Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ta-da! Duluth!


Traveling from Mexico City to "The Northland" proved challenging--there was some wild weather in Chicago last week (80 mph winds downtown!) and Northwest Airlines decided to delay, re-route and cancel my flights. They put me up overnight in Minneapolis when they couldn't get me on a plane to Duluth, but eventually I made it to my destination only about 12 hours behind schedule. I was kept pretty happy reading tons of airport magazines. I love the USA!

Note: none of this VERY LONG entry has anything to do with Mexico. But, Mom, all of your questions should be answered!

I went to Duluth to help my brother move into his new digs. His place is on Superior Street downtown and has a pretty cool view of the greatest of the Great Lakes from his bedroom window:

The view is enhanced by his apartment's location---in the clouds! I got to put my new Mexico City-altitude lungs to work huffing and puffing his household goods up his back stairs! He used ABF to ship his stuff and it was waiting for him in a trailer truck when he arrived from Texas.

Sam's place is very cozy, and tucked way up in the attic. We set up all of his stuff and he is lucky to have a great little study and a really cool set of landlords. Here's his garret-living room:

While the move went pretty smoothly, we still had a few bumps in the road. As Sergio mentioned, Sam's loyal sidekick Duke the Dog got really sick on my first day in town. That night he was unable to stand up and seemed to have terrible pain. We ended up taking Duke to the emergency room where we found out he had pancreatitis, a pretty serious sickness. He stayed the night in the hospital, and after his release we tended to him at home with medication and a special home-cooked diet. Drained ground beef and rice. Yum.

Duke seemed much perkier when we brought him home from the hospital and he seems to be on the mend now. Fingers crossed!

We did manage to spend some time doing some fun things besides home health care and furniture moving! Duluth is a really neat place, way up in the northeastern section of Minnesota. It has been on a boom-bust cycle over the years resulting in a gritty town with a tremendous number of gorgeous lumber-baron type houses and civic buildings. It is the chief city in its region yet it only takes about 15 minutes to drive out of town and feel like you are in the backwoods. Moose, timber wolves and bears are all found in St. Louis County. In the last 15 years or so Duluth has attempted to ramp up its tourism, and it has revitalized downtown. There are tons of public parks and beaches, and a wonderful Lakewalk that hugs the coast and provides a great place for walking, jogging, biking, etc.

Downtown in Leif Erickson (DISCOVERER OF AMERICA according to the local Sons of Norway club and sponsors of the area) Park, on the Lakewalk and about five minutes from Sam's house is a cool lakeside stage that shows movies and concerts outdoors in the summer. I stumbled on a very pretty wedding. I think the bride's dad may have been Kenny Rogers!

Lake Superior is the focal point of everywhere you go in Duluth. I hunted for some agates on the beach, but only found a few pieces of "sea"glass.

We weren't brave enough to go swimming---Lake Superior is so cold! It averages about 40 degrees year round. Lake Superior description here.

These hearty locals on Park Point raced in without any hesitation tho. Kids are so tough!

Duluth is a very important shipping port, and giant lakers pass through with shipments of grain, coal, limestone and other cargo. Duluth is the largest port on the Great Lakes, and about 1,000 ocean-going and lake freighters go through the port every year. They range in size from 400 to over 1,000 feet long. The Aerial Lift Bridge in the Duluth Canal is a landmark for the city, and is a big tourist attraction. When a freighter (or even a sailboat) goes through the canal, the bridge is lifted and crowds wave 'em through.

It is more exciting than you might think!

The Iron Range is just West of Duluth, and there are still ore docks on the Lake. We checked out Two Harbors, about 20 miles North of Duluth, which has a big set of docks.

At one time, due to the tremendous amount of wealth generated by the iron, timber and shipping industries, Duluth had more millionaires per capita than any other American city. That was a long time ago!

This is one of the downtown social clubs, "Club Kitchi Gammi," that has been around since the last 1800s.

And here is one of the more impressive of the Lakeshore mansions dating from the same period:

Our own family has roots in this part of the country---our grandmother grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a mining community. Her parents moved from Sweden, and her father worked as a blacksmith making tools for the men who worked in the iron mines.

There's lots of folks in Duluth who share a similar history. We were cracking up at all the references to Scandinavia. Wouldn't this be a good name for a Death Metal band?

In Two Harbors, we stumbled on this fishing boat that was christened by the King of Norway in 1939.

Duluth has acres and acres of public trails, many groomed for cross country skiing in winter. The area has been experiencing the worst drought in 50 years so many of the rivers were near dry. Heartbreaking when you think of all the flooding downstate this summer. The Lester River Falls were just a trickle, but it was still incredible to feel so far from town just minutes off one of the main streets.

I have high hopes for a cottage in this part of the world someday. In the meantime, I'll just visit Sam a lot!

Of course he's gonna be busy with school. Check out the science building on his campus with our Yooper family name (Swenson, Swanson, Svensson, whatever):

I hope Sam won't feel too isolated up in the Great White North. Luckily, he doesn't seem to be too shy about using his phone. Long distance living!

As I told him, any place where even the supermarket's parking lot has a pretty view seems like a good bet. Good luck learning to kayak, snowshoe and dog sled!

Here's to a wonderful four years in Duluth, Sam and Duke!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Great White El Norte

Sasha is spending this weekend in beautiful Duluth, MN helping her brother Sam get moved in and ready to start pharmacy school up there this coming week. That leaves it to me to handle updating the ol' blog. I tried to have LouLou post something but that ended up being a huge mistake -- nothing but atrocious grammar and pictures of sausage. From now on I'm just gonna leave her to her core skills: sleeping 23 hours a day and paying our bills.

Not a strong writer.

Speaking of awesome dogs, our thoughts this weekend are with Duke, Sam's dog and LouLou's best friend, who apparently has taken ill since completing the long trek up North and actually had to spend the night in a vet hospital. Last we heard, he's recouping at home now, slowly working his appetite back up, but that was only after having to take him to the emergency room very late on Friday night.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, the Big Fella, as we call him, packs 100+ pounds of loyal companionship on a long Labrador frame. He's as black as black can be in this galaxy. In fact he's so dark he's been known to suck in all light around him such that he can be standing directly in front of you and you'd still be blind to his silent presence. He's a cosmic phenomenon. A force of nature. We hope he gets well real soon.

Some call him simply, The Darkness.

In DF news, I went to my first soccer game today at Estadio Azteca, home to the venerable Mexican league team Club America, and a massive structure to behold, with a top capacity of easily over 100,000 people. America was playing some last-place team from Guadalajara so it was expected to be easy to get tickets for. But, as often happens in Mexico, nothing is as easy as it seemingly should be, and it actually took a herculean effort to get into the Stadium. There were several moments when I was convinced that our "vendor" would have run off on us had we not wisely insisted on not paying until we were actually seated. We ended up with great seats though and got in just as the game kicked off. The visitors actually scored first and at halftime it was a 1-1 tie but America came out hard in the second half and ended up winning 4-1. A good time was had by all.

And yes, you'll have to settle for my lame verbal description of the game because Sasha took the camera with her. Among the many photos I couldn't take today:
  • an Eagle (the team mascot) flying a graceful, menacing loop around the Stadium before finally running down a soccer ball on the field
  • a group of scantily-clad sorta-cheerleaders with the word BIMBO on their chests
  • 2 guys sharing a moped, both wearing Nazi-style Panzer helmets
Oh and did I mention we started the day off at Hooter's? Look forward next week though to lots of shots of Lake Superior and northern Minnesota real estate. Love you Sasha, please come home soon...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

San Angel

One Saturday this month we stole away from our home improvement projects to check out San Angel. I was interested in seeing the art market (not that hot after all) and we were ready to relax in a more gracious part of the city.

San Angel was certainly lovely. Starting out as a summer escape for rich Spaniards, it is now a picture-perfect suburb. The Saturday market attracts tourists and locals looking to scoop up oil paintings and handicrafts, and there are dozens and dozens of pretty houses on cobblestone streets.

Our favorite sight was the Convento e Iglesia del Carmen. From the 1600s, this Carmelite monastary has a collection of colonial religious art and this crazy basement crypt full of mummies. No photos were allowed, but trust me, it was really cool.

Our least favorite part of this trip may have been the ceviche Sergio ordered at La Camelia. Or not. All I know is that Sunday night Sergio was incredibly sick and reporting to the infirmary on Monday for his dose of Cipro. Sergio says he blames the cilantro in our homemade salsa. Who knows? He's okay now and says he feels like he is officially part of Mission Mexico now.

From Tepito to Coyoacan

This month I tagged along on an Embassy tour, led by some of Sergio's Mexican coworkers. After visiting the Centro and checking out the Palacio Nacional, we hopped on a van to see more of the city.The goal was to become familiar with various neighborhoods representing a range of socioeconomic strata. The highlights were Vice City, Tepito, and Coyoacan, an affluent and traditional neighborhood in the South.

But first we lingered in the Palacio Nacional, where Herman Cortes once lived. This is the official residence of the Mexican President, though in reality presidents tend to spend most of their time in Los Pinos, in Chapultepec.

Every year, just before midnight on September 15th, the President appears on the balcony of the Palacio and recites the Grito de Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo's famous speech from 1810 that incited the insurgency and led to Mexican Independence. After reciting the speech, the giant crowd gathered below in the zocalo roars back "Viva Mexico." We have high hopes to witness this ourselves this fall. I love a good Independence Day celebration and all reports suggest that this one will be amazing!

The Palacio itself is three stories, around a courtyard and features a very famous Diego Rivera mural depicting Mexican history. Not surprisingly, considering Rivera's politics, progress in the mural moves from right to left, from Aztec life before the Conquest through independence and to its triumphant end in a workers' revolution.

Our next stop was Tepito. Tepito is infamous, and the one place that everyone here agrees you should never visit. It is a neighborhood not too far from the Centro, and just adjacent to La Lagunilla, the flea market we were so thoroughly intimidated by during our first weekend here.

Tepito features an incredible amount of commerce, almost all of it illegal. Items for sale range from pirated DVDs and stolen electronics to pornography, guns and drugs. Our tour guides kept our visit brief.

Coyoacan, on the other hand, is leafy and bohemian. We had a leisurely lunch with the rest of the tour group and enjoyed a great afternoon in the park.

We are expecting to return to visit this area soon as we discovered that Sergio's cousin Hugo has recently moved here with his family. Hugo is a professor at UNAM, Latin America's biggest and as I understand it, most important university. UNAM is in Coyoacan as well, and no doubt contributes to the laid-back, artsy cafe scene. Oh, and this is where Trotsky lived. And you can see his house and Diego and Frida's place here too. For another trip! Needless to say, we are really excited to have family so nearby in Mexico.