Western Americana persists and thrives on the northern Great Plains. A photo of a poem from cowboy poet Shadd Piehl, this commissioned by the Hotel Donaldson, Fargo. Shadd is a good friend.
The Bohemian pulse runs thick in the Piehl DNA (see here for detail). Some days I know we’re living out a long extension of a Willa Cather My Ántonia novel here in the 21st century. We’re sitting in the saddle of the 49th parallel on the northern Great Plains, North America.
Molly and I have been straightening up the flat this weekend, taking short breaks here and there as well. It is really fantastic to be engaged to a professional artist and art teacher for numerous reasons. Molly has a range of medium she works in, including custom mosaics, piano playing and teaching piano, guitar and ukulele playing, mastering the Swedish folk art of Dalmål, and on and on. Of all these mediums, included in a short YouTube video below is Molly’s rendition of Feist’s 1-2-3-4 (the Sesame Street version is linked to here as well). One of the many spectacular reasons that live performance is, well, spectacular has to do with the direct interaction that stage performers have with their environment and the audience. It’s an exchange. Of course, I have recorded and uploaded Molly’s impromptu performance on the YouTubes (thereby digitizing and preserving it in some kind of digital cloud space and time). But it is a slice of the reality that took place. Part of this reality is the unforeseen, as when a BNSF train horn rolling through downtown Fargo let loose about 0:43 and 0:57 in the video. Then a breeze decided to shut the door at about 1:01 in the video. But again, this is live, DIY, living room flat performance. And the band, and life, plays on.
One of the only known Pizza Hut ET commemorative glasses in North Dakota’s Sheyenne River Valley.
Throughout last week I’ve been following the media trail of four friends — Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, and Bret Weber — who were mustered into a modern archaeological dig in New Mexico. The goal was to dig up a pile of ET Atari games that were buried after the craptacular game hit the shelves in 1983. When this game hit the shelves, it signaled the beginning of the end for Atari, as Atari lost (according to the Wikipedia page) over a half-billion dollars after buying the rights from Spielberg; over-producing a terrible game; and banking on the idea that customers would rip them from the shelves. They did, to a degree. But the video gamers returned them for a refund as well.
So I kept up with the social media and stories, noting to myself that the archaeology of ET Atari games was more popular than the actual 1983 game. I was also happy to read that Caraher made Rolling Stone. Check it out in the link here. CNN covered the story too. Daniel Politi of Slate.com also covered the story, as did Dominic Rushe of The Guardian, and NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story here. Eric Mack of Forbes covered Andrew Reinhard here (well, the picture is of Andrew). And The Onion covered it here.
The more local Fargo Forum ran a story on it here, too. And you can get direct, unadulterated coverage of the ET dig from Bill Caraher’s blog here. So while holding down the bunker in North Dakota, and while reading these stories, I would often take sips from the ET glass pictured here. The glass comes from my fiancée’s sister’s Valley City home. I think it was a thrift store find some time ago. I still have to set down and get an official oral history.
Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi by Tricia Fossum.
As the title of this blog entry suggests, since Molly and I live in historic downtown Fargo, we (like many Fargoans) decided to host a pre-game get-together before the 9:00PM (CST) sharp showing of FX’s “Fargo” television series at The Fargo Theater in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, a kind of Fargo-Fargo-Fargo post-modernity, or something along those lines. My mind is still reeling about the implications, since every North Dakotan knows that the glorious Coen brothers film Fargo was almost entirely filmed in Minnesota. You betcha. But that is less and less transparent the further one is from Fargo. So I am convinced and know that some kind of global Fargo diaspora has developed, and is only reshaped and pushed in different directions with this television series. It’s kind of like when someone who is born in Chicago with Irish genealogy listens to modern Irish music and says, “I’m Irish.” Actually, it’s not anything like that. Nevermind. On to the Fargo evening, though.
Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.
Yesterday evening Molly picked me up after work and we made it back to our apartment in just enough time for two things to happen before company arrived: we decided that I would make this fancy hot dish recipe while Molly would straighten up the dining and living room. It worked dontchaknow. Guests started pouring in our door just after 7:00PM, and there was much back-slapping and guffawing. Since we were celebrating Fargo and midwestern and northern Great Plains culture, there was also large amounts of passive-aggressive acknowledgement, and commands phrased as questions punctuated with a “then” at the end; as in, “Do you want to pass the hot dish then?”
The conversation flowed, as did the hot dish and jello salads last night. So much that I didn’t get a chance to snap any photos of the event. But several friends did. I pulled a few of the photos from the social media this evening. That is why you get a picture of the hot-dish spread, taken by Molly. The other photos are from our highly trained professional photographer friend, Holly Anderson Battocchi (yes, her Italian-American husband Dante lives in Fargo too). At the end of our get-together, one large group left the pre game Fargo-Fargo-Fargo get-together to take in the FX “Fargo” premiere. A smaller group (that’s us) decided to stay behind at our apartment. We rationalized us not attending “Fargo” by saying we don’t need to see “Fargo” because we are and live and create Fargo, everyday. Aw, geez.
It’s about 3:23PM, so I thought I’d break just a moment for tea and a blog entry to throw out a little PR for some colleagues and friends.
Two events are going down in Fargo this Saturday, March 15. Well, wait a minute: certainly there are more than two events going down in Fargo this Saturday. But here are the two events that I know of right now, this Monday afternoon. The two that I’m going to talk about. You should definitely go see other events, too, above and beyond this.
The first event is a benefit for a friend and scholar, Mike Casler. Mike was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011, and he’s been through a battery of surgeries and radiation treatment. Mike, along with a bunch of us, are gathering at The Bowler in Fargo (2630 South University Dr.) anywhere from 4:00-11:55PM for the official Mike Casler Benefit Fund — again this Saturday, March 15. Also, Mike is the author and historian of several upper Missouri River scholarly works, including Steamboats of the Fort Union Fur Trade: An Illustrated Listing of Steamboats on the Upper Missouri River, 1831-1867 (Ft. Union Association, 1999); and he regularly collaborates and conspires (in a good way) with the Great Plains titan of anthro, archaeology and history, W. Raymond Wood (some of Ray’s works here, here, and here, and his memoirs here).
And also on Saturday, March 15, Keith Bear will be playing Mandan-Hidatsa flute at 8:15PM in The Avalon. This is a part of the larger Great Winter Crow Show organized by Dawn and the Spirit Room Galleries. Also check that out from 5:00-10:00PM. You can read more about Keith at this link here. The event is sponsored by the Avalon Event Center, the Lake Region Art Council, and the North Dakota Humanities Council.
Okay, that was a 5-minute blog post update. Back to it.
Molly’s white chicken chili.
There’s something like a 3rd or 7th polar vortex bearing down on the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes region on this sunny, cold Saturday lunch hour. Yesterday Molly suggested that we make white chicken chili. I set the navy beans to soaking yesterday afternoon, and she put soup together just before lunch today. Lots of coriander, cumin, Tochi’s taco seasoning, green and red chilies, etc. This is what she was telling me after I asked, “Why is this so delicious?” We also added cilantro just before serving. Note: what you can’t see in this photo are the two chihuahuas at my feet. Seriously. They are named Willow and Honey. This soup is heating us up for sure. Polar vortex, your serve.
One of the many wood troll carvings at the Sons of Norway in Fargo, North Dakota.
Since it has been reported by The Daily Mail that the Viking apocalypse — Ragnarok for those of us in the know — will happen this Saturday, February 22, I figured it doesn’t matter that the History Channel’s Vikings Season II premiers on February 27. I also figured that it would be appropriate to post three photos I took on Thorsdag evening at the Sons of Norway in downtown Fargo, North Dakota (pie day is every Thursday at lunch, too). Within the Sons of Norway is the Troll Bar which, in turn, is decorated with several wood Norsk troll carvings that run the perimeter of the tavern.
Trolls have increasingly interested me as of late. In genealogical e-mail conversations with Valerie Larson-Wolfe, a distant Swedish-American cousin of mine (who lives in Chico, California), she mentioned that our great-great-Swedish uncle August used to remark on how, as a young boy, he used to see trolls in and around his family’s farm near Ïvo in southern Sweden.
As a historian, I am interested in this not necessarily to prove or disprove the existence of trolls. Rather, I’m interested in it in from the standpoint of a social historian or folklorist: if people say they are seeing trolls, they are doing this for social reasons that might not be clear to outsiders. I’m interested in unpacking those reasons. If you’re in Iceland, though, you get the privilege of having your Supreme Court decide on whether or not to protect known elf sites (links on that here, here and here).
This, in turn, has gotten me thinking a bit more about sightings of small people in world history. On the northern Great Plains, it isn’t uncommon to hear stories from Mandan-Hidatsa or the Oceti Sakowin oyate of small people sightings. These sightings are amazingly important to particular cultures — much in the same way that the notions of a man walking on water or rising from the dead three days after the Roman Empire executed him are amazingly important to particular cultures too (yes, I just went there). Happy ragnarok weekend everyone. See you all on the other side (or on Monday).
Last Sunday, as we on the northern Great Plains were enjoying our 357th blizzard of the winter, Molly and I drove down to southern Fargo to oblige an invite from the First Sudanese Lutheran Church of Fargo, North Dakota. We went to chat with this recently-arrived growing group of New Americans. They put out a huge spread of Sudanese food, too, prepared by no less than 3 Sudanese mothers the night prior.
After the benefit supper, on the drive home, I couldn’t help but think about the processes of global population movements in world history. This invariably led me to think about our grandparents and great grandparents and great-great grandparents who poured into the United States in the 19th century: think today about navigating immigration (the New American Sudanese are here because they are getting away from a lot of this, and a cease-fire update on that here too), finding transportation, learning about car and health insurance, learning a new language, and getting up to speed with the societal customs inherent to America’s increasingly industrial society, all while trying to keep a foot in the old ways too (this is why today we see things like the Sons of Norway, German-Russian, and Three Crowns organizations).
Some of the New Americans expressed an interest in future home ownership, and the gears in my brain started moving: “Who might be able to chat with these folks about the processes and options of home loans and real estate?…” These folks have jobs and they want to continue raising families. Homes are important for going about this. I was so wrapped up in conversation and getting filled up with Sudanese food (the delicious Sambusas were flowing like wine) that I didn’t get a chance to take a photo. But I do have this handy 2013 year-end reflection that I picked up.
Yesterday, late afternoon, I texted Sean Burt to see if he wanted to meet up for some long-overdue conversation at Würst Bier Hall in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. After he confirmed, I bundled up and started my southward trek down the east side of North Broadway. Along the way I noticed a woman taking a picture of the historic First Lutheran church. I asked if she was getting a good picture, and we chatted just a bit, and she said she was up from California for a meeting. I noted that she was a committed meeting-goer, coming from California to a Fargo winter for a meeting. Here is how the conversation roughly played out:
Aaron: “California is a long way to come for a meeting.”
Californian: “Yeah, but it’s worth it: a bunch of us just met here at First Lutheran about re-igniting the Daughters of Norway chapter here in Fargo.”
Aaron: “Ah, good deal. My great grandparents were Swede, and there’s a lot of continuity worth sharing throughout Scandinavia. Are you ethnic Norwegian?”
Californian: “No, I’m Polish.”
Aaron: “Oh, I see. Is your husband Norwegian?”
Californian: “No, he’s Algerian.”
Aaron: “Oh, I see. That makes sense. Well here’s my card. Let me know if and how I can help you in the future.”
So I was satisfied with having met an ethnic Pole from California who just finished a meeting in Fargo about firing up the Daughters of Norway once again. Heritage groups are fun that way. It’s only a matter of getting involved.