November 4, 2012 Leave a comment
I wrote a post here a few weeks back about Ten Awesome Iowa Thingies that have been rocking our world since we moved to Des Moines in November. No surprise, but there’s so much awesome in Iowa to poke at (with sticks) that I need to do a sequel to that post, so here are five additional thingies that are making me feel pleased and proud to own land and property in the food capital of the world:
1. Salisbury House and Gardens: Salisbury House is a Tudor, Gothic and Carolean house located in the beautiful South of Grand neighborhood in Des Moines. The house was built in the 1920s by chemist and entrepreneur Carl Weeks, who made his fortune in women’s cosmetics. If you’re a gentleman of a certain age (as I am), then there is very little doubt that one of the smells you associate with your grandmother came from Des Moines in the form of Weeks’ Armand brand creams and cosmetics. During my first visit to Salisbury House, I sniffed a sample of a lotion made today by Weeks & Leo Co., per the old Armand formula, and, wow, it was like being transported back many decades ago and many states away, instantly. As cool as that was, the real marvel of Salisbury House today can be found in the tangible evidence of the visionary, sustainable construction approach directed by Carl Weeks, the extraordinary collection of art that he and his wife Edith and he accumulated, and the fascinating and historical collection of books and manuscripts that the two of them compiled. I have seen jaw-dropping things there. You should too.
2. The Gas Lamp’s Work Release Party: The Gas Lamp is a live music club near the Pappajohn Sculpture Park that used to be (e.g. before we were here) known as Blues on Grand. On Friday nights, they hold a “Work Release Party” featuring a pair of sets from Sumpin’ Doo, a band highlighting the formidable talents of Iowa Blues Hall of Fame members George and Gil Davis. Marcia and I have hit the party a couple of times, and it has been a hoot each occasion. The Davis Brothers and their bandmates are exceptional players and entertainers, and the dance floor was packed while they played (as were the aisles, and the spaces in front of the bathrooms, and the room around the pool table), so Marcia and I and friends had a good chance to bust our moves with folks our age to the grooves laid down by some really seasoned bluesmen. One of our neighbors told us the Davis Brothers were talking about retiring this year, so catch this one while you can. It’s aces, seriously.
3. Live College Basketball: We went to all three of the NCAA Women’s Regional games at the Iowa Events Center this past weekend, watching Baylor’s Brittney Griner throw down a two-handed dunk on Kansas, and then catching what might have been legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s last game. Earlier in the season, we watched Drake University’s men’s team knock off nationally-ranked Wichita State in triple overtime at the Knapp Center, a stellar basketball barn on Univerity Avenue, just southeast of our Beaverdale neighborhood, in what might have been the most exciting live hoops event I’ve ever seen. Both the Knapp Center and the Iowa Events Center offered great sight lines at great prices, and I am delighted to have seen some historical games here where I felt like I was part of the action, without having to pick up my binoculars. As a hoops geek, this is a wonderfully unexpected development. I am totally loving living in Missouri Valley Conference country, that’s for sure, since I love good “Mid-Major” success stories, and next year, I hope to catch games at all three of Iowa’s public universities as well.
4. The Des Moines Social Club: Marcia and I have seen three performance already by this nonprofit theater and arts education troupe currently housed at the Kirkwood Hotel in downtown Des Moines, and all of them were dynamite. The Des Moines Social Club offers an intimate, black box approach to theater, allowing audiences to get up close and personal with performers as they deliver a well-programmed and well-directed collection of challenging theatrical selections, some culled from the much-loved contemporary canon (e.g. David Sedaris’ famed Christmas Elf piece, paired with a classic Truman Capote work), and some curated from up-and-coming writers, seeking to connect with edgy, digital-native audiences. Good stuff, both ways, and their commitment to professional networking both within and outside of conventional business models is admirable and exceptional.
5. A (More) Functional State Legislature: Partisan politics are partisan politics, no matter where you live, and that can be tiresome, but after eighteen years of living with New York’s “Three Men in a Room“ approach to governance, I am finding Iowa’s legislative season to be quite refreshing. It’s not an endless event, for starters, so if the State’s elected officials don’t get their work done within 100-110 days (depending on the year), their per diems and stipends expire as they dither, and nobody (them most especially) really wants that to happen. Iowa’s legislative districts also pass the logical eyeball test when you see them on a map, rather than being gerrymandered into absurd shapes to protect incumbents or preclude party change, New York style. While I can’t claim to agree with, or even understand, all of the State’s legislative priorities (e.g. I still don’t know why so many people care about the issue of lead versus steel shot when dove hunting season rolls around), I do appreciate living in a capitol city where completely bent, full-time and life-time career politicians don’t run the political world, the way they do in Albany. It’s refreshing to have legislators who return home to their counties, towns, families, and jobs, once legislative season ends, since that really reinforces the concept of governance by engaged citizens more than the concept of governance by an elite cohort of permanent legislators. Pay attention, New York. This is how it’s done (better).
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