Contemporary Design at Indianapolis Museum of Art

A couple weekends ago, Zoë, Ty, and I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). We'd been to IMA several times in the past, as it's easy to get to, and offers free admission. The first time we went as a threesome, Zoë and I dragged Ty up to the top floor, where Ty's least favorite type of artcontemporary artis housed. His contempt for some of the pieces made us shake with silent laughter.

Our main reason for trekking up to IMA this time, however, was to see its exhibit on Modernism, a collection that Zoë had described as "assaulting to the senses." There were stools you couldn't sit on, chairs that were without a seat, and crooked bookcases made of scrapped furniture. There was even a tea kettle whose design, according to the caption, "overpowered its function." An Italian manufacturer described the kettle as a "beautiful fiasco," and the artist himself said it was "aerodynamic and useless." Though I found the exhibit interesting, it was clear that most of the pieces embodied "form over function."

"You know," Zoë said, "I typically like my stools to be of the You-can-sit-on-them variety." She shook her hands in the direction of a stool, which resembled the three-pronged "claws" that never properly grip that stuffed animal you so desperately, desperately want to snag because you just paid three dollars to try and win something and damn it, just grab something already. "This is not a stool," Zoë hissed. "It is a sculpture." 

"With that you on that one, Hayes," I said. "You know why? You know why, Hayes? Because I am never sitting in that." I pointed at a chair made entirely of glass. "Not only is it a chair you can't sit in, but it is also a chair you have to clean. Tell me, Hayes, who cleans chairs? Do you clean chairs? I don't clean chairs." 

We continued our antics and our rants, both real and exaggerated. When Ty pointed out a lamp that had been painted white and had had bird wings glued to the top of it, Zoë turned, gestured toward a knife rack shaped like a human head, and said, "That's what this exhibit makes me feel like."

After worming our way around the exhibitwhich did have several Macintosh computers on display, as well as a few sleek, minimalist pieces by designer Naoto Fukasawa--we wandered around the rest of IMA.  It is a solid museum, truly. I particularly enjoy looking at the American art, especially the O'Keeffes and the Hoppers. Other collections include African art, Asian art, Native American art, European painting and sculpture, Oceanic art, and textile and fashion art. Given that it costs nothing to explore IMA, it's an excellent place to spend an afternoon. Furthermore, IMA's grounds are beautiful; it's one of the best places in the city to have a picnic, and if certain blogging friends were ever to visit*cough* Ayla *cough* Mary *cough cough*I'd definitely take them here. 

Sunrise at the Indiana State Fair

On Friday morning, my alarm clock jarred me from sleep, the angry, green numbers blinking 5:07, 5:07, 5:07. It's still the middle of the night in California, I thought. I groaned. I sighed. I stretched. As long as the "a.m." is as dark as night, it's too early to be roused from my cotton camaraderie. Had my alarm not blared a second warning nine minutes later, sleep would've taken me once more. Reluctantly, I pulled myself from my sheets and clothed myself in jeans and a black cardigan. I ran brushes through my hair and over my teeth, respectively. And, by 5:50, I was driving to the state fairgrounds, with Lord Huron in the CD player. Traffic was sparse at that hour, and it was still dark when I turned onto 38th Street. I was not alone in going to the fairgrounds, however; there were a few dozen of us who shuffled through the admission gates. The fair, like the rest of the world, was silent. The midway was unlit, the food tents shrouded. It was opening day, sure, but it was early. Still too early. And so, with shoulder bags and coffee mugs and drowsy dispositions, we fair-goers made our way toward the infield.

I found Brandon first, dressed for work and toting a tripod. Together, he and I walked to the heart of the fairgrounds, where we quickly found the rest of our comrades: adventurous Ian, with his backpack and baseball cap; Steven, playful even at 6:15 in the morning; and Troy, whose three little ones fluttered about his legs. Our small group grew, however, with the arrival of Shawn, an explorer who was five weeks into a year-long trip around the United States. Shawn had been staying in Indianapolis for a few days, and already had met up with several local Instagrammers. But, on Friday morning, he met us for a sunrise hot air balloon launch in the mostly-shuttered fairgrounds.

... Which, by the way, was utterly, totally, and irrevocably worth waking up for. 

Monthly Book Review

Landline by Rainbow Rowell 

Landline gave me a hangover. I started it on a Sunday and finished it that evening. (Which isn't incredibly surprising, because—after receiving Landline in the mail—I told Rowell that "the pages smell delicious. They smell like delicious, glorious BOOK.") Rowell, who lives in Omaha, has written a few other novels, including Eleanor & Park (her most renowned), Fangirl (which I haven't read), and Attachments (my personal favorite). In Landline, Georgie McCool "knows her marriage is in trouble. That it's been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now." When Georgie chooses to stay in California and work over Christmas—instead of fly to Omaha with her husband and their two children--she wonders if she's finally "ruined everything." Desperate to speak to Neal, Georgie plugs in a yellow rotary phone and discovers, to her surprise, that she's able to converse with Neal in the past. The presence of the phone is a touch of fantasy in an otherwise contemporary novel about marriage. I found myself laughing at the bra-shopping scene, and—as always—admired Rowell for incorporating the small inconveniences people face every day in real life (like the under-wire of a bra coming loose and stabbing your under-boob). And, like Attachments, Landline made me love (and hate) Rowell. I loved that the story was intoxicating, and loved that the words were introspective, sassy, and realistic. (I hated Rowell for the exact same reasons because, damn it, I wish I were as magical as a storyteller.)

Bryson is known for his travel writing (and for his wit), and his books are a pleasant blend of humor, fact, and observation. (A Walk in the Woods is probably his most popular book, though I've yet to read it. I have, however, tackled Mother Tongue, Down Under, and Notes from a Big Country.) A Short History of Nearly Everything is the lengthiest Bryson book I've ever read and, at 544 pages, it took me about a month to read. The text isn't as light-hearted as some of Bryson's other books, but I still found myself fascinated. You don't have to be a scientist or an astronomer or a physicist to understand this book. In fact, Bryson intended for it to be read by "non-specialists." He finds ways to explain, easily, particle accelerators, gravity, plate tectonics, chemistry, evolution, cosmology, fossils, physics, and the science behind how we (humans) came to exist. And though it is a bit of a tome, the various chapters make it easy to read a few pages here and there. I found myself most interested in the first three-fourths of the book, but found the material about evolution less engaging--not because Bryson is less engaging, but because evolution is a topic by which I'm not generally intrigued. That said, I highly recommend reading A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson did extensive research (did you know the human body contains twenty million kilometers of coiled DNA?) and gave readers a book that educates and entertains. If you're interested in tackling just a few pages at a time, then I suggest putting this book in your library. And by "library," I mean bathroom.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s is a book I plan to shelve next to Mockingbird, Wonder, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The story focuses on twelve-year-old Willow Chance, a gifted child whose adoptive parents are killed in an accident. In the aftermath, Willow—who has always been viewed as "strange"—finds companionship with other misfits. Said misfits are often given their own perspective, which allows the reader to see how each character perceives Willow—as a genius, as a weirdo, as an annoyance, as an angel. Willow certainly has her peculiarities—she's obsessed with disease, and she diagnoses the individuals she encounters with various maladies—but she's affable, curious, and heartbreakingly strong. Though I had expected to see the number "7" appear more throughout the book, I felt as if Willow's other fixations—medicine and the growing of plants—appeared more often. Regardless, I read the book in just a few hours—Counting by 7s is a middle grade book, after all—and was left with yet another book hangover. Counting by 7s gave me feelings, you guys. Feelings about how hard it is to be an outcast, and how wonderful it is when when a few "oddballs" form their own family. To borrow the words of John Corey Whaley, "Holly Goldberg Sloan writes about belonging in a way I've never quite seen in any other book. This is a gorgeous, funny, and heartwarming novel that I'll never forget."

“He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine—he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.” Thus begins Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a nonfiction book that spent four years on The New York Times bestseller list. (Impressively, it was Berendt’s first book.) The book is set in Savannah, and highlights the various characters of the city—elitists, “old money,” a foul-mouthed drag queen, promiscuous singers and piano players, a voodoo priestess, and—as the back of the book summarizes—“a redneck gigolo whose conquests describe him as a ‘walking streak of sex.’” I was entranced by each character, and was eager to learn more, more, more—more of their secrets. As you can imagine, several loads of proverbial dirty laundry were aired in the second part of the book, when the entire city of Savannah is focused on a murder trial. It was a damn fine read—part gossip column, part true-crime story—and, after finishing it, I found myself browsing the Internet, looking up the drag queen, the elitists, and the “redneck gigolo” Berendt had written about. In fact, reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil made me incredibly eager for my visit to Savannah later this year. I would highly recommend reading this book; its Southern Gothic tone is as intoxicating as a half-dozen mint juleps. And remember, it’s real.  

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Since 2006, author Una LaMarche has managed the blog The Sassy Curmudgeon. I found her words back in 2009, when I used to browse the "Blogs of Note" list. I was fond of LaMarche's humor and approved of her attachment to '90s pop culture. (Plus, she advocates pantlessness and the eating of chocolate mini donuts.) After commenting on a blog post about Like No Other, LaMarche kindly offered to send me a signed copy. I was stunned, humbled, and excited—especially since she also included a copy of Five Summers, her first novel (which is reviewed below). Like No Other, however, was released just last week, and is a fine companion to books like Eleanor & Park. It's another YA tale about forbidden love and how the intensity of first love changes you. The book is set in Brooklyn, and focuses on Jaxon and Devorah. Jaxon is described as a "fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls." Devorah, on the other hand, "has always known how her future will look; she'll marry young and have a family, like her grandmother, mother, and sister before her. She has never wondered about the world outside of her strict Hasidic community." When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the two become trapped in an elevator. They become intrigued with each other even though their first meeting isn't entirely fireworks and unicorns (Devorah’s religion prohibits private interactions between a man and a woman who are not married to each other). Though it was a little difficult to believe that Jaxon and Devorah fell in love so quickly, I greatly enjoyed the read. Learning more about Hasidic Judaism was really interesting, and certain parts of the book read like a thriller; I just had to read the next chapter.

Five Summers by Una LaMarche

Fifteen years ago, the Disney Channel began airing a reality TV series called Bug Juice. The show featured a number of young teens at summer camp. It was a show that I, as a pre-teen, was enraptured by. At the time, the campers’ adventures in life and love were foreign to me. Looking back, however, I have fond memories of watching Bug Juice; it’s nostalgic. Reading LaMarche’s debut YA novel, Five Summers, was similar. Though I never attended an extended summer camp myself, the book might feel familiar to a former camper, as laughter, tears, broken hearts, sass, sex, skinny dipping, tipped canoes and capture-the-flag are all featured. Specifically, Five Summers focuses on four characters—Emma, Skylar, Maddie, and Jo—who met at the age of ten. At the end of that summer, their first summer together, the girls vowed to remain the best of friends. The book spotlights some of their adventures together, like the time Jo refused to play spin-the-bottle (age twelve), and the year Emma almost kissed her long-term crush, Adam (age fourteen). The main storyline, however, takes place when the girls are seventeen, when all four of them are back at camp for a reunion. Of course, as the summary states, “the weekend isn’t quite as sun-washed as they’d imagined.” Though the book itself may be a little predictable, it was a fun read. I particularly enjoyed Emma and Skylar’s final decision regarding boys. I also found myself looking at the characters and comparing them to those in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Over-achiever Emma was most like Carmen, while tomboyish Jo was a blend of Tibby and Bridget.) It’s a good book if you’re in the mood for a nostalgia-inducing read, or if you enjoyed the Summer Boys series or any Sarah Dessen novel. I have a feeling that, with each book she writes, LaMarche is going to strengthen and solidify her voice.

Parry Mansion in Indianapolis

Two years ago, the Parry mansion was overgrown and inhabited by raccoons. After years of neglect, it hardly resembled the grandeur home that original owner David Parry had constructed in 1904. The south side of the mansion was blanketed in ivy, and, inside, there was a fair amount of debris--including some raccoon carcasses and an ophthalmology exam chair. In 2012, however, the 4.5-acre property was purchased by Jerico Properties, who began the daunting renovation process.

On Sunday, I visited the Parry Mansion, as HI Indy was celebrating its fifth birthday. There were no raccoon carcasses to be seen, but there were new floors. And fresh paint. And a master bathroom that is roughly the same size as my entire apartment. (The shower alone can host party of eight.) As I wandered the house, voices from the kitchen bounced off the marble floors and up the staircase. "Apparently there was a party here and they just kept bringing busload after busload of people here, and they were all, WHERE ARE THEY GOING? But, really, look at this place! This house absorbs people."

True enough, the Gatsby-esque mansion has had its fair share of parties; in 1927, the property was purchased by William Atkins, who hosted many memorable events. According to HI Indy, "his guests included local movers and shakers, politicians, and celebrities." Clark Gable even visited the property in 1950. Renovators also say that they discovered a nook off the ballroom and, in the nook, found the remnants of what might have been "bathtub gin."

Today, the mansion is on the market for, I believe, $6 million. The price tag includes eight bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, 15,815 square feet (not including the basement), a six-car garage, an indoor fountain, an outdoor fountain, an elevator, and a lamp-dwelling genie who promises to grant you three wishes. And the absurd ceiling on the third floor. Yeah, you get that, too.

If you're curious about the history of the Parry Mansion, I recommend reading this HI Indy article from March 2013. The Indy Star also wrote about the mansion just a few weeks ago.

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