Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Stiff Upper Lip, Stout Fella, Keep Muddling Through"

Early tomorrow afternoon we will depart for the airport, and we will not return until late in the afternoon on August 19.

Yesterday’s visit to the Weisman Art Museum and the Walker Art Center were unremarkable. We did not spend a lot of time in either museum—we did little more than make a quick walk-through of each institution—and my sister was not particularly impressed with the art we viewed.

I have never especially cared for either museum, but Tuesday’s visit was only my second occasion to examine these collections. I have not made repeated and lengthy visits to these museums. A more intensive examination of their holdings must await the future.

Andrew and I took my sister to the museums by ourselves. Andrew’s mother and Andrew’s brother have been to the Weisman and the Walker so many times that they did not want to devote an entire day to seeing the collections for the umpteenth time. I can understand that.

The Weisman occupies a Frank Gehry structure. It looks like all Frank Gehry structures. I wonder what future generations will make of his monstrosities.

The Walker was voted the finest art museum in the United States last year by a nationwide panel of museum administrators. Such an assessment is ridiculous—the Walker is not even the finest art museum in Minneapolis, let alone the finest art museum in the U.S. The administrators at the Walker, however, are noted for their skill in currying favor with The New York Times.

In the two years I have lived in the Twin Cities, neither the Weisman nor the Walker has mounted an important temporary exhibition. This has been disappointing for me.

Andrew’s mother tells me not to take it personally—she says that the Walker used to mount superb exhibitions twenty and thirty years ago, but that the museum has lost its way over the last twenty years. It now devotes too much energy promoting its ancillary programs at the expense of fulfilling its core mission of collecting and displaying art. The Weisman mounts small, focused exhibitions, but none of these exhibitions has been remarkable since I moved to town. Perhaps things will improve by the time Andrew and I move back to Minneapolis.

Between museums, Andrew and I treated my sister to lunch downtown. We took her to a French Bistro because she had never visited a French Bistro before. We all three ordered French Onion Soup, but we ordered three different entrees: Salade Nicoise, Quiche Lorraine and Bouchee A La Reine. We passed the entrees around the table, each of us eating one-third of each entree. It was a good way for my sister to sample three different French foods. Each of us got a sampling of the seafood salad, the ham quiche and the chicken-in-pastry, and my sister enjoyed the lunch very much. It was a lot of fun.

This afternoon, Andrew’s parents, my sister, Andrew’s brother, and Andrew and I went downtown to attend today’s matinee performance of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” at the Guthrie Theater. This afternoon was the first time in her life that my sister had ever attended a professional theater performance of anything other than road-company productions of hit Broadway musicals, which she has seen in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

She was captivated—utterly captivated—by what she saw on the Guthrie stage.

The Guthrie staging of “The Government Inspector” was assigned to the theater with the thrust stage, which places the audience close to the actors onstage. My sister was amazed at what close proximity the actors were to members of the audience. She was also amazed at the quality of the stage design and the costume design, always extraordinary at the Guthrie. She could not take her eyes off the stage for the entire performance.

The proscenium theater at the Guthrie is currently presenting previews of a new musical, “Little House On The Prairie”, based upon Laura Ingalls Wilder. The studio theater at the Guthrie is currently presenting “Caviar On Credit”, an experimental “multi-discipline” work using young actors who have spent their summer months working in the Guthrie’s training program for young actors.

A month ago, Andrew’s mother had instructed me to ask my sister whether my sister wanted to see one or both of the other offerings at the Guthrie while she was in town. Andrew’s mother thought that perhaps my sister would want to attend a performance of the musical based upon the Wilder book or that perhaps my sister would want to observe young actors performing in an experimental work.

My sister elected to pass on the other two theatrical presentations. She thought that one play in Minneapolis would be sufficient for her, especially given the short duration of her stay here. She also knew that she would be attending six theater performances in Britain, so she would hardly be theater-deprived during her summer vacation.

I hope that Andrew and I have shown my sister a good time while she has been with us. A baseball game, a couple of museums and the Guthrie are the only attractions we have shown to her. Otherwise we have stayed home, eating, playing with the dog, and getting our things ready.

My sister seems to be happy and content with what we have shown her, and she has been very comfortable here. In any case, her brief stay in Minneapolis has been a mere staging ground for the main event of her summer, her first trip to Europe.

She is excited beyond belief. She has researched extensively every place and every site we will visit. She is eagerly looking forward to her first trans-Atlantic flight. She can’t wait for her first footstep on foreign soil. Everything about our trip seems to fascinate her.

I do not think she will be disappointed.

I have warned my sister that the food in Britain will not be good. I especially have warned her about the low quality of the fish, meat and vegetables she will encounter. My sister is not a big breakfast person, but I have passed on to her that breakfast is often the best meal of the day in Britain and that, as a general rule, it is a bad idea to skip breakfast when traveling in Britain. My sister says she will not care about the food as long as it is minimally adequate, which it will be. Further, she understands that this trip is not about epicurean delights.

She has enjoyed some epicurean delights the last couple of days. Yesterday and again today, she was treated to the full Andrew breakfast, and she is prepared to confirm to the world that Andrew is indeed the best breakfast cook on the planet. No one can match his scrambled eggs, no one can match any of his many ways of preparing breakfast potatoes, and no one can match his bacon (everyone else undercooks or overcooks it, and cooks it too quickly).

Late Monday afternoon, before we headed out to the Twins game, Andrew’s mother gave us tuna salad sandwiches (and her tuna salad is the best tuna salad in the world, made from broiled tuna steaks) and pepper salad for an early dinner. When we got home from the game, Andrew’s mother had a late supper of chicken-vegetable lasagna waiting for us, followed by homemade boysenberry ice cream for dessert.

Tuesday night, we had pot roast for dinner, served with mashed potatoes, lima beans, sweet corn, glazed carrots and a fresh pineapple-nut salad. For dessert we had homemade black raspberry cobbler and homemade ice cream.

Our early lunch today before heading to the Guthrie was pasta with crab and peas, served with an Alfredo sauce.

Tonight’s dinner was roast chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beets, butternut squash and apple salad. For dessert we were served peaches and cream.

Tonight’s dinner HAD to be roast chicken, because it was our last night with the dog (who is accustomed to eating roast chicken on most Wednesday nights anyway).

The dog knows we are leaving soon. He knows what luggage signifies. He knows what packing signifies. He knows what a lot of household activity signifies.

I also think he understands that tomorrow is the day we will depart. We have told him this, and I think he understands this. We gave him a bath tonight so that he will be nice and clean when we drop him off tomorrow. I think he pretty much understands exactly what’s going on.

He has been a little restless the last few days, reluctant to leave the side of either Andrew or Andrew’s mother. He views Andrew as his primary pal, and he views Andrew’s mother as his primary protector (and he views himself as her primary protector). He goes to everyone for play and affection and comfort, but he always goes to Andrew and Andrew’s mother first, especially when he is in distress.

The dog is in some distress now, but Andrew’s father says that he will be perfectly fine, and that the dog and Mrs. Anderson will be perfectly happy entertaining each other for the next three weeks. Certainly Mrs. Anderson need not fear intruders while he is with her!

We selected our travel books tonight. Books will be much more important on this trip compared to our last trip, because there will be several evenings on this trip for which we have no sightseeing planned and no theater performances scheduled.

My sister has recently become fascinated by F. Scott Fitzgerald, having read “The Great Gatsby” in her senior year of high school and having read a collection of Fitzgerald’s short stories earlier this summer. She has selected Fitzgerald’s first two novels, “This Side Of Paradise” and “The Beautiful And The Damned” as her travel books.

Andrew’s mother has selected “The Making Of Victorian Values—Decency And Dissent In Britain: 1789-1837” by Ben Wilson.

Andrew’s father, Andrew’s brother, and Andrew and I have selected five books, books of no particular theme but books we can pass back and forth, as necessary, as our interest waxes and wanes. We chose “Nixon And Mao: The Week That Changed The World” by Margaret MacMillan; “A History Of The English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900” by Andrew Roberts, a continuation of Winston Churchill’s four-volume history; “Anzio: Italy And The Battle For Rome—1944” by Lloyd Clark; “1920: The Year Of The Six Presidents” by David Pietrusza, an examination of the American Presidential Election of 1920; and “The Battle For Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Antony Beevor. None of these books should be challenging or intense, but all should carry some degree of interest for us, the fine line to which all travel books must adhere.

This is my last blog entry for at least three weeks.

We return on Tuesday, August 19, but Andrew and I head East on Friday, August 22. We will stop in New York and visit Andrew’s older brother and his family on that Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday, August 25, we will proceed up to Boston. I have first-year orientation on Thursday of that week, and Andrew and I want to be settled as much as possible into our place in Boston (which we have not even seen yet) before my classes start and before Andrew starts his new job.

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