more than getting from point A to point B

this past weekend I headed up to Minneapolis to visit and see some friends, one of whom has lived there since moving up to attend the University of Minnesota, two of whom drove in from Sioux Falls to see Iron Man 2 on an IMAX screen. excellent excuses to get out of town all around.
the unparalleled bonus of visiting friends who reside in new places is that (particularly the longer they’ve lived there) they’ve done much of the legwork in finding off-the-beaten path places to visit or things to do. my lovely Leah has gotten to know a lot of Minneapolis in the last *haruph* years and introduced me to one of her favorite places: the Stone Arch Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River at the Saint Anthony Falls, heading into downtown. the bridge, built in 1883, originally carried two sets of railroad tracks for the Great Northern Railway; it carried trains, including the Empire Builder passenger train, over the river until 1978. it’s been repaired and refurbished over the years (obviously); when the Saint Anthony Falls lock and dam was built, two of the original stone spans were replaced by a steel one, which would allow larger ships to maneuver under the bridge. repairs were again necessary in 1965, when  floodwaters undermined three of the piers holding the 21 stone arches up and the bridge began to sag. restoration and re-purpose of the bridge to its current purpose began in the 1990s, and now the 28 foot wide, 2,176 foot long bridge serves as a pedestrian and bike connection between downtown and the eastern bank of the River. it also offers great views of the Saint Anthony Falls and Nicolet & Hennepin Island, as well downtown and old mills along both banks (the Mill City Museum, in the Washburn A Mill on the west, the abandoned Pillsbury A Mill on the east).
after walking out along the bridge, past a guy who was playing his guitar for change (but, it seemed, mostly for the joy of playing), Leah and I headed back to the east bank to enjoy a beer, the view, and the springtime weather. though I had to be attentive that puffy, wind-blown seeds didn’t end up in my beer, we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. the three couples we saw getting engagement photos couldn’t complain, either. one set spent about twenty minutes in the same place, with the falls and 3rd Avenue bridge in the background. with another, you could tell that the woman was in charge of the shoot — her heels put her at just the right height to be nicely matched with him, and her fiance was decked out in loafers, khaki pants, a white dress shirt and a white suit coat. we didn’t wait around to see if they made any effort to forcibly eject the falls-bridge-background couple from the ideal photo location.


Ireland is known for it’s craic, and the music in particular. nearly every pub we entered advertised music at least some nights of the week, and people from all over the world flock to observe and, nearly as often, to participate. I met quite a few people who’d come to Ireland to try busking, in search of a break from “real life,” or looking to make life out of it while it lasted. two of the people I met in Drogheda illustrated these two points (not necessarily “extremes,” but they certainly looked at the experience differently). one, Katerina, was new to the prospect of busking, while the other, Owen, had been at it for quite a bit longer.

Katerina arrived the day after I did, bypassing Dublin. she grew up in a small town, had never spent any time away from home, and at twenty-two, decided she’d like a change. she’d gotten sick of her job working in a bank in Norway, saved up some money, bought a plane ticket to Ireland and quit. she didn’t have any connections, or even an instrument, but she could sing quite well and had a flexibility in disposition that seemed to bode well for the vagaries of busking. she stayed in Drogheda couple of days before deciding to move on. before she left, Norm (the guy running the hostel), called up a friend of his in Galway, where she was headed, and helped her find a lead on a job.

Owen, on the other hand, had been in Drogheda quite some time. he’d been staying at the Green Door previously, but had recently moved to another B&B down the road, where he played some nights in the restaurant downstairs, in exchange for a room and a bit of money. he’d grown up in Australia, but his family was Irish and he’d spent a great deal of time in Ireland growing up. during some days, he’d take his guitar down to Dublin and play along Grafton Street, or wherever. he went down to Dublin the same day as I and arrived just in time for the first downpour; consequently, he didn’t make much more than the bus fare to get to Dublin and back.

if any of you out there are musically inclined and looking to make a career or life change, busking in Ireland might not be a bad way to go about it.

Temple Bar

during the afternoon I spent in Dublin, I managed to see quite a bit of the city centre. one of the most colorful draws for tourists is Temple Bar, which runs south of the the River Liffey. it retains a medieval character to it, since the streets are very narrow and many of them cobbled. the area is promoted as a cultural quarter, and is great for music. Handel’s Messiah was performed for the first time in Fishamble Street, and a performance of the same is held annually.

the area declined in popularity during the19th century, which saved it to a great extent from the wrecking balls of developers. its unpopularity lead to further decay in the 20th century, when a proposal emerged to level much of the area to make way for a bus terminus. while the planning proposal moved forward, buildings were let out at low rents, and the area began to fill up again, with musicians and artists and other bohemian-hippie types. protests led to the cancellation of the project and in the early 90s a non-profit organization was set up to further revitalization projects. it’s worked pretty well, though Temple Bar does have a reputation for raucous Stag and Hen Parties (which, allegedly, were banned in 1999). there’s a plethora of pubs, like Gogarty’s (seen in the picture) that host noteworthy traditional music sessions. there’s even the TradFest music & culture festival (taking place the last weekend in January next year, if anyone’s inclined).