The Blue Nile

Ethiopian dining has always intrigued the western palate as well as the western sensibility. Ever since Ethiopian Bruce.

In June 1768, James Bruce traveled to Alexandria (near Cairo) with the intention of discovering the source of the Nile. Eventually, he did discover the source of the Blue Nile (the shorter of the two Niles), and this adventure is well chronicled in Alan Moorehead’s book The Blue Nile (though he may not have been the first European to do so, and of course, the Ethiopians had a handle on this for thousands of years). It turns out the head of the Blue Nile is a smallish lake in the highlands of Ethiopia, which at the time of Bruce’s travels was a full-blown kingdom very isolated from and rather different in most ways from what a European like Bruce would have been accustomed to. And he brought back stories, stories that most people back home did not believe.

A few years ago, just at the time of the very start of recent immigration of many Ethiopians into the U.S. (and thus before any real awareness of Ethiopian culture around these parts), I was speaking with a colleague from Ethiopia, and James Bruce came up.

“People are so stupid to believe the stories that were told about the king’s court in that book he wrote,” commented Sileshi.

“Yeah, I know,” I chimed in. “Like that story about couples deciding to have sex in the middle of dinner, so servants would come by and hold up a blanket to give them a modicum of privacy.”

“No, they did that. That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“Oh…” Whoa, I had that wrong. “…you must mean the one about how they would eat raw monkey brains from a live monkey entrapped in a special table where its head would be sticking through a hole in the….”

“No, no, that was real too. They did that. I hear some people still do that,” he interrupted.

“Well, then…oh, never mind,” I responded, as the two of us were just then interrupted by the start of the seminar we were sitting in. Even though I spent the next year and a half hanging around Sileshi, including two months in the field, I never did bring the topic up again, and I was never sure whether he was pulling my leg.

Anyway, The Blue Nile isn’t just a river in Africa any more. These days, every fifth or sixth Ethiopian restaurant is named some variant of the great river’s name. And one of them is on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It used to be a very traditional Ethiopian restaurant, where I could get my raw beef uncooked in a number of different dishes. These days they seem to cook everything, and they have a much more diverse menu, more designed for the Midwestern palate. Indeed, the time that passed between my last visit to The Blue Nile and my previous visit must have been a few years, but the circumstances of this latest visit are directly related to the reason that this website…Quiche Moraine…even exists. Let me explain.

Two or three streams of activity destined to merge into one can be traced. One is my blogging at Scienceblogs.com and increasing commenting activity on that blog by a fellow blogger, the pseudonymous writer of Almost Diamonds. Another is my increasingly frequent contacts with another pseudonymous blogger, Tangled Up in Blue Guy. Over time, there was a lot of correspondence among the three of us, and (trying to keep the story somewhat simple here) a fourth person fell into the mix, a former student of mine whom I shall call Elle (her own non-blogospheric pseudonym), who was in contact with all three of us from her remote work site in The Delta of Nigeria, where every day that went by brought fresh horrors, including the murder of coworkers, and an overall increased danger for all Europeans and Americans working in the region. One of those dangerous periods was happening.

So one day it turned out that Elle would be back in the US, and in fact, back in the Twin Cities, and Almost Diamond’s author, now known as Stephanie Zvan, organized a gathering of all four of us along with Stephanie’s photography/IT expert husband, Ben. The gathering had an important focus: margaritas. Which ultimately probably caused more of a loss of focus, but that was sort of the point.

At the same time (another stream), I had been seriously thinking about some of the limitations that my arrangement with Scienceblogs.com provided. Scienceblogs itself as an entity is fine, and the “blog herders” over there, and there have been several, are wonderful. The problem was that most of the bloggers at Sb were not directly involved in many of the political and social issues that interested me, and frankly, I’d never met most of them in real life. This can put a damper on a developing relationship…not meeting someone. I guess I felt a need to have a more comfortable and meaningful colleagueship with fellow bloggers. And I thought Stephanie and Tangled Up in Blue Guy, now known as Mike Haubrich, might form a core of such a group with me.

So I had reason to meet with Stephanie again, and she had her own reasons, not entirely different, for meeting with me again, so I showed up at her place in The Hood and we strolled over to The Blue Nile.

At this point I should mention that one of the things I liked about Stephanie was that she lived in South Minneapolis, in what many of us lovingly call “The Hood,” where suburbanites and out of towners are afraid to go and denizens are (sometimes) afraid to leave. Yes, it is a fairly dense urban core (though not as dense as anything “out east”) and therefore has a measurable rate of “incidents.” But at the same time it has as palpable a sense of community as anywhere I’ve ever lived, and the actual rate–measured as a rate and not as a marketing tool for the local news–of untoward events is not really very high at all. This is something Stephanie understood and had blogged about, so I knew her position on this.

So we made our way across The Hood without being mugged or abducted, and it was then that I discovered the real reason The Blue Nile (the restaurant) was on Stephanie’s radar screen. She is a very serious beer maven, and the bar at The Blue Nile has one of the better selections in the Twin Cities.

The first order of business was an inquiry or two Stephanie wanted to make about my background. There are two or three things about my background that many people want to learn about once they get a hint…like if someone has spent a lot of time in jail, maybe you want to know what for, or if someone has had a job they can’t tell you about because it’s secret, you want to know the secret. (Neither applies to me. Mostly.) So I expanded on a few details, which I will not go into here, and this helped the conversation to deepen and widen a bit.

Eventually we got around to talking about blogging. It took us about ten minutes to cook up the Replace Michele Bachmann Carnival idea. Beyond this, I had only the vaguest notion of what any cooperative venture would be like. A group blog was actually the last thing I thought we should do. I was leaning more towards some sort of private discussion list on which we could share blogospheric information. But over time, beginning at the source of this conversation (The Blue Nile) and flowing across a series of emails and face-to-face meetings, the discussion amongst the three of us leaned more and more towards a new blog or magazine-blog or something (this thing, it turns out, that you are looking at right now).

From the beginning, it became obvious that several important elements should be included in this project. We wanted to provide a place for people who are not really bloggers but should be to publish an item now and then. We wanted to highlight various artists and other socially cool things. And we wanted to have a venue for politics, focusing for now on Minnesota-related issues such as the upcoming race for Governor and the always-just-around-the-corner congressional races. And eventually more.

So our dinner at The Blue Nile was a conversation that made a difference, and the noog and the teff were tasty. And over time Stephanie and I got to know each other pretty well, and Stephanie, Mike and I now have this meta-blog called Quiche Moraine. I hope you read it every day without fail and enjoy consuming it as much as we enjoy producing it.


The Blue Nile

2027 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55404
(612) 338-3000

website

3 Responses to “The Blue Nile”

  1. February 7th, 2009 at 4:34 am

    elle says:

    Margaritas were the point. I found myself in safe hands and to this day, that is not taken lightly. Nor is the fact that I can find three of my favorite intellects around the corner from 90 South, here at Quiche Moraine.

  2. February 7th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    You know, L, come to think of it, you were also part of the reason that Quiche Moraine took shape as more than a way to share resources. A lot of the talk about guest posts had to do with you. So do let us know if you’re ever ready to write one.

  3. February 7th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    In our subconscious ways, you may even be the source of the name. Why else would we have been thinking of Antarctica?

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