Minnesota
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Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minnesota is, apparently, the land of 10,000 lakes. Being on the Canadian border and adjacent to the Dakotas, it is also the land of some pretty miserable weather for a large part of the year. Even in the summertime you’re not safe: a week before I arrived there a man was swept away and killed in his car during a flash flood that wouldn’t be out of place as an attraction in Disneyland.

But, obviously realising that an important visitor was about to hit town, the weather decided to behave itself and was very pleasant. Which is just the way it should be, right? After imposing myself on yet another friend who foolishly offered that “any time you’re passing, just drop by” a couple of years ago, I took the local train on the Hiawatha line (passing through Minnehaha station – excellent!) and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Minneapolis for the day. First stop was the ‘Sculpture Garden’, just to inject a bit of culture into the proceedings. Free to get into (always a winner!), you stroll around all these weird and wonderful creations wondering exactly what mind-altering drugs these people were taking when they sculpted these objects. And even more intriguing: what mind-altering drugs were the people holding the purse strings taking when they agreed to purchase some of these creations. A prime example of this misguided spending is a sculpture called ‘Sagacious Head 6 and Sagacious Head 7’. For your money you get two lumps of rock stood next to each other, neither of which has any even vaguely recognisable features. Fortunately the sculptor has provided an explanation of their work: “Head eats, Head looks, Head hears, Head speaks. Always above or in front of the trunk, the head is first exposed to the unknown. It is responsible for the rest of the body, as a leader for its herd”. Well, that explains it all then!

Other delights include something called ‘Prometheus strangling the vulture 2’ (I’m not sure what happened to the first one), a rabbit jumping over a large bell (being the artist that I am obviously gives me the right to criticise these sculptures!), and the centrepiece of the park, ‘The Spoon’. As its name suggests, this is a large spoon sitting in the middle of a lake, with a cherry on top of it. It is one of the most famous attractions in Minneapolis, and apparently whenever people get married they usually head towards The Spoon to get their wedding pictures taken.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Minnesota
No less strange then the sculpture garden is the art museum next to it, where you can stroll around pretending to understand the meaning of a child’s plastic chair with a box of tissues sitting on it. And downtown Minneapolis is absolutely packed with bronze statues of random people. Apparently the most famous is of Mary Tyler Moore, who is depicted throwing a beret into the air outside a department store. It took me a couple of times walking past it to realise that it wasn’t somebody throwing a deflated football!

And if you’re ever bored with baked potatoes or pizza for lunch, then Minneapolis is the place to be. One local eatery’s daily special is the ‘Baked Potato Pizza’, where they replace the traditional cheese and tomato base with mashed baked potato. Worth trying, if only once!

Downtown Minneapolis is also a strange mixture of modern skyscrapers and European style chateaus that would look more at home nestling between a couple of Alps, and while I was strolling around, some of the natives were demonstrating about something. A lot of the signs were in a bizarre foreign language (possibly Spanish, but up here just as likely to be Swedish or Norwegian) so I have no idea what they were going on about, but they all seemed quite agitated waving their signs around and banging a few drums.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Minnesota

Getting away from the downtown revolution I headed to the ballpark. Or rather I headed to the giant marshmallow that it’s difficult to miss from a twenty mile radius. The only problem with playing baseball in Minneapolis is that you have to play 81 home games during the regular season, which is a bit difficult when you only get three decent days of weather during the year. So to combat this, the Twins play in the Metrodome (not any old Metrodome, but the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome – woo hoo), which they share with the Minnesota Vikings football team. The outside part of the stadium is, as you would expect, fixed, but the roof is ‘floppy’ (as opposed to ‘stiffie’), and is kept up be air pressure. This makes buying tickets interesting, because when the cashier opens the window to collect your cash and give you your tickets, there is a huge blast of wind that pins your tickets to your chest while you’re standing there. Unfortunately the cashiers are used to this so they make sure they keep a firm hold on your money to prevent it blowing back to you.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Minnesota

Inside the dome it’s not too bad, and much better than I thought it would be. Of course both the Twins and the Vikings are complaining loudly that they should each have new purpose-built stadiums given to them at someone else’s expense, and are threatening to throw their toys out of the pram and leave town if they don’t get their way, but that is happening in a lot of cities at the moment. Growing grass inside a large marshmallow is a difficult thing to do so the surface is Astroturf, but considering you’re watching baseball being played on a football field, which is terrible in Oakland, the views aren’t too bad. The seats are very close to the action so hurling abuse at opposing players takes little effort, and if you’re getting bored with the game then you can always keep looking up at the roof trying to work out how it’s kept up, and how many people would die of ‘marshmallow poisoning’ if the thing ever collapsed.

Keeping yourself occupied during the game can be done in two ways: either you can make regular trips to the ‘Beers of the World’ stand or you can play ‘Twingo’. When you arrive at the game you’re given a bingo card with a different code in each square, and each code refers to something that happens after each player comes up to bat (home run, how he was out, spat and grabbed groin area three times – that kind of thing). All the Twingo cards are different, so you have to concentrate on the game and see what happens to each batter. After a couple of innings I had managed to get a few scattered squares crossed off when they announced that all the Twingo prizes for the night had been won. Trade at the ‘Beers of the World’ stand increased after that! All that was left was to experience being hurled out onto the street when leaving the stadium as the force of the air pressure picks you up and carries you out, then time for a couple of pints in a local pub before home to bed.

 


St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul is the ‘other one’ of the twin cities in Minnesota, and is also the state capital. It’s quite a bit smaller that Minneapolis, but does have lots of old and interesting things to look at if you’re spending a day there. First stop on this cultural whirlwind was the Capital Building to see what was going on there. Being a politician sounds like it’s quite a nice life. This year in Minnesota there was a ‘full session’, meaning that they had to turn up for work for a few months at the start of the year but were now done until next year (a ‘short session’, believe it or not, is even shorter), so most of the politicians were away sailing their yachts around their private lakes out in the sunshine somewhere. Although there wasn’t much action going on, the building itself is very impressive. Built around a century ago it is filled with marble, pillars, ornately painted ceilings, bronze statues (of course!), and other works of art. All in all, not a bad place to come to work. The toilets in there could do with a bit of work though, and I can only imagine that the politicians have their own private bogs whenever they need to go – you can’t have the governor deciding important issues of state with a spotty botty!

After snooping around for a while it was time to take a tour of the governor’s mansion. Set in a very poncey part of town, the house was donated years ago by the wealthy family that owned it, and when the governor isn’t there entertaining dignitaries you can wander around it to see how the other half live. The tour was excellent – there is a team of around a dozen sweet old biddies, each telling you about a different part of the house. The previous governor of Minnesota was Jesse Ventura, a former wrestler (it’s not just California that votes for governors based upon the size of their biceps), and while he was in residence he apparently converted a charming 19th century ballroom into a gym! You can also see portraits of past governors, and there is also a display of portraits of their wives, known as the ‘first ladies’. Most of the previous first ladies seemed to be normal enough, but some of them seemed to be very scary. One looked like she had come straight from a Stephen King novel, and another had cauliflower ears and a nose that had been broken so many times she may have been a sparring partner for a series of world champion heavyweight boxers in the days before protective headgear was invented!

In one of the rooms we were told that some of the antiques came fro England a couple of hundred years ago, and the biddy showing us around asked people where they were from. When I said I was from England, that brought an abrupt end to the tour. She started talking to me about how her great grandfather was from England, his name was Mr. Anderson, and he was born in 1910 in London. And had I heard of him? She was trying to trace her ancestry back through the generations and wanted to know if I had any information that might be useful to her. The remainder of our tour group gradually dispersed as she was grilling me for information, then the next group were kept waiting outside while she told me her life story. Apparently her great grandfather was born in Hampton Court Palace, so she thought she might be related to the current royal family. Not completely out of the question, the way they carry on! It’s a good job that I never told her I was named after a castle!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Minnesota

St. Paul is also home to the creator of the Peanuts / Snoopy / Charlie Brown comic strip. The locals are very proud of this, and so occasionally you will see Peanuts characters lining the streets, in people’s gardens, etc. the most innovative of these was outside a veterinary surgery where Snoopy was lying on top of his doghouse in traditional fashion, but he had an IV drip feeding him and a bandage on his head!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Minnesota

St. Johns University is partnering with a team in Wales on an ambitious project to hand-write the complete bible. In one of the art galleries here there is a special exhibition showing the work that has been done so far on this illuminated manuscript. And it’s not just calligraphy that is being done; there are artists that are decorating many of the pages with incredibly detailed drawings and paintings, liberally using gold leaf, and the whole thing looks fantastic. I don’t know which the more impressive feat is – the artwork or finding a group of people in Wales that can write!

If you’re ever eating in a Caribbean restaurant in Minnesota, however unlikely that may be, then you would be well advised to take some vegetables along with you. I ordered some special chicken dish, and along with it came a choice of side orders. Feeling particularly healthy I plumped for what was described in the menu as ‘Mixed Vegetables’. When the food arrived the chicken was on the plate alongside half a stalk of broccoli. The waitress disappeared, I presumed to bring me my mixed vegetables on a separate dish, like they occasionally do in these posh eateries. But no, she had brought everything I was going to get, and my ‘mixed vegetables’ WAS half a stalk of broccoli. I was expecting ‘vegetables’ plural, as offered in the menu, but this wasn’t even ‘vegetable’ single; it was only half a vegetable. A ‘veget’, if you like. Unbelievable! After asking her a few times it appeared that I was stuck with what she had given me, and there were no more vegetables to be found in the entire northern hemisphere. Not even the other half of my stalk of broccoli. That must have been given to some other poor sucker who was taken in with the entire ‘mixed vegetables’ offer. Serves me right for trying to be healthy, next time I’ll ask for fries, and hope I get more than one!

Other weird things I discovered while in Minnesota is that there is a combined astronaut & bicycle museum on the way to Wisconsin (I really wish I had stopped to see what on earth was in there), and that there are two politicians currently running for some kind of office with excellent comedy names; one is called ‘Kinky Friedman’ and the other is called ‘Cabbagestalk’. I can just picture people walking around with ‘Vote Kinky’ t-shirts. And where was Mr. Cabbagestalk when I needed him at the Caribbean restaurant?

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