I arrived in Minneapolis in the middle of a downpour. I was on a Greyhound bus with a bad comedian for a driver and two elderly ladies who talked non-stop for the duration of the three hour drive from Duluth. I’d been drenched twice in one day, had a nasty dose of hat hair and nothing but an apple to keep my hunger at bay. I was not in a particularly good mood. Duluth had been such an absolutely wonderful experience and I was pretty sure that Minneapolis/St Paul, (which, viewed through the rain slick windows of a speeding Greyhound looked like little more than an atypical American industrial city), couldn’t compare to the rest of Minnesota. Of course I was wrong. Each new stop on the journey has been like opening a door into a fresh room full of new experiences and friends and my Minneapolis stop, though brief, was every bit as brilliant as Duluth.
My host in Minneapolis was the lovely, and very aptly titled Larry Bach, (who teaches music at a Minneapolis College named North Central), and his wonderful wife Jerrilyn. Larry very kindly invited me along to take classes at North Central with some of their creative writing students and it was a highlight of my trip so far to be able to read with them and teach a little about magic realism, artistic discipline and writing practice. This was the first time I’d had the opportunity to teach in a university setting and whilst absolutely terrifying I learnt so much in the few hours I got to spend with North Central students, (best question and answer session I’ve had since Malcolm Orange was published), and enjoyed the experience so much, I’ll definitely seize any opportunity I get to teach again.
The other big highlight of my Minneapolis visit was the chance to visit the Dinkytown area, where Bob Dylan lived during the year in which he attended the University of Minnesota. It’s an amazingly creative little neighbourhood with great coffee, some very authentic American diners, (where I got the opportunity to meet and share a strawberry malt with the Fulks family who are old friends of my good friend, the Belfast-based poet Andy Eaton), bookstores and a Subway sandwich shop resting on the very spot where Robert Zimmerman first took to the stage as Bob Dylan. Larry was a very gracious host, driving laps of the neighbourhood extremely slowly as we tried to work out where all the various Dylan spots were located. Perhaps most famously of all Dinkytown claim to own the famous 4th Street of Positively 4th Street fame. Whilst they’ve painted a mural on a gable wall to mark this iconic pop culture moment, many Dylan scholars would argue that this isn’t the right 4th Street after all and Bob was actually singing about a street in New York. Either way I was sure to get a photo of the mural to add to my ever growing collection of snapshots from the Dylgrimage.
Other highlights of my stay in Minneapolis included a visit to Mall of America, the largest indoor retail venue in the US, (imagine the entire town of Ballymena if it got sucked inside the Fairhill and accessorised with a small theme park and aquarium), getting to visit with Jerrilyn’s book group and discover that a righteous and deep-seated hatred of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, has made it across the Atlantic and is alive and kicking in suburban Mineapolis, a visit to the beautiful Guthrie Theatre and my first experience of American football, albeit a rather inglorious experience as “we” were trounced 50 something (points? goals? conversions? touch downs? the details are still hazy), to 10 by our rivals on the other side of Superior. I left Minneapolis with the promise of snow already heavy in the air and jumped a plane to Nashville, Tennessee. I can’t believe I’ve less than two weeks of my adventure left.