Sunday, January 27, 2013

Travelogue 483 – January 27
The Moon and Perchance
Part Three – La (Settimana) Terza

I have survived almost a month here, the weeks a passage across stretches of white, passages of restricted sight, passages of restricted movement and sensation. I walk inside layers of heavy fabrics animal, vegetal, and petroleum, and I retreat inside high collars of a variety of coats, staring ahead, collecting condensation on my cheeks, in my lashes. Ice beads there and melts with the next breath. My steps are short and cautious, measuring instinctively for ice. One block and a half to the convenience store. Another block and a half to the nearest coffeehouse. Then another block, crossing wide Washington Avenue, where the icy winds bloweth, to the nearest entry into the city's Skyway.

Function to citizens and oddity to tourists, the Minneapolis Skyway acts like grace for me, the visitor from Africa, by being the conveyance with heat, the carpeted habitrail for Siberian businessmen, tight boundary of protection around Necessity. Work and profit must persist, and so I must merely make it to Third and Third, where I catch the Skyway.

This is vintage Minneapolis, the Skyway, eight miles of protected walkways crossing above the streets of downtown, connecting the second floors of building after building. The first skyway was built in 1962, and the last in 1984. The Skyway is a culture of its own, these second floor pedestrian boulevards lined with cafes, fast food places, and miniature storefronts for the thousands of worker bees released at break and lunch. In between, the Skyways are quiet, the domain of the occasional mumbling homeless person and of pairs of exercising corporate women striding along in running shoes.

Days are victories in deep winter, there is no doubt. I make it through each and count my successes. I feel the skin's stepped adaptation to airs hostile. I'm becoming Minnesotan again.

Temperatures and snow trade duties. Tonight I walk through a couple inches of new snow alongside the Mississippi River. There's a little bistro some twenty minutes walk away that I would like to make a regular stop, but twenty minutes is a lot to be outside in January.

The walk by the river is lonely and silent. Most of the river is covered in ice, sheets of it looking solid as the road, and appearing the weary grey of venerable age, exhibiting long white fissures like pain, like wisdom cutting down to the black water underneath. Under the bridge, and around its supports, the waters endure in dangerous pools.

I walk across the Hennepin bridge, where snow drifts to forlorn effect. The occasional car rumbles slowly by, with a crunch under its tires. The passengers stare blankly from among their clothes, through windows foggy and edged with ice.

A week ago, the same walk is something more perilous, drawn more precisely in ice, something more fascinating. The moon is gaining its weight and momentum back. She is hanging at the apex of the sky tonight, just over Orion's shoulder, somewhere in Taurus. But her light, the light of the stars, comes to us in stark and slow beams, somehow robbed of weight and dimension by the cold. Or maybe it's the tears and ice around my eyes. These are not tears of emotion, but of extreme cold.

That was the coldest day of my winter, so far, the thermometer never topping seven below. And at night, it's dipping back into double digits. I've set myself up for a long walk home through the extreme temperatures. Wes has lent me a huge jacket of his, the Lifesaver I call it, and I am able to withdraw behind the high collar. My breath is channeled back into my face. Ice collects where the condensation attaches to my skin and hair.

I can stand for one moment in the middle of the bridge, gazing down the length of the river, cloaked in its own frozen shell, ice reflecting the moonlight, snow dimly sparking with the moonlight, and I can enjoy the peace so dearly purchased.

The morning was spent in errands, bundled in Wes's jacket, catching the light rail and walking blocks in the bitter cold. I'm logging many miles in it now, and developing a sort of tolerance. At some moments, it seems to me like a privilege, the exposure to this brilliance, the world become something crystalline and sharp-edged, something white and blue and white again.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Travelogue 482 – January 12
The Moon and Perchance
Part Two

I'm becoming accustomed to night. It's winter. Northern people live their winter lives in darkness.

When I get out of the gym, it's dark. I have to stand at the bus stop in single-digit temperatures for ten minutes. The 21 comes along, and we trundle onboard, men and women lost in their clothes, shivering in their seats. The interior lights are dim. The heat hisses. Most passengers stare ahead in a kind of stunned silence. But what conversations do survive to carry above us and circulate with the conditioned air seem staged. They are tinny as radio; they are comic.

One man sits by the window. His body language indicates privacy; he hunches over his phone and holds a hand around the apparatus. But he shouts, and he's clearly talking about something illegal. He's lamenting so-and-so's involvement with the wrong people. 'Know what I'm saying?' And he's inviting his interlocutor up to Minneapolis. 'You know what I'm saying?' He and his interlocutor will do 'that thing'. And then they'll party. 'Know what I'm saying?' He will take good care of his interlocutor. They will go out. But nothing too much. 'I'm not flashy. I'm not flashy,' he insists.

I have the beginnings of a flu, but I decide I have to tough it out. It's Saturday night. Uptown is one long bus ride away. There the bars are packed with sensitive souls. The movie theaters are bursting with rowdies. I have to partake of the weekly ritual of release.

There are some important football games this evening. After a movie, I stop by the bar to take in some of the big game. It's the Packers. Last week, they destroyed Minnesota's team. This week, they will take their own beating at the hands of the Niners. The hour is advanced enough that boys stand in alcohol trances, erupting in sudden emotion. They tease their friends, they grab them. They swing side to side with the grandness of the occasion. It's the Packers!

And why not grab at the epic wherever one can find it? It is legend: remember that night? Remember the Packers in the playoffs in 2013? Remember Aaron Rodgers? As their hairlines recede, these markers will give them purchase on the mountain's precipitous face.

I throw in the towel on the Packers once they are behind by double digits. I venture back into the single-digit night, this night that manages to be young while having gone on and on. I walk to the bus stations where our blessed city fathers have installed heated waiting rooms.

On the way downtown, I watch the neighborhood slip by, amid the roar of the bus engine. Every block has a memory. It has a surprise, too, since years have passed since I lived here. But those are still outnumbered by memories. It has started being late. The several other passengers are weary, subdued. No moon shines on the city. The clouds wouldn't allow it, even if one had risen. But the clouds above still glow, with a yellow light like the moon's, with the millions of our own illuminations.

'Oh, yeah! There's the …,' I'm thinking as I watch out the window. Every block has one of those exclamation points. Through the lens of memory, every corner has a unique personality. I've been away so long that I retain a sense of philosophical irony, the detachment that can see the sentiment and the fact simultaneously. And there isn't much substance under the burden of my myth-making.

Maybe it's the ugly cities, or even more likely, the forgettable cities that are most powerful in their myth-making. They say poetry was originally a mnemonic device. One doesn't need much help identifying neighborhoods in a city like today's New York. But in Minneapolis, (or Addis Ababa), one can be forgiven for being disoriented. (Which stand of corrugated iron is this?) Which snow-encrusted curb is this. Let's see. There's a gas station, a convenience store, and a dingy corner bar. The cars whir by on black ice, headlights on, the driver hidden inside layers of clothing.

The bus wheels through another intersection. We're downtown. Suddenly, I'm looking across the lit chamber of the Espresso Royale where Leeza and I met. It's one flashing glimpse window to window, down the tiled floor and over the bare table tops to the counter. The night's barista, a young man in an apron, is listlessly checking the tables, cloth in hand. One businessman's head and shoulders are brilliantly silhouetted in the laptop screen in front of him. And then it's all gone. It's all gone again.

We're moving through the cold, from cold place to cold place. I leave the bus to its circuit, returning to the night just short of the mythic Hennepin Bridge, green lights on top, four blocks from home. Now it's just walking.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Travelogue 481 – January 9
The Moon and Perchance
Part One

The moon is rising now. It's rising with the sun's first light. It's a crescent moon, the kind that doesn't hide its dark side. The full disc rises in a field of deep cerulean, hanging above the Federal Reserve building and the Carlyle Condos, both buildings a light shade of limestone tan, and complementing moon and dawn perfectly.

The sky is clear, as it has been for days. Winter has abated here in Minnesota, temperatures rising in the cloudless arena of the Upper Mississippi, almost to freezing.

I'm up at six, and I'm on my way to the neighborhood cafe, which, as it happens, was a hangout of mine back in the 90s. This is a place called Moose and Sadie's. It occupies a humble space on the first floor of a venerable old yellow brick warehouse that must be a hundred years old.

I'm staying in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis during this trip to America. It's a beautiful area, beautiful in an historical sense, wide avenues lined with brick history from the heyday of 'Mill City', looking like a bit of Chicago. This district is sometimes called the 'North Loop'.

In Moose and Sadie's early days, twenty years ago, I remember this district as seedy and neglected. The cafe was a little hipster spot, lost among the avenues that have no names, just numbers. But the area has changed, becoming gentrified and cleaned up.

Now it's a place for a disheveled hipster to feel ashamed. The clientele is beautiful: good-looking young parents, yoga instructors, computer guys dressing far too well, and the ageing hipsters who managed to survive themselves and prosper.

Another category of beautiful people here is the developmentally disabled. That's a 90s term – I'm not sure what the correct terminology is these days. I sit next to a scruffy and compact guy with Downs Syndrome. He's unshaven; his hair is mussed in just the right way. His glasses have heavy black frames in perfect anti-style style. He is writing poetry. He celebrates as he writes, pumping his fist when he gets a line just right.

I remember from my days working with the boys that there is an agency around the corner, in the same building, that serves this population of beautiful people with a type of arts therapy.

It's a district that has had its aspirations, beyond those for expensive addresses.

Just a block away is the huge warehouse that once housed the Jeune Lune, a theater company that began as a troupe half in Paris and half in Minneapolis, and eventually permanently invested in their huge space among the numbered avenues, just about the time that Moose and Sadie's opened. Now it's closed, swept away with so many other things in that tumultuous year of 2008. Now it's an … event space. Stage your wedding among the Gothic heights of brick.

I sneak a look at my neighbor's poetry, an unethical act that I cannot help. He writes in a looping script, in blue ballpoint, on curling notebook paper about the glory of plants and flowers. He is in love.

Sun slowly takes control of the skies outside; I'm reminded how slow the dawns and sunsets are in the northern climes. The moon pales among the wash of light. This will be a day of cloudless blue skies over the city. I'm inspired by my friend, and his exultation. There are things worth a pump of the fist over your coffee.