Monthly Archives: August 2017

Minnesota, for the State Fair and “Up North”

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A lot of food at the fair comes on a stick; this was a fun effort to get kids excited about numbers!

Whooshed west on Thursday, August 24 for the annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.  As I note every August in these pages, I have not missed the fair since the mid-1980s.  The morning nonstop from Washington left later than in 2016, arrived late, then car-rental snafus, thus I did not get to the fairgrounds district until after one.  It was opening day, and there were no parking places to be found.  Five pals were waiting.  I lucked out, spotting Mary on a bike at the corner of Simpson St. and Nebraska Ave.; she was waving a small round sign that read $20.  Done.  If I wasn’t already way late, I would have chatted with her, for in the first minute I learned she was from Harlowton, Montana, less than 10 miles from where my dad was born.  It would have been a memorable T-t-S, I’m sure!

I walked as fast as my gimpy knees would allow, and was hugging pals in front of the Fine Arts Building about 1:40.  Longtime friends Rick Dow, Bob Woehrle, and Steve Schlachter were there, as was Randy Essell, two-decade colleague from American Airlines making his first visit to the fair (his brother has lived in Minneapolis for years), and a new guy, Jim, a college pal of Steve’s.  We chatted a bit, then headed into the juried show.  For nearly 30 years, we’ve been buying art from the show.  Before leaving, Linda issued strict instructions: no more landscapes.  I concurred, because we’ve got plenty of lovely country scenes from all over Minnesota, from Lake Superior to wheat fields in the drier western reaches.  Not three minutes inside, I spotted a wonderful pastel, titled “City Garden,” and sent Linda a pic from my iPhone.  We walked the rest of the show, but there was none nicer than the pastel, and I bought it (patrons collect the art after the show; I typically pick it up from the artist, so I can meet him or her).

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Arms folded: two other works at the art show, a multimedia work and an acrylic painting

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“City Garden,” soon to hang in our house; at right, Mary, an art show volunteer, affixes the little red dot that means the work has been sold

The fair itinerary has been fixed for many years.  After the art show, we headed for the Creative Activities building to be dazzled by the broad spectrum of crafts, hobbies, and pastimes, everything from folk art to fine woodworking to needlepoint to dill pickles (we marveled at the many different categories: dill with garlic is in a different group than dill without garlic!).  As always, we thought briefly about smashing the glass doors and sampling the cookies, pies, and cakes, especially the mixed berry and peach pies from a Duluth woman – blue ribbons for both.  Avocations are alive and well in my homeland.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous in the Creative Activities building: the sweepstakes winner in knitting and a flying pig (who also was on skis, being a Minnesotan).

Stop three is the horticulture building, and in our zeal to slake our thirst at the stand of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild we missed the giant vegetables, crop art, and other charms.  But the beer stop was a lot of fun, a chance to yak about our summer travels, a bit of politics (well, Rick and me), and more.  Refreshed, we headed for the stands of two ultra-popular fair foods, deep-fried cheese curds and roasted sweet corn.  Yum.

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The group: Steve, Bob, Randy, Rick, Jim, and your correspondent

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We toasted these friendly hockey players (one of whom took our group photo), to be married on December 15

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Roasted sweet corn is one of the huge — and relatively healthy — State Fair treats; at right my friend Steve tucking into an ear.

Last stop were the animal barns.  Looking back, I wished we had slowed a bit, but Rick and I managed a nice T-t-S with Caroline, a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer, recently graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in ag sciences, as well as shorter chats with several 4-H kids showing their rabbits, pigs, and cattle.  I stroked a number of animal heads and faces, even a bristly Yorkshire hog, quietly whispering thanks to God and to them for the gift of domestic animals.  And as I did the previous month with ranchers Ed and Bev, I thanked a woman hog farmer for what she did.  She started to tear up.  Not enough city people either understand or recognize their hard work.

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Caroline, from Waseca, Minnesota, and her year-old crossbreed ewe, who has already given birth to the lamb at right.

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More of God’s critters: a 4-H service dog (every old person said, “Awwww, Lassie”), and goat siblings

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The true last stop was one more beer and some more chatter on park benches, then a brisk walk with Randy back to my rental car.  He needed a ride to dinner with a friend, and because we had some time, I drove him through familiar St. Paul neighborhoods, even past 1032 Goodrich, our very first house.  Dropped him at an eatery near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, then zipped west to the home of Rick and Murph Dow in Edina, the suburb where I grew up.  I had not seen Murph for two years, so it was good to catch up.  We three had a good yak, some pizza, and off to sleep before ten.

Up way early, did some consulting work for an hour, had a cup of coffee and another yak, and hugged them at 7:35, motoring across familiar ground to the apartment of Marlys Chase, my fair buddy Steve’s mom, who I’ve known for more than 50 years.  Mrs. C. kindly agreed to make us a full breakfast, plus more good chatting.  She is 87 and still going strong, half Norwegian and half Swedish – the Scandinavians live a long time, whether in the old world or the new.  Said goodbye at 9:30, motored north to the pleasant Linden Hills neighborhood for another cup of coffee, with friend-since-1967 Jim Grandbois.  We had not seen each other in six years, and it was good to catch up.  I think of Jim each morning when I sit down to work, because before getting into real estate, he and his brother were furniture makers, and the keyboard sits on a still gorgeous parquet walnut table made in 1979.  Thanks, Jim!

At 11, I pointed the rented Prius toward “Up North,” as Minnesotans call it.  Motored north on U.S. Highway 169, around the huge Mille Lacs Lake, and northwest to Crow Wing County and the cabin of another long (since 1963) friend, Tim McGlynn, on the north shore of Big Trout Lake.  Tim and I immediately fell into the substantive yaks that I’ve enjoyed for years.  He’s very well informed, and we share a world view about the market economy (good and bad), politics, and more.  Just as I plopped down for a short nap I heard the wonderful cry of the loon, one of the definitive sounds of Up North.  At five, we jumped into his boat and headed east and south through a chain of lakes to beer and dinner at Moonlite Bay.  That part of Up North is filled with people from Edina, and we met a number of old pals there.  Lots of fun.  Headed back, read for a bit, and clocked out.

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On Swanburg Lane, the road into Tim’s cabin

Woke in the middle of the night to light rain, which continued for the next 30 hours.  Drove through the wet Saturday morning to breakfast in Crosslake with former Republic Airlines colleague George Rasmusson, one of the funniest people I know.  As expected, by the end of the meal my stomach hurt from laughing.  We got caught up, and reminisced about our times at Republic.  I reprised one of the jokes he told me in January 1986 – that I could still tell it as he did 31 years earlier says a lot!  The wet scrubbed plans for a long bike ride.

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Left, Big Trout Lake from my bedroom; right, the McGlynn cabin from the dock

Spent late morning and all afternoon at the cabin, which had been custom built in 2016, a lovely place.  Tim’s older son Patrick was there with his new wife Molly, and we had a nice visit.  Took a nap, yakked some more with Tim about the current state of the world, and at five motored eight miles to the Norway Ridge Supper Club, a wonderful old place.  Tucked into my second Up North meal of walleye, Minnesota’s famed fish (though nowadays restaurants typically source them from Canada), and more good chatter.  Tim is a quality guy, and there’s never much silence.  Best topic that night was the corrosive role of private equity firms.

Up at dawn Sunday morning, still raining, though lightly.  Ambled down to the dock to listen to the loons, then back up to the cabin, hugs to Molly, Paddy, and Tim, then breakfast: leftover fish and potatoes from the night before, fulfilling my objective of three walleye meals in my homeland.  Into the car for a zippy drive back to the Twin Cities. I was back in my hometown of Edina by 11:05.  Motored west on 66th Street, across Richfield, retracing a route we took on bikes 50 years earlier, riding out to see the planes take off and land at MSP.  Just before the airport, I stopped to pray thanks at the grave of my dear dad in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.  I held the headstone tightly.  It would be impossible to express enough gratitude for our freedom.  Flew home.  Such a joy to be in Minnesota.

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Thanks, Dad.  And thanks to Russ, Roy, William, and countless others.

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina, with Family

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On Sunday the 13th we departed for what has become an August vacation tradition: a week on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, one of the loveliest resorts in all the world.  Arrived Charleston at 4:30, grabbed a minivan and zoomed 35 miles to the island.  Stop 1 was the supermarket for breakfast and lunch fixings, then to a lovely house on Glossy Ibis Lane.  Linda was at the American Bar Association annual meeting in New York for three days, so we unpacked the van and I zoomed back to the airport to get her.  Whew, lotta fast moves.  Drove back at a slower pace, and stopped for a late dinner and some beer.  Slept hard that night.

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The week, now the eighth trip to the beach, is formulaic, and at dawn every morning I’m out on a sturdy one-speed cruiser, riding along the bike paths and empty lanes that spread across the island.  About 20 miles every morning, to start the day with blood pumping and an opportunity to marvel at the fertile wetland ecosystem. It’s a place teeming with all kinds of life: deer (plentiful), bobcats (rare), water birds like egrets and pelicans, and lots of alligators.  Less visible, down in the water, are crabs, fish, and more.  It’s such a cool environment.

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Several times that week, I thought about the comfort that familiarity brings, and specifically about a traditional vacation venue like Kiawah.  Indeed, 50 years earlier, in 1967, my parents, sister, and I made our last visit to Greenwood Lake Lodge, a place in northern Minnesota we had visited almost every summer for about a decade.  The two places were forested, well-watered, and teeming with wildlife. Pine trees and deer were common to both.  Up north were bears, not gators; loons, not egrets, and birches, not magnolias.  In a changing world, the familiar is soothing.

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The gentle whoosh of the wind through the pines: a sound from 1967 in Minnesota, and 2017 in South Carolina; below, our cabin at Greenwood Lake in 1960, and our Kiawah lodgings

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Jack arrived Wednesday morning, adding to the fun.  Days were relaxed, save for the dawn bicycling.  Our house had a small pool, which likely made us even lazier: we could put on swimsuits, open a door, and jump in.

We got ambitious Thursday afternoon and motored into Charleston, one of the nation’s most interesting and historic cities.  Spent a couple of fascinating hours at the South Carolina Aquarium, then, again hewing to tradition, ate dinner at Hominy Grill, a simple place renowned for the dishes of the “Low Country.”

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The aquarium has fish, of course, and lots more!

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Boiled peanuts (top) and pickled okra, Hominy Grill

Out on the bike on the last morning, Sunday the 20th, Linda texted me that our 11:30 a.m. flight home was canceled.  Rode back to find that we were rebooked on a flight six hours later.  So headed out again.  Back home, showered, time to take Dylan to the island’s small nature center.  She loves science, as does her grandfather, and we spent a pleasant hour admiring a couple of small gators, frogs, and especially the turtles.  We watched four turtles, which she named, for at least 30 minutes. “Their interaction is so interesting, Pots,” she said.  Indeed.

 

Drove into Charleston at 11:15, lunch at the Wendy’s near the airport.  I wanted to spend a few hours poking around the city, but the ladies decamped at the terminal, so I dropped them and zipped into town.  Parked the car on Pitt Street near the College of Charleston, and spent an agreeable wandering slowly down Pitt (it was seriously hot and humid), then back on Coming St.,  In the courtyard of the college’s student union, had a nice T-t-S with Peter, a longtime international banker who now lives on Hilton Head Island, 90 miles southwest.  He and his wife have been there 20 years, and are thinking of decamping for someplace less crowded.  A good yak, including some nice honesty on his part: “You know, Rob, a lot of bankers just aren’t that smart . . .”  That was a nice opening for me to agree.  He’s keeping busy in his retirement by restructuring banks, mainly in the Middle East.

The National Park Service wrote, “It is no accident that Charleston, South Carolina, is a locus for the modern preservation movement. For nearly 100 years, generations of Charlestonians have been aware of this city’s singular sense of place. Since the turn of the 20th century, individuals, organizations, and government have established and promoted a preservation ethic. The roots of preservation run deep. In 1783, Charleston established itself as a municipal government with the motto: “She guards her customs, buildings and laws.”  Amen to that.  Keep on it, Charleston!

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Hopped in the car and motored right into downtown, King Street.  Spotted a parking place on a side street, woo hoo, and ambled along King.  My beer radar spotted the Charleston Beer Works, and zipped in for a cold one and some air conditioning.  Refreshed, I drove back to the airport, turned in the minivan, met up with the family, and flew home.  A swell week.

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Art in Charleston Airport

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Early August: Always Buenos Aires

 

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Experienced tango dancers, San Telmo, Buenos Aires

A day after returning from Montana, I began teaching an intense, weeklong course at Georgetown, one of two each year at.  Finished the grading on Monday, July 31, and the next afternoon flew to Dallas/Fort Worth for a connecting flight to Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum (SABF), the student-run conference I’ve helped with for more than a decade.  On the “Skytrain” shuttle between DFW terminals I was again reminded of the powerful “mixing” role flight plays in the world: within six feet of me were six New Americans, immigrants from Panama, India, and Pakistan.

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Landed in Argentina on Wednesday morning, out the airport door, and into the car of Damasia Jurada, member of the 2015 SABF team.  That she took time off from her new job (as employee #4 of a financial-services startup) to pick me up at the airport speaks volumes to the commitment of the growing SABF “family.”  The rush-hour drive was relatively quick, but long enough to cover a range of topics – Damasia’s new job, her boyfriend, the importance of family in Argentina, the accomplishments of the country’s new, center-right president, and more.  At the Hotel Waldorf, SABF digs for more than a decade, I greeted Sergio at the front desk and a bunch of students and organizers in the lobby.  It was good to be back.

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Got my room, took a shower, and at 11 met friend-since-1986 Rick Dow, like me totally committed to the conference – it was my tenth appearance and Rick’s fifth.  We had a cup of café con leche  and reviewed his presentation for the next day.  Took a quick nap, grabbed a late lunch, and at five plunged into the first event of the conference, a get-to-know-you session at the host institution, the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires (ITBA), a small university that is like the MIT of Argentina.  Rick and I plunged into the crowd and met youngsters from Argentina and across Latin America, plus India, Denmark, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and more.  Enormous talent and youthful idealism in abundance.  We were pumped for the start.

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Rick bantering with participants at the SABF kickoff event

At 8:30, we met a Sofía Fraga and Lucas Diaz, conference alums, for dinner at El Establo, a simple restaurant 200 feet from our hotel – on previous visits Rick and I had a beer at the bar, but never a meal.  Time for the first ribeyes and Malbec of the visit, plus some great discussion.  Sofía works for the new government’s energy-conservation initiative, and Lucas, known as Luqui, is, like many ITBA kids, working a startup with a promising idea.  We had a great yak – as we chatted, I was reminded that experienced old guys like Rick and me have a lot of sharable experience, plus the ability to ask potent questions.  Remaining relevant in old age is a gift for which I thank God every morning.  At 10:45, Rick and I delivered what has become a SABF tradition: cheerleading with the current organizing team.  They were running on adrenaline, and Rick and I were there to salute and enourage them on the eve of the forum.

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Main course (minus potatoes and salad) and close-up of a traditional Argentine dessert (mild white cheese and a jellied confection made from sweet potato)

Thursday morning, and we’re into the conference.  The 2017 organizers tweaked the formula a bit, and instead of one theme, the forum had three: challenging identity, the reality gap (fake news and such), and empathic design.  Three plenary speakers briefly addressed each theme – 15 minutes or so, then time for student comments and questions.  As in every previous plenary, the day went quickly, and as valuable as the formal sessions were, lots of good yakking happened during the breaks and at lunch.  It was past 7:30 p.m. when we processed to the traditional dinner venue, El Figón de Bonilla.  A week earlier, Rick and I tracked down a participant from the 2016 forum, and invited him to join us for dinner.  Pascal Menseh, originally from Ghana, had a fascinating life story, and we wanted to reconnect.  Also at our table was Tania from Russia, Pedro from Brazil (studying at the University of Notre Dame), and Rodrigo from Argentina.  It was a lively meal.

Friday was given over to breakout sessions of various kinds.  I peeled off after lunch to begin drafting my closing remarks, then Rick and I returned to the forum in late afternoon to do “mentoring sessions” with six or seven participants.  The youngsters were headed to dinner and a (undoubtedly noisy) party, so Rick and I fashioned the gramps’ plan: an agreeable beer on Rick’s 9th floor balcony, and a mile walk old to Sottovoce, an Italian place we visited for lunch in 2015.  Our mezzanine table afforded a fine view of the main floor dining room, glimpses of a convivial neighborhood place where friends and acquaintances hugged, kissed, and bantered animatedly.  “What a country” was a common refrain from the two of us.  Before turning in, we stopped back at El Establo for a nightcap at the bar, and had a nice “dual T-t-S” with two guys across the bar, who were drinking liter mugs of beer and tucking into serious meat.  Turned out they were ice skaters working for a Disney on Ice production; one Canadian and one Brit, late 20s, totally enjoying a nomadic life.

Saturday morning, Rick and I did not head to the forum, but hopped on the subway and rode west to the Las Flores neighborhood to attend a remarkable event.  Two days earlier at the plenary, Rick and I chatted with Nathalie Stevens, a retired cosmetics executive who had opted to “make a difference” with her remaining years.  She organized La Fundación de los Colores (The Colors Foundation), a nonprofit that trains women from the city’s poorest neighborhoods to become make-up artists, to build the skills and capacity to support themselves and their families.  And the project does much more: it gives women who often did not have a mirror at home to build an identity, a sense of self.  During our chat, Nathalie invited us to attend a graduation ceremony, so of course we went.

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Art on the glazed tiles of the Lima subway station

During the forum, a recurrent conversation centered on the need for all of us to get outside our familiar social zones.  When we arrived at the ceremony, in a reception room of a small university, Rick and I crossed a bridge, to stand with and to celebrate the achievements of people much different than we – but similar, too, in that the three graduates all understood that learning was the key to a better life.  At the end of the ceremony, Nathalie placed the foundation’s distinctive tri-colored pins on our jackets, and we felt so honored to wear them.  It was a proud day for the graduates, and we were happy to help them celebrate their new identity, and their new skills. With those skills, it will be possible for them to earn more money, and to secure greater dignity and human purpose.

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My Colores pin!

We hopped back on the subway into the city, past the pink presidential palace, and back to ITBA, lunch, and, for me, a small airline crisis – a participant from Morocco did not have proper documentation to transit the U.S. on her way home, so I swung into action, working with longtime American Airlines colleague, Gonzalo, who manages AA’s Buenos Aires operation.  In the “can do” fashion that has always set airline people apart, once we connected by phone he had a solution sorted out in two minutes.  On to the next task, a joyous one, to deliver brief remarks to parents and friends of SABF organizers.  In previous years, I was only able to chat with a handful, in my poor Spanish and some English, but this time the speakers’ coordinator, Guillermina, asked me to deliver remarks to a group of about 30.  It was great fun.

My last job, as it has been for the last five forums, was to deliver a summary and closing remarks, an assignment I truly enjoy, helping to end the event on a high note.  After a lot of clapping at the very end for each of the 20 conference organizers, Rick and I hugged a lot of people, then slipped out for a beer in Puerto Madero, a former port area with renovated brick warehouses and new construction.  At eight, we met Christoff Poppe, United Airlines’ country director for Argentina, and headed for what has become a traditional end-of-conference dinner.  We tucked into steaks at La Cabrera in the Palermo neighborhood, plenty of Malbec, and a lot of great chatter.  Two former airline guys and a current one, and there was plenty to discuss!

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Puerto Madero, one of the shiny parts of Buenos Aires

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Master of the grill, La Cabrera

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Sketching at mealtime: left, Christoff illustrating the distinct design of an Argentina meat grill, sloped to drain the fat, thus preventing fire; right, sequence for Luqui’s and Franco’s startup

Sunday breakfast was with a young Australian interested in the airline business.  Rick and I then zipped by taxi to the San Telmo district south of downtown, which bustles on weekends with a flea market, street entertainers, and more.  At ten, we met Luqui (from three days earlier) and his business partner Franco, for a coffee at the historic Café Dorrego and some further discussion about their financial-services startup.  Rick has had tons of recent experience with new firms, and I chimed in from time to time.  We peeled off and roamed the neighborhood for a few hours, pausing for lunch outdoors.  High point was listening to Cien Pájaros, an energetic quartet of accordion, fiddle, and two guitarists.  Way fun.

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Last stop was the La Boca neighborhood, home of the Boca Juniors soccer team.  Walked around the stadium, La Bombonera (literally “the chocolate box,” because if its shape).  There was no game that day, so the place was more a shrine.  We ambled then up and down streets of Boca, a mix of gritty and touristy.  Hopped a taxi back to the center, grabbed a coffee right on the broad 9 de Julio thoroughfare, picked up our bags, jumped on the bus to the airport, said goodbye, and flew home.  Rick is an agreeable travel pal and has become an anchor of the conference – we’re lucky to have him.

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Scenes from La Boca, above and below; lower right is a mural commemorating those seized during military rule, 1976-83

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