Enjoyed the usual Iowa State Fair highlights at our annual outing last weekend but some new and old highlights below:
– Giant sculpture of the American Gothic sculpture near the Agriculture building, way cool. But what’s with the addition of a giant suitcase slathered with stickers from exotic destinations.
– Field of Dreams in butter – but how did I miss Kevin Costner in butter (which made the British newspaper The Guardian, which a London friend – whose a fair veteran – excitedly sent me.)
– No color photography this year – apparently it has something to do with the anniversary of the photo exhibit which began in the black-and-white days.
– Lamb instead of pork – yes, i finally talked my husband into this but found the lamb shishkabob kind of disappointing. Quality meat, not much seasoning.
– Campbell’s pecan roll – we never noticed this before but did this year and my husband gave it a thumbs up at breakfast the next day.
– Cutting edge/terrifying gizmo in the Varied Industries building – the “Aquamassage” which looked like a cross between an MRI machine and a drive-through car wash. And people were actually lying in the thing, trying it out.
– Curly fries – not new to the fair but somewhat to me. A noble guilty pleasure!
Guilty Pleasure: Curly Fries!
I knew this trip to southeast Iowa would be interesting but it was even more than expected. We stopped in the tiny town of Eldon Iowa and followed the occasional signs to the American Gothic house, made famous by Grant Wood who painted his famous portrait at this sweet little house with the Gothic window. The visitors center had costumes in all shapes and sizes for people who wanted to recapture the magic, so why not. I tried to produce my most dour face but not before cracking up.
We dutifully stood in line outside the house for some of the famous pile backed fresh by a woman who actually rents the house and decided to make and sell pies. The wait was ridiculously long but the pie was ridiculously good. Warm strawberry crumble pie wrapped for us in a brown paper bag with a pretty blue and white ribbon.
On to the villages of van buren county, pretty old tiny towns along the Des Moines river with stately red brick homes and mills, and then to our real destination, Fairfield. I was last here about 23 years ago and meant to return sooner. Interesting things going on here ever since the Maharishi Yogi’s representatives bought a defunct college here and made it into an internationally known center for peoplewho practice transcendental meditation. They are called “floaters” because apparently they levitate while doing TM in the golden domes on campus. There is also a Maharishi Business school here so the town’s pretty square is full of entrepreneurial efforts, ethnic restaurants (Indian, Turkish, Thai, etc) and galleries and shops. Plus there are lots of stately homes like the one we are sleeping in tonight, The Seven Roses Inn. We rode the gravel loop trail, which was fun and goes for about 15 miles. Stopped for a drink at funky cafe Paradiso, had so-so Indian food at the India cafe and went to check out the Raj spa and hotel here and the even more fascinating Vedic City, a brand new city built by TM-ers. Surprisingly lovely homes all facing east and with little nipple like ornaments on the roof in keeping with some mystic form off Vedic architecture.
Then I decide to go into the whole food grocery store at 9 pm because I always enjoy a good whole foods grocery store and there wasn’t much else to do and first thing I see: actor Jim Carey getting some of the areas famous Radiance Ice Cream (I think the cows do TM or some such). We heard he was in town today, giving the commencement speech at Maharishi U. But figured he was jetting back to LA. he couldn’t have been nicer and the day couldn’t have ended with a bigger bang.
A long time ago, I visited the sweet little house in Eldon, Iowa that Grant Wood based his iconic “American Gothic” portrait on – but now apparently you can borrow a pitchfork, overalls and glasses when you pose in front of the house, as we all tend to do there. The house is now owned by the Iowa State Historical Society. Other Grant Wood sight-seeing options, according to Iowa Farm Bureau’s Family Living (full disclosure: my husband edits it) include:
– The Grant Wood Studio and Armstrong Visitor Center in Cedar Rapids, open for tours on weekend afternoons.
– The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art which has the world’s largest collection of Grant Wood paintings (but if you want to see “American Gothic” you’ll have to visit the Chicago Art Institute.)
– I didn’t know that Wood designed a sun porch at the Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids.
– Anamosa has the Grant Wood Art Gallery and Riverside Cemetery where Grant is buried. The 40th Annual Grant Wood Art Festival will be held there on Sunday, June 10, 2012 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. (I thought it was held in Stone City, where Wood ran a summer art school in the early 1930s.)
– For more info on the Grant Wood Trail, which includes 19 sites across Iowa, most free, see: http://www.crma.org (and click on the “Grant Wood” tab.)