The notion that the only interesting sights and interesting people are “elsewhere” is certainly attractive. I mean, come on. . . . How can it be denied that Paris, and Amsterdam, and Barcelona are State Fair-times-ten? When we argue to out-of-towners that Des Moines really is the epicenter of post-modern cool, we only have to look in the mirror to be reminded that guy looking back won’t be gracing the cover of GQ Magazine. And if not him or her, who will? You check out the mirror and tell me.
So, here we are in Des Moines, Iowa, looking elsewhere for the promised land. I don’t know, it could be in Iowa City, or Wisconsin, or California. Certainly in London. But it sure ain’t here. . . .
Perhaps our point of reference is a little askew. Perhaps we need to move our game piece ten squares past the mirror — all the way to Balzac’s coat. No, I haven’t overdosed on pastries: “Balzac’s coat” is exactly what I said.
First, you need to go downtown.
Yup, that’s the radio tower anchoring the west end of the downtown district. And that’s the Iowa sky — scary, wild, tempestuous, and maybe even apocryphal. A Dutch Master, say that dewy-eyed Vemeer, could have painted that same sky over the City of Delft in Holland. Sorry, but the sky belongs to Des Moines. As for the radio tower, it’s the same steel-frame structure as that one put up by Mr. Eiffel — and you can smooch under the shadow of this one also.
As you go east, there are the Meredith Gardens — lush with the many shades of green that Iowa offers before the prairie winds get too strong. The royal gardens in Paris, the Tuileries, are certainly no better (although the Parisian corn dog, the crepe, should not be dismissed as a possible gateway to heaven).
But what puts us on the map is Balzac — we’ve got his coat. Right here in River City. Somehow, this French writer of The Human Comedy, who married his sweetheart after a fifteen-year correspondence (another story of social media run amuck), who is constantly depicted as stark naked by the sculptor Rodin — this Balzac guy left his coat in Des Moines. No kidding. Judith Shea has hung it in our sculpture garden — waiting for him to pick it up. So, before he comes, you should check it out (move slowly around the spider).
By the way, check the mirror again — maybe with the right light and a few fish oil supplements we could make GQ.