Come check out Des Moines… you just might want to stay (forever!)

Hello there. Happy 4th of July! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Mine was great. I’m going to tell you a little bit about it in this post,  where I’ll also fill you in on all the fun stuff happening in Des Moines this summer. I’ve been pleasantly surprised (much like I was when I visited the Art Center) at the number and quality of things to do and see here. I’m not gonna lie – I’m writing this post mainly to try to lure my east coast friends into moving here, or at least visiting!

Let’s start off with some factoids about Des Moines. We’ll start with something easy and then move into some lesser-known tidbits. Are you excited? Ok. Hold on to your pants.

*Des Moines is the capitol of Iowa.

*Des Moines has a skyline. With tall buildings, not tall stalks of corn. (I did not know this until I drove into town last summer.)

*Des Moines’ metro population is around 560,000.

*Des Moines is home to Meredith Corporation (publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, among others).

*Des Moines is home to the Drake Relays, an annual track and field event that draws some of the best athletes in the world. This year the Relays hosted 23 Olympic gold medalists. The city was pushing for a bid on the 2020 Olympic trials (not sure if we won or not).

*Des Moines’ downtown is entirely walkable by sidewalk (duh). However, if you hate the outdoors, you can always use the 4 miles of skywalks, which connect almost all of the buildings and parking garages downtown (map here). There is also a free shuttle that runs every 10 minutes, in a loop from one end of downtown to the other and back. I’ve been in the skywalk once. I think the weather here in the winter is pretty nice. I only scraped my windshield 3 or 4 times all winter (this is purt near miraculous to a ND girl)! The average temp in the winter is 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ok, did you get your fill? I did. A little more than I wanted, actually… let’s talk about what to do here now!

I was telling you yesterday that I’ve been pleased with my decision to live downtown. I really like the location. As an artist, it’s a treat to be able to walk through a world-class sculpture park every single day (John and Mary Pappajohn park). I also live close to the main public library, which was recently renovated (2006) and is architecturally beautiful, with its sleek lines and coppery facade. There is a good deal of green space in front of the library, on which various activities are held.

Last week, that green space was home to the main stage during the Des Moines Art Festival. This free event is huge – they block off two of the major streets downtown and fill them with artist booths, vendors, and other businesses from the community. One of the coolest ones was Habitat for Humanity – they built an entire house over the weekend and then carted it off for a family in need.

Different musical acts play on the main stage throughout the festival, and it’s free to pull up a lawnchair or blanket, plop down, and listen to your heart’s content. The biggest name they had this year was Aaron Neville. I was quite sure I’d never heard of him, until he started singing. I’m so bad at remembering musicians’ names 😦 As soon as he opened his mouth, I realized I knew almost all of his songs well enough to sing along (in my head, of course… singing is not one of my talents!).

Anyway, the Art Festival is juried, and competition for a spot is stiff. I read that they typically have 1100-1200 applicants, from all over the country, for around 185 spots. Yikes! Needless to say, most of the work shown is excellent. If you can get in, the exposure is tremendous. 200, 000 people come through every year, over a three-day period.

In addition to the live music, art, and food, there is also a film festival – the Interrobang Film Festival, to be precise. This is ALSO free to the public. An impressive number of films were shown, but I didn’t check any of them out, so you’ll have to click here to read about them, if you’re interested.

If the Arts Festival isn’t enough, Des Moines also has a giant Farmer’s Market downtown, every Saturday morning, May -October, from 7am-noon (8-noon in October). There are around 300 vendors at the market, and I’ve heard that crowds can swell to 10,000 on any given Saturday.

Another one of downtown’s biggest annual events is a music festival called 80/35, which was started in an effort to put the city on the map as a fun place to visit. 80/35’s inaugural year was 2008 and it has been a huge success ever since. It attracts upwards of 30,000 people, all of whom are looking to see big names (on the paid, main stage) and up-and-comers (on myriad free stages). Talent they’ve booked in the past has included the Flaming Lips, the Roots, Avett Brothers, Ben Harper, Death Cab for Cutie, and many others (those were the ones I vaguely recognize; like I said earlier, I’m terrible with names!). This year the headliner is the Wu-Tang Clan. I have heard of them!

(Here is the schedule.)

Anyway, it just so happens that my apartment faces the green space in front of the library. It also just so happens that the main stage is on that green space, directly facing my building. Consequently, I have become very popular at work as of late. Ha! I cleaned my toilet tonight, just in case I have company! Everyone in my building gets a free ticket for both days (Friday and Saturday). I think this is so they get us out of the building… if we’re at the party, we aren’t going to complain about the noise, right? Pretty smart!

I’m looking forward to seeing what this event is all about, and I’ll do my best to blog about it sometime next week. To finish up my narrative: I’m starting to feel at home here. I really like the area, events, weather, and people, and I’m going to do my best to figure out how to stay here once my Artist-in-Residence contract is up.

There are a couple of other things I want to tell you about, but this is getting long, and my bed is starting to look very inviting. I’m going to switch to list mode. Every $ = 10 bucks (approx.)

Nitefall on the River: live music in the Simon Estes outdoor amphitheater, Wednesday nights startings at 6pm. $$+

Jazz in July: live outdoor music, rotating locations, 4x a week. Free

Yankee Doodle Pops: DSM Symphony Orchestra, fireworks, Capitol lawn, for the 4th of July and New Year’s. Free

I went to this and it was fun! Crowd was estimated at 100,000 people, but it felt welcoming and was family-friendly.

Des Moines Metro Opera: various shows and events. $$$$

Iowa Cubs baseball (Chicago Cubs’ farm team): various days and times, fireworks after Friday evening games. Sundays, bring 3 canned goods and receive a free general admission ticket. $

Jasper Winery: summer concert series; live outdoor music every Thursday from 6-9pm. Free

Free Flicks: DSM Parks and Recreation, movies outdoors on giant screen, various days, 9pm. Free

Dancing at the Lake: Learn ballroom dance at Gray’s Lake, every Thursday 7:30pm. Free

Yoga in the Park: Gray’s Lake, every Saturday 9-10am. Free

This is just a fraction of the many, varied, things to do in Des Moines this summer! Come on down! Hope to see you soon…

(Community Calendar)

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Country Music on my Radio

I’ve decided I like Iowa. Why? Well, the people are nice, it’s clean, it’s warm, I feel safe, and country music is readily available on the radio. I recently drove home to ND (up I-29, which meant I traveled about 600 miles and only turned my steering wheel 7 times, door-to-door). Here’s what happened when I hit “scan” on my radio:

Public radio – talk.

Public radio – music.

Adele/Justin Bieber/a bunch of other people I’ve never heard of.

Country.

Delilah.

Country.

Oldies.

Country Classics.

Jesus.

Country in the AM/High school sports coverage in the PM.

Classic Rock.

Country/Ag News.

Country.

This is not what the radio sounds like on the East Coast. As I drove here from MA, I could tell how close I was getting by the ever-increasing number of country stations. It was a sweet, sweet feeling. Ahh, nostalgia… but also…

Finally, I could sing along without having to periodically make sounds like a porn star. Or sing about jumping on some guy’s “pogo stick.” Or… you get the idea. Call me a prude, but it’s refreshing to be able to sing and not feel dirty. I readily admit to watching True Blood, which isn’t any better than a lot of the other music out there, but for some reason, watching a TV show doesn’t get under my skin like singing along to the radio often does.

At any rate, since I’m feeling more at home, I thought I’d attach pictures of my tiny tiny home, since some of you have been pestering! ❤

My studio. South-facing window! Love!

Awesome table built by John.

 

Three-year-old Twinkie from Lauren. A reminder of grad school that I shall forever cherish. Seriously, though, it’s going to hang in my studio until I die.

My apartment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front-row seats to a surprise concert, lasagna

Yesterday there was a random (to us) concert on Guldagergaard’s back lawn. I say it was random to us because most of us didn’t know what was happening. At about 2:00 I heard someone tuning a guitar as I worked in the studio. I brushed it off as a wandering music-maker. The Danes seem like a pretty happy bunch, so I thought maybe someone was just taking their guitar out for a Sunday stroll. The yard backs up to a park, so it didn’t seem like that much of a stretch, despite its close proximity. About five minutes later, I went into the kitchen and saw a bunch of old people sitting on the grass in lawn chairs and a little table where two women were selling coffee and cake. That seemed kind of strange.

Crowd on the lawn.

As it turns out, there’s a free concert at 2:30 on the first Sunday of each month. It just so happens that the concert is in Guldagergaard’s backyard (not the park). The organizers pull in different performers every time. I’m not sure of the name of the duet who played yesterday, but they were pretty good! They played a variety of songs, from Willie Nelson to John Denver to patriotic Danish classics and Simon and Garfunkel.

Because we live in the house, we got front row seats! I was really happy – I love live music, and this was a nice break in my day. I briefly felt a little guilty about sitting to watch the whole thing because everyone else eventually went back to their studios, but after asking myself, “how often am I going to get to see something like this?” I felt a lot better.

Here’s a shot of the Dynamic Danish Duo (as I’ve decided to name them), and two of my favorite characters in the crowd.

The Dynamic Danish Duo.

Great Beard.

Motorcycle Cowboy. He rode in, sat on his bike through most of the concert, then abruptly rode off into the sunset.

Click here to go to a short clip of the concert: hereherehereitis! (my facebook page)

Tonight was my night to cook again. I decided to try Kate Frazer-Rego‘s lasagna recipe. She assured me it would “bring marriage proposals.” Alas, there was none of that, but it did get gobbled up!

Before

After

Thanks for the recipe, Kate!

 

 

 

 

Handel’s Messiah, in concert

This evening I was invited by Lynn and Meredith (two other Americans at the ICS) to go to a live performance of “some type of classical music.”  They weren’t quite sure what it was going to be, but they’d heard about it at the tourism office and they were told it was free.  So off we went!

It turned out to be Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Budapest Strings Orchestra.  I’d never heard this piece live before and I’m glad my first experience with it was in the old Roman Catholic church here in Kecskemet.  We were sitting in the second row, and the acoustics were really amazing.  The tones reverberated in the air for several seconds after the musicians stopped playing or singing.  When the orchestra and choir were at their loudest, you could feel the sounds vibrate in your chest, much like when you’re out gettin’ your dance on and the bass is super loud.  This was different though, because the music was all acoustic, and it was the church itself amplifying the sound.

Naturally this made me interested in the acoustics of old churches.  There’s been quite a bit of research done on them over the years.  Here are two of the articles I read, if you’re curious too:

“Acoustic Characterization of Worship Ambience [sic] in Catholic Churches – Old Goa’s Capela do Monte: A comprehensive example.”

“ABSTRACT

The Acoustic Characterization of Worship Ambience, a method used in Old Goa’s Capela do Monte (a significant Catholic church of Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India), introduces a new concept of describing the worship mood through evaluation of architectural acoustics results. [Bold is my emphasis.]  Three acoustically constituted worship parameters named Sacred Factor (SaF), Intelligibility Factor (InF) and Silence Factor (SiF) are presented in this study. The constituent subjective acoustic measures were analyzed and averaged in four listener zones within the church. The objective acoustic parameters RASTI, RT, EDT, D50, C80, TS, ITDG, G, and Leq were measured. All acoustic parameters were normalized using the data of previous acoustic measurements in Portuguese Churches.

SaF was found to relate with Initial Time Delay Gap (ITDG) (R2 = 0.99) with a “F-Statistic” probability (p < 0.01). InF related with D50 and EDT (R2 = 0.99) (p = 0.07) and with subjective Directionality (R2 = 0.95) (p = 0.03). SiF showed correlation with G (R2 = 0.99) (p = 0.05). The tested prediction equations derived from regression analysis showed the possibility of evaluating and designing a “Tranquil Worship Mood parameter” in a Church, from measured and calculated acoustic parameters.”

I should probably come clean and tell you I might have skimmed parts of that one (it’s a little too heavy on the math for me).  The sections I did read were highly informative, however! 🙂

The other one is a lot easier on the brain but no less interesting: Acoustic History Revisted

“Introduction

This paper will attempt to show that after the Roman Empire yet before the acoustical experiments of the eighteenth century (which are considered by too many acousticians as the true beginning of their science), there was a profusion of acoustical ideas, practices, and accomplishments. This text is above all for architects, a document reviewing sonic architectural expression of the past. It is one of many ways of “reading” a building, of understanding it Traditionally, visual sensations are considered predominant, yet other sensations can be acknowledged as well. It is possible thus to study architecture from a tactile, thermal, olfactory, or auditory point of view. […]”

That particular text talks quite a bit about using built-in eccentricities of architecture to spy on people (through eavesdropping), way back in the day.

Apparently I’m attempting to educate you this evening, because I also became curious about Handel and I’m going to link to a short text on him:  Messiah

“The establishment of Messiah as a venerated English institution for Christmas and Choral Societies has a long and complicated history. A few excerpts are familiar to almost everybody, unlike any other work by its prolific and misunderstood composer. Messiah remains Handel’s best known work, although this was not a status that it enjoyed until the last few years of his life, brought about by annual performances in Handel’s oratorio seasons and charitable benefit concerts at the Foundling Hospital (an organisation for underprivileged children, and which still exists today as The Thomas Coram Foundation). It was not originally envisaged as a Christmas tradition, but its microcosm of Christian doctrine and faith was intended as a timely thought-provoker for Lent and Easter. ”

This is a paper that’s about a page long, and it gives a pretty nice synopsis of the history behind the Messiah.  I don’t know how accurate it is because the author doesn’t cite his sources (although he does give a bibliography at the end), and the place I chose to double-check his statements was wikipedia, but… meh!… I think it probably gives the general idea and that’s all I was after.

Once again, the audience was uber-respectful, which made the whole experience that much more pleasant.  Hungarians could teach the rest of the world a thing or two on attending public performances, I think.  Anyway, here is a picture of the inside of the church and some people’s heads, since I didn’t want to raise my camera very high and be the only annoying one in the crowd.  There’s a short video clip on my facebook page as well.

Hungarian orchestra

Budapest Strings performing Handel's Messiah

Kecskemet Catholic Church ceiling

Ceiling of the church. (Bad picture, I'm sorry!) Does anyone know how to get rid of dust specks that are under the camera's lens?

A Hungarian Birthday

Hello there!  Today’s my birthday.  I’ve had a very nice day.  I started it off by sleeping in and then opening my packages from home while still in my pajamas.  One gift was a pair of slippers, so I put them on right away.  Perfect!  (Thanks, Jen!)

Then I downloaded some Micheal Jackson with an itunes giftcard.  Heck yes.  Some of the greatest studio work music, I believe.  Right?  Another grad student at UMassD and I used to have Micheal Jackson Sunday Mornings, where we’d crank his music in the studio because we were the only ones in there at that time.  It’s a nice little slice of home, to have the same songs pouring through my headphones here.

I scrounged the studio complex for ware boards today and was moderately successful.  I’m making 300 tiles that are 15cm square, so I need quite a few boards to put them on until they can be fired.  I’d used all of the ones that were up for grabs in the student workroom, so I had to hunt through the other common areas.  I found 5 or 6, which will get me through the weekend.  I’m hoping I can do a firing of 100 tiles on Monday, even though I’m not scheduled until Wednesday.  That would free up the boards to be used again for the next round.  Wish me luck!

This evening, Meredith and I walked to an Italian restaurant called Cezar’s.  It was really good.  The menu translations were funny – this is what I ordered:

Hungarian menu translation

"tortellini, whipping cream, ham, parsley"

This is what I was served:

my meal

"tortellini, whipping cream, ham, parsley"

It was really good, and enough for two meals, so I’ll have it again tomorrow 🙂

Before I say goodnight – Thank you to everyone who’s written on my facebook wall, sent a card, or emailed me birthday wishes.  I feel lucky to have so many kind people in my life.  Several people here in the studio also wished me a happy day today and gave me small gifts.  This is a really nice community and I’m blessed to have met everyone here too!

TTFN

British Flags, 42 Ice Creams, and a Folk Ensemble to Cry For

Yesterday was spent making saggers.  I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know I got them all finished (if only for the fact that maybe now I’ll stop writing about them…)!

I took a couple of breaks while waiting for the slabs to set up:

1) Meredith and I went looking for a specific ‘upscale’ thrift store.  It’s been getting colder here at night and we wanted to look for a cheap winter coats.  Neither of us bothered to pack one since they take up so much room in the luggage.  Do you know how to tell which store is a thrift store here and which one isn’t?  It’s easy – just look for the giant British flags in the windows.  These flags fly triumphant over the second-hand shops of Hungary.  Why?  I don’t know.  I was told that it possibly has something to do with the Brits (historically) sending a lot of hand-me-downs to Hungary.  Anyone know for sure?  I’d love to hear it!

1a) We found the store but it was closed (shops close here at noon on Saturdays and don’t reopen until Monday).  BUT, we happened to be in the neighborhood of “the best ice cream and pastry shop in town.”  So, of course we had to verify that claim.  They have 42 different kinds of ice cream.  We didn’t even look at the pastries.  I had the Riz (cinnamon), Mojito (SE), Malna (raspberry), and Erdomaster (triple berry-esque).  At this rate it will take me 10.5 visits to try them all.  I figure that on the 11th+ visits, I can start in on the pastries.  That case was at least as long, or longer than the ice cream case.

2)  Then we went back to the studio and I put together the slabs, and cut out the pieces for the last two and some lids.  While waiting for those to set up, we went to find the folk dancing and music.  We asked Peteris and Ilona to come with us, but they were busy glazing.  They’re firing their last kilns this week.  I wish they weren’t leaving the 1st week of October!

Anyway, we found the folk dancing, after some initial mishaps.  It was in the town square on the same stage that was set up the previous night.  These dancers and singers were a step or two above their predecessors, however.  It turned out that this was the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.  (We didn’t know that beforehand.)  They were excellent.  I’ve never seen, heard, or experienced anything quite like it.  I’m struggling with how to explain it.  Maybe I should just bite the bullet and admit that I almost cried.  More than once.  You can’t laugh at me because you weren’t there!

Part of what made it work, in addition to the beautiful music (live), dancing, and costumes, was the respect given by the audience.  People stood patiently and attentively, in one place, for two hours.  They didn’t talk to their neighbors or fidget and complain because they couldn’t see or sit – nobody pushed anyone around to try to get “the best spot” even though the square was packed.  People very courteously looked behind them when choosing which area of cement to put down their roots, making sure that they weren’t blocking the view of a fellow audience member.  When I was videoing, a couple of different people walked in front of me.  They each ducked down and were careful not to jostle my elbows as they passed so as to not disrupt my picture.  Old people (from what I could tell) were given deference; they filled the vast majority of the seating area.  It was all very respectful.  I liked it.  In a way, it freed you from worrying about the other people around you and left you space to absorb the show.

At the end, when everyone wanted an encore, instead of whistling or yelling, the audience suddenly broke out into rhythmic (synchronized?) clapping.  I’d definitely see this group again, and if you’re ever in Hungary and have the same opportunity, I highly recommend that you seize it!

Kecskemet, Hungary

Hungarian Folk Ensemble - see a video clip on my facebook site

town square, Kecskemet

Traditional foodstuffs before the performance.