St. Paul, City of Lights

Posted on: October 3rd, 2007 by Margaret Foster

St. Paul CathedralThere’s something about St. Paul that makes me feel like I’m in Paris. Maybe it was the rain blurring my vision, but driving the span between the dome of the 19th-century capitol and the deliberately taller dome of the Cathedral of St. Paul reminded me of a Parisian bridge. And then, take a left at the cathedral and head down the city’s grandest street, its residential Champs-Elysées, and wow, you forget all about Paris and just gape at those mansions. (Thursday night: Candlelight tour of Summit Avenue houses.)

I got a glimpse of Grand Avenue today—a friend told me not to miss it—and while I’d like to spend hours in the classic Main Street, with Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn tucked neatly into early-20th-century brick storefronts, my credit card would prefer not to. I’ll spend my nickels at the farmer’s market in Lowertown, a funky, New Urban mecca in an 18-block historic district on the waterfront.

I admit to knowing little about St. Paul before I stepped off the very delayed plane other than the fact that it’s the hometown of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who left town and rarely returned, busying himself with revelry in Paris and all.

Still, Fitzgerald may have been pleased that his birthplace, an apartment building, still stands and was, in fact, designated a literary landmark three years ago. (I’m thinking about knocking on the door; I’ve read that the owner doesn’t mind Gatsby fans.) That’s more than I can say for his burial plot, which is now an island in a Maryland strip mall.

The theme of this year’s conference is “preservation matters.” It’s something Fitzgerald would appreciate. He wrote about how places—like an ice palace, which St. Paul still constructs every other year—can transform people, and how fragile and transient those places can be. I guess that’s why we’re here. St. Paul, that is. Not Paris.

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