Esteban Writes from Minnesota

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Duluth and Bob Dylan
We unexpectedly end up in Duluth.
I’m not sure I get this city. Is it an industrial town that moves on progress? Or a museum of old prosperity? Its streets run down from the hills, landing into the cold waters of Lake superior and the raised platforms of rusted metal, railroads and old industry. Lots of things are suspended here: bridges, walkways, time. But at the same time it’s a city of movement. Trains and ships disappearing in the horizon. Those hills pushing you down onto highway 61 as an invitation to leave. The entire city seems to be saying “let’s keep it moving.”
Duluth seems committed to its connection to Bob Dylan. He was born and spent the first years of his life here, so we decided to go check his childhood house. It was only six blocks away, but on the hills of Duluth the journey seemed endless. How many steps must a man walk up before reaching Bob Dylan’s house? The answer my friend is too many. Get an Uber or something.
In our way I think of Me and Bobby D. I have a weird relationship with him. I spent several years trying to understand why he was such a legend. But my English was never good enough to capture his lyrics while listening to him.
I slowly started absorbing the meaning of his songs through his music, his phrasing, and some words here or there. I felt like I understood something, even though things didn’t make much logical sense. I’m happy to report that, now that I’ve learned more of the language, and I’ve come to understand more and more of his music, he still makes no sense. I am as lost as I was before. And that’s what makes him special. He is a masterful writer, but he seems to be able to convey an emotion beyond the words. Something always hides in his music, as in his demeanor. Something mysterious that seems to make sense beyond logic. I don’t get what he’s saying, but I get it.
The house was a house in the same sense Bob Dylan is just a person. There’s nothing intrinsically especial about it. Nothing to get. Just another house in the block. Bob was also just another kid playing in the sidewalks of Duluth, looking below at the contrast between Lake Superior and the mysterious vastness of the engineered horizon of railroads and highways. The gravitational pull of that hill, the stillness of water, and the urgency of industry all below him, as some kind of metaphor for the United States. The kind of metaphor he doesn’t understand, but he gets it. We stand there for two minutes, looking at the plate. “First house of Bob Dylan. 1941-1947.” Autumn turns and sees down into the horizon. “Ok. Let’s keep it moving.”

Max, Holly, Clark, Soccer, and Minneapolis

We visit our dear friends Holly and Max. I’m excited to see them, not because they used to be our neighbors, but because I want to desperately see Clark. Whenever they left town, Holly and Max used to ask me to check on their cat, so I would go down the stairs to feed him. Clark and I have a love/hate relationship, as in I love him and he hates me. Those checking sessions where basically me leaving food on his plate and badly trying to get him to come out of his hiding spot to play with me.
They live in one of the cutest houses in Minneapolis. How is it possible for a house to be quaint, cozy, and small, and still have 5 bedrooms? As soon as we walk in they make us feel so welcome, even though Holly is leaving for a trip abroad the next day. We connect to their WiFi, eat their food, and use their shower. Not to brag, but I’ve showered four days in a row now. They have set up their guest room for us, with everything we could need (except for gummy bears, which they confess have left for guests before. I guess we’re not good enough for them?). We left them a decent review.
They take us out to dinner to a very busy and popular Ecuadorian restaurant. There’s a significant population of Ecuadorables here in Minneapolis, apparently. This is not the only thing that makes me nostalgic: Max’s knowledge and passion for soccer reminds me of my friends and family back home. I deeply admire Max’s ability to turn a casual conversation about a player into a clever reflection on world politics or history. I’m not particularly a sports person, but I learned to appreciate the sport in the same way I learned how to dance salsa, or be a Catholic: it was basically a requirement to graduate high school in Ecuador.
As I’ve moved from home I’ve learned to understand that watching sports is a way to connect with people from all over the planet. And the US is so isolated in this sense, unwilling to pay much attention to worldwide competitions but calling itself the greatest country on Earth. You got your own sports here, and that’s it. In Ecuador we do have some sports that are only played there, like Ecuavolley. Our version has three players on each team, is played with a heavier ball, and I think it’s a requirement to have a slightly heavier dude playing without a shirt. It’s badass.
In this country I consider watching soccer a political act. It’s a radically progressive political pastime. Liberals talk about the importance of appreciating and accepting the rest of the world but few are willing to sit down and try to understand the two things that all continents love: soccer and the metric system. You may very well think it’s boring (things you don’t understand are always boring; ask anyone who tries to watch football or baseball for the first time), but it’s the easiest way to connect with almost anyone in the planet. If you ever meet a Brazilian, an Italian, a South African, you can immediately start a conversation about how annoying Argentinians can be.
So you think you’re progressive? If you don’t start watching soccer you’re still kilometers away from being woke. After leaving Max and Holly’s house we drive down a park in the city. I see a volleyball court with three men on each side, two of them are not wearing a shirt. Holy shit. Ecuavolley has made its way here. It’s almost an illusion, as we quickly drive away, but in that moment I get a glimpse of a couple of gringo faces in the audience. This vision is currently the best hope for the US.
As for Clark, well, let’s just say I don’t think he’ll ever enjoy Ecuavolley.

Michelle, Mike, Fireworks, and Waterfalls
Minneapolis spreads beyond my understanding. Every street seems to form a part of a perfect grid and then it abruptly lands on a river, a lake, or a park with a river or lake. It’s also a city full of corners packed with multicultural independent businesses with some weird angle. A butcher shop that’s also a record store. A coffee place that accepts used books as payment. A honey bee farm that makes free-range bicycles. You can’t apply for a business permit if you don’t brew your own beer. It’s a really cool city. At least for like three weeks of the year. Here’s where we spend our 4th of July. We stayed in Michelle and Mike’s driveway that night. I barely knew Michelle, she’s Aut’s ex co-worker and friend, but I immediately learn to respect and admire her. She has an incredible ability (and need) to connect with people, and seems to be happiest when building connections in her community. Waving to strangers, saying hi to neighbors, or handing flyers to create a community dog park nearby. She shares her backyard coop eggs with the neighborhood. In front of their house they have built a small wooden box that reads:
Community Eggs
Enjoy!
For her, being an extrovert is a moral and political responsibility. It seems to me the perfect person to spend this holiday with.
Regardless of the country or their meaning, patriotic holidays seem cartoonish to me. The imagined concept of what a country is sometimes seem even more plastic during those days. And the US is a ridiculous country. Not that there’s something wrong with that, every country is ridiculous. The concept of a country requires some level of ludicrous symbology. I’m not saying it’s silly to enjoy fireworks or holiday traditions, and I’m not passing moral judgement, just pointing out how absurd they sometimes seem. 4th of July especially. To be fair, it seems very proper to celebrate the US with explosives and rockets. This country surely is proud of being loud and blowing things up.
We ignore the whole thing and go to Minehaha Park. Its paths, stairs, and corners remind me of the parks in bigger cities like Central Park in New York, or Golden Gate park in San Francisco. But in this one the calm demeanor of carefully designed public spaces suddenly clashes with an impressive waterfall and the fast river flow that follows. The park seems to symbolize the spirit of the city: planned urban organization next to nature. The loudness of the waterfall as we walk masks the sounds of the fireworks. Feels like a good celebration to me.

What’s next:
The Dakotas! The Badlands!
Thanks for reading and thanks to those who have replied. Love hearing from you.

Esteban

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