Friday, July 29, 2011

On and on and on I drive, When will I know I have finally arrived? So far I've gone, so far to go, It never ends.

Like most Americans who read On the Road or saw Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" at a young age, I romanticize the roadtrip. Its a fundamentally American concept as we discussed in my American Coming of Age Novel course this past semester at University of Edinburgh. For in what other country could you drive for hours on end and see nothing more than pine trees, cornfields, or desert and actually enjoy that? Geography inhibits the roadtrip in most countries, but its about more than just how to travel around a map, its a mentality.

This is where you should start rolling your eyes, but don't worry, I'm not about to discuss the self-discovery one can get as they spend their annual salary just on gas. No, it goes back to an old Nineteenth Century concept, the Manifest Destiny. If seen as a romantic metaphor, Manifest Destiny entailed claiming the land in the West that was rightfully yours. If seen realistically, it was a good excuse for American Indian genocide. I'm going with the former viewpoint here. Ironically, in order to claim our land we must move through it, occasionally putting our mark on it by constructing the largest ball of twine or whatever.
Some of my favorite authors, American or not, have examined this drive (both literal and metaphorical).
As John Steinbeck wrote in his memoir Travels With Charley, in which he attempted to rediscover the America he once wrote about with his dog, Charley, as his companion:

“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unachored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move”
Or as Neil Gaiman, ironically another Englishman like my American Coming of Age Novel professor, asserted in one of my all time favorite novels, American Gods, that roadside attractions are holy places:

"As they passed their first signpost for Mount Rushmore, still several hundred miles away, Wednesday grunted. 'Now that," he said, 'is a holy place.' Shadow had thought Wednesday was asleep. He said, 'I know it used to be sacred to the Indians.' 'It's a holy place," said Wednesday. 'That's the American Way—they need to give people an excuse to come and worship. These days, people can't just go and see a mountain. Thus, Mister Gutzon Borglum's tremendous presidential faces. Once they were carved, permission was granted, and now the people drive out in their multitudes to see something in the flesh that they've already seen on a thousand postcards.'"

Basically, what I'm getting at is, I too have picked up the fervor for the road. There's something about coasting at a consistent 70MPH on roads populated by fields or trees more than people. The static scenery means I inevitably read the billboards I typically ignore. I wait until the radio signal disappears to delve into a mix CD that usually features too much Band of Horses on it. I enjoy the landscape and solitude of the drive itself, but also that race to my destination. I note the gas stations on the way, but hope I don't have to stop so I can get there faster. It's an odd mix of wanting to drive past every town with a ridiculous name in this state to waiting for my exit sign to come up.My exit on Tuesday was Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth is just two hours away from the Twin Cities, yet I hadn't been there since I was fifteen and took a camp-mandated sailing trip on the infamous Lake Superior. Back then, Duluth meant a piece of land where we could finally get off the heaving boat I had been seasick (lakesick?) on all morning. More than six years later, it deserved a second look.

So on Tuesday, I buckled up at 9:30am and planned to reach the city before lunch. I thought I liked pine trees, but after two hours of nothing but them I was eager for a change of scenery. Lake Superior was good enough. We may have 9,999 other lakes in Minnesota, but this is the largest in the state and fourth in the world. It feels like an ocean and can be just as violent as one after it sunk the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. Its also deathly cold and even dripping a toe in the water in July can send shivers up your spine. A true force of nature.
Superior may be an intimidating body of water, but its also a very attractive one. Duluth uses the lake for its famous tourist attraction, Canal Park. A former warehouse district, its been converted to an area of cute cafes and boutiques, but it still has a nod to its origins. The lighthouses (which I will show you in the next post) and this famous lift bridge you've been staring out throughout this post make for a fantastic photo op. [Here's the lift bridge in action.]

As far as I'm concerned, your car and camera are all that matter on a roadtrip.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mr. Sandman Bring Me A Dream

It was another slow weekend in the Malone household, so we found ourselves at the Minnesota Zoo, where evidently they were having a slow weekend as well.
If you remember from my last zoo post, the Minnesota Zoo was the place my Dad took me when I had the stomach flu at age five. That's how much we "love" it.
Once again, I implore you to never have a staring contest with a primate. As penalty for you pointing your large lens at them (a little boy shouted after my dad's gargantuan lens, "Holy Smokers! Mom, look at that guys camera!") they will look you right in the eye. It's highly unnerving, but makes for a better pictures when the Black and White Colobus Monkey tries to intimidate you.

Every animal last Sunday, looked like they needed a healthy dose of caffeine. Too bad that the caribou the coffeehouse chain is named after cannot make lattes with their antlers. These three predators below really needed a double espresso.
My guess is that the Mexican Wolf takes his coffee black with a dash of cinnamon. Bitter and moody, with a dash of unpredictability. After all, one of his canis lupus colleagues jumped the fence a few months ago; prompting a wild wolf chase throughout the zoo that eventually led to a very controversial shooting. The Amur Leopard is a little showy, so I bet he likes a frivolous mocha topped with a mess of whipped cream. His companion did put on a show when we were at the zoo by leaping around his cage. This is the only non-blurry photo I was able to capture, but you can see he's ready to leap.
And I'm sure that the Russian Grizzly Bear is really a big softie at heart, after all, we once saw him playing with a purple ball meant for 5 year olds, so he probably orders an herbal tea.
But I should stop anthropomorphizing here because one (lucky?) Snow Monkey got a taste of the human yuppydom. There are more hipsters babies named Cayden than their frazzled parents can keep track of, so of course some kid's rattle ended up in the exhibit. The Snow Monkey, who I bet has some embarrassingly yuppy name like Sawyer, couldn't figure out why this sickeningly neon strawberry tasted like plastic. Where are the parents?

The Asian Wild Horse parent was around however, galloping around with her rather mangy looking foal. I'm sure its just going through its awkward phase.
The Prairie Dogs never fail to be ridiculous. The pictures are amusing enough on their own, so I won't ruin it for you with running commentary.

I must admit that the Como Zoo was the better zoo visit this summer with even more active animals. The new 3M African Penguin Exhibit (3M? Are they as useful as Scotch Tape?) we were promised was hard to see around the yuppy children. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be a summer back home without a visit.

I promise you there are no more zoos in the Twin Cities, so this is the last the post where I try to project my annoyances on to the animals.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Shore Thing

As the Minnesota heat makes me ponder if I've temporarily relocated to the South, I think back to fonder and cooler times in Chicago a few weeks ago. Lake Michigan was a hop, skip, and literal jump out Emma's window in Hyde Park. Being that Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, it looks and feels more like an ocean than a freshwater body of water. The view is so vast that you can't locate the shoreline in the distance. However, you can see Indiana from Emma's apartment window, which is not a good thing according to Chicagoans. All I knew was that I was mesmerized every time I found myself staring out the window. As far as I'm concerned, the only other place I wanted to be that weekend was on one of those sailboats.

This first set of photos was taken from Emma's rooftop, proving that the view is spectacular anywhere in Chicago.[The Sears Tower shrouded in haze.]

[Why yes, Chicago has its own flag.]

Also in Emma's neighborhood and her whole reason for moving to Hyde Park, The University of Chicago.

The students I saw fit the crazy competitive reputation of the school that I had been promised. While taking the bus from the city center to Hyde Park, I eavesdropped some undergrads debating the new Woody Allen film, "Midnight in Paris." Although I found it to be one of the most delightful films I've seen all summer and a recent best for Allen, this feisty freshman claimed that its references to Hemingway's A Moveable Feast were "too superficial." Furthermore, when we met Emma's friends at the local dive bar, we found a man suddenly at our table saying he had to leave his friends' conversation because they wouldn't stop talking about evolution. Darwin over PBR? It was like I was another realm. However, as you can see, the campus is like something out of a Gothic fairytale. Just being around all of that ivy and stone made me want to rush to J. Crew to buy corduroy and play Frisbee on the quad, two activities I have never done, but seem idyllically collegiate. I may not want to attend University of Chicago, but I could gladly stare at its Harry Potter-esque campus all day long.
This will be my last post from Chicago. Thank you again to Emma for showing me around, introducing me to her friends, and just generally making me feel at home in a city that I've never felt close to before.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Fell in Love Again All Things Go...

These flowers grow in my family's garden back home, but if you take a closer look at the background of this photo you will not see a red house in the St. Paul suburbs, but the Chicago skyline.
What, you don't believe that I escaped the harrowing (only harrowing in terms of staving off boredom) suburbs for a weekend? Here's your proof. Besides my Dad would never let our lawn get that out of control.

Despite how the Sufjan Steven's lyrics to "Chicago" go (referenced in the title of this post), I did not actually drive to the city, but flew down last weekend to visit one of my good friends, Emma, from GW. The story of how I met Emma is one of my favorites. She was my tourguide when I visited GW in the spring of my senior year of high school. Throughout the tour she diverted from the typical "here's the library" chatter to gush about how she was an English literature nerd and I knew right then and there that I wanted to be friends with her. Sadly, we failed to run into each other in my freshman year, but by happenstance we were both at the same Andrew Bird concert in my sophomore year and the rest is history. Even though Emma graduated and I went to Scotland, we've managed to keep in touch through the miracle that is Facebook chat. But as good as we are at online conversation, I knew I was overdue for a real conversation so a visit this summer was in order.

When I got off the plane at Midway airport last Friday, I hadn't seen Emma in over a year and I hadn't been to Chicago in over two. For Emma and me the conversation flowed as easily as all the coffee we used to drink together back in DC. And throughout the weekend I fell in love with Chicago again, as the song says. Emma lives in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood which meant that our many jaunts to downtown took some feats of public transportation. Even if the bus system isn't always reliable, the skyline is always impressive. We may been running off to see some hilarity at Second City (definitely worth a visit if you're ever in town) or check out the new modern wing at the Institute of Art, but I couldn't help but stare at the skyscrapers for a minute or two. You can tell Chicago is a newer (albeit the third largest city in the U.S.) city because of much metal blocks your every view. It is a view in its own right though. Skylines have their own beauty, just as much as mountains.

[Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album cover]
The most surreal moment for me was when we evaded the sticky Saturday weather by going to the beach right in front of the Sears Tower. Surf and skyscraper, an odd yet awe-inspiring combination. Things are also interesting at street level, just check out the Quinceanera in front of the AIC below.

I won't lie, I find downtown Chicago a little overwhelming. Whether its being jostled through the crowds in the Loop or attempting to see every painting in the modern wing of the AIC (I spent nearly 2 hours there), it can be a bit stressful. Thankfully I had a local to help me navigate the best booths at the Taste of Chicago and take the time to point out the landmarks just as she did the first time I met her.

[I hope you had a fun and safe 4th of July. For my part, I saw an adorable parade in Hyde Park where one of the floats got stuck under a bridge.][The AIC lions have the best view.]

But this is just one part of Chicago. In my next post on the city, I'll show you around Hyde Park.