Me and Nathan had trouble deciding whether to visit Iowa City to find a place to live.. It seemed sort of silly since we'll be moving there in less than two months. We found a few apartments online that looked alright and were sitting in Shoppers parking lot with a signed lease ready to put the thing in the mail-- when we just couldn't do it. That anxiety in our guts would not shut up so we rushed off to get an oil change before going to convocation, and a sushi dinner with my family.. We packed that night and the next morning we were up at 6:30 and off to Iowa.
Iowa is a beautiful part of the country.. There's a lot of farms making it similar to Saskatchewan, but the land is greener, and there's a lot more hills. Google map said the journal would take 17 hours, which we thought we could make in maybe 15. This just wasn't so, and when we began seeing odd creatures in the shadows of the truck ahead of us, and the headlights of the one behind us we decided to get a hotel for the night. The only problem was we had an apartment showing the next morning and still had an hour and a half to drive.. so the night ended up lasting 3.5 hours.
But the nap got us to Iowa City and after sometime navigating a detour around flooded Dubuque Street, we made it to the apartment... the only yard on the block covered in garbage. Empty McDonalds bags, Hamster litter, and toiletries covered the grass. Had someone made a quick escape in the middle of the night? The garbage did not bode well, and when we viewed the inside and found it equally filthy as well as a smaller than the online photos suggested, we knew we had dodged a huge bullet and felt our trip was instantly worth it.
Nearby, the arts festival was setting up in downtown Iowa City, near the pedestrian mall where there's a few dozen sportsbars, clubs, and pubs all within walking distance. There were almost as many bookstores as there are bars and we quickly found the famed Prairie Lights, which probably has the best poetry selection I've seen. Powell's in Portland might have a larger quantity of poetry books, but Prairie Lights is curated with hard-to-find titles as well as the classics. I loaded up on books from all my professors as well as the new Maurice Manning--which Nathan tells me is fantastic.
The north end of Iowa City is charming... The area closest to the writer's workshop is filled with historical houses with spires and inviting stoops, and the most whimsical of these are stamped with Greek letters. This will be my first experience living in a college town and I'm curious about the presence of fraternities and sororities that surround the campus. Some of the streets are cobblestore, and huge trees frame the walkways. There's an amazing local co-op with a huge selection of soy and vegan products (yay, we won't starve!), and a small grocery store with an excellent selection of craft beer and wine.
While killing time for another viewing, I visited the writer's workshop where the secretaries were able to direct me towards some housing possibilities. I scribbled some numbers in my notebook and we headed off to check out a bit of the arts fest, where there was a free concert and crafts and food vendors lining the streets. Throughout the downtown area, there are book quotations etched into the ground, and sculptures depicting scenes from Alice In Wonderland, Treasure Island, and a metal tornado in tribute to The Wizard of Oz.
We had a second viewing, and then that evening out of one of the random phone numbers I'd written down from the school, we found an amazing place that we are so excited to stay in. It's a suite in a huge house with an awesome backyard, the friendliest people, and beautiful surroundings. The next day, we hung around the city, visited the Old Capitol, drove to nearby Coralville, and checked out the arts fest a little more before heading home the next day.
On the way home, we visited Mt. Rushmore, Crazyhorse, and Devil's Tower in South Dakota. It felt a little like an initiation into the US, and Mount Rushmore was particularly intriguing. We sat through the lighting ceremony where we watched a video. Then everyone stood to sing the national anthem before mass of veterans came down from the audience and participated in the lowering of the flag. The stage was filled with men and women who had served and those remaining in the audience applauded and one man yelled out his thanks for their service. I felt a little like an alien since things are different in Canada. I thought of my convocation a few days before: few had been singing along to O Canada, but everyone in the audience at Mt. Rushmore sang to Star Spangled Banner with gusto.
Horse at crazy horse (initial model?)
We drove back to Regina to the sound of David Sedaris reading Let's Discuss Diabetes with Owls, a collection of complicated essays we'd picked up in Fargo on our way to Iowa. I'd never read anything by Sedaris and immediately found his work very troubling. In some of the essays, in discussing societal and racial prejudices, he almost made his subject into an "other," thereby affirming these prejudices. But maybe he is conscious of this, and maybe a narrator can be guilty of the same things he is pointing out? But other essays were beautiful and bound ideas together with a fragmented narrative form that had me grinning when he reached the end, and pulled everything together in a heartbreaking, hilarious way.