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24.6.05

Ionarts in St. Louis

Gateway Arch, St. LouisYes, it is good to make the occasional foray into flyover country, and not only if you are a Midwestern expatriate like I am. We made our way to the big city on the Mississippi to see a famous St. Louis native, Christine Brewer, sing Britten's Gloriana with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (more about that tomorrow). Ionarts cannot make a cultural embassy anywhere without taking in a few of the cultural sites. So, on the way out to Webster University, we had to stop on the riverfront to see the original cathedral the French built here, planting the flag for Roman Catholicism. That simple stone building, no longer the seat of the Archbishop of St. Louis, is marooned among high-rises and the maze of highways that converge on the city. Even worse, it is dwarfed in size and interest to the average tourist by the outrageous steel arch that has become the symbol of St. Louis. I did not remember from a previous visit here as a child just how large it is, breathtaking in scope, a glistening ribbon of mathematical complexity, a symbol of the arrogant hope of westward expansion. (Sadly, there was not enough time to see the St. Louis Art Museum or the Scott Joplin House.)

I knew I had reached the heartland when I stopped for dinner at the sort of place I love to go to for a simple meal, a neighborhood grill in Webster Groves called Weber's Front Row, where a show on high-powered rifles vied with sports coverage on the many TVs by the bar. An impromptu snapshot of my most famous neighbor back home, President Bush, smiled that shit-eating grin from the wall of mostly sports photographs (including, right by my table, a cool 5-photo montage of Ted Williams's "Greatest Swing in Baseball" with the 1966 Boston Red Sox), and the condiment containers are kept in old Michelob 6-pack cartons on your table. This is a place where "medium" apparently still means bloody in the center, where "salad" means the iceberg lettuce and tomato you can choose to put on your burger, and where I enjoyed a postprandial cigarette in the weeks before the D.C. city council denies me such guilty pleasures back home. (That being said, the proximity to a college campus meant that just down the block was a pottery and sculpture studio with young women in tie-dye shirts and sandals at wheels.) The beer, a local brew called Schlafly, was quite good.

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