Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

My oldest son is really into horror movies, so when we heard that there was a Guillermo del Toro exhibit coming to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts we decided to go. I’ve had issues with shows selling out before, so we picked up tickets in advance, and on Friday night we made the trek to see what the exhibit had to offer.

The basis of the exhibit is a representation of Bleak House, a residence of his in Los Angeles. He has filled this house with memorabilia and artwork from decades of movies and books that he loves, including his own. The exhibit goes beyond just props and models from his own movies, and shares artwork that del Toro finds interesting and cool.

Overall, we had a nice time seeing all the various pieces. His collection is filled with amazing pieces of art from horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Many of the pieces are concept art for various movies, showing the early thinking into the look and feel that the designers were envisioning early on. There were some cool props from del Toro’s movies as well, including full size statues of some of the creepier characters.

If I had one complaint about the show, it was that it was too short. Although there were 8 gallery rooms as a part of the exhibit, it wasn’t densely packed, and there was almost no text accompanying the pieces. It took us just over 30 minutes to view every single piece at a leisurely pace. I really wish there had been more descriptions available with the art to talk about it’s history and meaning, and how it came to be a part of the collection. Instead, you simply enjoyed what you saw and moved on. Don’t get me wrong, it was all incredibly fascinating stuff, just not much depth to it.

In the end, a shorter exhibit probably worked better with teenage boys, and so your mileage may vary. If you’re planning on going to MIA any time soon it’s probably worth a visit, if you enjoy horror and movie history.

Visiting the waters of greatness

Perhaps it’s the mood that I’m in right now, relating to other stuff going on in my life, but as I was considering where to visit for food today I found myself walking a forgotten path. For many years my friend Michael and I would meet at Great Waters Brewing Company at least once a week for lunch. It was our regular tradition, and as soon as the patio opened up in the Spring you would find us there, trying to push our lunch breaks just a few moments longer.

As the years went on, and I moved away from jobs in Saint Paul, our meetups became fewer and farther apart. When talking last week, I realized I actually hadn’t been there in at least a year. As I approached that side of downtown, I decided to walk over and take a seat at the bar and think about old times.

One of the things about Great Waters is that they were the first brewpubs in the area, and really one of the only games in downtown. As downtown Saint Paul was going through its decline and revival, Great Waters stuck it out. Now, there are at least a dozen great places to eat within walking distance from my office. Add to this, the fact that Great Waters doesn’t change it’s food menu, and I found my visits being less frequent.

Yet, today when I looked at the menu I wasn’t struck by how little it had changed, but felt a sense of relief. It was the same as it has been for years, and in some ways it felt like coming home. Even some of the staff was the same (a testament to their retention abilities?). I ordered my food and enjoyed my drink and simply absorbed something familiar.

Maybe nostalgia is a pointless, fleeting feeling, but today it’s what I needed. It’s nice to know that the familiar was there, waiting for me. Maybe it’s OK that some things don’t change. The pace of modern life means that we are surrounded by change all the time, and we’ve been conditioned to crave it. I seek out new breweries with a passion, collecting more and more different tastes. Yet, what we sometimes need is a home base; a place where we aren’t surprised, but comforted.

Today was that day of comfort, and I appreciate that Great Waters was still there, ready to make me feel peace in an ever changing world.

Garrison Keillor – Gratitude Tour

I’ve been a fan of Prairie Home Companion for many years. It was a wonderful, homey, slice of life in Minnesota, that made you laugh and sometimes cry. A couple of years ago Garrison Keillor retired from the show, and one of my regrets (and my wife’s) is that we never got to see a show live. When we saw that Garrison Keillor was going to be doing a thank you tour that would take him to St. Joseph, MN we jumped at the opportunity to buy tickets.

Tuesday night came and we make the hour long drive to the College of St. John’s/St Benedict on a grey rainy evening. For my wife this was a homecoming, as she grew up not far from this college. I could tell that she was feeling a flood of emotions as we walked towards the main auditorium; a place where she had visited and performed many, many times.

We took our seats, and shortly after 7pm Mr. Keillor took the stage. He began by singing a poem, that turned into another and another; some of them funny and some beautiful. Soon he launched into talking about poems and how meaningful they are in our lives. He grew up in an era where students memorized poems, and those poems stay with you your entire life.

The evening progressed with wonderful stories, both hilarious and touching. At one point Mr. Keillor had us all sing “poems” that we all knew by heart, such as Silent Night; a song which always brings my wife to tears. We vacillated between laughing and crying as the night wore on. We were an audience of strangers, but as the night progressed there was a bond that was created. Stories of days gone by, and traditions of our Midwestern life brought us together in unity around a single quiet voice.

Garrison Keillor ended the night with a humorous tale from Lake Wobegon, the fictional town he created so many decades ago. It was a story about innocence lost, and laugh-out-loud hi-jinks, all woven together around a poem. A story told in only the way that Mr. Keillor can tell it, with soft-spoken reverence and wit, with a dash of bawdy-ness thrown in for good measure.

Soon the night came to a close and we headed for the car. Emotions of the evening flooded back to us. My wife and I will soon be dealing with the loss of family member, and spending time in her hometown brought the evening special meaning. Places are important, and whether it’s a fictional town like Lake Wobegon or a real city in the middle of Minnesota, places make us feel something special about who we are in the universe. We don’t go through this life alone, but in the physical community of those around us.

It’s all well and good to have the ability to connect with people hundreds of miles away through the power of technology. Yet, when it comes down to it, the feel of brick and stone, the smells, the lights… all of these things create something more meaningful, more lasting in our minds. These are memories that can never be overwritten by Instagram or Twitter. All it takes is running your fingers along the stone wall of a familiar childhood building to transport you to another time. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. The memories of people and places you’ve loved and lived, reminding you that life is precious, and powerful, and worth every moment.

Can Can Wonderland

Last week the wife and I had the opportunity to check out this new place in the Twin Cities called Can Can Wonderland. It’s part mini-golf/arcade, and part bar/music lounge. It’s put together by artists and is built in this old canning factory.

IMG_0848The adventure begins when you find the “secret entrance” at street level and make your way down tunnels and stairs. You feel like you’re descending into the bowels of some dingy basement, but when you enter Can Can’s space you’re greeted with beautiful natural light from large windows near the roof. When the afternoon sun comes in you almost feel like you’re outside because of the abundance of natural light.

We bought our mini-golf tickets and started our round. All of the holes were uniquely designed by artists, each with it’s own theme and message. The holes were also very fun to play, with a bit of challenge to them. One of them that was easier on a game level was also one of the most visually stunning. As the picture below depicts, it looks like I’m about to drop my golf ball into an abyss, however it’s completely an optical illusion and the entire space is just Plexiglas over an image.

IMG_0854I also really enjoyed the steel drum hole which was made with containers similar to the ones that would have been used in this former factory. Hitting the balls off of them made really beautiful sounds that echoed throughout the building. The final hole was hilarious, entitled the World’s Longest Hole. It spanned the entire length of the course, hundreds of feet, but in a completely straight line. Can Can Wonderland has promised a year’s supply of beer to anyone who can make a hole-in-one on it. Needless to say I think that’s near impossible, as neither of us could even get our balls more than 2/3-3/4 of the way down.

IMG_0849Once we finished our game we had some grilled cheese at the bar and considered waiting around for a polka band to start playing. However, we were both tired from the week and decided to simply head upstairs to a new taproom that had opened up for a quick drink before heading home.

My biggest recommendation for Can Can Wonderland is to get there early. It got very crowded after we arrived, and if you have younger kids you’ll want to not be fighting a mass of people at the same time. Otherwise, I highly recommend taking a visit to Can Can Wonderland. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s visually very unique. A lot of artists put their love into what you see and it makes everything feel amazing and special.


Makers do cool things

My step-son is graduating soon as a CNC Machinist. One of the things he really enjoys about machining is creating things. Last night he gifted my wife and I with a really cool little gadget that he made. This is one of those key ring separators that most of us use to warm up our car in the winter time and still be able to lock our front door. He engraved it with his school logo, his name, and dates of his schooling.

The thing that impressed me the most is how small and intricate all these cuts are. It was so small I even had some issues getting a clear picture of it. In my head I know this type of precision is possible, I use technology every day. It’s just wild to see it being done by my step-son with just a couple years of training, and amazing machining tools.