Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Going Back to the Old Country

My apartment on University Ave

‘The Old Country’ could be a metaphor for tracing one’s roots back to the origins of one’s birth; spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and philosophically as well. Personally for me, it remains those places, people and events that made me who I am today. And even though the physical remnants may be dust or captured only in my memory vault, the emotions tied to those mile markers can never be erased.

Northrup King Building

Norde East is the new ‘West Bank of the Sixties’ with its winners and losers, seekers and soul-lost vagabonds. It is at once a cliché, hallowed artistic ground for some and a drug-etched campground for wilderness bobos (bourgeois bohemians.) It’s a carry-over from the late ‘70’s new establishment which represented a fusion between the bourgeois world of capitalist enterprise and the hippie values of the bohemian counterculture.

The old neighborhood is now a factory for all forms of creativity, from aimless fun to hobby-making to inspirational statements. It has long been a respite from’ the man in the grey-flannel suit’ and the middle-aged cherubs with their everyday ‘pleasant valley Sunday.’

Triangle Bar

SIP Coffee Bar

For me it is like going back to the old country. Now instead of the Triangle Bar, I’ve got the SIP coffeebar. Instead of a schooner of beer, I’ve got my notepad. Instead of slumming sorority chicks giving me the eye, I’m rubbing shoulders with millennials, college part-timers and the assorted middle aged dinosaur thrown in. It’s the third stage of a bohemian migration that has occurred during my lifetime. The same ageless cauldron of creativity settling in on the fringes of civilized white cable society.

The term ‘Bohemian’ was first given to poor artists and poets on the Left Bank in Paris in the 1830’s. Twenty years later the New York Times used it as a dismissive term to describe the bohemian counterculture that had settled into the Greenwich Village area of an expanding New York City. A hundred years later, little has changed.

Those societal edge dwellers of the forties and fifties infiltrated Dinky town for many years before meandering across the river to the historic Cedar Riverside neighborhood. They flourished on the West Bank around the University of Minnesota until economic and cultural forces pushed them over to Lower Town in Saint Paul and North East Minneapolis. Then gentrification and rising rents moved the earthier to Norde East for good.

It’s my home while Sharon is in art class. Realistically there is a lot less dreaming and more doing this time around. I’ve already revisited that idea with two other blogs: ‘Resin to Believe’ and ‘Caskets and Carriages under the Torch.’ Yet to juxtaposition my life back then with the present reveals an interesting evolution of thoughts and dreams revisited, revised and in constant motion.

It was Susan and I back then. It is Sharon and I now. Two very different women running parallel tracks in search of something elusive, vapid and yet fodder for their creative souls. I shared that running track back then and still do today. Reflecting back on that era I realize now that so many of my changes began during that creative bush-whacking period. They continue today. Different woman, same vision quest.

Those parallel tracks still run close together. I was seeking back then. I am still searching today. Yet I realize I’ll probably never find that elusive answer until there is only time for reflection left. Susan was searching back then for her self-identity. Sharon is finding her new creative self and peeling back layers of discovery each time she puts paint to paper.

But once again a hint of change is in the air. New construction crowds alongside rehabbing and remodeling projects to change the dusty, dirty old face of Norde East. Brew pubs present a cleaner face to the corner tavern and condos tower hover over rundown tired relics of the past.

This will probably be my last bastion of edge living where I can go slumming among the creatives. By the time there is another migration to newer creative fields, I’ll probably be on my last bike ride. I skipped past Dinky town, lived the West Bank dream if only in my mind and now slip under the cover of journalistic observation to peruse the new haunts of Norde East.

These creative haunts still speak to me. Not for the mind-expanders or the loose living or the aimless wandering in vapid mindless ways. Instead they speak to me of possibilities, reflections, dreams and hopes for the future.’ It’s a creative cauldron of alphabet soup where a writer can dip his soul-exposed pen and etch out on a plastic screen all his thoughts and dreams and hopes and his own foolish ‘what if’s.’

It’s like going back to the old country if only in my mind. Because that’s where it all began and continues on to this day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Temecula; Art of the Wine

It’s our own version of Napa Valley or Sonoma but without the glitz and glamour of the Bay Area. Rolling green hills, clear blue skies and rolling vineyards blanket the countryside. Temecula, California is located in the southwestern corner of Riverside County. It’s a quick hour ride from Palm Springs and less than sixty miles to San Diego. A rewarding day-long jaunt to take family and friends on even for a teetotaler like myself.

Temecula is best known for its valley wine county and old town Temecula. With a pleasant Mediterranean climate and reasonable prices it’s long been a tourist destination for Palm Springs residents and visitors alike. Only ninety miles southeast of Los Angeles, Temecula is the heart of California’s South Coast wine region. Rolling hills are covered by vineyards and offer expansive views reaching up to 11,000 foot high mountains. The air is swept clean by ocean breezes and the smell of world-class grapes ripening on the vine.

We took some guests there in last fall to tour a winery and educate ourselves on the art of wine-making. For me it was both fascinating and challenging to fake the sips and still be part of the endeavor. We went on a two hour tour and had ten tastings. I lasted for three sips. Sharon and our guests powered through all ten tastings.

On the tour, we saw their two wine crushers named Lucy and Ethel and hung out in their vat area where the wines rest before their journey continues to the bottling plant.

The Dana del Sol Winery is located on a twenty-five acre estate vineyard and boutique winery located on the De Portola Wine Trail. I’m told they’re dedicated to producing a wide selection of varietals with a strong Mediterranean influence. Whatever that means.

There’s a monastery next door with curious architecture and not a monk in sight. I’m not sure which came first; the winery or the monk’s haven but their location is impeccable.

Perusing the vast wine fields all around us, it reminded me of the wineries that blanketed the hillsides throughout Germany and other countries on our ‘Great Rivers of Europe’ river cruise we took several years ago.

Our friends loved touring the winery. It gave both them and Sharon a better insight into wines. I found the business aspect of wine-making interesting and the cheese’s quite tasty. All together it was a fun trip and a great way to spend the day. It won’t change my taste for liquor but it added to Sharon’s arsenal of entertainment and presentation skills. She’s a much better bartender and barista than I am anyway.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Turning Forty

For many folks, turning forty is a mythical milestone. It’s a celebration of life as it has been compiled up to that point. Like turning twenty-one, New Year’s Eve, entering your teen years or reaching retirement, we’ve all been led to believe that the significance is in the ‘arriving’ and not what you’ve done with your life up to that point.

Life advisors and financial gurus like to pontificate that forty should be seen as summiting the halfway point in your life. I would suggest ‘embracing’ is a better word for it. These self-anointed Sooth-Sayers hint that you’re at your pinnacle and it’s all downhill after that. That assumption is about as inane as the one proposed by career counselors who like to advise their lemmings that they must be making the same amount in salary as your age.

My son Brian turned forty this year. My daughter Melanie is three years behind him. In their relatively short time here on earth they’ve both managed to unearth a treasure trove of wonderful experiences, relationships, educational opportunities, travel adventures and between them have brought five incredible human beings into this world. Not to mention their life partners who both seem to balance the quirks and foibles of my own kids.

While this is not unusual for two highly motivated and ambitious individuals it still bares mentioning because it’s an admirable benchmark and it has nothing to do with riches or real estate or status in our society.

I’m usually reticent to give ‘life’ advice to my kids. There isn’t a whole lot that they don’t already know and much that I could learn from them. The only realistic advice I ever got came from a book that’s been around forever and has gone through countless editions. It’s called ‘What Color is your parachute?’ Its premise is quite simple. Find out what you love to do or what your passion is and then do it for the rest of your life. It isn’t a focus on making the most money or accumulating the most toys or material objects. It’s a straight forward analysis of what’s really important in life. As the cliché goes, on one’s death bed, the monthly financials are usually not at the top of one’s list of memories.

Retirement is another one of those much-touted clichés about slowing down and taking time off from life. You’re supposed to savor your past accomplishments and sit around doing little to nothing until the grim reaper comes knocking. Isn’t that what past generations did?

If you’re going to do an assessment of your life I think you should first figure out what your values are. Relationships should be at or near the top of your agenda. Flying solo is never as satisfying as sharing the bumps and stumbles and elevations with someone close to you.

The second step is to adhere to what your guts and instincts tell you to do. Listen to all the advice you can get then go with what you know to be right. There should never be a mention of the limitations of one’s pocketbook or bankroll. In the end, your legacy will be the friends you made, the people you helped and the kind things you did for others. Values before valuation. Kids before cash. Legacy before estate.

Milestones like reaching thirty or fifty or seventy years of age are just mile markers on a road that could detour or end at any time. Go with your gut and do the right thing. In other words, have the courage to do whatever the hell you want to do.

Life is too short for anything else.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Shameful Heritage

The 1959 Gang - Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

I don’t know if it’s a trait peculiar to Minnesotans or if other folks around the country play the same mind game. It’s wrapped up in seemingly innocent innocuous questions upon first meeting someone new. Coy and clever they’re not, probing they are. More on that a bit later.

I have a theory that where we grew up and how says so much about who we’ve become later in life.

Probably more so than the schools attended, degree earned or current mailing address again.  I’ve put a scalpel to that question in past blogs such as ‘In the Company of Old Men’ and ‘The Final Tabulation. Even a trip back in time to ‘Something for Judy’ attempted to pry open the bones of past lives and my formative years.

There was a popular saying after World War One. “Once they’ve been to old Paris, they’ll never go back to the farm again.” Yet deep down I think they were still rural folks despite their exposure to the greater world around them.

Sharon is proud of her rural upbringing and farming heritage. For several years she attended the proverbial one-room school house and had to walk, winter and summer, down a gravel road to get there.

Sharon as a child with her parents

A younger Sharon in a corn field

At a recent luncheon of Cretin High School alumni, I also got the impression that it didn’t really matter if we were raised on the East Side, the West Side or middle-class communities in-between.

Cretin Scrapbook

We all attended Cretin in the late fifties. It wasn’t SPA or St. Thomas but it wasn’t just any old school either. I knew where I fit in back then but that doesn’t matter anymore. Cretin was a special place back then and that’s all that really mattered.

My mother with her parents on the farm

The same can be said of my Mother and her relatives. I always had the distinct impression that my relatives from outstate Minnesota (St. Martin, Melrose and Sterns County) embraced the fact that they were not from the cities. They were proud of their rural heritage and never hesitated to criticize ‘those city folks’ for their lack of understanding of one issue or another.

But not everyone feels the same way about social class and boundaries. Stepping outside of that cloak of unwritten social boundaries has always raised the eyebrows of some folks. Sharon’s mother experienced it in my blog ‘The Girl with Seven Suede Jackets.’ In my novel ‘Love in the A Shau’ the protagonist, Daniel, is confronted by his mother who warns him not to attempt moving outside of his social-economic upbringing. ‘They aren’t our kind of people’ she warns him. Daniel’s mother knows her place as did my mother even though it was a self-imposed boundary.

I’ve thought about a book I’ll probably never write. It would be entitled: ‘Growing up at Randolph and Hamline.”

Randolph & Hamline - Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

The Old Gang - Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

High School Dance - Photo Credit:  Jerry Hoffman

There are literally hundreds of stories out there of young people growing up in my neighborhood in the Fifties. It was solid middle class, religious, traditional and on the cusp of radical change as the loaming clouds of the Sixties formed just over the horizon. We all knew where we came from. It wasn’t Edina or Minnetonka but it wasn’t a poor part of town either.

Now about those seemingly off-the-cuff innocent questions meant to solidify social connections. ‘Where do you live’ is a fair question if you haven’t seen them in the neighborhood. ‘Where did you go to school’ is about as stealthy a question as a well-aimed sniper’s bullet. We all know what you’re getting at there! I think it is basic human nature in all its frailty that tempts us to compare where other folks grew up and where they went to school with our own upbringing. It is foolish and questionable and is never guaranteed to lead to a solid conclusion. But we do it anyway.

Rich people like to believe that pedigree says it all. Just as cash doesn’t equate to class so to being born to the ‘right people’ simply means one had options and opportunities not available to the rest of us. And that’s about it. I don’t think it is uniquely American to assume that those with financial resources are a level above the rest of us. They just think they are. And given their preponderance for divorce, alcoholism, drug-abuse, and infidelity, I’d hardly say those are role models for us to follow.

Cretin class of 1961 - 50th Class Reunion
All of which swings around one hundred and eighty degrees to my Cretin classmates of the class of 1961. Whether we were aware of our social-economic-intellectual ranking was back then I’ll never know. I’m guessing most of us knew it at one level or another. Yet there was that sharing experience of high school with all of its drama, trauma and a plethora of emotions lumped in-between. It was what it was; the good, the bad and the wonderful (of course, unrecognized at the time.)

Yet at this stage of the game it doesn’t matter anymore. Most of us are still around. Other classmates haven’t been so lucky. Most of us would admit to having had a good life and in the end, little else matters. ‘Been there, done that’ or ‘didn’t do that’ is no longer the competing sword of inquiry.

‘Nice to see you again’ is a more honest equation for our lives than anything else.