I started to really like Minneapolis for the first time in the 25 years that I’d been coming here. I was so glad when we discovered the midtown area to find that there was more to the city than just the Mall of America kind of stuff which included all the boringly same outlying suburbs that were crafted in the same image; not for any particular design advantage but only for the comfort and the conveyance that the sameness brought to its citizens. I was enjoying our walk down Lake St. but still something was nagging at me in an uneasy way. So after a couple of hours of walking through the splendid midtown and uptown districts I had to answer thoughtfully when Sarah asked me if I could live here for a year or two; a question we periodically ping each other with when we are traveling together. After some moments my answer was ‘no’; as the uneasy feeling coalesced into a more solid reason of why not. And the reason why I couldn’t was because the all too inbred gentrified environs were beginning to feel like just another sad tale of a neighborhood fooling itself into thinking that all their pretty little alternatives to the big-box stores had escaped the gravity of consumerism and somehow magically rose to help those privileged few individuals find their way to bootstrap more comfortable and expensive lifestyles. Certainly not much of a stretch for those whose mental models of the world render only those realities that best exclude all those big scary existential challenges.  

And I was conscious of the irony that uptown Minneapolis like so many other progressive urban areas was simply just another derivative of more authentic places like Brooklyn, San Francisco, or Miami. And not necessarily being mindful of that fact in the way that Tommy Hilfiger steals shamelessly from Calvin Kline who in turn steals shamelessly from the British and the Italians (all the meanwhile pretending to be real brands) is not a very useful excuse. The same goes for trends like the celebrity chef restaurant scene, driven from the popular television generated food culture, which has mindlessly replicated itself across the US to no one’s particular advantage. That same arc to deliver new and authentic food experiences has in reality only helped to remind some of us just how boringly the same everything remains in the US.

Everyone out there from McDonalds on up has supposed new stuff on their menu but it’s not really new because the reality is that everyone is still using the same Cisco Food delivered cheap foodstuffs (ever see that truck parked in front of your favorite restaurant?) that they always have; so its mostly just marketing hype and maybe a couple of new spices used to create the illusion that they are plating something differently authentic. On Isle Royale Sarah’s forest mushrooms turned out to be just plain old button mushrooms. Looking one layer deeper and slightly further up the restaurant food chain to the celebrity chef kind of places and one can see how everything further breaks down when flavor fusion and presentation overtake the intrinsic qualities of the food itself. A very easy example of this might be that you can’t make a farm raised fish taste like fresh wild caught Alaskan salmon no matter who is cooking or how they dress it up. And the Japanese buy the best 80% of the Alaskan salmon harvest so you best take another look at the menu next time before you order the fresh wild salmon. Authenticity applies the same way for places too, as originality stemming from real experiences is neither exportable nor replicable.

No, if I had to live in the US then give me a real American city like Detroit – a true place where a makeover couldn’t possibly get any traction; a place so far gone that the only thing left and still stubbornly hanging on is the gravitas of its once glorious past. I would think Detroit is the kind of place to live if one was an artist or writer. Collapse and decay fire the imagination better than the bleatingly self-congratulatory bloated excesses that comes from model loft apartment living outfitted as they are with matching granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances fit amongst purposely quirky shops that all have the same polished wood floors and faux vintage lighting. The poet Rumi once asked ‘How can one be satisfied with so little’? Meaning what it is to sacrifice one’s life for living in comfort and ease.

There has never been a revolution led by fat men so stop and ask yourself; how an artist can lead the way, working with any originality, if that artist is constantly inundated with the cultural noise that both radiates from as well as permeates abundant societies? Cultural noise effectively cancels all other frequencies like those involving creativity and true self-awareness.

But then again, who am I? Back in 1967 my grandfather looked my scrawny 12 year old self up and down after hearing me criticize the country music star Porter Wagner for his bouffant platinum hairdo and sparkly costumed clothes and with great scorn and contempt said, ‘He’s loved by millions. Who are you, you miserable little piss ant’?  

So even now it’s maybe fair to say that because I live so far out in the proverbial cultural wilderness that my opinions should be better kept to myself. But I can’t.

Witnessing contemporary American culture hurts to the point where I sometimes get a head ache; implying I must be overly sensitive and possibly allergic to certain things. For instance I see things like tattoos as a cry for help: ‘Please rescue me. I want to be a self-empowered individual but I don’t know how’. And conversely tattoos on fat people just make me want to laugh. I think, ‘Just lose some weight already. Nothing, not even that screaming flame skull head tattoo of yours could even remotely begin to make you look cool’. Sorry but I am of the mind that people need to get themselves out of any lifestyle that necessitates consuming large quantities of calories.

Unfortunately for me I have rather strong and sometimes mean spirited opinions on other things too. I finally had to flee the US before I either tried to dampen my over-wound cultural sensitivities with multiple self-inflicted icepick wounds to the head or become just another one of those raving lunatics who stand around in a suburban parking lot somewhere screaming at people.

Mexico is a much safer proposition. My friend Pancho says, ‘In Mexico you are free’. And with that freedom comes unasked for responsibilities to oneself and others and of course the obvious correspondingly bad behavior that goes hand in hand with maintaining the activities of large criminal enterprises. As you’ve might have read or seen in the news, bad guys are not mythical; they are real here. And evil exists. (Oh, yes) But thankfully so does good. And good exists in such huge heaping portions that not just does it triumph over evil but it has enough left over to bless the people with an overabundance of kind hearts and smiling faces. In the immortal words of Hegel ‘what is undifferentiated is lifeless’. And the American landscape has become too barren in all its sameness to suit me. Stepping off that soapbox now…

We dropped the canoe, paddles, and large river portage bag off at Eric’s brother’s home Sunday morning at 10 am.; returning also the unused French coffee press that Eric gave us. He wasn’t home so Eric asked us to put it in the backyard which we did. Devon then dropped us and our stuff of at the Springhill Suites in Bloomington where the very nice lady who checked us remembered us from our stay from a month earlier and kindly got us some food from the torn down breakfast bar to snack on while we waited for our room to be cleaned. At 12:30 we threw our stuff into what turned out to be a pretty nice room (#210) with a great view and walked the 2 blocks over to the 28th Ave. lightrail stop, paid the 6 bucks each for day tickets and rode it to the Lake Street/Midtown stop. We walked west on Lake St. in the direction of mid-town. We had carried the tent and sleeping bags along which we donated to the first place we found which turned out to be a community help program. We were both very pleased to have been able to do this as we could think of nothing better that a homeless person might need than a great lightweight sleeping bag that had an integral compression sack.

Inspite of my scathing denunciation of trendy American urban neighborhoods I confess that midtown/uptown did serve to offer up some novel experiences. Part of Lake St. was blocked off where a large party of Somalis were celebrating their country’s independence. They had a small petting zoo that included a small camel (dromedary?) and lots of booths staffed with representatives offering everything from cell phone services to free legal advice. I was puzzled why they didn’t set up until mid-day on a Sunday and why there wasn’t any food. I could understand no booze, they were Muslims afterall, but no food? Luckily the food truck faire (yup) a few blocks further west on Hennepin Ave. fixed that, offering up tons of stuff including some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten as well as some superb local craft beer. Last but not least, my hat’s off to the excellent bookstore, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, also on Hennepin Ave. If you in any way felt included in my less than kind treatment of neighborhoods, please disregard and accept my sincere apologies; the world needs more bookstores like yours. 

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