From my blog crush on Olivia James’ everyday musings, I’ve learned appreciation for your surroundings — making everything you do and every moment you spend out and about in your piece of the world a love letter to that place and that moment. I’ve also learned I need to visit Charleston right now.
Wanderlust aside, Iowa has been a comforting and sometimes exhilarating and always surprising place to spend the past three years. It has a bad reputation for being all corn fields all the time. And OK, this is 99% true, and they are gorgeous — especially during harvest sunsets, when ruby-red light catches the dust rising behind farm machinery just right and suddenly that John Deere combine is elevated to something very close to God. But it’s also friendly front porches and artists and musicians and RAGBRAI and insurance and jazz festivals and first-in-the-nation caucuses (that’s right New Hampshire, you bitch).
Cedar Rapids is small(ish), but busy, especially in the districts broken by extreme flooding four years ago. I’m lucky to live in one of those neighborhoods, and the energy here and just across the river in the New Bohemia area is intoxicating.
Yesterday, I got a tour of the new indoor/outdoor public market taking shape in an abandoned warehouse just a few blocks from home (New business construction tours will be Chapter 1 of my memoir “Perks of Being a Journalist,” also featuring chapters on interview-inspired warm fuzzy feelings and occasional free meals). I learned, 1. Hardhats are too big for my head, and 2. It’s going to be a spectacular addition to the NewBo district.
Already, the construction site’s chain-link fence is adorned with public art projects, and one of the market’s board members — a self-proclaimed local foods evangelist — was eager to talk about a learning garden for city schools, a space to grow hops for local breweries and outdoor performance stage in the huge area in front of the main building. This is just across the street from the theater/art gallery/community gathering space, Legion Arts, where I volunteer — taking tickets for puppet-shows, folksingers, local theater performances and music groups from New Orleans to Niger (Bombino. Check it out).
A local café/coffee shop, Brewed Awakenings, will soon open doors in its second or third location in the Legion Arts building. A coworker and I ventured to the original location for the lunch special recently: polenta with roasted tomatoes and peppers, braised kale and melted Brie, served with a Brucemore baby greens salad with basil lemon vinaigrette and candied almonds.
Brucemore is the local historical estate with rolling lawns that shelter Brewed Awakenings’ garden, as well as summer music festivals (Blues-more), a graveyard of the former wealthy residents’ pet German Shepherds and lions, and Shakespeare in the Park-style performances. This year it’s Tennessee Williams in the Park, “Dances with Iguanas” or “Night of the Iguana” or something.
On top of these, Cedar Rapids will be hosting a RAGBRAI overnight stop (RAGBRAI is a giant bike ride across Iowa fueled by booze and state pride), reopening the flood-damaged Czech and Slovak Museum and downtown library, continuing a series of multiple, gigantic farmers markets, dropping the art museum’s city architecture and vintage postcard exhibit admission price to $0, and maintaining or expanding a fairly comprehensive network of bike trails.
The city could be more diverse. And it would be nice if it were the kind of place Dirty Projectors included in tour dates. But I have few complaints, much love and anticipation. I hear sweet-corn stands will be popping up around the city soon, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
On that note, hasta luego. Taking a week off to get reacquainted with the ocean.