Monday, May 09, 2005

Things I learned in Iowa

• You just can’t beat a sunny afternoon with a three-year-old niece, a six-year-old nephew, a golden Labrador puppy, a couple dog toys, a sturdy swing set, and a bottomless supply of hugs and giggles.

• You especially can’t beat it if the lilacs are in bloom and the lawn is freshly mowed and the trees and bushes are green and lush and everything is so breathtakingly beautiful you sometimes wonder if it’s actually real.

• My folks’ cat is the coolest cat in the history of the universe. She squeezes herself into funny places, she dive-bombs anything that moves and she’s best friends with everyone she meets. Even her goofy little meow makes people smile.

• A three-year-old’s struggles with her r’s and w’s are kinda funny when she sings “I Know the Continents”—especially when she gets to Australia.

• If you share a delightful meal with your nephew in his kindergarten lunchroom—complete with greasy-ass fries, warm canned peaches, a chicken sandwich that barely qualifies as chicken or a sandwich, and an adorable mix of 6-year-old excitement and too-cool-to-get-all-jumpy-in-front-of-his-friends detachment, YOU WILL FORGET TO BRING YOUR CAMERA.

• Grant Wood’s studio apartment is bigger than it looks from the outside. I’ve driven by 5 Turner Alley (an old horse barn behind a funeral home that Grant Wood converted into a modest studio in the 1920s) probably a billion times in the 32 years I lived in Cedar Rapids. And I’ve seen tons of pictures of what it looked like when he lived there. But it wasn’t until it opened as a museum this year that I finally got a look inside. His renovations to the space are as whimsical and practical as his paintings, and it is truly magical to stand in the window alcove where the famous picture I’ve always seen was taken of him with my favorite painting.

• Anton Bruckner was a dork. He was awkward and graceless and completely devoid of self-confidence. Cartoonists made fun of his pants. And yet he composed some of the most glorious music of the romantic period. This I learned on Saturday night at a moving performance of Bruckner’s epic and grandly emotional Symphony No. 7 by the increasingly fabulous Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra. (I learned he was a dork from the wonderfully detailed program notes. I learned how glorious his symphony is from hearing it for the first time that night. Actually, I learned he was a romantic composer that night as well; I’d always thought he was an expressionist, but he died in 1896, which puts him squarely among the high romantics and at least 20 years ahead of the expressionists. Shows how much I know. (Shows how much I’ve never listened to his music, actually.))

• If you wash your car and then park it in your parents’ driveway, it will rain that night. And you will have parked under some kind of yellow-pollen tree that in mixes with rainwater to make an ugly yellow paste that sticks to everything.

• A poorly written, painfully long, grossly oversimplified stand-and-sing kids’ musical about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego can be quite charming when your six-year-old nephew is in it. Even if he clearly didn’t inherit the shameless performing gene from his attention-whore uncle.

• If you think it’s cheaper to pay $100 every spring to recharge the air conditioner on your 10-year-old car than to get a new car and deal with a monthly car payment, you will suddenly remember that you forgot to do that recharge this year when you’re driving across Iowa and Illinois for five hours in 80-degree May heat.

• But you will look cool because you at least remembered your favorite sunglasses.

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