Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Khyber Pass, St. Patrick's Day

No green beer or green hair to write about today. My grandmother was big into St. Patrick's day, she was fiercely proud of being Irish and a red head. She amazed me with her agility doing the jig and she kept the companies that made four leaf clover and leprechaun stickers in business. Irish heritage and surviving Minnesota winter are both reasons enough to celebrate in outrageous jubilation. I'm of Irish descent, I live in St. Paul and my favorite color is green but this weekend I attended the Women's International Day where the keynote speakers were from Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, and I'm allowing myself to linger on what unites us and what divides us around the world. Afghanistan and Ireland are places with ancient spiritual connections to Earth, and countries which continue to know the pain of war. Who am I, where do I come from and where do I belong? Who are my people?

Okay, so what does this have to do with my "third place" idea? Well, several of my relatives were from Ireland, but I've never been there. I never crave Irish food, but I love Afghan food, a blend of Indian, Persian, Turkish, Middle-Eastern, Greek, Chinese and Central Asian food traditions. Thankfully on this beautiful relatively balmy evening my family could walk over to our neighborhood restaurant, the Khyber Pass, and eat a delicious meal prepared without any evidence of green food coloring! We started off with two servings of hummus. If allowed to my son would survive on corn chips, pizza and ice cream, but he devours the chicken curry. My husband loves the yogurt drink which is a refreshing blend of plain yogurt, mint, and cucumber. I had the combination platter, great for those of us who want to sample lots of tastes. I also had the Shiraz wine from Australia. The decor is warm and intimate, with gorgeous Afghan dresses and photographs along the walls. My family had to cut out before dessert but I stayed to savor my wine and solitude. I had a creamy rice pudding with raisins and cardamon and some perfect Chai tea.

My daughter is best friends with the daughter of the owners of Khyber Pass. Typical teenagers they giggle and stay up late talking about boys and fashion. They say "I love you" when they end their phone conversations. Fortunately they attend a Quaker school together, they have been raised in an environment of trust where the values of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality (SPICE) are nurtured and modeled. Our daughters have a foundation of friendship, they unite us and the world.

The Persian New Year begins this month, with the start of the Zoroastrian calendar, Aries or April. The Khyber Pass is celebrating Nau-rouz (New Day) with a special Persian menu and live music on March 20, 21 and March 27 and 28th. Renew your spirit with some exotic food, lively music and new friendships. See you there!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Merrium Park Library

If I were stranded on a desert island, I would certainly love to have chocolate and or coffee, but I would need to have books!  Today's "third place" is St. Paul's Merrium Park Library.  It is an oasis in the city.  

I feel soothed immediately when I walk through the door, ah, the smell of books, the hush of study.  No cell phones allowed except in the lobby.  I also feel a sense of adventure and possibility, what will I discover today?  Imagine being dropped off at the airport with a ticket to anywhere?  That's what I'm talking about.  In addition, there is no guilt associated with this pleasure, one, because there are no price tags  or calories involved, and two, it is open to the public.  This particular library is one of my "third places" because of its wonderful neighborhood scale and feel.  Similar to Dunn Bro and Cafe Latte, Merrium Park Library is located at a major St. Paul crossroad, Fairview and Marshall Avenues.  

The building is beautiful and comfortable.  It was rebuilt in 1993 by Meyer Scherer and Rockcastle.  There are reading nooks and tables throughout, fabulous windows and a central rotunda with skylight windows.  Four study rooms are located around the perimeter and can be reserved for meetings.  Computers with internet access and copy machines are also available.  Several displays of books with seasonal or current themes may spark or renew an interest. One corner of the library is dedicated to tax help, another to job searches.   A large sunny children's area with built-in window seats and tables dedicated to crayon  coloring is at the front of the building.  A cozy teen area is decorated with groovy chairs.  I have always found the library staff here to go above and beyond the call of duty.  Aside from being friendly, the reference librarians are patient with questions I should know the answer to by now.  They often have great suggestions for books and offer search insights.  

I introduced myself to one of my favorite librarians and told her about my blog.  I asked if she would be willing to share her perspective about the library and, as always, she was happy to answer my questions.  As a 15 year veteran of the St. Paul Library she said her favorite part of her job was learning something new every day.  She loves the vitality of the place as a regular neighborhood stopping point.  She recognizes and sees many families, and enjoys watching the children grow up in front of her eyes.  There is a fairly consistent group of regulars joined bya consistent stream of new faces.  She used to work at the Hamline branch and notices some of the same people who also come to Merrium.  When the Minneapolis libraries across the river are closed there is a noticeable influx of people, and the shift in the economy has brought more people into the library.  My own read on that, as someone who seeks out the anonymous companionship of public places, is that it would be a comfort to come to the library if recently unemployed to benefit socially from the presence of others in community.  More people are recognizing and valuing the library as a tremendous resource and a place to enjoy one of life's greatest and simplest pleasures.

P.S.:  The library rents movies and music too!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

tuesday, march 3, 2009

cafe latte

Post-tennis ladies tea anyone?  Clearly I'm not the only one with a sweet tooth which strikes at any time of the day.  No matter when I come here there are people checking out the desserts strategically positioned at the entrance of cafe latte.  Today I was introduced to the "tea" served in the afternoon.  After an hour and a half running around the courts four of us wiped ourselves off and ventured out for tea.  

Let me digress a tiny bit, I normally wear sweat pants to and from tennis drill, ones that second as my painting pants and look like chipmunk cheeks when loaded down with tennis balls for practicing serves.  I thought I'd make an exception this time since we had made this date for tea afterwards.  My companions are a bit more well groomed shall we say.  They have cute coordinated tennis skirts and the latest bags to tote their rackets and they change in and out of these outfits for tennis.  They are very tactful and never make disparaging remarks about my choice of attire.  The point is I changed into a sweater and slacks for their sake.    

We positioned ourselves in the back of the restaurant and look over the tea menu to make a tea and pastry selection.  By 1:30pm I'm more than a little hungry, and as always, the choices look decadent  so I know I can't go wrong.   We order at the counter where we can get a close up of our tart options, the mixed berry one makes my mouth water.  The tea comes out in colorful cheery tea pots along with elegant cucumber cream cheese sandwiches, a scone, shortbread cookies and chocolate hearts!  All for a reasonable price.

We linger for over an hour and get the added bonus of having the owner, Peter Quinn, drop by our table for a visit.  He and or his wife Linda are usually in the place daily.  One of the wonderful things about cafe latte is that it has a decor and feel that reflects their sense of style. The mix of casual and hip, comfort in food and atmosphere which reflects a personal touch.  

This successful space is not something canned or bottled but something fresh and living, the difference between a generic place and a successful "third place", at least in my eyes.  Another successful architectural element is the variety of seating venues or moods.  These are like different rooms in a house and exercise the concept of "prospect and refuge" which Frank Lloyd Wright referred to in his designs.  The notion that we need both kinds of places, those we hunker down in to feel safe and cosy and those that give us vistas to look out over and move thru even while inside or stationary.  Victoria and Grand is "the" defining intersection of St.Paul's Grand Ave.  It is what's known as the 100% position, that place everyone wants to be, ie. the kitchen door during a dinner party!  The buffet line is a bit of an extension of this see and be seen atmosphere, however, you can also slide into a booth along side the pastries and spend hours alone with a book.The food is equally balanced, salads and soups craved as much as the desserts.  

Our foursome broke up to meet children and head for home but we tasted a bit of England on a grey St. Paul day, something I highly recommend.