Minnesota Endorses…

Last summer, in an effort to make Minnesota more relevant in presidential races, state legislators voted to bump precinct caucuses from early March to February 5. The reasoning: Because everything in the presidential-campaign cycle has been trending earlier—announcements, fundraising, smearing—the party nominations will essentially have been decided by March.

But the move isn’t likely to make much of a difference. For starters, roughly 20 other states have passed similar legislation, rendering the move, well, about one-twentieth as effective. We’re just another joiner in the extravaganza soon to be known as Super-Duper Tuesday.

What’s more, Minnesota won’t distinguish itself because, if history is any guide, we almost always follow our southern neighbor. We’ve trod the same path as Iowa in every election (save 1980) since the 1960s, the decade when Iowa’s caucuses became significant. Even our bolder choices have mirrored Iowa’s picks, as in 1988, when Minnesotan Republicans selected Senator Robert Dole, who then had only a minimal shot at the presidency; and in 1992, when Minnesota Democrats sided with Iowa liberals to choose the Hawkeye State senator Tom Harkin. Neither, you’ll recall, reached the Oval Office.


Arctic Front

Roughly 100 members of the Minnesota National Guard are packing for yet another overseas deployment this month. But the all-volunteer force isn’t headed to Iraq or Afghan­istan.

These Minnesota soldiers will visit a training facility in Norway, just south of the Arctic Circle. As part of an exchange program, begun in 1974, the Americans will spend two weeks learning combat and survival skills—mountain warfare, winter camouflage, cold-weather camping—from members of the Norwegian Home Guard. Such training may seem far removed from the realities of the war in Iraq, but these skill sets could come in handy in the mountains of Afghanistan or in some future deployment, says a Guard spokesperson: “You never know what’s coming next.”

The second part of the exchange is a “cultural experience” offered by the Norwegian hosts. We’re not sure if chugging beer in the Arctic chill qualifies as culture, but it probably beats drinking warm water in Iraq.


Piano Man

Penumbra Theatre

Few directors are better equipped to tackle August Wilson’s 10-play “Pittsburgh Cycle” than Lou Bellamy. The artistic director of Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Bellamy was a close friend of the playwright until his death in 2005. He premiered Wilson’s first professional production in the early 1980s. And he has directed or acted in eight of the 10 dramas in the “Pittsburgh” series.

But even Bellamy admits he’s daunted by the task of staging the entire cycle, as Penumbra plans to do over the next several seasons. The Piano Lesson, which opens February 21, will be a particularly high hurdle: Bellamy helped set the standard in the early 1990s, when he co-starred in Penumbra’s first production of the play, which Wilson later called his “favorite staging.” Says Bellamy, “I feel fortunate to have made a living around this good literature.” And Wilson, who earned a Pulitzer (his second) for The Piano Lesson, would no doubt say he was indebted to Bellamy as well.


Unconventional Valentine’s

Gift suggestions that will make you feel as good about giving as receiving

Better Blooms

Fresh flowers are fleeting. A rose-scented diffuser from Minneapolis-based Alora Ambiance lasts 4 to 6 months. Brian Graham Salon, 220 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612-333-3091


Make your own or support a local artist who does. Molly Woodland uses vintage patterns and hand-sewn details to create charming sentiments. www.apiarydesign.com, 612-270-2960

Sweet Nothings

Indulge in calorie-free, guilt-free decadence with Laura Mercier’s Chocolate Truffle Body Collection of body crème and bath gel. Neiman Marcus, 505 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-339-2600

Love in a Bottle

Love needn’t be toxic. Forgo chemical-laden, headache-inducing fragrances in favor of a natural, essential oil like Aveda Pur-Fume Absolute Love. www.aveda.com, 800-644-4831

Healthy Pour

Trade in the bubbly for an “eco-wine.” Frog’s Leap Rougante Pink is festive and made from certified organically grown grapes. FRANCE 44, 4351 France Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-925-3252


Bad, Bad Science

Later this month, the Science Museum of Minnesota will unveil an exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum called Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. It centers on Nazi efforts to use eugenics to create a racially pure society.

That might seem like a horrific idea from a distant time and place, but the eugenics movement was prevalent across the United States a century ago, and Minnesota played a part in advancing this bunk science.

The state’s strongest eugenics enthusiast was Dr. Charles Fremont Dight. An eccentric Minneapolis physician, Dight became interested in improving society through controlled breeding in the early 1920s, just as the science of eugenics was gaining steam in America. His initial foray into the subject was a pamphlet entitled “Human Thoroughbreds, Why Not?” In 1933, Dight wrote a fan letter to Adolf Hitler praising the chancellor’s plan to “stamp out mental inferiority in the German people.” And he also espoused a plan to create a stand at the Minnesota State Fair that would feature a “fitter families contest.” The booth would encourage Minnesotans to strive for more perfectly constructed families, bred for mental acumen and physical prowess.

While Dight’s more radical ideas failed to excite wide support, he did win the backing of many in Minnesota’s scientific and political communities when he proposed a law that would require the sterilization of mentally handicapped individuals in 1925. He was far from alone in believing that sterilization could alleviate the sufferings of the mentally ill: Some 4,000 sterilizations were done in California alone. Minnesota’s law, which passed and remained on the books until the mid-1970s, resulted in the enforced sterilization of the “feeble-minded” and insane at the state hospital in Faribault.

Dight died in the late 1930s, leaving the proceeds of his estate—around $200,000—to the University of Minnesota, with the request that it establish “a place for consultation and advice on heredity and eugenics.” The Dight Institute, reinvented in 1946 as a place of genetic study and counseling, existed at the U until 1985.



Party Animals

If you think gridlock is a Beltway problem, just wait till you see St. Paul next September. Smart Twin Citians are already making plans to deal with the airport and street traffic generated by the Republican National Convention: If projections regarding participants and protestors are correct, the event will briefly make St. Paul the most populous city in the state (it’s like adding the population of Edina—twice). Here, the latest estimates on who will make up the horde.

45,000 Convention attendees*
41 Minnesota delegates
2,380 Convention delegates
15,000 Journalists
8,000 Volunteers
250 Interns
50,000 Protesters
300 Lawyers willing to represent those arrested

* Including delegates, volunteers, interns, and journalists.


Slippery Characters

WITH THE 29TH INTERNATIONAL EELPOUT FESTIVAL just around the bend (February 15 to 17, Leech Lake, Walker), it seems a fine time to pit the early-spawning eelpout, which surfaces below the ice in late winter, against the state’s freshwater favorite, the walleye. Which is the better catch? You decide.


The Look:

Forked tail, pearlescent eyes, and side scales often flecked with gold.
Monikers: Greenback, Minnesota’s State Fish, Hawg
Reputation: Weed wallower
Annoying Habit: Not seeing the allure of your lure
Record Catch: 17 pounds, 8 ounces, 35.8 inches, hooked on the Seagull River in 1979
Taste: Subtle and divine. Best almond-crusted or cornmeal-dusted.
Best Chance for Recreational Sampling: Minnesota State Fair: in a cake, on a stick, or with a side of walleye fries.


The Look:

Catfish from the neck up, eel from the neck down—with a lone chin whisker.
Monikers: Burbot, Minnesota Lobster, Lawyer
Reputation: Bait stealer
Annoying Habit: Wrapping itself around your arm
Record Catch: 19 pounds, 3 ounces, 36.25 inches, landed on Lake of the Woods in 2001
Taste: Lobster-esque, in the way that SPAM tastes like ham.
Best Chance for Recreational Sampling: International Eelpout Festival: deep-fried nuggets


Free Drinks, On Rybak

Why is Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak so ga-ga over agua? Is it the $10 million the city reportedly makes selling its tap water to nearby municipalities? His concerns about bottled water’s impact on the environment? The former marketing consultant is now pushing a plan to build 10 artist-created water fountains around the city. “The increased use of bottled water today challenges the democratic belief that everyone can have access to quality water,” states a draft of the project, called City of Waters, “and yet ironically Minneapolis has some of the very best public drinking water in the country.” To pay for the fountains, Rybak has asked the city to spend its entire public arts budget for the year—some $250,000—plus an equal amount from the city’s water fund (supported mostly by residents’ water-usage fees). This month, the city will solicit prospective artists, with the first fountain—already slated for design by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre of Minneapolis—to be operational by July, in time for the city’s sesquicentennial.

New Movers and Shakers

Phillip Carman says “it’s a crime” that dancers have to flee Minnesota for steadier work elsewhere. As the artistic director of the Twin Cities’ newest professional dance company, the Chamber Ballet of Saint Paul, which is an offshoot of the Saint Paul City Ballet school, he hopes to reverse the trend. He aims to become the sole employer of his company’s eight dancers. “A couple dancers in the company are teachers, but they’re too young to be doing that—they’re still at their peak,” says Carman, who moved to St. Paul four years ago after building a similar company in Baltimore. His troupe debuts February 14 to 16 with, well, DEBUT, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, launching an ambitious four-show season.

Acts of Love

Whatever the state of your union, set the proper mood with one of these five Valentine’s Day events




Old Log Theater, Excelsior, www.oldlog.com
What to expect: If there isn’t a ring on your finger by the second act of this nostalgic Neil Simon comedy about romantic entanglements, you’re either with the wrong person or your mother.
Who should go: Anyone looking to drop a very big hint.
Who shouldn’t: Those on a first—or last—date. And anyone who can’t stand a little cheese with their wisecrackers.

Warm Beer Cold Women


Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio, Minneapolis, www.guthrietheater.com
What to expect: A musical revue of gravel-voiced piano man Tom Waits’s ditties about hookers, hipsters, and skid-row romantics.
Who should go: Singles and couples looking for a non-mushy date.
Who shouldn’t: Those who find nothing romantic about the lyric “I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.”

The Love Tour


Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, www.mnzoo.org
What to expect: Birds do it, bees do it—and on this cheeky zoo tour of animal breeding behaviors, you’ll learn exactly how.
Who should go: Long-term couples curious what passes for courtship in the animal kingdom (sometimes not even a hello).
Who shouldn’t: First-daters, shy folks, the kids

Don’t Hug Me


Hennepin Stages, Minneapolis, www.hennepintheatredistrict.org
What to expect: How to Talk Minnesotan with different songs, including “I’m a Walleye Woman in a Crappie Town” and “My Smorgasbord of Love.”
Who should go: Does your sweetie hate it that you shop all the time? Do you hate it that he ice fishes? Enjoy.
Who shouldn’t: Anyone who doesn’t love Everyone Loves Raymond.

Hey Girl!


Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, www.walkerart.org
What to expect: Visceral, nearly wordless theater about a futuristic Eve who sprinkles her sword with Chanel No. 5 and carves out a new world for women.
Who should go: Those looking to impress with their contemporary art credentials.
Who shouldn’t: Those who balk at “theater of the subconscious.”

Key Change

Talk about a harmonic convergence. Michael Henson takes the helm at the Minnesota Orchestra this month, just weeks after the organization announced it had finished its first season in the black after nine years of deficits. Managing a $30 million budget won’t be the only task facing Henson, formerly with the Bournemouth Symphony in Britain. As the orchestra’s new CEO and president, Henson will lead the effort to raise $90 million to renovate the ensemble’s hall and the adjoining Peavey Plaza. Drum roll, please.


» I’ve been involved in music since age 2, when my parents bought me a piano. Neither of my parents were musicians, but they were very keen to develop my talents if I showed an ability in any particular area.

» I started writing music when I was about five, and it was one of my two major subjects when I was at university. I’ve always written music. It was my means of expression. But I decided at 26 that I wanted to concentrate fully on the administration of orchestras. I felt that there were far better composers than me.

» Good orchestras are good orchestras and good managers are good managers. There are different ways in which American and British orchestras are funded, but a good manager at a good orchestra has to have fundraising skills, strategic vision, an ability to work together with the artistic director.

» In the United Kingdom, we receive a reasonable amount of government support. But it’s very complex. The Bournemouth Symphony has the most complex funding of any of the English orchestras. We get funding from 26 different local and central government agencies. That means you have to prepare 26 different sets of presentations, you have to lobby 26 different sets of politicians and people who are making the decisions.

» I think orchestras have a duty to record—for posterity. But while the existence of quality orchestras has been fairly constant, the world has not stood still in regard to recording mediums. While we strive for the highest level of performance in the concert hall, the technology isn’t always the highest caliber. It’s important to choose the right medium. You don’t want to waste time and effort going down the wrong lane.

» Concert attendance varies based on location, programming, venue. In Bournemouth, where the average attendance across all our concerts is 82 percent—an enviable rate—the average age is probably around 50. You want to widen the appeal, but you can’t disturb the core audience.

» Orchestras have a social responsibility to do young people’s concerts and to attract audiences that will still be around in 20 or 30 years. The extent of the young people’s concerts in Minnesota very much impressed me.

» What do I think of Osmo? I think he’s a world-class conductor.

» The last CD I bought was by Astral Project—it’s contemporary jazz. I also bought Herbert Howells’s Hymnus Paradisi, by the Bournemouth Symphony and the London Bach Choir—it’s an astonishing performance. And the third CD I bought was, of course, Osmo’s most recent recording of Beethoven.