Sunday, July 13, 2008

Concerning books as art, daughters, writing, and the circus

That's just a lazy title to say, this entry is going to be about a lot of things, because there's been a lot of water under the bridge since I wrote my last entry. And also to tell you about a bunch of new pictures I've posted on my Mac web gallery.

Last Sunday I drove up to St. Paul to visit Alison, one of my lovely daughters, who just moved into new digs along with about 50 of her friends. OK, eight of them are renting an entire duplex. Nice place with a backyard in a great neighborhood. I saw more of the Twin Cities on this visit than ever before; I'm beginning to understand why people love them so much, despite the cruel, cruel winters. We visited the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. I'm quite sure that if I lived nearby I would be taking classes on hand typesetting, book binding, paper making, and book art design. As it is I contented myself with a handmade book--Pulling Wire, a short story by Barry Lopez. Quite reasonably priced.

The next day we visited the Bakken Library and Museum, "a center for education and learning that furthers the understanding of the history, cultural context, and applications of electricity and magnetism in the life sciences and their benefits to contemporary society." Despite that rather dreary-sounding mission statement, it was really a pretty cool place, especially the historical exhibits. There was a working theremin, the first electronic musical instrument. You play it by moving your hands around two radio antennae, one controlling pitch and the other, volume. We weren't able to get much out of it besides squawks, but it was a lot of fun. There such amusements as the magnetic hairbrush, which in the 19th century was thought to help prevent balding. There was a terrific multi-media tableau of Victor Frankenstein's laboratory and Mary Shelly's study (Shelly was influenced by Luigi Galvani, who conducted a series of experiments on severed frogs' legs that led to the discovery of animal electricity). And Alison was thrilled to learn that the library contains a large collection of primary works on mesmerism and hypnotism, which might be helpful in writing her senior honors thesis on feminism and the spiritualist movement in 19th century America.

AND that is not all we did! We visited the Walker Art Center sculpture garden (the museum itself was closed) and saw many cool things, including Claes Oldenberg's famous spoon with cherry sculpture and this fun kinetic sculpture, featured here with the lovely Alison.

On Wednesday, I said goodbye to Alison and the Twin Cities for the second half of my writer's vacation and drove down to Baraboo Wisconsin, home of the Circus World Museum, for a couple of days of research for my novel and quiet writing time. Baraboo, it turns out, was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. If you love the circus, you should visit this place. Loads of history as well as ongoing shows. I feel a little guilty for enjoying the dancing elephant act as much as I did, but what can I say? Hannah Louise charmed me:

You can view more circus photos, including old wagons and a video of a working calliope, here and here. Be aware that many of the figures depicted on the wagons are pretty objectionable--you know, stereotyped and exaggerated ideas of "exotic" folks. (Look at the "Americas" wagon and you'll know what I mean.) There is ample fodder here for a thesis, if it hasn't been done already. My visit to Circus World actually answered a couple of questions I had about framing the circus in my book, so it was totally worthwhile.

And then let me end tonight with a plug for the Willowood Inn, this terrific little mom and pop motel that I stayed in near Baraboo, just up the road from Devil's Lake State Park. At only $60/night, I was a little afraid that it might be a flea bag. I was wrong! It was charming:
Each room has its own theme; I got the western room:
And to top off my really fun writer's week, I had lunch in Madison with Sminthia, aka Jacqueline Houtman, who until Friday was my email/bloggy friend, but is now a real face to face friend. Hi Jacqueline!

Oh, and on Saturday the lovely Alison and her equally lovely sister Caitlin celebrated their 20th birthdays! Happy birthday to my favorite twins!


Sminthia said...

Back at ya!

And thanks for the champagne. The designated opening time is when the contract is signed.

caraf said...

Glad you had a great trip! And fun that you found such a great place to stay in Baraboo. To me it's just a sign on Interstate 94 but now I'm interested in stopping there sometime.

Speak(er) said...

What, no mention of the upcoming RNC? I'm shocked :).

I'm glad you enjoyed our town AND had a chance to be with one of your favorite twins.