I’m now publishing this to a new location: http://www.nocturnalperambulations.com. For anyone interested, look for new (frequent) posts there.
What’s really interesting about returning from London, Oxford, San Francisco, Paris, Florence, is that Minneapolis/St. Paul looks less like home, more like a city or two to get to know.
A year ago I thought I knew the character of the Twin Cities I grew up in, so well that I could say I favor St. Paul to Minneapolis with a certain sneer that suggested I really knew it so well, so deeply, that it was my place to say. Or admit that, really, Minneapolis was the city that mattered out here, though upon reflection, neither could make it without the other.
But really what did I know?
I knew a period of maybe ten lucid years where a person really observes the place they live in, having crawled out of the depths of infantile acceptance and ignorance of one’s surroundings. I knew a romanticized dual-core metropolis looked back upon longingly from a three hour drive to the middle of nowhere, that morbidly made me call itself home. I knew we were forward-looking people, us proud residents of the Twin Cities, with our light rail transit, museums, theatre, art, social programs. But what of our past?
That is a question I had to start really asking, when I became consumed, obsessed even (ask those who were around me at the time) with the histories, both broad and intimate, of the grand urban centers I mentioned in the first line. These are characters that go back famously for hundreds of years in some cases — to London’s Roman origins, Oxford’s ancient educational pedigree, San Francisco’s great fire that 100 years ago Katrina’d a city that even then was grand enough for people to bitterly mourn the loss of, and celebrate the subsequent rebirth of.
And what was the character, the zeitgeist of Minneapolis and St. Paul, 50, 100 years ago? One hundred and fifty years ago I could imagine – just look at the river bluffs, even to this day. Just look at Fort Snelling. At Minnehaha Falls. The pioneer days are easy to imagine. But what about the 1920s? There were mobsters, as most locals are aware of, but what of the rest of the citizens? What, even more curiously, of the 1950s? The 1950s, when Minneapolis’ population was over half a million (to today’s roughly 380,000), when that same city was called by some the nation’s capital of anti-Semitism, when the horrendously-ugly Minneapolis Central Library, now replaced by a finer structure, was first built?
What of St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, incorporated into the city only in the 1920s, scene in the 1960s of a lawyer’s brutal murder of his homemaker wife (the famous T. Eugene Thompson case that once enthralled the public and the then-four major papers)? What of Macalester College, bohemian scene it is today, 50 years ago? What of all those freezing Catholics, in the days before the Minnesota Twins, Garrison Keillor, Dylan, Mary Tyler Moore? What of those metropolitans in the days of Charles Lindberg (a notorious anti-Semite in his own right)?
Well, somewhere in the old mill ruins by the river (now a fine city park and museum site), in the cornerstone time capsules unearthed in the old Minneapolis Central Library, in the Star Tribune’s reprinting of now-humorous historic headlines, in the occasional glimpse into a life now passed, much more forgotten than the pasts of those famous cities, London, Paris, et al. — somewhere, in all that, perhaps I’ll start to piece together an idea of what these Twin Cities were before they got their current flavor. Stripping away all they’ve gained in the last fifty years makes the idea of 1950s Minneapolis seem pretty bland. Perhaps it was. But somewhere between those sibling rivals, Minneapolis, St. Paul, I suspect there is a mystery or two worth uncovering.
Once uncovered, maybe I can even begin (just begin) to imagine what made the Cities I called home and took it for granted I knew… what made their freezing citizens tick, when television was just a vision and radio brought the news from London and Paris.
One thing that almost everyone seems to love is music. It’s pretty surprising to hear someone say they don’t like music, though I have encountered such unusual people on rare occassions. Of course, for some people, music is a great passion and plays a central role in life, and for others, it’s something to bob your head to, to dance to, to get stuck in your head for a while and then be forgotten completely. I think for nearly everyone though, there are songs, artists, and albums that define certain periods or moments in their life. It’s an art form and medium of entertainment that’s more directly connected to people emotionally than nearly anything else.
Personally, nothing defines me musically more than The Beatles, Elliott Smith, and Wilco. Of course, Hank Williams, Sr., Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Pavement, and dozens and dozens others, are close friends in the (metaphorical) social network of my life, but the former three are my nuclear family. That’s not to say I identify because I drop acid like Lennon, suffer from horrifying childhood memories like Mr. Smith, or suffer the kind of migraines that certainly must have inspired Jeff Tweedy to put ten minutes of (very beautiful, of course…) static at the end of “Less Than You Think”. Rather, it’s through their music, and only mediately with them, that I feel this familial bond. Those musicians may be my musical family, but the music itself is my blood.
So, what album am I, what album are you? I’ve always been more White Album than Sgt. Pepper, more A Ghost Is Born than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (though I love them all). I imagine some people out there must listen to Notorious B.I.G. and feel, “Yes, that’s me, that’s my album.” Or, “John Denver, yeah, man, that’s me.” It doesn’t really mean they’re all about what Biggie was out, or John Denver. You don’t need Puffy (P. Diddy, sorry), by your side to connect with that kind of music, I’m sure. And you don’t need to live out in the woods to connect with Denver’s. Our musical preferences represent a more fantastical and imaginative element of who we are. It’s who we are at some extreme of passion, like a formal version of ourselves, freed from the constraints of our current lives. In this other world, the difficulties may be even worse, but we deal with them in a carefree way, or respond more passionately than we ever could in real life, or are able to take it out on a guitar (or violin or theremin) instead of quietly facing it.
How many times have you listened to a song for the first, or fiftieth, time, and thought “What they’re singing is exactly true,” or even, “the sound of that instrument contains more truth about life than words can ever speak”? It’s powerful stuff.
As Jeff Tweedy sings in “Jesus, etc.”,
“You can rely on me honey,
You can come by any time you want,
I’ll be around,
You were right about the stars,
Each one is a setting sun.”
Even if each star is a setting sun, it’s good to know the likes of Jeff Tweedy will always be there in musical form, waiting to be visited.
In the last five days, I have read Great Expectations and Hard Times (both by Charles Dickens), and written an 11 page paper on them. In the Life of Michael Rhodes, by Michael Rhodes, Michael, sometimes known as Mike, decides after spending a great deal of time reading and writing about Charles Dickens (great English novelist of the 19th century), that he must find some relief before sleeping. Having a tutorial at 9 am, and finding himself done with his paper at 3 am, he feels pressed for time. It is for this reason that he chooses the medium of the weblog to escape from the mundain business of school — an activity all readers can relate to, and which makes the subject of this novel truly an everyman. Indeed, Rhodes’ use of the everyman technique to illustrate the drivel written by the average college freshman reflects the strain of intellectual thought most dominant in the day, a sort of historical scholarship with an abandon for out-of-the-way-of-autobiographical-interpretation methods of interpretation and analysis of works by authors whose lives are reflected in the novels they write about themselves, and whose biographers write about them as well, though not in novel form, for the autobiographer has already done that. So Rhodes chooses this ‘realistic’ style of writing to convey his frustration with the general ineptitude of the night to last longer than the hours required for a human being (animal; descended from apes; very dexterous with hands, through help of opposable thumb) to achieve a satisfactory amount of rest for their recovery of indebted energy, minus the number of hours required to complete said paper. This symbolizes his inability to connect with his fellow high-school-junior-level paper writers, who write not as relief from actual paper writing, but write in their unaffected style, in earnest.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Ophelia, get thee to a nunnery!
I will be updating soon, I promise. The new term has started, so life is hectic again. Anyone still out there?
The fire is burning, blue at the heart and orange-yellow at the top of the raspy flames. The rocks and cage are turning red like a furnace. Light blue jeans hang from a rack in front of the fire, as well as still-dirty socks and another item, hanging from a clothes-hanger on the clothes rack. Probably the jeans are still a little damp from the washing machine.
They got very dirty yesterday, mud up to the knees. It looked like the person wearing them had been walking in mud knee-deep, but really it was mostly from dirty water shot up at them while biking. Behind a couch to the right there is still a pair of very dirty running shoes, also worn that day. Unlike the jeans, their muddiness is owing almost entirely to really stepping in deep, marshy mud.
The jeans, on the other hand, are looking surprisingly fresh and clean. The washing machine worked wonders on them, but the socks weren’t so lucky.
To the left is a lamp, and a depleted cup of tea (chamomile — only because it’s late and it doesn’t have caffeine). To balance that out, to the right is a 2L bottle of Sainsbury’s Caledonian Still water (the cheapest you can get).
The overall effect is a warm room, and sufficient hydration. Perfect conditions for writing.
So, here’s what I’ve got: “All you need is love, peace, happiness.” The kind of thought that seems deep when you’re zoning out but not scratching below the surface. The kind of revelation that collapses in upon itself, a reference unto itself. The room is warm but fatigue both creates and masks the inability to have ruminous thoughts worthy of ravinous readers.
Had a good sandwich thing today. More details later.
So, I was thinking back to the days of reading Canterbury Tales, and remembered there was definitely a student from Oxford in one of them. Oh yeah, it’s the most bawdy of them all, the Miller’s Tale (sorry, Reeve’s Tale). It begins,
“Whilom ther was dwellynge at Oxenford
A riche gnof, that gestes heeld to bord,
And of his craft he was a carpenter.
With hym ther was dwellynge a poure scoler…”
In other words, there’s a rich carpenter living in Oxford, he’s a jerk, and there’s a poor (Oxford) student living with him. It turns out that this student, Nicholas, has decided to flirt and play with this old carpenter’s young wife, Alison, while he’s away. Long story short, they copulate.
I got curious just where the carpenter (John) had gone off to, and it turns out he had made a journey to the nearby very powerful monastery, Oseney Abbey (in modern day Osney Town, Oxford). Osney Town is on my way home from Oxford’s city center, and the ruins of the abbey (900 years old, but now barely existent) are nearby. Basically, the carpenter could have rushed home and found them in about 10 minutes, anywhere in Oxford’s city walls. Silly kids.
Naturally, I decided I have to see the ruins. This lead to much frustration and confusion. It is nearly impossible to find out any information about Oseney Abbey, except that it was very powerful, owned a lot of land, and its bell now sits in Christ Church’s Tom Tower (and thus I hear it all the time from the library and on the way to the dining hall).
But where exactly are the ruins? Well, somewhere on the short Mill Street, apparently, but only one website told me that, and nowhere says more specifically. Okay, so England’s third most powerful monestary (at one point) now deserves no more than a few offhand mentions in various historical blurbs?
Oxford is an incredible place. Not many places can afford to forget a church that Chaucer apparently thought was worth incorporating into what would become his most famous tale. I will report back on my efforts to find (and photograph?) whatever ruins I can find. For now, I’ve got this picture (at the top of this post) of the ruins, taken in the 19th century.
Oh, and there are these incredible woods (Wytham Wood, pictured above) that Oxford University owns out north-east of the wild horses. It’s a six mile walk out into the countryside, but that doesn’t sound so bad at all.
I checked out this field today, that apparently has wild horses. Strange to think it’s only a 20 minute walk from my flat. I’m also done with Hilary term, and now have a healthy break before I start tutorials again (don’t be too jealous, I have plenty of reading to do over it). There will be traveling, yes, but more importantly, there will be excursions to random fields.
As for the content of future entries, I’ll be taking requests (please do not yell, “Freebird!”). You have to give the stalkers what they want.
Another instant message exchange, this time more recent:
M: It’s so great how Jeff Buckley sings about how “sometimes a man” this and that on [“Lover, You Should Have Come Over”], by no means implying a sexist idea of what a man should be, but rather one that reveals its [his] weaknesses to the woman he is concerned with.
L: Right, so true. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think invocation of gender can sometimes be an extremely powerful way of illuminating one’s insecurities, vulnerabilities or weaknesses.
Another thought: I’ve had an interesting year. There has been nearly no repetition, no returning, everything has been a new experience. But I’m fairly certain that if someone described a similar year to me that they’d had, or if I described it to someone else, it would pass through the other’s ears without a great impact. It’s sort of hard to conceptualize the trials, experiences, and growths other people go through. Unless, of course, they write or sing songs like Jeff Buckley. That’s the half a bridge that’s so hard to cross.
We present here a historical document of profound importance. It dates from the first week of January, 2003, a time when the young men were still entrenched in the thorough procrastination of the latter secondary school years. The fragment of the electronic exchange begins:
L: how do I play C/B and C/A?
M: 030010, C/A i don’t know off hand
This cryptic code makes little sense to the reader uninitiated in the parlance of that most particular of acoustical instruments, the guitar. The mentioned “C/B and C/A” would sound a descent from the radiant C major chord, as its bass drops to the depths of an awaiting A minor, C major’s morose cousin.
It is not clear if “L” has previously initiated the conversation with more standard formalities and this is an incomplete fragment of the dialogue, or if the “in media res” effect was present in the original interaction. The next lines indicate that “L” may well have recently arrived, perhaps previously fully occupying himself with his musicianship:
L: was trying to play rebecca deville
L: quite unsuccessfully I might add
“L”‘s self-deprecating attitude is clear both from his undercutting statement with regard to his playing ability and, perhaps, his very choice of songs. “Rebecca Deville,” a traditional ballad style narrative by M. Jennings, is a tale of despair and lost love. Perhaps “L”‘s unrequited love for “M” or some other unmentioned object of amorous feelings is implied by the choice of songs. How, indeed, as “L” asks, does one play “C/B and C/A”?
That is, how does one express the slow descent from elation to melancholia and despair that is the nature of any lost love? “M”‘s technical, even scientific, response, “030010,” reveals his mild cold-heartedness, but perhaps also his ignorance of the despair that surrounds him. Indeed, he has never even experienced the depths of “C/A,” a bass line that has descended too low from jubilant C major for him to even understand without consulting an outside reference.
“M” responds with muted interest,
Will “L” further ruminate upon his day? Undoubtedly. But that will be the subject of another volume.