Though Bay City, MI is whispered to be our tour’s kindest port, Duluth, Minnesota takes prize as the most surprising harbor of the 2010 Tall Ships Challenge.
Standing on the Sullivan’s quarter deck, waving back to the shoreline welcome crowd, my first impression of the city was the opposite of what I expected. It was Duluth’s topography: white wood houses, red brick clock tower, shiny hotels and skyscrapers rising against a sharp hill that made the city look more like something out of a calendar of French vacation beaches rather than a Midwest port. Except that when the Sullivan pulled into Duluth, it was in un-calendar-esque weather. Slight fog had rolled in and fat clouds meant rain. We were told to expect thunderstorms all weekend, the entire festival. I was thankful I’d be under a tent, but knew that the rain also meant the crowds would be thin at best.
And yet it did not thunderstorm. A hard rain came Sunday night, but left by daybreak. It sprinkled a few times on Saturday, but then grew calm again. And the crowds stayed—no—they came in droves, toting sweaters, sunblock, umbrellas and swimsuits, fully equipped for whatever Lake Superior had to offer. From day one of the festival, I was both impressed with the local population and slightly ashamed of myself. Of course the people were out. Of course they were accustomed to managing the abrupt weather changes that Superior, Trickster Queen of the Lakes, bestows on her coastal communities. All of which begs the question, what had I been expecting in Duluth?
Duluth festival goers enjoy the Tall Ships despite the threat of rain
Generalizing—like complaining, covered in an earlier post—is part of being human. Our minds relish the act of easy compartmentalization, particularly when it comes to regions and cultures. Take our America: the Midwest is “flat and industrial”; the South is “politically backwards”; the East is “arrogant and cutthroat”; the West is for “the moneyed and superficial among us”. We’ve all heard them before and on some level, it’s easier to believe the oversimplifications rather than making an effort to get to know—really see—what the region is like. Duluth upended my expectations, but maybe it’s because my expectations, on some hidden level, were more based on “flat and industrial” generalization of the Midwest.
It takes real work to resist generalizations. Travelling—the sailing I’m doing this summer aboard Sullivan—is a strong step, I believe, in the right direction; a type of antidote. One learns that there are French beaches on Lake Superior. One is reminded that no region of the United States—or anyplace—can possibly be summed up in a sentence.