Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 10, 2008

Wiskansas Alpaulivia

My job at K-State gives me the opportunity to travel to another part of the country at least once a year. The conferences I attend usually revive my interest in work as well as rejuvenate my spirit. The schedule, food, weather, sights and sounds are usually different enough from Manhattan to make me feel almost like I'm in another world. So before visiting St. Paul, Minn. last week, I wondered what new things I'd learn and experience.

For one thing, I thought the weather in Minnesota would be slightly cooler than what we'd had in Kansas, so I was surprised when I was met with temperatures in the 80s during the day and 60s at night, mirroring what we had been having at home.

But other things were certainly different. Since the hotel was near the river front, I took advantage of the warm days to walk along the Mississippi River when there were breaks between sessions. The Minnesota History Center was showcasing "Vatican Splendors," an exhibit of fine art connected with the Catholic Church. It is being presented in only three U.S. cities, so I took the opportunity to check it out as well.

But the real bonus, for me, was the chance to see niece Gabriela, who is now a sophomore at Macalester College in St. Paul.

She navigated the bus system and met me at my hotel Friday night. We strolled a few blocks to a nearby restaurant for dinner. On the way back, we meandered along side streets near my hotel. Cartoonist Charles Schultz was from St. Paul and we occasionally stopped to take pictures of the bronze "Peanuts" characters honoring his work.

Saturday night after the convention was over, husband Art and his mother Donna arrived from Wisconsin. We had made plans with Gabriela to take her and her Albanian roommate Estela to dinner. They were already waiting for us outside their dorm when we arrived.

They squeezed into the back seat of the car with me and were ready to eat, but Art insisted we first make the rounds of the campus. As he drove, the girls pointed out the cafeteria, other residence halls, the new recreation complex and other sites.

Our destination for the evening was Everest on Grand, a restaurant serving Nepalese, Tibetan and Indian food, just a few blocks from the girls' dorm. When we got there, it was already doing a bustling business with people here and there in the middle of animated conversations. The bright orange-red walls reminded me of red chili peppers. Photos of snow-capped Himalayan mountains lined the walls.

Donna wasn't so sure about the cuisine. Used to "regular" food, she eyed the menu somewhat cautiously. Then she announced that she wasn't that hungry. I knew that was a signal that she just wasn't sure if anything listed would agree with her.

I thought the vegetable soup, Naan bread - kneaded in water and milk, flattened and roasted in a Tandoori oven, and Kathmandu coffee would be sufficiently "bland," so I ordered those for her. I decided to try the shrimp Chau-Chau, made with curly wheat noodles, onions, mushrooms, broccoli and other vegetables. Gabriela and Estela each had chicken dishes and Art selected a rack of lamb.

My taste buds were in heaven. The others were pleased, too - even Donna, who admitted that, although the vegetable soup was different from any she'd tasted before, it was "OK."

After we finished dinner, we took the girls back to their dorm to check out their room. Donna promptly announced that she would never be able to live in a space that small with another person. I chuckled and said I'd lived with a roommate in a dorm room about that size for three years when I was a college student.

Art laughed.

"You should have seen where they lived last year," he exclaimed. "It was smaller yet and they had another roommate, too. If Gabriela had sat straight up at night in her bunk bed, she would have banged her head into a pipe."

Donna was amazed. She was also amazed when Art started working on Estela's "dead" computer and was able, within minutes, to bring it back to life.

Meanwhile, Gabriela had started her computer and began talking with her mother - my sister Gaila - in Bolivia, using Skype, software that allows users to make video telephone calls over the Internet.

"Well, if that doesn't beat all," Donna said.

She conversed with my sister, all the while watching Gaila on the computer screen.

With the hour now growing late, we gave the girls hugs, told them goodbye and crawled into Art's car for the trip to our motel. But as we pulled away and the girls' outlines faded into the evening dark, I thought how amazing it all was. One person from Wisconsin, two from Manhattan, Kan., another from Albania and my niece from Bolivia had met in St. Paul as if it were not that unusual. Wiskansas Alpaulivia - what a small world!

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