Wonderful Minneapolis B & B: 300 Clifton

I love old houses, especially mansions.  I also love that many of them have been turned into Bed and Breakfasts so that I can occasionally spend the night in one of them and pretend I am a grand dame.  Last night, my husband I spent the evening in a historic Minneapolis home: 300 Clifton.

This house was originally built in 1887 in the Queen Anne style, festooned with turrets, porches, and other architectural “eye candy.”  In 1905, the house was purchased by Eugene and Merrette Carpenter, who renovated the home dramatically, transforming the Victorian house to a Georgian Revival.

After 1948, the house was no longer a single-family dwelling.  For a while, it served as a boarding house, and later, it was turned into offices.  Eventually, it fell into disrepair and was on the verge of being condemned.

The present owners, John and Norman, bought the house a few years ago and lovingly transformed it back to its original beauty and opened it as a Bed and Breakfast in the heart of historical Minneapolis.  (The gallery of photos below were taken there during our stay.)

For me, one of the best parts of staying at the house was listening to John tell his guests the history of the house and its original owner, Eugene Carpenter, who was instrumental in transforming Minneapolis from a dusty industrial town to a flourishing center for the arts. John is both knowledgeable and passionate about his subject and can regale his guests for hours with tales from the past.

For more information about the history of the house, click here.  For information about staying at the house, click here.

I have stayed there twice now, and would love to go back again.  I highly recommend it for anyone interested in old homes, history, and the arts.

First Impressions of Beijing

Temple of Heaven, one of the few examples of Chinese architecture I saw in Beijing.
Temple of Heaven, one of the few examples of Chinese architecture I saw in Beijing.

In a recent blog post, Damyanti of Daily (W)rite asked her readers to comment on the last city we traveled to and how it made us feel. (Click here to see the post.)

Her question made me think about Beijing, China, which I recently visited.  If I had to sum up in one word how it made me feel, I might say “disconcerted.”  Even though I did not know what to expect before visiting China’s capital city, Beijing was not what I expected.

What I hoped for, I guess, was a city brimming with history and “Chineseness,” whatever that might mean.  I was hoping for a cityscape that could exist nowhere else on the planet besides China.

Instead, I landed in a bustling modern city, with buildings that appeared to be mostly younger than me.  If I had been “beamed in” to Beijing in a Star Trek type apparatus without being told where I was going, I do not think I would have known I was in China if not for the signs in Chinese characters (many of them side-by-side with English).  To be sure, the major tourist attractions, such as the Forbidden City, were older and distinctly Chinese in character.  But the vast majority of buildings were in the multi-story architectural style defined by me as Ordinary Modern Business.

(Click here for a previous blog post in which I discussed China’s lack of interest in preserving old buildings.)

On the positive side, Beijing was more attractive than I had anticipated.  Its major roads were broad and tree-lined, creating a cityscape that is more lush and livable than I had expected.  On the negative side, I felt the city’s relentless focus on the new resulted in a lack of something ineffable—whether we call it history, character, “Chineseness” or something else.

To be fair, I should point out that I was only there for three nights and two days.  Most of the two days was spent on a guided tour, with little room for roaming off the beaten track.  I know I missed a lot.  I also know that I am most likely indulging in a misplaced desire for exoticism.  Old China may have been more picturesque, but I would imagine that life is much easier for the residents of 21st century Beijing.

With this lengthy preface out of the way, here a few memories of Beijing that will stay with me:

  • People, people, people. People were rushing around everywhere, at seemingly all hours of the day and night.

    Train station at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning.
    Train station at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
  • Dead animals hanging in the windows. The Chinese apparently eat anything and everything.  Chicken feet.  Sheep’s head.  Pig intestines.  You name it, they eat it.
Not sure what all of these animals are.
Not sure what all of these animals are.

 

  • Random displays of bear paw(s) on street vendor’s table.
WTF?
WTF?

 

  • The “thoughtfulness” of our hotel staff in providing unsolicited sex products for us in our room.
From the Beijing hotel room.
From the Beijing hotel room.

 

  • Babies without diapers peeing in the open. I saw a baby running around a store room with nothing on his bottom.  One colleague told me he saw a Chinese couple holding their baby over a public garbage can so he could do his “thing.”
  •  The misguided fashion trend of men rolling their shirts up above their bellies.
Fashion faux pas?
Fashion faux pas?

 

  • Chinese people showed no hesitation whatsoever in taking pictures of me and my white American companions. Sometimes they asked if they could take a photo, and sometimes they just took one surreptitiously.  For a minute there, I started to feel like a celebrity.  (This feeling quickly passed when I returned home.)

 

This young woman requested my photo with her.  As did her dad and also her brother.  Not to mention her uncle.
This young woman requested my photo with her. As did her dad and also her brother. Not to mention her uncle.

I wish I could have stayed longer so that I could have gotten a better “feel” of the city.  I really want to visit the hutongs (the older neighborhoods), but I didn’t get a chance to do so.  Next time…

 

Have you been to Beijing?  If so, what were your impressions?

Would You Like Ruins With That Civilization? (Part Six of Minnesota Couch Warmer’s Guide to China)

Which best represents a civilization to you?  Architectural ruins or preserved calligraphy?

Image

Photo by Erin Silversmith, GNU Free Documentation License

 

 Image

Calligraphy of Chinese Poem by Mo Ruzheng

(public domain)

My home is in the Midwest of the United States, where buildings more than 150 years old are relatively rare and are considered really, really ancient. When I travelled to Europe, I realized how funny it was to think of 150 years as being old.   I learned in Europe that honoring the past means to live surrounded by ancient edifices.

Therefore, I assumed that China, which is truly an ancient civilization, must be overrun with magnificent old structures.   Reading Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones changed my mind. Hessler, who spent several years living China, noticed that although the Chinese take enormous pride in their history, there are in fact very few really old buildings. The Chinese tended to build out of wood, brick, and tile—elements that were not designed to endure for centuries. Hessler also points out that, historically the Chinese did not pay a great deal of attention to their architecture. He finds that an odd lapse, as do I. But, Hessler, goes on to point out, that is because we, as Westerners, are taught since childhood that “the past was embodied in ancient buildings—pyramids, palaces, coliseums, cathedrals” (185). Antiquity, we are taught, is found in old buildings.

It’s true that I do think of ancient cultures as being embodied in architecture—so much so that it really disappointed me to read what Hessler said about the paucity of old buildings.   I can just see myself having a temper tantrum in the middle of Beijing, crying out, “Where are all the old buildings? I WANT some old buildings!!!”

I will try to control myself.

On the other hand, Peter Hessler observes that while the Chinese may be indifferent to old buildings, they ARE very interested in calligraphy. They will spend hours every day practicing their strokes and take great pride their accomplishments in writing Chinese. Hessler says that they were shocked at his own sloppy handwriting in English and could not believe that an educated man like himself could not write well—in the sense of creating beautiful letters.

When I travelled to the Persian Gulf, I noticed that the Arabs also took great pride in their calligraphy, displaying it on the walls, in museums, etc. To be honest, I found this obsession with calligraphy a bit of a yawner, and wanted to see some REAL art. Now I’m starting to realize how blinkered my views have been and how thoroughly they have been molded by a Western world-view.

What do you think? What do you think best captures the traditions of a culture?