Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The Columbus Blog.

Yesterday: Mild & about 70 F. Today: Windy and about 40 F. The annual Winter-Spring See-Saw is under way, in earnest. It could sputter along this way until Memorial Day.

Inspired by the warm air, I walked around downtown yesterday more than I have since before the slip & fall. To my bank, to the main post office, threading through the crowds and crossing the streets almost like a normal pedestrian. Walking is no trouble now. But it is wearing on the bottom of my cast, and so I wonder if the heel is going to detach itself at some inconvenient moment. Could cause another slip & fall.

The last time we went to Indiana was a year ago last weekend, and it was an all together different sort of trip than last week's. After passing through Indy (see March 24 blog for a description of that), we continued on to the remarkable town of Columbus, Indiana. No one in my office had ever heard of it; Yuriko hadn’t either; and neither had most of my correspondents. But somehow I had read about it, and had fixed it in my mind to go.

Columbus is down the road southward from Indianapolis about 50 miles — the road being the unremarkable I-65. We arrived on a Friday evening and checked in at a nondescript, but satisfactory, hotel. Our evenings were passed in the room, mostly, or in the pool, where Lilly was almost able to swim in the very shallow part by herself, which delighted her no end. (Now she would have no trouble in that pool.)

On that Saturday morning at about 7:30, while Yuriko and Lilly still slept, I drove into Columbus to fetch breakfast. The previous day’s rain had stopped, and it was warmer, but at that time it was still foggy. Not many other cars were on the roads. Columbus is famed for its architecture, and as I drove around, I was astonished. What I had read about the town hadn’t really prepared me. Even in 15 minutes of tooling around empty streets on a foggy morning, I realized that it was one of the most aesthetic small towns I’d ever seen. Further touring later that day confirmed me in that opinion.

I had booked a tour for 10 that morning through the Columbus Visitors Center, itself a fine old building. We were with a group of about 20 people, touring in a small bus with a volunteer guide, an older gentleman who had lived in town a long time and knew a lot. The town sports a number of fine buildings from the 19th century, such as the city hall, but the real stars are more modern. Eliel Saarinen, the Finnish architect (“we design buildings because our language is so impossible”), designed the noteworthy First Christian Church; his son did another church, the round North Christian Church; Harry Weese of Chicago did some of the schools in Columbus; I.M. Pei designed the main library and the town’s main mall; and other name architects did other buildings.

The most fun was the design of the Ameritech Switching Station, or at least part of it, done by architect Caudill Rowlett Scott in 1978. I suppose this would be the SBC Switching Station now. In any case, the building itself was interesting, but I was especially taken with the multicolor vertical ventilation pipes that line the alley next to the building. It was like a row of giant Pan pipes, all different colors, set up next to the building.

A few of the designs I saw weren’t all together impressive, but most were, especially considering that many of the designs were from the 1950s and ’60s. It seems that the Cummings Engine Foundation, set up years ago by the diesel engine manufacturer, paid the architects’ fees, as a way of improving the town. I don’t think there’s a setup quite like that anywhere else.

(Bumper sticker seen in the Visitor Center Parking Lot: “McKinley-Roosevelt ’00: Strong Leadership for a New Century.”)

At the end of the tour, we walked down the main shopping street and found a place I had seen from the bus, Zaharako’s. It’s an ice cream parlor, first opened in 1900 and not looking much different now, tricked out with oak fixtures, an onyx soda fountain and a mahogany bar. The sandwiches were good, the lemonade better, and the ice cream best. The place also has a working Welte German pipe organ, installed in 1908.

Tomorrow: the other Nashville.


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