Sorry for the absence in these pages the past few weeks, but I was briefly detained in Russia.
Nothing major. Everyone who goes to Russia is briefly detained; it's a way of making you feel right at home. In all other countries on our trip, you could walk off the cruise ship in a T-shirt that said CIA and melt into the populace. Come, see our lovely empty churches! Buy our local treat, ruchsekkenglumcht! Spend money and tell everyone we are wonderful place. And they were.
Russia was wonderful, too, but getting in requires a visual inspection by the sourest official you can imagine. Purpose for veesit? You want to say "Slip a powerful drug in Putin's tea that will make him crouch like a chimp and order troops to invade Mars. Kidding! Just want to see the palaces of the guys you shot." But you say "tourism."
After a lengthy stare the official looked at a computer screen, looked at me -- and picked up the phone. Instant visions of a basement cell. Some vacations you come back with a tan; others, crude prison tattoos made from needles and boiled shoelace ink.
But I got through.
On cruises you find yourself talking to people about where you are and what you do, and when you say you're from Minnesota, you either get blank smiles, or people instantly lapse into the sing-song "Fargo" accent. They stop after you pop 'em in the nose, hard and sharp, but it puts a damper on conversation.
Telling them it's Target doesn't quite do it. People think of Target as their thing, not our thing. Mention Jesse Ventura and they smile again and edge away, slowly. You search for something to tell these people from faraway lands, and night after night at the dinner table, you wish you had the nerve to lie -- well, it's mostly stable desert, except where the glaciers rise up after the earthquakes -- but you laud its greenery and sanity and hum a few bars of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Nothing else? Nothing else that symbolizes the state, something they can remember? No. Then, on the last night, you look down on the table by the bread. It's been there all along, right under your nose, all over the ship, handled by all as the ship heads 'round the world. You pick it up and pass it around, and now they have grasped what Minnesota has meant to them through this long prowl through the Baltics.
It's small, foil-wrapped and pliable. A buckskin maiden holds forth our bounty, our gift to the world:
Land O'Lakes butter.