Saint Paul MN
A sporadically updated account of a city and it's stuff
So here I am,
It's lunch time and I'm in the Ginkgo Coffee House on Snelling and Minnehaha.
I've played solo shows here in the past and, between many of us lone guitar-slinger/troubador types, Ginkgo's is "on the map" as one of the better places to play.
As I sit, the salsa wrap stares up at me from beside my tea, and as soon as I'm done with letting you good folk know about this place, their destiny will indeed manifest.
Local radio spills from behind the counter with it's eclectic mix of acoustic and jazz sounds. The baristas groove along, and the patrons relax in an altogether 'lunch time at Ginkgo's" kind of a way.
Ok, I need to eat, so I'll sign off. You should come here. It's good. Heck, I'll even give you directions, just holler.
A Saint Paul Moment
I was in a bank, taking care of bussiness.i handed my driver's licence to the clerk and saw a thin smile I knew well. I awaited some variation on a remark i was all too familiar with; "Patrick O'Brien? Don't tell me - you're Irish.' or something to that effect.
However, the blond blue-eyed 20-something in front of me looked up and said with a smile " Patrick O'Brien? I know how you feel - my name is Bjorn Iverson".
And sometimes indeed, Scandinavian myth and lore did not seem so far away:
One Saturday motning I found myself in a mall needing change, so i hit an early saturday morning popcorn store to break a twenty. I approached the counter, where a long, spotty kid with dark hair made himself busy with a loose array of cookies, candies and popcorn. Rustling sounds came from some back room - the sound of stacking boxes and plastic wrap. I approached the first kid.
"How much are the cookies?" I inquire. The kid stares at the cookies for a second, then turns to the rustling noises;
"Hey Thor, how much for the cookies?"
Thor? Really? C'mon.....really?
Thor did indeed appear from the back room, a lot thinner than I expected, and without any evidence of Sturm, Drang, anvil or hammer, he says "cookies are one seventy three." and returned to stacking boxes.
A little more about St Paul
Walking around downtown st paul is a bit like looking at someone with a really interesting face - someone on a train you just can't figure out " maybe he's a doctor. A sailor maybe? lion tamer?monk?". A face as enigmatic as a ghost and as rooted in the earth as an oak tree.
Walking east on Kellog boulevard, The ultra modern science center- all concrete and polished steel, boasts an imax screen and cutting edge traveling exhibits and overlooks the mighty MIssissippi.
Immediatetly across the street , the St Paul public library stands grand and proud, funded by James J Hill, railroad mogul who made his fortune in the days of the pioneer, and whose mansion is now open to the public on Summit Avenue.
Kellog Boulevard is clean and broad and all together modern, but right below, running along the banks of the river, is Shpehard Road and it's accompanying rail line, leading cargo trains right through town clanging their arrival and chuffing their way westward like steel horses from another time.
That's the kind of juxtaposition that happens a lot in this city; buildings that stand serenely as testament to another time, house ultra modern stores and clubs and restaurants - products of the modern world encased in architecture evoking the roaring '20s.
A dip into the RNC
I was suffering from a bad case of Ballneck - that unfortunate affliction that arises when a beard left neglected tends to curl at the edges, thereby resembling pubic hair.
But Ballneck or not, it was summer in Saint Paul and therefore practically a public violation to be indoors when you could be outside, not to mention that it was the day of the Democratic protest march from the State Capitol to the site of the RNC Convention. This was people-watchin ground zero, so the beard would have to wait.
I gotta admit a weakness here; i'm prone to cynicism, especially at any kind of formally organised event; weddings, funerals, protest marches, so I tried to remain ongaurd and nip any derisory comments in the bud as soon as I felt 'em germinating. It wasn't always easy, and I thought I was doomed right out of the gate when my first encounter was with a clutch of young-hip "where's the revolt?"teen-rebels ; ("I'm not scared of mace - I've been maced before", she said hopefuly.)
They did have the hippest chants, though, so they added a refreshing respite from the old "Wadda we want? - When do we wannit?" routine.
At the gathering point, the State Capitol, police presence was low key, and the atmosphere was calm - hardly anyone saw the armed security on the opposite roof and most of the fun was on the stage where outraged democrats delivered outraged speeches to a crowd of outraged democrats.
"What he said...."
By the time we all got moving, I had seen as much as i could of the interesting banners in the 15,000- strong crowd ( mainstream media estimated 10,000. democrat march organizers said 30, 000. 15's about right).
We started to move and tv cameras were switched on and headed straight for the young anarchists with their flags and bandanas and acne -almost sorta threatening-lookin', and great network news fodder. Ooops! Didn't I say something about cynicicsm? Sorry. I'll be good.
The whole thing went off without a hitch. Police on horseback, police in riot gear and police on bicycles populated every intersection, watching the river of angst-ridden teens, disillusioned voters and seasoned " just-happy-to-represent" democrats followed the designated route through the downtown area .
" 'Scuse me, d'you see a riot come through here?
This is Bob. Bob's a larger than life kinda guy, although Bob doesn't see it like that. Bob is a bit like the city of St Paul itself.
St Paul doesn't meet you off the bus, and smile an exagerrated smile, swingin' it's jazz hands telling you how much you'll love it here, like Times Square or Disneyland. It'll just shake your hand, say hi, and if you find yourself loving the place, great, glad to have you.
Bob is a super- talented chef, bartender and host par excellence. although he'd never tell you. I've been lucky enough to experience all of the above first hand, which is the only way I was going to find out.
Bob likes to do things right, and then make it better. If he wanted to communicate with the dead, he wouldn't get a medium - he'd get a large. When he cooks a tenderloin, it doesn't melt in your mouth, it evaporates.
So when he told me he made the best Martini in the world, I didn't question his ability, but I did wonder at the unadorned boast. So i had to push it a little bit and ask him how he had come to his conclusion.
"Well," he said as we sat on a stoop, watching the neighborhood kids on their bikes, " I've made it in Beijing, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Seattle, London, Paris, New York....", and continued to name every major European and American capital he had worked in "...and every time , the customer has said "that's the best Martini I've ever tasted." I can't argue with that. The content of the boast was staggering, but more memorable was the shrugging delivery - humble to a fault - that just lent weight to the story.
Bob was taught to make the martini by Dick Foehrenbacher, who worked at the Algonquin Hotel, New York City, and was the Martini maker of choice for Dorothy Parker in her venomous heyday.
I've watched Bob prepare the martini, and quite a ritual it was to behold - the tilting of glasses, the igniting of lemon zest - the detail I expect from Bob, and an intrinsic part of the fun, and darned if it wasn't the best martini i'd ever tasted, but like I had to admit to Bob, I'm no connoisseur. What do I know?
What do I know indeed? Well, as a friend of mine defines a good wine with a non chalant " If you like it. it's good.", I'm still left with " It's the best martini I've ever tasted."
Next time you're in St Paul, you won't have to take my word for it.