiday - well, it's not a holiday... but, otherwise would this table display make you want to take a pie home?

More Minnesota views

Country people in northern Minnesota obviously have a sense of humor. In case you can't see the detail in this picture, next to the sign saying "Scenic View" stant two wooden figures looking at the lake (titled, "Hooch Lake") which includes a nude manekin sunbathing in a boat. On the right is a row of fake houses.

A few miles down the road in the village of Akeley we came upon a statue of Paul Bunyon, whose statue also appears in nearby Bemidji.

People up here like hot sauce, which must help them stay warm during the long, cold winters.

Like Prairie Bluestem, I love seeing old barns and country structures, in whose weathered forms we can deduce something of the spirit of those who built them.

The cupola on this house makes me think it might have once been a school.

A few miles farther down the road we came upon a most unusual gas station, complete with a pink cadillac parked in front.
See my next post for more...

Land of 10,000 lakes

During our trip from Minneapolis to Bemidji, MN we drove by this Catholic church somewhere on state Rt. 71 whose unusual architecture caught my eye.

This sign at Itasca State Park shows the territory drained by the Mississippi River, which begins its 2,500 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico just 600 feet away.

Nearby we saw the statue of the "Headwaters Caretaker Woman." The sculptor has this to say: "When visiting the headwaters of the Mississippi, one imagines the long journey ahead for the waters to reach the end of the journey those many miles to the south. On the beginning of its journey the river faces all four directions with south the last and final direction of that journey. This is no different than one of my people making an offering to the four directions before starting on a long trip or voyage. It is asking for a safe and pleasant journey."

At the headwaters, this metal sign tells the story of the search for the source of the Mississippi.

Minnesota is known as the "land of 10,000 lakes," and views like this tell us why.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion

Saturday night we attended a live radio broadcast of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

Built in 1910, the Fitzgerald Theater is Saint Paul's oldest surviving theater space. When the Fitzgerald first opened, as the Sam S. Shubert Theater, it was hailed as one of the most beautiful theaters of its day. It was constructed of concrete and steel with a sandstone facade, complete with 16 dressing rooms, a stage that could be raised or lowered by two feet, a built in vacuum-cleaning system and nearly 2,000 electric lights.

The theater eventually languished, and fell into disrepair. Minnesota Public Radio purchased the theater in 1980 and restored it in 1986 for the live radio program A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.

I've listened to the show for 30 years, almost as long as it has been on the radio, but this was the first time I've seen it in person.

It was really funny watching sound effects man Tom Keith create so many realistic sounds, many of them using only his mouth.

We knew we were in for a real treat when Garrison announced that the musical headliner for the evening would be none other than the legendary Taj Mahal.

For his first song, Taj accompanied himself on banjo, his second on the piano and the final song on the electric guitar.

Taj Mahal is not your ordinary bluesman.

Born Henry St. Claire Fredericks in Harlem on May 17, 1942, Taj grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, a jazz pianist/composer/arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother, a gospel-singing schoolteacher from South Carolina, encouraged their children to respect and be proud of their roots. His father had an extensive record collection and a short-wave radio that brought sounds from near and far to Taj’s ears. His parents also started him on classical piano lessons, but after two weeks, he says, "it was already clear I had my own concept of how I wanted to play." The lessons stopped, but Taj didn't.

While attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as an agriculture student in the early 1960s, the musician transformed himself into Taj Mahal, an idea that came to him in a dream. He began playing with the popular U. Mass. party band The Elektras, then left Massachusetts in 1964 for the blues-heavy L.A. club scene. There he formed The Rising Sons with Ry Cooder, Ed Cassidy, Jesse Lee Kinkaid, Gary Marker, and Kevin Kelly.

We also heard two members of the St. Paul Symphony Orchestra, who performed several orignal ragtime numbers, each one preceeded by a poetry reading from Garrison.

Garrison's monologue wasn't about life in fictional Lake Wobegone, but instead took the form of a hilarious, looping story about the upcoming election.

After the show we returned to our motel, stopping on the way for a delicious supper at Baker's, a local restaurant chain known for its wide variety of homemade pies.

The last goodbye

We arrived in Minneapolis about 11 p.m., and after renting our car and driving to the motel, we got to bed about 2 a.m.

Friday afternoon found us at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park near Bemidji, MN, where my wife spread the ashes of her late husband, as he had requested. A heart attack had struck him down in 1999 at age 44.

It was a blustery, cold day, and the first snow of the season had fallen the day before, as you can see from this picture.

We walked the cold 600 feet from the parking lot down to the headwaters, where water from a spring cascades over a line of rocks to begin its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. We learned that it takes a drop of water 90 days to make the trip.

This was the last thing she needed to do for him. She softly whispered, "Godspeed" as the last remains of the physical shell that had housed his spirit began their 2,500 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. They will pass by Memphis, where he died, through Mississippi where he lived much of his life and finally empty into the Gulf of Mexico to join the oceans of the world.

All of our bodies must one day return to the elements from which they were created. Experiences like this remind me that not only are we living on borrowed time, but that we are only borrowing our bodies for a few years from the earth that will eventually reclaim them.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Going up north next week

Oct. 12 wifie and I will fly to Minneapolis.

We'll spend Thursday night near the airport, then drive 4 hours to Moorhead, MN and visit the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center that includes information about the region's Scandinavian roots.

Next, we'll drive 3 hours to Bemidji, MN (also see here) where the Mississippi River begins within Itasca State Park.

There we will spread the ashes of wifie's late husband as he had requested.

The next day we'll drive 6 hours back to St. Paul, where we have tickets to see Garrison Keilor's A Prairie Home Companion.

Sunday we'll drive 4 hours down to Madison, WI where we'll check into the University of Wisconsin for my week-long class in energy utility regulation.

I'm sure wifie will enjoy things to do on the campus and in Madison while I'm learning.

After class is done on Friday, we'll check into our motel in Edgerton, WI. Saturday we'll drive back into Madison to attend the Michael Feldman radio show Whad'Ya Know at Monona Terrace, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. So it'll be a National Public Radio trip.

After the show, we'll make a leisurely drive back to Minneapolis, driving through the countryside to enjoy local scenery, crafts and food. We may even pay a visit to Westby, Wisconsin (also see here) where I played a show with Leroy Van Dyke in May 2000.

We return Sunday night to Music City.

I hope to have stories and pictures to post after our return.