Blue Highway: A journey down the Mississippi

Posted in America, Clips, Travel on April 7, 2015 by frankbures

BHCoverFrom Minnesota Monthly:

Early one morning last summer, JD Fratzke and I met on the banks of the Mississippi River. The light was dim. The water was calm. Fish were making rings on the surface. JD and I had grown up together on this river, further south in Winona. We’d both spent much of our young lives swimming in it, boating on it, and hanging out at parties in its backwaters. Now it was time to follow it.

I had biked down it. I had driven down it. But I had never floated down on its surface. I had the idea of kayaking from Minneapolis to Hastings, a 33-mile trip, which I thought I could make in a day if the river was fast. When I mentioned this to JD, his reaction was instant: He’d always wanted to do the same. He came from a family of hunters and fishermen and spent nearly every weekend growing up on the river. He remembers one morning out fishing with his dad when he turned and asked why they never went to church. His dad looked at him and said, “Don’t you feel like you are in church?”

Rope SwingFor those of us who grew up on the river, it flows through our minds and our lives, even though we can’t spend aimless days on rope swings any more. For his part, JD spends most of his time running his restaurant, the Strip Club Meat & Fish in St. Paul, where he turns dead things into delicacies. For my part, I spend too much time in my office staring at a screen. To both of us, the river feels like a kind of refuge.

Read the rest here.

AWP Minneapolis

Posted in Art, Books, Events on March 24, 2015 by frankbures

imgresBefore long, some 12,000 writers and 2,000 presenters will descend on this town (Minneapolis) for the annual AWP Conference & Bookfair. Officially, it’s the largest literary conference in the country. Unofficially (I’m told) it’s a big party for writers. Whatever it is, the number of panels and speakers is mind-boggling, and I don’t know how anyone could choose between them. Fortunately for me that choice is easier, since I’ll be on two panels, both related to travel writing. Both should make for great conversations on important issues.

The first, is called, “Can Literary Quarterlies Save Travel Writing?” and features some people I’ve known for a while, and others I haven’t: Jim Benning, Tom Swick, Pamela Petro and Sally Shivnan. I’ll be standing in for the moderator, Evan Balkan. I expect we will answer this question definitively.

The other is “Wild v. Into the Wild: X and Y Chromosomes in Travel Writing,” featuring Eva Holland, Brian Kevin and Kelly Ferguson moderating, with a focus on the differences between men’s and women’s travel writing.

If that wasn’t enough, there will also be a travel writing-themed reading called “Notes From the Road” on Saturday at 4pm at Honey, featuring many of the same writers, as well as Leif Peterson, Annie Scott Riley and Doug Mack, who kindly organized the event and who is busy finishing his new book about the U.S. Territories.

Minneapolis-MN1

The Language of Food

Posted in Books, Science, Travel on February 25, 2015 by frankbures

LOFFrom The Rotarian: Sitting in a pub and ordering a basket of fish and chips may feel so British that you can practically hear “God Save the Queen” playing in the background. Asking for a side of ketchup might feel rebellious, as if you are Americanizing your meal. Yet what you’re really doing is putting a Chinese fish sauce on a favorite delicacy of the Persian kings: Fish and chips is the direct descendant of a dish known as sikbāj, which became ceviche in Spain, aspic in France, and tempura in Japan. Ke-tchup means “preserved-fish sauce” in the southern Chinese language of Hokkien. In his new book, The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), Dan Jurafsky takes us on a journey tracing culinary words across cultures. This is great fun if you want to win the next round of dinnertime trivia, but there are serious lessons here too. As Jurafsky points out, common wisdom has it that China closed itself off from the world around 1450. But the linguistic evidence of ketchup’s spread shows this wasn’t the case. Read the rest here.

Many Globes, Many Hits

Posted in Music on January 26, 2015 by frankbures

Came back from Mexico humming this tune. Can’t believe this wasn’t on every radio station in America. (A little context here.)

The Art and Science of Hope

Posted in Africa, America, Clips, Culture, Parenting, Science, Travel on January 7, 2015 by frankbures

CutlerHopeFrom The Rotarian:

A few years ago, I was passing through the northern Nigerian city of Kano when I stopped at a roadside stall for some tea. The proprietor asked me where I was from. I told him.

“I want to go to America!” he told me, smiling. “We are just suffering here in Nigeria. If I go to America, I will not come back to Nigeria again.”

“Not even to see your mother?” I asked.

He laughed. “I will send her some money.”

I thanked him and drank my tea. After I left, I wondered if he was serious or just talking.

As I traveled through the region, I met several people headed north, on their way to Europe. It was a difficult and dangerous journey that tens of thousands of people set out on each year, many of them never reaching their destination. I often marveled at the confidence a person must have to embark on a trip like that, to leave everything behind, to be certain of somehow making it.

Like most people, I’d always assumed these travelers were the most poverty-stricken, the most hopeless. But now I can see that this isn’t the case – at least not entirely. Often, the people who leave their villages are the brightest and most ambitious ones, the ones with the biggest dreams. As one poet from Cameroun wrote after arriving in Spain, “No money in the pockets/But hope in the heart.” Hope, as much as anything else, drives them.

Hope may be our most important asset as a species. Hope is the thing that drew us out of our caves and around the world. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Hope lets us imagine our lives as more than they are. Yet when we talk about hope, we usually mean the vague feeling that things will get better. But that is not hope.

Read the rest here.

Wanderers

Posted in Travel on December 31, 2014 by frankbures

This beautiful short film by Erik Wernquist, set to the words of Carl Sagan, sums up so much of what I believe about the world. Happy New Year to wanderers everywhere!

On Wealth, Isolation and Giving

Posted in America, Clips, Science on December 24, 2014 by frankbures

Cutler-kindnessFrom The Rotarian:

Down the road in front of me, the light turned red. As our car slowed, from the corner of my eye I saw a man standing in the middle of the street with a sign that said he was homeless and needed money. My wife and two daughters were in the car with me. I looked straight ahead.

From behind me, a small voice spoke. “Can we give him some money?” It was my eight-year-old daughter. I didn’t answer. The light turned green, and I drove on. The voice spoke again.

“Why are you so mean, Daddy?” she said.

“Yeah,” my wife chimed in, smiling. “Why are you so mean?” She was sort of joking, sort of not.

My daughter continued: “How would you feel if you were a poor person and all you had was scraggly clothes and people just drove past you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. And honestly, I didn’t know how I would feel – let alone how that guy felt. In fact, I hadn’t thought about that sort of thing for some time. Back in college, for a senior project about homelessness, I’d played a homeless person in a movie. And I’d done some volunteering here and there, but in raising children lately, everything extraneous has been swept away.

For most of the year, it’s easy to get absorbed in our own lives. But the holidays are supposed to be different. This is the time when our thoughts are supposed to turn to others – to the people we buy gifts for, to those less fortunate than us. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol plays on stages across the country. Every year, ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge and show him how hard his heart has become, and how little happiness all his wealth has brought him.

Read the rest here.

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