Coolness factor of Iowa: 6-7/10
Coolness factor of Iowa City: 9/10
On a typical day my coolness factor is low. My cool thing is bicycling instead of driving.
My coolness goes way up when we visit Iowa City, my hometown. As we drive up Dubuque Street, past City Park, past Tudor frat houses, past shabby old houses with cupolas and porches, my heart lightens. My husband says, “You seem happier and more confident.”
The coolness factor of Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, is high. It is a lovely university town, with tree-lined streets and a pedestrian downtown. The slightly tacky UNESCO effect is the installation of plaques with writers’ quotes on the sidewalk, which I try to ignore. (The writers attended or taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.) The town used to be cooler a few decades ago when there were actually more bookstores. The few surviving stores have smaller collections than they used to.
What we actually like to do is walk around town. We walked to Oakland Cemetery and looked at the Black Angel. There was a legend about the Black Angel: it turned black because of some eerie love story gone amok, or something else we made up as girls. Actually, the statue turned black because of an outdoor oxidizing effect on bronze.
We discovered the grave of Mauricio Lasansky, an Argentine printmaker who came to teach at the University of Iowa and established the printmaking department in 1945. He was best known for the Nazi Drawings. I love the sculpture on his gravestone.
Then we did our personal house tour of lodging houses, because both of us lived in rented rooms our senior year of college. On the way to the graveyard, we passed the house where I lived in a minuscule room. The house is even more run-down than it used to be, if that’s possible. They’ve put siding over the picture window, so the new lodger must live in almost total darkness. But I was happy there, and I liked the attic kitchen, where I ate ramen noodles with the rest of the lodgers.
Across the street from the rooming house is an elegant private drive where we walked to escape student life.
We used to do our laundry late at night at the apartment house (see pic below) across the street so as to avoid the laundromat.
And then my husband and I walked on to the Iowa City Public Library, which is really a bustling community space these days. Although I preferred the old Carnegie library, this accommodates many more readers. And we enjoyed looking at this mural on loan. It was originally commissioned for the Jefferson Hotel in the ’30s.
Another lovely day in Iowa City! And we were very cool for a day.