Returning to Downtown

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August 11, 2003 // UPDATED 11:02 am - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Landsman
Julie Landsman

For three weeks, I have been trying to put into words what makes me so happy to be back in Minneapolis after four months in Sweden. After all, a day after I landed, a woman threw her sons off a bridge and jumped in after them. Part of that story is that a man tried to rescue her and both babies. He saved the mother and one son and was devastated he could not reach the other baby.

Here, I find part of the reason for my relief at being back home: I am again in touch with the complexity of lives around me, in the paper, on the streets. I can pick up nuances in tone of voice, from friends, newscasters, waiters, store clerks. In Sweden, while everyone spoke beautiful English, they saved their most intimate and revealing discussions for Swedish.

I am again swimming in my own language. On River Road, a man suddenly appears out of the heavy trees of a humid morning to stand in front of me. My dog Louis turns to face him. This stranger reaches out to pat Louis, edges toward me. I ask him not to do that and he follows me for half a block along the path, saying things I cannot hear, but his tone is threatening. Finally, joggers and race walkers come by in larger numbers, the path opens up to the wide Mississippi I love with its broad views and plenty of sky, and the man turns back toward the woods, snarling.

It is hot and I can feel each muscle, tense with this experience of being here again, in this amazing city, with its breadth and danger. This echoes my past -- hot summer days in D.C. and one afternoon in particular, and the trauma that changed my life. So while I am exultant to be back with friends and music, books and the garden growing under my tiny deck with its two new chairs, this joy of return is mixed with yearning for the safety of a country where I could walk at all hours alone, without a dog, and feel comfortable.

Nothing is simple, I want to say to those who ask what it means to be in the U.S.A. again. I am trying to figure it out, I respond when friends ask if I am content to be here. There is no answer of a sentence or paragraph that can contain both the way my shoulder and neck muscles tighten as I walk toward our garage or out the door with Louis, and the relaxed sweetness of yesterday afternoon listening to George Roberts read from his new book of poetry in the rose filled back yard of friends across the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

And even after three weeks, there are still places I have not gotten to yet, places I missed when I was away. I want to go to Bunkers for blues, jazz at the new Dakota when it opens Downtown. I hope to get to Monte Carlo some summer night when it is not too hot to sit outside and eat fries and burgers. I miss Nikki's and wonder why such choice land is still abandoned.

There is something I hungered for the entire time I was gone. I think it has to do with the laughter I hear on our morning walks, the anger I feel when I read about huge class sizes in city schools, or the sorrow so mixed with joy I hear when my friend George reads about the kids he taught for over 30 years of his life.

Because this is what it is, isn't it? -- the complexity of joy and sorrow entwined in our lives that build into layers and layers of life in one place. They are inseparable. To be back is to experience again the man and his snarl one morning, its echo to another time and then, oh then, the skyline, with its breathable wide blue.

Julie Landsman lives in North Loop.