Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Art Shanty Village

On a gray and gloomy Sunday morning, we toddled over to Medicine Lake to see the Art Shanty village. The brightly colored buildings cheered us up. The spirit of “let’s build a fort” is clearly alive and well, regardless of the electronic devices that clutter our lives, and the idea of gathering the “forts” together into a little community on the ice is brilliant. A spirit of child-like fun pervades the place. But the word “fort” isn’t quite accurate to describe the various buildings set out at random along the east shore of Medicine Lake.

At the center of the community is a Nordic Village Bridge, a project created by the staff of Concordia Language Villages. From the top of the bridge you can look down on the other structures below, though a troll sometimes lurks under the span, jabbing people above with his walking stick. The bridge’s stated purpose is “to challenge visitors' assumptions about what it means to bridge cultures in our global community.” Weddings are held in the vicinity regularly, though I suspect most of them are of the “renewing vows” variety. So if you want to tie the knot, Sami-or Sicilian-style, this is the place to come.

The Sashay Shanty is so full of vintage clothes you can hardly get inside the door.(They hold runway-style fashion shows from bygone eras periodically.) The Dance Shanty is an empty building facing out toward the big lake where people can dance, often jiving to music from headphones provided at the shanty. (Don’t want to upset the neighbors.)

The more contemplative Reflection Shanty is lined with mirrors but open on one end, so you can sit and ogle the beauty of Medicine Lake in “infinite reflection.” The Robo Shanty is a giant tin man that can accommodate up to eight people within its limbs and torso. It’s mounted on runners and can be pushed back and forth across the ice.

The Solar Ark Shanty has a wall tipped at an angle and designed to take in the sun’s rays through tiny slits. If you lay in a hammock and look up you’ll see a marvelous array of glittering lights—I’m sure it’s better when the sun is out.

One shanty, fashioned from an old aluminum streamline trailer, contains a functioning sauna. Another has a letter-press on which the village newspaper, the Shantiquarian, is printed. It gives new shades of meaning to the concept of cold-type printing.

The village has a one-room schoolhouse where lectures are given and a “capitol” building with a Wall of Dreams inside. Among the many dreams posted there on scraps of paper, two that Hilary noticed were “I want to marry James and have three beautiful children” and “NO PUBLIC FUNDING FOR THE STADIUM!”

We wandered the ice for an hour at least, though things had not really gotten started by the time we left. The dance hall remained closed, and just as we were leaving we passed the members of a jug band heading out onto the ice with their instruments.

Though T-shirts and hotdogs were on sale at the Social Shanty, the spirit of the village was largely uncommercial. Most of the shanties hold only a few guests at a time; the acrid smell of smoke from the wood-burning stoves (which I love) drifted by, and everything was pretty casual. A few adults were shooting baskets, others were pedaling ice-bicycles in the shape of fish and foxes back and forth.

Out in the center of the village, near the bridge, an old-fashioned boom box sent music wafting—James Taylor or Swedish fiddling—whenever anyone was willing to pedal the stationary bicycle that powered it.

We took a whirl in an egg-shaped Sit-and-Spin, but skipped the big black Monsters-Under-the Bed Shanty, which you reach through a low-hung sliding door. It looked far too crowded for grown-ups to enter.

Next year we'll come later in the day. I wouldn't want to miss the Beckett play performed on ice skates!

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