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Hemingway Adventure

Petoskey, Michigan

Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, USA 
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Chance meeting with a Native American slot-machine swallower on the way to Kewadin Casino, Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan - which earns 50 million dollards a year for the Chippewa tribe.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureA ninety-minute drive due north takes us almost to the Canadian border, crossing ‘Mighty Mac’ - the Mackinac Bridge - an epically graceful suspension bridge which soars above five miles of open water where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. It carries Route 75 into what they call the Upper Peninsula and us into a torrential downpour.

Partly because of this we have difficulty finding the place, but when we do I can’t imagine how we missed it. Kewadin is much more than a casino, it’s a conference centre, hotel and entertainment complex. It moves Basil, our stills photographer, to poetry.

‘That is the biggest goddam tepee I ever saw.’

The tall atrium which leads to the gambling rooms is hung with Native American pictures, totem pole carvings, embroidered skins and little devices with holes in the middle called dream-catchers.

‘Only good dreams go through the centre,’ explains Lisa Dietz, a Native American much concerned with the old traditions. She still tracks moose with her husband, but today is doing duty at the approach to the gambling tables, burning a mixture of sage, sweetgrass and tobacco, which she wafts around with a feather to enhance the spiritual atmosphere. It should be an eagle feather, she confides, but eagle feathers are sacred to the Chippewa Indians and cannot be used in a building where there is alcohol.

And alcohol there is. Beneath an appearance of orthodoxy the Native American culture is happily pragmatic about customers’ needs. As well they might be. My guide, Carol, a Chippewa in a pin-stripe suit, says the casino alone turns over 50 million dollars a year to the tribe.

Despite the lousy weather the tills are turning over nicely. And despite a couple of early successes at the roulette wheel, a substantial part of that turn-over seems to be mine.

As we head south on the sodden highway that leads back to the Mackinac Bridge I feel the long ride has been worth it. If only to correct the impression I’ve been getting that nothing much has changed up here since Hemingway took his vacations in Michigan eighty years ago. Let’s face it, there’s nothing in the Nick Adams stories that might remotely prepare you for Chippewa croupiers.
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Petoskey, Michigan
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan
  • Book page no: 30

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