It was to be the ‘big outing’. Our two daughters were graduating from high school and college and my wife was turning a celebrated and significant age. All the markers were in place to do something big. We discussed doing a grand tour of Japan and making a small foray into China. Research was being done and a great event was being planned. Covid happened. Japan and China would not be choices. But we were not discouraged thinking that other parts of the world would not be as problematic. We looked at a trip to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. Chris who teaches Art history had taught about the Pyramids in Egypt, the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, and the Parthenon for over twenty years; yet had never seen any of these. It would be a great adventure. Covid continued. We would not be able to go overseas anywhere. So, I the eternal optimist said Niagara Falls and Canada. We had been to Vancouver and had a wonderful time. Now we could see Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. But in the end even the very nice Canadians would not take us in. By this time, we would have to stay stateside and not even sure where we could go and what would be opened at any place stateside, we went. But never to be stopped we decided to spend the big year in Columbus. No not Columbus, Ohio but Columbus, Indiana.
Now hear me out. My wife and daughters wanted to go to a wedding in Indianapolis, Indiana. It had been cancelled twice because of covid but with the new vaccine they had decided to try one more time. Many moons ago I went to seminary and worked in Louisville and had made a foray into Columbus, Indiana not Ohio. I had camped in the beautiful Brown County State Park (the largest in Indiana) and while there had discovered Columbus in Indiana not Ohio. As it was and always will be Columbus has one of the most significant collection of modern architecture in the United States. It is usually listed in any list of places with significant architecture in the United States. It is a small city with a population of around 50,000 people. One day the city was thinking big and decided that they would become a mecca for modern architecture and somehow, they have made it happen. Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier, and Harry Weese, to name a few. Once the modern architecture began to frame the landscape of the city, they began to acquire public art by some of the more accomplished modern artists of the time Dale Chihuly, Jean Tinguely, Henry Moore, Robert Indiana and others. This is combined with one of the best city parks in the United States (Landscape Management recognized this 85-acre riverfront park as one of the top 100 parks in the nation for design, reputation, and accessibility), a historic bed and breakfast (Irwin Gardens an 1860 building and a 1912 garden), and last, but not least a famous ice cream shop. What else could you want I said to three skeptical set of ears.
Things happened. A flood the week before we left covered a third of the park with water and made the highly anticipated canoe trip cancelled because the water had not receded. Oh yeah and the city known for its bike trails was not bikeable because of the flood. Of course, we knew none of this before we went. So now I panicked what the hell were we going to do. Two days of our itinerary were gone. Our trip to the historic ice cream shop was a disaster because it was Father’s Day, and the wait was longer than even the wait for Savannah’s famous Leopold’s ice cream. What I thought was an ace in the hole while good was neutralized by the crowd and we waited on a a very hot day. But, through maneuverings of a great planner I was able to find the one bike shop opened so they could go mountain biking in my beloved Brown County State Park. They had never been mountain biking before, and it turns out they will never go mountain biking again they enjoyed it so much. Everyone was trooping but the magic adventure I had planned was turning into dark magic. The adventure was turning into a Titanic one.
The eating was good Ramen, sushi, Indian, health food. The problem was the bookend meals were not and left a taste of bitterness in our mouths. At the first restaurant we had no air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the summer it was hot as a sweat lodge and the last dinner was at a Chinese restaurant which the food was not good, and the restaurant was more takeout than sit down (they had to clear the boxes from the one table for us to have a place to eat) and Styrofoam and plastic were the china set. The fancy dinner this was not. This was not the sendoff I imagined.
That was not to say everything was horrible. The Inn, T C Steele historic home (in neighboring Nashville Indiana not Tennessee), the architecture and public art was grand. But, of course, the architecture was one of the agenda items that the youngest would be vaguely interested and the oldest would enjoy but would do the walking as if it was a sprint. So, the youngest on a very hot day was rushed at top speed all over the city to see things she was not interested in. And the oldest enjoyed herself but the days activity took them less than two hours. My wife and I took the better part of the day blissing over the things we saw. Thank God they had two wonderful coffee shops to consume certain speedsters’ time. But even the architecture came with a major hitch. The Miller House designed by Eero Saarinen, the house and gardens showcased the work of leading 20th-century figures such as interior designer Alexander Girard and landscape architect Dan Kiley. It was a must see of Columbus and the architectural world. It was another of my ace in the hole events. But when I went to reserve tickets, I found much to my chagrin you had to make reservations three months ahead of time. No matter how much I begged and cajoled I could not acquire the tickets necessary. This was the one thing I had never done before so I was disappointed. Now the disaster had become personal. That was not right.
And is not that the whole concept of modern architecture as Frank Gehry says “Life is chaotic. Buildings (or vacations*) should Reflect it.” This was our vacation and yet in the midst of the vacation the minimalist architecture assured us that life does not need much and just a little can give you peace.
I now realized the three skeptical ears would remain skeptical of the next adventure I suggested. My two daughters now plan their own adventures. My wife has become a house body. And I fantasize about a never-will- happen return to Columbus when everything is working to redeem myself. Or there is this city called New Harmony I once visited, any takers?
But hey we survived the plaque, floods, and heat. We had maybe a decent time along the way. But the girls are already planning an adventure for next summer. One that does not involve any suggestions from me.