Sunday, December 4, 2016

Saturday on the Town

Sometimes it's not so bad when a plan falls through.

We'd planned to see the exhibit of Reformation Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. (First time out of Germany in 300 years!) But the more we read about Luther, the less compelling that idea sounded. On the morning we were planning to visit I had trouble securing tickets on the museum website, and we decided to scotch the idea entirely—at least for the time being.

So, an empty Saturday yawned in front of us.

Our first stop was to the Bell Museum of Natural History, which is scheduled to close permanently in a few weeks. (They're moving to a new building on the St. Paul Campus.) Being on campus again brought up a few vague memories, mostly pleasant. The very idea of being a student is pleasant. Hanging out with your friends, reading books, working part-time. (Gee. It sounds a lot like today.)

As we approached the Bell Museum, I was reminded that I took E. Adamson Hoebel's final anthropology class in the auditorium there. For many years that hallowed space was also the venue for the University Film Society, where I first saw Jules and Jim, Pierrot le Fou, Chimes at Midnight, Tree of the Wooden Clogs, L'Avventura, and many other classics in an era when a film screening was the only way you could see a rare or European film. 

We requested the senior rate at the front desk, and then I said, "I used to take little kids on tours through this place. Is that good for an additional discount?"

Both of the women behind the counter were barely out of their teens. "We get quite a few former tour guides through here," one of them said, smiling. "maybe we could come up with something."

"Well, it would be pretty hard to verify," I said. "Anyway, we're happy to chip in."

By a stroke of luck, the Minnesota Ornithological Union was holding their annual Paper Session in the auditorium. We're not members, but the man in the lobby said, "Go on in and listen to a few of the presentations. If you find it worthwhile, pay on your way out."

I looked at the schedule:

Tracking Movement Patterns of Common Terns in the Great Lakes Region
Contaminant Research on Loon's Relating to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Wastewater Stabilization Pond Birding Access Initiative
Owls to Orchids: Magic and Mystery in our Northern Bogs
Genetic Insights into the Evolution of Red-winged Blackbirds
Mapping Change and Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas: Citizen Science and Museum Practice in the Digital Age
Kirtland's Warbler Population Status in the Upper Midwest

I mean, it might be interesting. Or not.

A session had just concluded, but stepping inside the auditorium, I got the impression that most of the seats were already spoken for. We went upstairs to take a look at the famous dioramas, only to find the halls clogged with birders chatting in twos and threes or looking at the booths that had been set up by a variety of ornithological and "outdoor" organizations. 

Among them we spotted an old family friend, Chet Meyers, at a booth for a society dedicated to bringing back the red-headed woodpecker.

"We saw a red-headed woodpecker on the trail up into the hills at Sherburne last summer," I said.

"We've been working to get a nesting pair up there," he said, "and there's also one on the nearby Mahnomen Trail."

The woman behind the table for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden urged me to take one of their newsletters. I declined, telling her that I was very familiar with it, because I had designed it. That idea didn't quite sink in, but little matter. We were soon discussing great horned owls, acorn flour, and buckthorn removal like old friends.

At the Sax-Zim Bog display I asked the man behind the table what he thought of the Trailside Restaurant in Meadowlands.

"It's OK, " he replied, "but I usually go to Wilbert's over in Cotton."

Then I said, "I've never seen a boreal chickadee. Do you have any ideas about where I might get lucky?"

"Sure," he said. Then he grabbed a map of the bog, which extends over many square miles, and proceeded to mark three places that could hardly miss.

The booths were interesting and informative, but the dioramas were better. I have looked at them many times, though I see a lot more now than I did when I was twenty—the wolves, the bear, the caribou, but also the smaller displays with martin and fisher, rough-legged hawk, woodcock, lynx. I looked lovingly at the marshland exhibits that bored me forty years ago, largely because at the time I didn't recognize any of the birds. 

And I looked very fondly at the landscapes rendered in the background to the dioramas because they were not only intrinsically beautiful, nut because I now recognize many of them, having been there, and because winter is approaching and pine woods and gray cliffs and open water are the things many of us will soon be yearning for.

Our next stop was for lunch at Obento-ya, a Japanese bistro on Como Avenue in the Van Cleve neighborhood north of Dinkytown—a neighborhood previously associated in my mind largely with the onion rings at nearby Manning's Bar, and the derelict grain elevator with the word Bunge on top where young urban adventurers injure themselves with some degree of regularity nowadays. 

Then it was off to the St. Paul campus of the university, with a few stops in between: first at Potter's Pasties, which occupies a truly bohemian space in the basement of a convenience store on E. Como, and then at the Sisu cross-country ski and sauna shop on Eustis to look at the back-country skis. (Winter is just around the corner.) 

As we approached the Ag campus we also happened to pass the site of the new Bell Museum, still under construction. But our destination was the Goldstein Gallery, tucked away on the third floor of McNeal Hall. A forty-year design retrospective was supposed to open at 1:30, but at 1:45 the gallery was still dark, and we made our way back to the car. On another day I might have been irritated or disappointed, but looking into the gallery spaces through the window, I could see there wasn't much to the exhibit, and the view from the third floor of the building out across the state fairgrounds was superb.

The sun had come out, and suddenly it didn't seem like such a big deal to hightail it down to the Barnes and Noble in Galleria, at the opposite end of town, to hear Michael Chabon read. 

That B&N has been located on two floors of the same high-class suburban mini-mall for decades, but it recently moved to a different space across the hall on the lower level to become one of three "flagship" Barnes and Noble stores in the country offering a new concept—bookstore plus restaurant; the others are in suburbs of New York City and San Francisco. So the woman on the floor told me.

"We have the advantage in that we've been in business for years, know the stock, and have a well-trained staff. The other two stores are starting from scratch."

She also liked the food in the restaurant. "There's nothing frozen. Everything's made from scratch."

I was surprised to see that far more space in the store's music section was devoted to vinyl LPs than to CDs. There were even two turntables on sale! Was Gibt? Yet the sight of them made me want to hook up my own turntable again.

The revamped store opened just last Tuesday—too early to develop much of a remainder section. But I must say they did well to snag Chabon as their inaugural author. (Don't you think?)

I have never read anything by Chabon, though Hilary is a big fan, and Wonder Boys is one of my favorite movies. He read briefly and then conducted a long Q &A full of humor, insight, humility, charm. Enough, perhaps, to fill a second blog....  

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