Saturday, November 8, 2014


November 4,
Next stop Minneapolis. After over a week of cheapo motels with translucent sheets and polyester plush blankets I score a miraculous same day deal at the Hyatt Regency, ifor an enormous suite no less. One thing about staying in barebones roadside hostelries is that there is genuine motivation not to hangout in the room. Alas, the quality linens and gorgeous towels are a trap. We are less voracious in Minneapolis than we've been in other places. There's a dinner in a huge British style pub where I have a good cider and himself samples the local brews. It is mostly business guys watching a football game on giant TVs. One of the few ladies in the joint orders a Corona.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art is gigantic, wreaking of old money. The huge collection takes up most of the day. There are a number of wonderfully done “period rooms” which incorporate art, household items and furnishings from a number of different eras. I am particularly fascinated by one called “The Curator's Office.” The first director of the institute, the bookish Barton Kestle boarded a train bound to Washington D.C. and was never seen or heard from again. During some remodeling in 2011 his office, which had apparently been inadvertently boarded over, is discovered, completely intact. There's an old typewriter, cameras and other relics of what the 1950's office of an artsy individual would contain. I totally buy it and am captivated by the story. Curious about this mysterious disappearance I poke around online and discover that this period room, including the back story, was created by artist Mark Dion. The museum has taken on the theme, per Stephen Colbert, of “truthiness.” I am embarrassed yet exhilarated to have been so hoodwinked.

We dine at the very nice Sea Change Restaurant at the Guthrie Center. I want to see the Stone Arch Bridge but we are advised by our server that it is mighty cold to walk near the river. An alternative she suggests is to use the elevators in the Guthrie Center for an excellent view and the enclosed “Endless Bridge.” There is no performance at the Guthrie this night but there are some kids waiting to be picked up. We are admitted and ride up in the elevator. A security man stops us and tries to kick us out. I whine a bit and we are allowed sixty seconds to view the bridge. Himself is surprised at how fast I am able to run.

Some Johnston College alumni live near by and we stop by and have a chat. I am always pleased by how many JC alums dedicate themselves to service. We met Hetel at the Durrell Conference over the summer. She's an attorney working in fair housing and helping homeowners avoid foreclosure. Her husband Kevin is a community organizer, also working with the impoverished.

November 5
We set out for Chicago passing through Wisconsin. Warrens is the state's cranberry center. All of the cranberry related tourism is closed for the season but we drive around the bogs. A gas station offers a big jar of cranberries macerated in moonshine. I ask the clerk how one would use this. The gal says she has no idea and that she doesn't like cranberries. Although I'm still intrigued, I pass on the concoction.

The next stop is Wisconsin Dells, which is sort of like Big Bear on steroids. Enormous, garish tourist attractions surround the dells of the Wisconsin River. Most of the town is shut down for the season but we find a giant moose themed brew pub. Again, we enjoy excellent libations. The barkeep expounds articulately and passionately about the different brews made on the premises. His two customers at the bar order Coors Light.

November 6
We are invited to stay in Glencoe with the parent's of one of Joe College's friends from Johnston, Sara and Chris. They are incredibly gracious, although we've shown up at an inconvenient time. Both have just returned from New York and a few days ago Sara made an emergency trip to Israel where one of her friends was gravely injured while on a bike tour. Chris leaves Chicago again the next morning but Sara takes the time to give us an incredibly erudite driving tour of the city which we are thankful for because it is pretty friggin' cold. She drops us to spend a day at The Institute of Art. We barely make a dent. I have my first in person encounter with “Nighthawks” and am impressed by the extensiveness of the impressionist collection. There is a special multimedia exhibit “The American City Lost and Found: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles 1950-1980. It's an objective look at urban unrest and renewal. There are a series of some Helen Leavitt color portraits from early 1970's New York that are particularly breathtaking.

We return to Glencoe and attend the play Isaac's Eye at a community theater group. Chris and Sara are very dedicated the theater group. A gorgeous new theater is being constructed and until it's completion, performances are being held in the back of the homey bookstore from which the theater group emanated over twenty years ago.
November 7
I make a wrong turn and we end up touring The Loop in bumper to bumper traffic on our way out of town. Gary Indiana looks grim and we skip the Michael Jackson birthplace attraction. Our first stop is in Elkhart Indiana, known as the RV capital of the world. Our destination of the Midwest Museum of American Art. The museum occupies a 1920's bank building which has been refitted rather modestly. The collection is small but sort of mind blowing for a town that is known primarily for recreational vehicles. Represented are Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell, Reginald Marsh, Grandma Moses, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Helen Frankenthaler.

There is also a large collection of the Indiana manufactured Arts & Crafts style Overbeck pottery. The firm was run by three sisters and their work was celebrated at the Chicago Worlds Fair. There are some gorgeous large William Morris inspired pieces but also some small whimsical pastel toned miniatures that convey a charming and feminine sensibility.

Our eating proclivities, outside of major cities, relegates us mostly to vegetarian pizza, In Elkhart however this is accompanied by some outstanding beer and cider and an amazing homemade pretzel in a convivial brewpub. From here, we venture to Amish country. There are many horse-drawn buggies on route to a supermarket known as the Amish Costco. After having sample Amish provisions at the Reading Market in Philadelphia, I have come to associate Amish cuisine with a homespun, healthful heartiness. The market does carry a number of wholesome Amish products but the bonneted ladies and bearded gents were filling their carts with soda (called “pop” here), Top Ramen and frozen pizzas.

The final stop is with some friends recently moved from Silver Lake to Grand Rapids. They've purchased an enormous historic house and turned it into a lovely and comfortable home. I write this sitting next to a gorgeous tile fireplace. I am intimidated by the number of rooms and am nervous about opening the wrong door but we are given a lovely guest room and enjoy a restful night. Ike, the Wheaton terrier I was friends with back in Silver Lake has made the transition beautifully and stretches out languidly in a warm spot near his people.

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