Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Postcards of Terre Haute

Bonus Side Post - (Not your regularly scheduled post)

A few weeks back there was a discussion of the seeming lack of postcards of Terre Haute, and I promised to investigate.  Then I didn't really quite get around to it.

Well today I did.  I went to many places around Terre Haute looking for postcards of Terre Haute, and I met more success than anticipated.  The Swope Art Gallery has quite a few postcards of art in their gallery.  Clabber Girl, had a few postcards in their giftshop, several of historical images of old Terre Haute, but one with contemporary pictures of Clabber Girl's office, and the Swope Art Gallery.  The Deb's Museum had 4 or 5 different postcards, mostly of images from within the museum, but one of the front of the Museum itself and the curator claimed they have boxes of copies of the postcards in back.  But there were no postcards of ISU at the ISU bookstore, or other places on campus.  When I asked the Children't Museum about postcards, the worker said, "no, we don't have any, but we should, I'll pass that suggestion up the chain of command."

But I still hadn't found anything like a "Terre Haute" postcard, something about the city, rather than simply about a destination within it.  So I decided to check out the "Terre Haute Convention & Visitor's Bureau" which I had never seen before.  Turns out it is a fairly new facility (just over a year old) on Margaret just a little off of highway 46.  It's a weird hybrid, not really part of the city, county, or state government, funded by the hotel room tax, and operated as a semi-autonomous governmental agency.  It had a wall full of free brochures, hundreds of different one's from all over.  There were Terre Haute attractions, like Clabber Girl, or Terre Haute Living magazine, but there were also brochures from other parts of Indiana, in some cases, quite far away in Indiana too, there were several for Fort Wayne attractions, for example.  Finding, no postcards, I decided to ask the two workers there just to be sure.  Yup they had many copies of one postcard, but it isn't free, it's 50cents.  And it is clearly a "Terre Haute" Postcard.  It is long (requires a regular stamp, not a postcard stamp), with 13 images on front:  a cross-country tack meet, the new ISU rec center pool, the Crossroads of America plaque, the downtown Hilton, the Corner Grind, Clabber Girl, the Swope gallery (when it had the Horse scuplture in front), the lobby of the Indiana Theatre, the ISU fountain, the Church at St. Mary's, St. Mother Theodore Guerin, the Indy car in the Clabber Girl museum, a Rose-Hulman football game (??!, was that the best Rose-Hulman image they could find?), and a high school basketball game.  The workers there said they got the postcards only about a month ago, so it is possible they had none when the previous poster claimed they had none.  Likewise, the postcard has clearly been designed pretty recently, having several images that can't be more than 2 or 3 years old.

There is still room, I suspect, for a few more good Terre Haute postcards, something of the City Hall, or cranes in the Wabashiki, or the Erhmann statue, or of ISU images, say.  But after digging a bit, I'm just not as worried about Terre Haute having a critical and embarrassing lack of postcards as I had been a few weeks ago.  Although, as with many issues, you have to dig more here than in many places to find the stuff.  Likewise, I'll bet many other local attractions could have brochures to give away at the massive brochure wall at the Visitor's center, so they wouldn't have to fill it with stuff from as far away in Indiana.  For example, Lookout Farms had a brochure, but no other farm at the Terre Haute Farmer's Market had a brochure there. 

The Shape of Us

"The Shape of Us" is an art exhibit at the ISU University Art Gallery (at the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, on the corner of 7th Str and Chestnut.)  It runs for Sept 23rd to Oct 15th.  It is a collection of (mostly) photographs from the Kinsey Institute Art Collections.  Almost all of the images are nudes, with a few partially clothed images.  The exhibit shows human bodies of many, many kinds.  Some images are male, some female, some combine aspects of each.  There are very large people, anorexic people, beautiful people, ugly people, unremarkable people, old people, disabled people.  Some images are artistic, some are clinically scientific, some are clearly eroticized, some are bland.  There are even political nudes.  The exhibition is a sort of traveling photo-essay of the wide, wide range of what counts as normal for human body shapes, for human erotic lives.  Several of the images swirl in my brain still.  Laurel Lea, an armless black lady slinkily dressed giving the camera a wry smirk, while writing in a book with her feet and a quill pen.  Heather, an extremely over-weight lady, nude and on her back, but radiantly happy.  A photo of 6-7 "swingers" of mixed genders and bodies, mostly undressed, but settling down to a fancy meal with wine and nice china.  A photo of 5 men with gynocomastia, fully dressed and looking very normal, then the same men in only breechcloths, clearly showing their extremely female looking breasts.

J. D. Talasek, 2000, Untitled

The Kinsey Institute is one of the genuine treasures of Indiana.  It is reputedly the second largest collection of pornography in the world (after the Vatican).  But the Kinsey Institute has a long history of looking at, thinking about, and researching human sexuality through a wide variety of lenses; scientific, biological, health, art, policy, etc.  Famous sex-researcher John Money, coined the term sexosophy, for looking at human sexuality in a holistic way rather than just say through the very narrow lenses of medical practice, or biological research, pornographic photography, or legislative law-crafting.  And this exhibit is straining to be more than just art or pornography, but sexosophy.  

The Kinsey Institute used to be a very, hmm, user-unfriendly facility.   I had to go there once when I was a philosophy grad student.  I was researching everything having to do with the great scholar of ancient Buddhist, Edward Conze.  I actually found at least one text, buried in the library and falling apart, that had been claimed as "lost" in his official bibliography, although it didn't have much of interest for my project in it.  But IU also claimed that Edward Conze had a text in the Kinsey Library, so I figured I needed to go see it.  It was difficult to get in, but as a grad student they were at least willing to let me talk to one of the workers at the Institute.  (I've talked to two people who didn't even make it that far because they were undergrads at the time).  I was told that I would need signed letters from my dissertation advisor and my department chair if I wanted to examine the "document" they had.  I said that it was probably irrelevant to me, I just wanted to cross it off my research list.  After quite a bit of haggling, I got the to agree to have one of their staff view the "document" and answer a few questions about it verbally before I bothered my chair and advisor for permission.  The staffer said it was a single page cartoon of an explicit nature, and that no it did not seem to have any relevance to Edward Conze's research on ancient Buddhism.  Within the last few years, the attitude of the Kinsey Institute has changed from this, protective defensiveness, to more of a reaching out to the public.  One of my contacts says that this began a few years before the movie "Kinsey" was made, but it has certainly continued.

But the story of the Kinsey Institute coming to ISU's campus has more personal connections for me.  I have a friend, David, who is an ex-professor of ISU.  He left ISU a few years ago as part of a settlement concerning a dispute over his academic research into the sex-lives of disabled people.  He introduced the (then) gallery director of the University Art Gallery to the curators of the Kinsey Institute, and hoped it would lead to something like this.  David, who is an extremely kind and loving guy who has been hurt professionally for working on controversial topics, but with quiet courage keeps doing it anyway, describes the exhibit as "a mini-dream come true."  He says "Now, two years later, on a campus where I experienced a few too many people ignorant and/or blatantly fearful of academic exploration of human sexuality, the presence of this exhibit is perhaps a glimmer of hope..."

I agree.  It is easy to find images of unrealistic sexuality.  It is easy to find suggestions of sexuality used to sell products.  It is easy to find examples of rare body types being sculpted into nearly impossible extremes and then refined further by a host of skillful lighters, make-up artists, and extensive digital post-production to clean up remaining imperfections, to create an entirely unreal and artificial sexual package of desire.  What Baudrillard calls the hyper-real.  A level of being so artificial that the real seems shabby and second rate next to it.  There can be no doubt that hyper-real body images are a major contributing factor to anorexia, and other dysfunctional relationships with our bodies and body images.  Yet what can we do against these hyper-real poisons?  The only viable solution is a concerted cultural effort to re-value real human sexuality.  And here in the "Shape of Us"  we see artists, and scientists, medical folk, photographers, pornographers, librarians, academics, and students, each doing their part to create a paean in images to the real "Shape of Us."  And here, surprisingly enough, the university administrators are willing to allow this to happen.  Many hands, of many different kinds work in many ways to make something like this possible, and take many kinds of risks.  David isn't in the Wabash anymore, because his work was a little too edgy, but folk have decided to risk it anyway and allow this exhibit to occur.   That makes me both hopeful and proud.  So "The Shape of Us" is ...

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.

P.S.Doug Kornfeld did a small related art installation entitled "Who Are You?" in the restrooms outside of the exhibit.  An actual art installation in a bathroom, and not as a joke.  After viewing the men's room, I hovered outside of the women's restroom for a few moments wondering if I had the courage to barge in and claim I was there to view the art, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gerhardt's Bierstube

I lived in Bloomington for 8 years for grad school.  Back then all Terre Haute was to me, was the place you turned from I70 to 46.  The first time I ever actually visited Terre Haute other than to travel through it, was for a friend's birthday.  He had requested that a group of us make a pilgrimage to an awesome German restaurant in Terre Haute.  He and his partner had clearly been there before although neither had ever lived in Terre Haute.  We drove an hour just to get there.  I'd never had German food before, but I was blown away.  We all had feasts, but everyone ordered different things and we all shared.  I remember feeling that I was not large enough to cope with the huge amounts of excellent food we got and shared (I was the thinnest person in our group).  Our meal was called the German Feast, and by sharing we had many meats, tons of sides, and then dessert, oh and of course imported beer to go with it.  And the fried sauerkraut balls.  I normally skip appetizers at fancy restaurants, so I'll have room for dessert, but I make an exception for Gerhardt's sauerkraut balls.  They are definitely one of the hidden gems of Terre Haute.


So to get to Gerhardt's you travel north on Lafayette until you come to the cute little German building that looks like it was airlifted from Bavaria.  That's not it, that's the German-American Oberlander's club.  Keep going until you get to the SECOND cute little German building that looks like it was airlifted from Bavaria.  THAT'S Gerhardt's.

We've been back several times since, although we are certainly not regulars.  The couple that first took me there are now my son's fairy godparents, and we take them to Gerhardt's when they  manage to get to visit us here in town.  I'm a little hesitant to review the food more specifically because I'm just not that familiar with German cuisine.  What I remember are the meats, the sides, dessert, and of course the sauerkraut balls, which I'll just be mysterious about.  I've had many different meat dishes there: a sauerbraten (sorta a vinegar and spice pot roast), a sausage platter with lots of different German sausages (including blood sausage which I have only ever had from Gerhardt's), several different schnitzels (breaded meat cutlets with various sauces or accompaniments), a nice thick hamy pork chop (kassler rippchen).  My favorite is the rouladen - a beef and bacon presentation.   These are served with many sides too, spatzle a kind of German noodle, fried potatoes, potato salad, red cabbage, applesauce, fried apples, etc.  Oh and a good delicate apple streusel for dessert.  Now that we live in Terre Haute we can (and always do) take home the leftovers, because my experience is that the portions are big here, but I don't want to waste any of the yummy food.

Gerhardt's has been in operation for 33 years, but this year they finally stopped serving lunch because of falling demand.  I get a lot of very energetic "moving-forward" vibes from many segments of Terre Haute, but the German community is one of the few that I get "winding-down" and "holding-on" vibes from.  Everything I've heard makes me think that Terre Haute has had a rich German-American heritage.  We still have a fairly active German-American community.  But it is getting older, and the younger generations are more American and less German.  Oh you can still hear German spoken aloud at the Terre Haute Farmer's Market, but it's by the Amish, rather than by other immigrants or their descendants.  There was a German-American booth at the Street Fair a few years ago selling excellent homemade German food, but I heard them talk about how hard it was for them to staff the booth and whether they'd be able to do in in future years.  The "Oktoberfests" keep getting pushed earlier and earlier into September and are frankly kinda disappointing.  But we still have an active German-American club - "the Terre Haute German Oberlander Club" - and we still have a top-notch German restaurant, er "Bierstube" (Beer Hall) - well a Beer Hall that serves a lot of traditional German food restaurant-style.  And, I for one, and very grateful to Gerhardt's for introducing me to German cuisine.  Gerhardt's is ...

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Square Donuts

Well, our baby chicks arrived at the post office early this morning, and we got a call at oh 4 or 5AM telling us to come pick them up.  So Robyn rolls out of bed and I say muzzily, hey I've been meaning to review Square Donuts ...  And it WORKED!  So for breakfast this morning we taught our kids the rules for the chicks, washed our hands, and had Square Donuts!

OK we didn't have THAT many....

Square Donuts is a Terre Haute tradition.  It began as Tasty Creme Donuts in the 1950s (1956?), founded by Eva Monkhouse.  In the 60s her grandson Rick Comer, had the idea of making square donuts, and her son Richard Comer, who was running the shop at the time decided to give it a try.  Square donuts were a success and before long the shop had changed its name to Square Donuts.  Square Donuts have been a Terre Haute staple for decades now, and are now on the third generation, Rick Comer is now the manager.  They have 2 locations left in Terre Haute, Fort Harrison Road, and Wabash Avenue, both only open until 11:30 AM.  They used to also have a South Third Str location,  open later, but it closed.  Since 2006 they have expanded to two locations in Bloomington IN as well.

Donuts so fabulous Bloomington copies us!
The Square Donuts are, in fact, about what you would expect.  Light, sweet, greasy, guilty yumminess. They are closer in flavor to Krispy Kremes than to Dunkins or grocery store donuts, (they are creme-style donuts not cake-style donuts) but you can taste the difference between them and Krispy Kremes even without looking at the shape.  They are pretty light even for a creme-style donut.  They pack a whollop on the calorie front, and no mistake, so they are more of the occasional treat than the daily habit for our family.  I try to assuage the guilt of the guilty pleasure by mumbling of "it's local, it's local."  Ooh look I dripped icing on my keyboard. Tee-hee. The classic is probably the most popular, but we had various jelly-filled ones too this morning.

Square Donuts is a place that people remember fondly even after leaving Terre Haute.  I have heard stories of ex-Terre Hautians stopping by for a nostalgia fix when they are going through town for some reason.  It's also somewhat popular with people who have never lived in Terre Haute.  My sister-in-law loves 'em.  Truckers will pick them up on their way through town.  Famously, Indy racers often send flunkies to fetch them.  I've heard stories of boxes of Square Donuts being "smuggled" onto a plane to Florida.  Apparently, Keith Olbermann plugged them on MSNBC once, but I haven't been able to find exactly when.  Rick Comer claimed in a Tribstar article that even though he has lots of regulars, that he hasn't had a single day in his almost 14 years working there where he hasn't seen a new face.  Before D Square Donuts in Auburn, Al (darn copy cats), opened up a few years ago, Square Donuts was the only place in the US making square donuts.  So even though Square Donuts is old enough to be a tradition, it is still also pretty innovative.  Square Donuts is

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deming Park

I'm not really much of an expert on Parks and Recreations departments, so I can't really tell if ours is just fine or way above average.  I can say that the town I lived in before Terre Haute had almost nothing for Parks and Recreation, and we greatly missed it.  When we can to Terre Haute and lived again in a place with a functional, competent (maybe even outstanding) Parks and Rec department it was a great relief.  In addition to being overall functional and competent, there are some real gems among the Terre Haute parks.  Today I want to talk a little bit about Deming Park.

Now Deming Park isn't really very close to our home, but we go there a fair bit anyway, and for many different reasons.  Sometimes we go for the shelterhouses, of which there are many, and in good repair.  Sometimes we go for the Disc-golf.  Deming Park has a great 18-hole disc golf course, and Terre Haute has a far community of disc-golfers.  I was never particularly into disc-golf before moving to Terre Haute and a few years ago I entered the novice division of a tournament as a total lark, but enjoyed it.  I've actually found out since that several other of my friends play occasionally and have gotten to play with my wife, my kids, and sometimes my buddies.  I find disc-golf to be more relaxed, and vastly less expensive than ball-golf, I suppose that also makes it lower class.  I can't hold a candle to the folk that are serious about it, but I'll take a canvas bag, a few discs, a water bottle, and have a great afternoon.  If the kids get kinda fried while "playing" along with us, maybe we'll only do 9 holes.  The course is set up so that most baskets can be moved to a couple different locations, so the course even changes a little periodically.  Deming has tennis, a pool, and a little duck pond, but we've never messed with those.

Our family has had good luck with special events at Deming Park too.  In the winter, they do a Christmas Decoration event, that we always go to.  A dozen or so local community organizations, each decorate one shelter house.  One of the things I always enjoy about this is the real sense of involvement from many segments of the community.  We've seen a two theatre presentations, that I can remember at the stage at Deming, both free, both excellent.  Deming park has a Holly Arboretum 

But the real center piece of Deming Park, for our family, is the Oakley Playground. 

Our friends the, Martlands, told us that when they first got to Terre Haute they found Deming Park to be disappointing, and all torn up, only to discover that in fact it was finishing up an major upgrade, and a few months later a brand-new awesome playground opened up.  And Oakley playground is awesome.  It is big, open, well designed.  Many children can play at once, and indeed it's busy pretty much all summer.  Our previous town had only one real park and it was dominated by a single large, but very poorly designed playground.  The kids sorta liked it, but it was a constant frustration for all parents, because it was so hard to keep track of where your kids were in it.  Oakley has lots of things to do, but it also has clean lines of sight, and two main areas one designed for slightly older kids one for slightly younger ones.  Oakley playground also has a real sense of public sculpture.  The main arch is really pretty much a sculpture itself.  There is a small bronze of a child playing.  At the moment there is one of the enamel horses from the temporary sculpture project a few years ago, too.

Upon a little research, Oakley Playground turns out to be even cooler than I realized.  It won the 2005 INASLA Merit Award for Constructed Projects.  What does that mean, (uhm, looking a few things up on Google, yes, ah here it is).  INASLA is the INdiana chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the professional organization for landscape architects.  (Oh it got an IPRA award in 2004 too, that's uhm .. International Public Relations Association, no wait, uhm more likely Indiana Parks and Recreation Association)  One of the main reasons for the upgrade to the new playground, and one of the reasons Oakley won, is because of a desire to make a place where severely physically handicapped children could "interact with other children in a barrier-free play environment."  And there are a lot of design elements making this playground particularly accessible.  It uses poured-in-place resilient rubber surfacing rather than dirt, gravel or mulch, making the whole area wheelchair accessible, but still fairly safe to fall on.  It has 2 circular swings, which are usable by the physically handicapped kids, but also very popular with non-handicapped kids.  (Alex gave up waiting in line for one last time we were there...).

Another cool thing right near the playground is the "Spirit of Terre Haute" a little miniature kiddie train.  It only runs during the high season, and it costs a buck for a ride, but both of our kids enjoy the heck out of it.  Given the theme of this blog, I'm love a good picture of the Spirit of Terre Haute, if anyone has one to share.

So for many reasons, from community decorations, to a place that "paves the way for all to play," to a great free golf course, (well disc golf), to a kiddy ride giving physical embodiment to the Spirit of Terre Haute, Deming Park is ...

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute

Monday, September 20, 2010

Me vs. WTF Terre Haute? Part II

So a fella made a thoughtful, appropriate comment on the bottom of the previous WTF Terre Haute post, that I disagreed with enough that I wanted to make a long reply.  And then my reply got longer.  Then I got to part 4.  Then Blogger told me that the comment section can't allow comments that long.  Well, fine, I run this blog, I'll just make it a post.  Then after posting it, I continued to do further research, as I mention in the comments.  Near as I can now tell, WTF Terre Haute, is currently the second most popular thing in the Wabash valley on Facebook, barely behind ISU.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly what to make of that factoid. So this post is a little long winded, and I've covered some of this ground before, but read on if you like.

Here is the original comment (other than some contact info):
"You are really taking things out of perspective. WTF, Terre Haute? is a page that was developed by Mr. Wilson as a joke; just to poke fun at the silly things that happen around here (as do in other cities as well, the only reason this one was chosen is because it's the place where the creator currently lives. no reason to make a WTF Tallahassee page when he doesnt live there). Yes, I agree that some of the posts are mean spirited, but you have to realize that all the posts did not originate from the creator, which brings me to my second point, in which, you really should not have revealed the name of the page creator. Yes, I realize that you technically have not done anything wrong in doing so, but because of some of the crazies out there, you may have unleashed some dogs on a person who really doesnt deserve it.

This page needs to be taken lightly. ITS JUST A JOKE! If you dont like it, then ignore it. You dont have to read its stories. So ignore it, and if you cant, then I say youre trying to argue and criticize for the sake of having something to complain about.

By the way, just so you know, I agree that terre haute has made leaps and bounds above where it used to lie, even so much as a 2-3 years ago. But that doesnt change the fact that there are (pardon my language) some fucked up people around here (again, just as there would be in other places). The page is just a way to share those moments with others, even though some people get out of hand."
OK This deserves careful reply

1) Perspective:  The job of criticism is to put things into new and helpful perspectives.  Here's one, at the moment WTF Terre Haute has 4213 facebook fans and the Terre Haute Children's Museum has 1267 fans, even though WTF Terre Haute is much more recent and has vastly lower funding, and the Children's Museum is media blitzing as much as it can to froth up interest for its grand opening.  Umi Grill, which I highlighted most recently has 169.  4213 is more than 2% of the population of the Terre Haute Metro area.  I would be unsurprised if WTF gets as many actual views as the local news does, although I don't have the data.  WTF Terre Haute IS a joke, but it is not JUST a joke.  It is also a mood, a movement, a facebook fad.  It is successfully capturing a part of the spirit of our city, especially among younger people and people that hang out on Facebook.  Honestly, it is to Mr. Wilson's artistic credit that he has successfully tapped into this mood.  In many ways my real gripe is not with Mr. Wilson's art, as much as it is with this Hautian theme of self-hatred that he is successfully giving voice to.  When Terre Hautians, especially young Terre Hautians get frustrated they start beating up Terre Haute, and to a far greater and more noticeable degree than in any of the other 6 cities I've lived in as an adult, including 2 poorer than this one.  Also for perspective, I've now made 19 posts, only one of which was about WTF Terre Haute.  (Well OK I guess it's now 20 and 2).

2) Matt Wilson - Matt Wilson did assholey things to people I care about before he ever made WTF Terre Haute.  On WTF Terre Haute itself he was pretty assholey at first, even in the posts and comments that originated from him, not from other posters.  I would have no troubles finding examples of mean-spirited things he personally said on the blog.  That said, he has toned down his own actions some since then.  He added the motto "we laugh because we love."  He actually calms things down when they get too far out of hand now sometimes.  He is trying to go for a lighter sillier tone.  But many of his posters are not.  This is not just a comedy creation by one person, it is a Facebook fad or movement, and it is a joke, but not JUST a joke.  Matt Wilson has the makings of a competent comedian, a job where being an asshole is not a huge impediment, as long as you can bring more to the table than just that.  He began with what I've called before a "cheap local rip-off of 'People of Walmart'" but he's executed it well, and it's grown very fast.  Maybe he'll make something a little more original and a little less hate-fueled next time.  Certainly he's far funnier and more popular than I am.  I feel no remorse at ALL discussing him by name, as I would any other comedian.  Any comedian ought to be willing to take the flak for their work.  Maybe he should use a stage name next time like Jon Stuart Leibowitz AKA Jon Stewart does, that's pretty common strategy for comedians.  But you can always be tracked down if you make someone really want to try.  I cannot imagine for a second that he "really doesn't deserve it" if some of the "dogs" and "crazies" he has been intentionally riling up come back to bite him later.

3) "If you don't like it, then ignore it" - Bullshit! "This page needs to be taken lightly." - Bullshit!  That isn't true for movements or moods, and it isn't true for art either.  Art should be criticized, especially when it becomes important.  And WTF Terre Haute is big enough to be important.  When Terre Haute's mayor was interviewed Sept 8 for the radio segment "Ask the Mayor" (free download) the very first caller question was about WTF Terre Haute, which he was unfamiliar with.  This is how local politics works.
Mayor Bennett hadn't heard of WTF Terre Haute on Sept 8, he has now...

If WTWO created a segment on fucked up things that Terre Hautians do, and then used it mostly to pick on poor townies, there would be an uproar.  And right now Facebook is in the process of overtaking local TV, especially among younger folk, younger voters.  And make no mistake, there is definitely an element of class hatred to WTF Terre Haute, college kids and outsiders moving here, criticizing the locals, then moving away.  Every college town has some level of town-gown problems, and it is often one of the key issues in local politics.  So instead of ignoring art that is important, we criticize it by trying to explain what is going right and what is not, by putting it in perspective.  So lets try for perspective again.  There is a legitimate place for comedy about light-hearted fun poking at some of the foibles of our town, even of the poor folk of our town, and some of that happens on WTF.  Since the Show Rag folded in Feb of 10, there just hasn't been much local comedy, (at least that I've encountered) until WTF.  Further, it is necessary to have some place for people to vent their frustrations.  That isn't light-hearted, but it is still healthy and necessary, and that happens on WTF too.  Maybe this should be done socially, rather in in public media, but Facebook is a weird gray area between a social hang-out and public media, and some of the etiquette and appropriate social roles for it are still unclear.  But, there is a step beyond this, to giving voice to our darkest grudges, to the things that tear us apart, and this can become (or maybe already is) hate speech and scapegoating.  I see that on WTF, even if it isn't the intent of the founder and his friends.  ISU found a noose on campus a few years ago, and the people responsible tried the "just a joke" defense at first too.  It didn't fly.  In hard times, scapegoating is a very common political problem, and it can start as comedy.  And you CANNOT ignore it.  You oppose it before it grows to powerful, you shame the people who are tempted to it, and try to give them a bigger perspective.  Let me be clear, I'm not trying to accuse Peter or even Matt Wilson of this, I'm worried that WTF is a vehicle for it, that it gives voice to the darker side of our own town spirit, and I want to try to confront that.  That's it, WTF is a joke, but whether it means to be or not, it is also POLITICS, local politics, ugly local politics.  It is comedy driving a wedge between the University kids and the locals, re-invigorating old hurts and issues that both town and gown have been working to heal.  Perhaps we should make a comedy page called "Those Dumb College Kids" as a place to vent, we could call it comedy and laugh, but no that would be entirely counter-productive.  The University community and local government have really detested each other at some points in Terre Haute history (I think the commentor I'm replying to is even the person that first brought this old Time article to my attention).  But the town and gown have been really trying to work together more recently.  Rush Limbaugh began as a joke too, long ago, but he outgrew being JUST a joke pretty quickly.  Is the Daily Show just a joke today?  Should it be taken lightheartedly?  Or is it popular precisely because so many people long for news that is more honest and trustworthy than can usually be found on TV?  What similar longing is making WTF Terre Haute get so popular so fast? 

4) Honesty-  When I was a college kid did I hate the poor white trash in the little college town I went to?  Not quite, but close, and that's the term I'd have used in my head even if I didn't say it out loud.  I didn't really care about them enough to get to hatred, and I didn't understand them much at all.  I did not understand what that town was going through at the time (totally collapsed economy and pioneering rural meth in the early 90s).  I was soooo superior to those folk, that most of their foibles seemed humorously pathetic.  Like they had nothing better to do with their lives than get drunk all the time.  I would have LOVED a WTF Kirksville at age 20, although I'd have hated it by age 22.  (It wouldn't have been popular then and there, they were too scared and desperate to beat themselves up, and the college students mostly didn't care rather than reveling in it).  But I made friends with a townie meatpacker whose autistic daughter loved poetry and always wanted to come to the poetry events, and I gradually saw his perspective.  One of the weird families living next to my girlfriend were all murdered as part of a meth turf war which they had been involved with.  Other people's pain, their desperation, just didn't seem so funny.  There is a kind of strength in making fun of your OWN pain, your OWN desperation, if it is done just right.  Not a light-heartedness, exactly, but a light in the darkness.  Kurt Vonnegut, from Indy, was a master of this kind of humor.  Some of the Terre Haute self-flagellation probably is like this.  But it is a very delicate process, and it is easy for it to turn into making fun of some other poor pathetic fuck-up.  Or, worse, into blaming your problems on the poor pathetic fuck-up next to you, and refusing to own up to the poor pathetic fuck-up inside. 

So don't get me wrong, I see the appeal of WTF Terre Haute.  I don't exactly want to insult the people who like it either.  But, I've grown to dislike the part of me that takes glee in the fuck-ups of people worse off than me.  And of course, I'm jealous of and a bit scared and depressed by WTF's huge audience.  It is the second most popular thing in the Wabash valley on Facebook, as near as I can tell, and I just don't know what to make of that.  But that's what an art critic is, a jealous, bitter, confused, failed artist, who nonetheless succeeds at providing interesting perspectives on other people's art from time to time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Umi Grill And Sushi Bar

So as many of you probably know, there is a culinary treasure here in Terre Haute that I haven't reviewed yet.  I'm not really an expert on sushi, and I've only been there once.  I thought maybe I could use the prospect of writing a review to weasel into another trip there, but that doesn't seem to be working, so I'll review with what I have.

First, you need to understand that far more knowledgeable folk than I, have argued that Umi Grill is a stand out even among restaurants specializing in sushi.  They are the recent revisioning (in 2009) of  restaurant called Sushi Umi, that was founded in 2003.  Here is Chowhound's rather famous 2005 review of them, entitled "Is the best sushi restaurant in America in Terre Haute?"  He suggests, well, no but it's in the top dozen. (As a side note, that review was written by a Gary Alan Fine who appears to be the same Gary Alan Fine who wrote a classic book on the sociology of Role Playing Games from 1984, that I have constantly drawn insight from, and cite in a forthcoming publication.  He later did a lot of sociology work on the culture of professional kitchens and started doing amateur food reviews after that).  Similarly my best sushi-expert friend, who we actually ate with on the one occasion I've managed to have a real meal at Umi Grill, seconded the opinion that this restaurant was head and shoulders above the other sushi restaurants she's eaten at.  The chef at Umi Grill is chef Qi, a Chinese chef from Shanghai, trained in Japanese cuisine in Indianapolis. 

For my part, I've eaten sushi on many occasions, but am nothing like an expert and have only rarely been to places that specialized in it.  Nonetheless, Umi Grill Sushi Bar was a clear step up from anything I've ever had before.  We let our expert friend order for us, and we ordered and split a whole bunch of different things.  In fact at least 2 of the things we ordered weren't on the menu, and I remember them being my favorite favorites that night (I think, red dragon rolls, and some kind of scallop thing; the asparagus tempura rolls were pretty good too).  One of the comments on the Chowhound review mentions ordering things that aren't on the menu, too.  And, for all that, the menu is pretty long.  All of the sushi was good, and we had several quite different bundles, both in flavor and presentation.  I'm not certain what set this sushi apart from other sushi I've had either, but it did clearly seem to be in another category.  The place itself was elegant, and the service good, and the bill was steep, but we were really just focused on the food which was varied, surprising, refined, balanced, almost sharp.  A precise effect, followed by another different precise effect.  California chef Thomas Keller argues that high end food should be only a few bites of one thing, and then a few bites of something quite else, with a meal of many small servings.  When you want comfort food, or familiarity, or connection to family, friends and tradition you eat large servings of a few emotionally-laden foods, or even stuff yourself silly with large servings.  Think Thanksgiving or pasta dinners.  But when you want to focus on the food, rather than using good food as a tool to enhance socialization or ritual, then you need many small precise and varied doses.  Sushi is one of the few foods that I think is habitually eaten according to this ideology in the States (although tapas also work that way in some places I suspect).

I've never had the "grill" section of Umi Grill Sushi Bar, if someone has please make a comment about it.  However, I will also say that Umi has a little fish store attached to it, that is open odd hours, but at which you can get excellent take-out that isn't too expensive when it is open.  Umi Grill Sushi Bar, and its associated fish store, are

just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Third Thursday Poetry @ The Grounds

The Third Thursday Poetry Readings were created in October of 2008, by my friends Sarah Long and Zann Carter.

On the third Thursday of every month, 20 or so folks gather from 7:30-9:30 to declaim poetry (that thar is fancy talk for read aloud) at Coffee Grounds on Wabash.  Oh and look! The third Thursday of September happens to be tonight, I guess that means I need to get my set together ... hmm.  Yup, I'm a regular at these.  Unlike a lot of open mike nights, the Third Thursday Poetry @ the Grounds have a fair stable of regulars who show up and read most months, although there are usually newcomers, and folk that are just there to listen and have no intention of reading.  There isn't any element of competition, you just read a few poems when you are called.  A good rule of thumb is 3 poems or around 5 minutes.  It is quite normal to read poems from someone else, rather than reading your own poems Plath, Bukowski, Neruda, Rumi, Bassho, Mayakovsky, we get a range.
Pablo Neruda

But many people do read their own poems, or like I do, a mix of their own and others.  One of the things I especially love about this particular group is the breadth of age range, 8-81.  Most other ongoing poetry events I've been involved with typically get people in a narrow range, say college students, or seniors.  We get the gamut, teens, ISU folk, Rose Hulman students, 20 somethings that aren't college folk, 30 somethings, 40 somethings, 50 somethings, 60 somethings, even older folk.  We've even had pre-teens although that's only happened a few times.  No age or institution dominates, or even style.  We get raw poems just written where the emotion is still oozing, crusting into scabs on the surfaces of meaning, and we get polished poems, edited into little twinkling multifaceted gems, and we get old poems lifted out of the archives and dusted off to see if they might show new layers of meaning after all these years.  We get rank amateurs and seasoned artists.  It really is a kind of world in miniature, or at least a cross-section of literary folk looking for an outlet in a world that sometimes seems to only half-heartedly care.  If that's you too, then come on down, and listen, or read some of your favorite poems to us.  

The Third Thursday Poets have been involved in several other activities in the last two years.  We've done street poetry for Art festivals.  We've made poetry buttons.  Zann and Sarah were the organizers of "SubTerreanean" the Terre Haute poetry (and more) chapbook that was published last spring.  In "SubTerreanean" they describe the group as the Third Thursday Poetry Asylum.  It is clear that using literature as a healing device is a major theme in the poetry and thinking of both Zann and Sarah, but the group never feels like a self-help or encounter group either.  You can easily go from a poem that is clearly about a young man struggling to come to terms with their homosexuality, to a light hearted poem about cats, to an old man's poem about the dusty road leading to the farm he grew up on, to a hip-hopster who almost sings the latest thing they wrote.  Local poetry is always so human, sharing little slices of who we are, what we are struggling with, what we care about, with just enough artistic elaboration to make it feel more like Art than Facebook.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


See this is the kind of post where I wish I had real statistics I could use instead of my own half-assed observations, anecdotes, and pseudo-statistics.  Terre Haute seems to me to have a lot more mopeds than any other city I've been in (or scooters or Deweys or whatever you want to call them, the little 49cc engine things that aren't really motorcycles).  There are a lot of potential reasons for this, including the fact that moped sales have skyrocketed nation-wide in the last few years, I think every town has more mopeds than it did 5 years ago.  Still, I persist in believing on no good statistical evidence beyond the truthy feeling in my gut, that Terre Haute has more mopeds than average for a town its size today, and I'm proud of that.

I bought my first moped within a few months of moving to town, and I loved it.  It was cheap, fun to ride in 3 seasons, and got great gas mileage.  It was an environmentally friendly commuter vehicle, and I could feel smug while looking ridiculous (as they were rare and kinda funny looking at the time, ooh wait I have a picture of me looking extra ridiculous on a moped somewhere ...). 

I am by nature a complete contrarian, but also mild-mannered, I'd have worn a "born to be mild" jacket while mopedding if I could have found one.  The main downside to my moped was driving in the winter which is extremely cold and unpleasant, and you need to bundle up a lot.  But although I am a total wimp, the one bit of machismo I DO have is left over from Boy Scouts, I can take it.  That first year or two I was almost the only moped on the road, and I got plenty of funny looks.  But I also got people rolling down their windows at stops and asking me what kind of gas mileage I got.  80-90 miles to the gallon, I'd say proudly.  I learned, maybe a year into driving a moped, that the local slang for them was "Deweys" because legend has it the only people who ride them have lost their license to DUIs.  But right from the very first, the attitude I got from others was a mix of derision and scratching one's chin to think about the possibilities ...

Well I never lost my license, and I suspect that there are plenty more Hautians riding mopeds these days even though they have licenses.  I've watched the number of mopeds on the road in Terre Haute shoot up over the past 5 years, and I've watched the city's attitude towards moped-drivers shift a lot.  For the first time this year, there are two people who use moped to pick-up and drop off their kids from our elementary school.  I saw someone else besides me on a moped in the dead of winter last winter.  I was still the only one who drove a moped to Terre Haute South High School last winter/spring (when I was student teaching there), but I bet there will be a few others by this year.  I got trained last spring and did an informal count of vehicles stuck there and estimated that in good weather Terre Haute is probably around 5% bikes, 5% mopeds, 5% motorcycles, 80-90% cars.

My guess is that the real reason Terre Haute is embracing mopeds is poverty.  A moped is a cheap even compared with most used cars.  If you just need something to get around, to get to work, to run errands in, a moped is an ideal solution.  Especially if you have a car, and need a second family vehicle, a moped is practical and cheap.  About the only things I can't do on my moped, are the weekly family grocery shopping (not quite enough cargo hauling), traveling the highways (illegal and low top speed), carting around the kids, and shopping at Circuit City (before it closed). 

So why be proud of mopeds?  Aren't they just a sign of poverty and perhaps drinking problems?  Well, they really are vastly better than cars on the moral and environmental fronts.  They use less gas, have lower emissions, take fewer resources to build and maintain.  Real motorcycles are famously more dangerous than cars (at least to their riders), but mopeds are actually safer than cars both to their riders and others, because they travel at slower speeds, and have so much less mass.  Mopeds have been a great boon to Europe, but the US has just never been able to shake its love affair/co-dependent relationship with cars, no matter how many people they kill, and how much damage they do, and how much tax money gets sucked into roads.  Mopeds are not as good as bicycles or buses on any of these fronts, but they are much better than cars.  It may be poverty that drives people to buy and use mopeds, but even that is Hautians being a little creative in their solutions to their daily problems, being willing to look a little goofy because it works.  As I have gotten deeper and deeper into environmentalism it is a constant amazement to me how often the most environmental solution is also the solution of impoverished folks trying to cope.  Not always, but surprisingly often.  And this is one of those cases.  Dealing with the shifting realities of America's economics and energy situation is going to require a lot of change, a lot of flexibility, a lot of adaptation.  And this is one case where it sure looks to me like Terre Haute is out in front of the learning curve, leading the way towards a future where many different kinds of vehicles are all part of our transportation system instead of just relying on cars for practically everything.  Terre Haute's willingness to slowly embrace mopeds as a transportation solution is

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Camarilla - Twisted Reality Domain

The Max Ehrmann poem this blog is based on ends with the following stanza

What various aspirations man pursues!
It matters not what visions lure,
Here many ambition all its talents use;
Here is the world in miniature.

One of the things I think is deeply cool is how different folk get jazzed up about different things, especially when they are a little kooky, a little off the beaten path.  I'm not a sports fan at all, but I kinda admire fantasy football leagues where people combine sports, statistics, fantasy, and elegantly crafted rule systems.  The group I'm talking about in this post is almost exactly the same thing as fantasy football, while being also completely the opposite.

The Camarilla is an international organization that runs a world-wide fantasy setting called the World of Darkness, full of vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and whatnot.  The people who participate in the Camarilla (around here), pretend to be vampires one evening a month, as a sort of amateur theatrics exercise, but as a game, for fun.  The Camarilla is also, importantly, a charity, and I'll get to that bit in a while, but first you need to understand that its a game.  People dress up, they pretend to fight, or socially snub each other, or protect innocents from occult threats, or try to track down the spirit that is making people in the imaginary Terre Haute dream of a creepy iron gate.  Each month, 10-20 folk will show up for the game, here in the Terre Haute domain which is named the Twisted Reality domain.  Sometimes people will drive in from other towns or other states.  The game is intensely social, but also full of arcane rules.  It is more like a cocktail party than it is like a game of chess, but it is more like a weird mix of the two.  It's also vastly more hierarchical than any game of D&D, and more dynamic than any MMORPG (like say World of Warcraft).  D&D rarely has more than a handful of friends meeting around a table.  The Camarilla has 10-20 people hobnobbing in a room, and their plots are interconnected with similar plots all over the state, nation, and world.  Events in Indianapolis, or say Prague, can and do effect what happens in the imaginary Terre Haute of the Camarilla.  And what the characters do is allowed to effect the game world in significant ways.  It is like a giant story, told in many parts, that is constantly evolving, and there are definitely artistic elements of character, plot and theme, along with the more game like elements of success and failure and gaining and losing status.  The local Camarilla folk are mostly in there 20s or 30s (no one under 18 can play), although recently there has been a big influx of ISU students too.  They meet on the 4th floor of the ISU Student Union, the 2nd Saturday of each month from 6:30-11:30   

So far, I've described a little group of hobbyists, and could just as easily have picked model train buffs, or swing dancers, or fantasy football leagues, except of course that I have been in the Camarilla for the past year or so, and haven't been swing dancing in a decade.  The Camarilla used to meet at my church, I was the one who had to let them in at 6:30 and lock up after them after midnight.  After a few months, I decided if I had to be there anyway I might as well play, but I was a bit reluctant at first.  The Camarilla doesn't get much publicity, good bad or indifferent, and it's easy for it to look creepy rather than wholesome, but it is a wholesome activity I'm proud of already just at the game level, just a bunch of people playing games together and slowly becoming friends, even if they are weird games with horror-buff overtones.  But that isn't really the coolest thing about it.

Last week one of my friends linked me to a recent TED talk by Jane McGonigal entitled "Gaming Can Make a Better World"  Her basic idea is that people who play lots of video games essentially get almost as much training and practice in video games over the years of their youth as they do in the school system.  What are they becoming skilled at?  More than we might have guessed as it turns out.  How can we tap into the expertise they have developed and use it to make the world better?  She has several surprising ideas here, (go watch the video when you have 20 minutes to spend) but one of them is that games are so popular now in part because they have more satisfying and effective economic systems.  Many people would rather devote their spare or marginal time and energy to making progress within the fictional economics of game systems, than try to spend it on real world economic progress past a certain point.  So, if only we could tie the work people do in fictional systems with their more satisfying economics, to real world improvements, that would be grand.  And that is what Jane McGonigal is working on with video games.  Well, that's also what the Camarilla does and has done for quite a while now.  They have an elaborate system called "prestige" where you get in-game benefits for doing certain kinds of real-world work or making real-world donations.  Some of the work people do for "prestige" is the work to keep the club going, serving as local officers, editing newsletters, organizing national conferences for the Camarilla, etc.  But, much of it is charity.  Originally, the Camarilla encouraged its members to donate blood regularly, and gave them "prestige" for doing so, it is largely a vampire game after all.  But this expanded to various other charities at the local, regional and national level.  And they rotate a lot.  I've seen plenty of the Camarilla folk, give donations of many school supplies to the school supply charity drive, and then happily tote up the prestige points for doing so, knowing that their vampire character can have just a little bit cooler of a lair, or one more psychopathic retainer, because they are helping families that are having troubles scrounging together school supplies.  In one particular case, the lady wasn't particularly well off, probably more like barely scrapping by herself, but she bought a box of school notebooks cheap last October and then donated them to a school supply drive this August.  

That's right, the Camarilla has found a way to harness the power of the twisty minds of gamer geeks, and turn a fraction of it to the problem of how benefit charities.  They've done this by giving imaginary, but rigidly defined, rewards for certain charitable behaviors, in addition to the more nebulous warm fuzzies that more traditionally motivate charity.  The Kiwanis or Boy Scouts certainly succeed at motivating their members to engage in charitable behaviours for various social rewards, and both are far more popular than the Camarilla, but the Camarilla successfully motivates people to engage in charity for intentionally imaginary rewards, for, in essence, artistic rewards.  That's new.  I've praised Terre Haute businesses like E-Bash or Forbidden Flavors for innovative business models, the Camarilla strikes me as an innovative philanthropic model, an experimental charity.  Oh it involves bureaucracy, rules lawyering, and ego games of which imaginary character can beat up which, but that's part of how it works, by integrating the reward into the imaginary framework of the fictional space of the play narrative.  Using vampires to create incentives to give to charity, what is next using zombies to promote disaster preparedness?  The Camarilla Twisted Reality Domain, both for the artistry of its game play, and its weird philanthropic model, is

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute  

Harry and Bud's

Harry and Bud's sounds like an urban legend when you first hear of it, but it is really more like a secret initiation.  Its one of the cool little secrets of Terre Haute, that you won't stumble upon unless someone lets you in on it.  It is a fabulous little restaurant across from the community theatre on 25th Str (1440 S 25th).  It has no signage or any reason to think its a restaurant rather than an abandoned barbershop or something.  And it isn't open for regular hours.  If the light outside of it is on, then the restaurant is open, if it isn't then it isn't.  It's usually open for lunch, and is a great place for a long slow lunch.  You just sorta drive by and see if the light is on.

If you can find it, and it happens to be open, you get in to a small place, that yes, used to be a barbershop, but now has 4 or 5 tables, a kitchen, and piles and piles of old cookbooks laying around everywhere, what Alton Brown calls "quaint and curious volumes of culinary lore."  The tables are all classic American diner, but the walls are covered with old maps, including a huge map of pre-WWII Germany.  Another had an old schoolroom, meta-map explaining what various geographic terms mean.  The ambiance was like a cross between a diner and a study, with a little classroom or culinary lab thrown in.  Our visit Friday for lunch was pretty typical of the several times Robyn or I have been there.  The chef (Jeffrey Marks) and his assistant were sitting and reading the paper and talking. We were the only ones there, and they chatted with us for a while.  Then the chef went in back and started cooking, although the kitchen does spill out into the front of the house.  The assistant took the role of waiter, kinda, and asked us which of 3 soups we'd prefer.  And then went in back to report the results.  A little later he came out and asked "I'm guessing, you guys like blue cheese right?"  We assured him that we did, and told him a story about Roquefort cheese ice cream.  He disappeared again and Robyn and I chatted some more, and half heartedly read through the New York Times they let s borrow.  There was no menu, no board of daily specials.  No hint of prices or options, except the verbal discussion of the 3 soups and the fact that we like blue cheese.  Oh I guess there was a discussion about drinks too (we had a chilled sparkling cranberry drink I've nearly bought at Kroger's but never actually did).  When "lunch" came out it was our soups (black bean for me, potato for Robyn), a heavy bread, a huge chunk of blue cheese, some tapanade, and a whole mess of veggies in a confusing presentation and yummy light vinegary sauce.  I eventually determined that there were mushrooms and onions and peppers and cauliflower in another sauce, and greens, and sweet potato sticks, and probably a few other things.  All of them were lovely.  And there was plenty of food.  Three different sauces for lunch, jeez.  We just slowly worked through the soup and veggie plate, putting slices of blue cheese on the bread, or trying a bite with the tapanade, or whatever.  We talked about the food, and other things, with the chef and waiter as we were eating it, as both settled back into the table next to ours.  When we were done and ready to go, we asked how much it was, and they kinda looked at each other and made up a number, which seemed pretty fair.  The whole experience is so informal that "restaurant" doesn't even quite seem like the right term, more like a chef with a kitchen he opens sometimes so that people can try his food, oh and then pay for it.  There website describes them as a cross between "a mom and pop place, and a Greenwich Village hangout."  That's about right, half mid-west small-town and half Greenwich Village.  They don't take plastic either, so have cash or a local check ready.  And every time we've been there its been good.  And different.   

The chef said the name Harry and Bud's came from an old restaurant in Bloomington, IN which closed down long ago, but which he always imagined having a little French chef smoking outside and waiting for an order to be placed.  And that is very much the vibe.  A place that exists entirely on word of mouth, and word of mouth passed in hushed tones as a kind of local secret.  Its a sort of bastard child of a diner and a bistro, with an extra dose of lazy and an extra dose of genius thrown in.  There is a Frazier episode where Frazier and his brother joke about opening a restaurant so exclusive that they won't even have a sign up.  Frazier's father suggests perhaps they should hire a sniper to pick off potential patrons before they can arrive, and Frazier and Niles are taken aback, there is no reason to be ridiculous they say.  Well, Terre Haute has the mythical restaurant without any sign, and it does cater to an exclusive clientele, but it isn't snooty or particularly expensive, it's just hidden and charming and you have to want to go somewhere where you will be actually chatting with the guy that makes your food.  It's almost too cantankerous to be a business, although it's been in business 16 years, so I guess it must be a long smouldering passion instead.  It is

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Midwives and Doulas

My wife has been involved with the midwifery and doulaing community for sometime, and she knows a lot more about it than I do (she's done several doulaing gigs this year, for example).  One of the very first community-involvement things we did when we moved to Terre Haute, was being the host site for a yard sale to raise funds for a midwife's legal defense fund, where we met several other families we are still friends with, including a family with far-right values.  I've always been amazed how some topics like midwives, home schooling, or homebrew manage to draw from the fringes of the far-left and far-right and bring them together.  My wife was instantly skeptical of me doing a post on midwives and doulas, "what's your angle there, Brian, 'cause at the moment I'm not really feeling the love."  As I say, I'm not really an expert, but in the time we've been here in Terre Haute it has felt to me like Terre Haute was a lot better served in the midwife and doula department than the other towns we've lived in - it's just that it seems to be in the process of falling back apart right now.  So my angle is this, I AM proud of how Terre Haute has dealt with its midwives and doulas, at least in the 5 years I've been here, including earlier this year, as well as being worried that it is in the process of changing significantly, but I'm still hopeful too.

Let me back up a step.  Midwifery is a different model for thinking about the birth process than the medical model, the obstetrics model.  It is a different philosophy of birth, and different ideology.  Midwifery typically sees birth as a natural process requiring few medical interventions, and wishes to minimize the technocratic overtones.  It teaches that oh say 90% of births don't really need a doctor present, just someone who can watch and help and send for a doctor if you get warning signs that this might be one of the other 5%-10% of births.  Doctors for their part often think that this is dangerously old-fashioned superstition, that birth is a potentially dangerous medical condition that needs to be closely monitored, that doctors should be present at all births, and that in the memorable comedy of Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life," gosh isn't this expensive machine that goes BING neat!  It doesn't help that the US has an insane high C-section rate (a whopping 32% of all births last year, compared with between 5 and 10% in Western Europe), and that most hospitals get a huge chunk of their funding from births, often over half of the hospital's total income.  So we have a ideological conflict AND a turf fight.  Add to that, that midwives are often less educated (than doctors), and have less clear licensing and legal situations, and lots of state-to-state variations in policy.  Er, ... hmm, well I'm not exactly neutral in these debates, but let's put it this way, doctors and midwifes traditionally get along about as well as punks and preppies, but everyone involved realizes, when they are being good, that they need to be able to cooperate.  There is a lot of historical bad blood, but I think there is a real trend at the moment towards detente.  America's birth mortality rates and other birth statistics are at the bottom of the industrialized world, and the World Health Organization has a lot to say to various countries on how to make their systems safer for childbirth, and in the US they want to see a lot more involvement of midwives.  The whole midwifery model requires being willing to switch over to the medical model if you DO get indications of certain complications (like say, varied decels, or a placental abruption), so midwives need to be willing to work with doctors.  Doctors, for their part, usually discourage midwives, but they need to be able to work with them if the patient is working with a midwife, and even most doctors will admit that the US's C-section rates are out of control.  Doulas are more birth assistants than health care providers.  Their job is just to be there with the laboring woman (doctors typically come and go a lot), making comforting sounds, reassuring them that what's happening is normal, and give non-medical advice and support, etc.  They have training and experience in the birth process, but they spend their time interacting with the laboring woman's face and mind not her nethers.  Doulas tend to work with both doctors and midwives, but they too are often seen as intruders on hospital turf by the medical end of the spectrum, and indeed these roles are often sorta filled by the nurses if there isn't a doula hired.  I'm dealing in exaggerations here, the truth is always more mixed and less clear.  There are MDs where the initials might as well stand for "Midwife in Disguise" and midwives called "medwifes" that might as well have gone to med school, and plenty of health-care providers with ambiguous opinions between the two ends of the spectrum, but there really is a long standing dispute about "the business of birth" and it really does get bitter, ugly, and decidedly unhelpful at times.

So how does it work here in Terre Haute?  Well, in Indiana it is illegal to attend a homebirth unless you have an Indiana license to practice medicine, and very few, if any folk with the relevant liscences actually will, (in many states someone with a CPM degree (Certified Professional Midwife) are also allowed to attend homebirths and do).  So in Indiana, midwifery either happens illegally under the table, or in hospitals.  So the issue in Indiana, is always to what extent the hospitals are willing to allow midwifery and work with the midwives.  In Alabama, when we had Ian, CPMs attending homebirths were alegal rather than illegal (that is untested legally), but the hospitals were not willing to work with midwives in anyway.  They had no admitting privileges and couldn't even talk to the physician about how the labor had gone so far if they transferred to a hospital.  Likewise, there was no local organization for the doulas, or official recognition of them within the medical community.  You could have a "friend" with you during labor, but no recognition that she might have degrees or certification or training of any sort in assisting laboring women.  Not so here in Terre Haute.  The Maple Center ran a list of local doulas, offered references, recommendations, and matching information and the doctors and hospitals were pretty familiar with them.  There are 2 CNM's (Certified Nurse Midwives, essentially someone with nurse training and midwife training) that had admitting privileges and a contract at Union Hospital.  And, indeed, at the births my wife attended where there were CNMs, the hospitals really did let them practice the midwifery model of care.  They didn't engage in continuous fetal heart monitoring, the laboring women were not fitted with IVs early,  there was work to minimize unnecessary interventions, etc.  That is to say, the hospitals and midwives got along, they were willing to compromise, they worked together.  Other official medical organizations, like the Maple Center and the Maternal Health Clinic, worked to keep doctors, midwives, nurses and doulas all organized, working together, and civil to each other.  And it worked.  The punks and the preppies worked together for the common good.   For a while.  Then this year, I believe, the Maple Center's doula program has an uncertain future (due to funding issues).  There are still doulas around for hire, but there may not be a clearinghouse for them anymore, and no official institution to give them institutional standing at hospitals.  We are going from being above-average in doula care, back to the US norm.  Then, in August, Union Hospital announced that it is ending its Certified Nurse Midwife program, as part of the reorganization and moving of the Maternal Health Clinic, and its folding into the Family Medicine Center, and the services will end Oct 29th.  Union Hospital cites economic concerns, "current economic conditions."  Their spokesperson pointed out that is the Maternal Health Clinic program which focuses on providing health care to low-income women had been funded partly by a federal grant which also was not renewed.  On the other hand, there is a lot of empirical evidence that CNM births are less expensive overall than MD births because of the starkly lower intervention rate.  One respondant to the Tribstar's Aug 14th article on announcement put it this way: "UHHG cut the midwives' positions because they only use intervention when absolutely necessary. Cutting costs? Yeah right. UHHG cut two positions that didn't bring in the 'big bucks' by using needless interventions."

So wait, am I proud of Terre Haute, or complaining?  Well, its more complex than that.  Here is an aspect of the end of Union Hospital's deal with the midwives I hadn't understood before reading the Tribstar's article. Quoting again.

"The nurse midwives at Union Hospital delivered about 10 percent of the hospital’s 1,508 newborn babies in 2009, according to data provided by the hospital.

But that number does not reflect the births attended by midwives in the role of instructors for resident physicians, Mishler said.

“They are essentially faculty,” Dahl agreed. “They are kind of like the people you are apprenticing with.”

Most residents feel the loss of the midwives is equal to the loss of two faculty members from their training, Dahl said. “I think the residents, almost every one of us, think it’s a huge loss.”
That's not just working together for the common good, that is mutual respect.  I've never seen that relationship between doctors and midwives before.  That clearly makes my heart proud of Terre Haute.  And as the hospital spokesperson points out it's not at all clear what will happen next.  Maybe midwife services will disappear completely from the Wabash, and people (who can afford it) will have to drive to Indy for a midwife (or go the illegal, under the table route).  Or maybe "The nurse midwives could form an independent practice or could partner with another physician or health practitioner."  Maybe the hospital will find some other way to let the midwives work within the hospital setting.  Heck, maybe the other hospital will hire the CNMs.  Even if the hospital admins are trying to shut the midwives out, or distance themselves from them, there may be further wrinkles yet to come if the doctors and community get involved.  There is, for example, a petition in favor of the midwives, here.

I'm proud of how well Terre Haute's midwives, doulas, nurses, and doctors have worked together over the past 5 years.  I'm a little worried that this is changing, and taking a step backwards, but even if so we would be going from better than normal, back to the norm.  And I'm not convinced that's what will happen yet.  For the moment, we still have midwives in one of our hospitals, and our community may still find a way to continue to do so.  It may be as simple as a physician stepping forward and opening a joint practice with the midwives.  But for now, our doulas and midwives, and the doctors and nurses that have been willing to work with them are ...

Just one more reason I'm proud of Terre Haute.

The Sycamore Farm Bed and Breakfast

There are some places I love in Terre Haute that I am kinda scared to write about, fearing that I will be unable to convey why I find them so cool.  For some places, it is easy to explain what makes them so cool, E-Bash is all about people coming together to share their love of video games, and Market Bella Rosa is all about great sandwiches and a comfy atmosphere to sit and chat.  But, I just can't put my finger on why I love the Coffee Cup restaurant so much, and if I try to write honestly about it, either the restaurant will seem humdrum, or my prose will seem like I've run off the road and crashed into a stand of hyperboles.  The Sycamore Farm is a little like that, its magic is in little nuances that don't come across in short reviews, or perhaps its magic is that it's main function in my life is as a rare romantic splurge.

The Sycamore Farm is a large 1860s farmhouse, on Poplar, by Dobbs park, that has been lovingly refurbished and turned into a bed and breakfast, which has been open since, oh, don't know and their website doesn't say, I'd guess around 2006.  They have four rooms worth of bed and breakfast, and also have a big old barn that has been fixed up and turned into a climate controlled event-catering facility for 40ish.  (Oh and a master rug maker lives in an upstairs suite at the top of the barn).  The grounds are large, with beautiful gardens, lawns, and gazebo, and they occasionally run large outdoor event there too.

Now, I've only ever stayed at one bed and breakfast other than Sycamore Farms, and it was pretty cool too, so maybe I'm just a sucker for bed and breakfasts, but all three times I've stayed at Sycamore Farms have been wonderful.  A few years ago my mother started the tradition of taking our kids to her farm for the weekend as a wedding anniversary present for Robyn and I, and we have taken to leaving our home and staying over at the Sycamore Farms.  I think we've stayed in 3 of there 4 guest rooms at this point.  They are exquisitely furnished, but in a very old-timey fashion, with fluffy beds, lots of comforters and old wood everywhere.  (Their website has lots of great pics constantly cycling)  Each room has its own balcony, and they are all pretty private from each other.  You can stroll the grounds, sit and smoke, play in bed, or ... Well, we haven't had TV in 7 years, so on the rare occasions when we have a functioning TV, we have a tendency to stay up too late and watch House marathons, or Food Network. 

And the food.  Oh, man.  There used to be a full restaurant downstairs, (well a very small one, mostly only open for dinners Fridays and Saturdays) called Buttonwoods and it was exquisite, incredible.  Perfect, and creative creations entirely based on local, seasonal foods.  Nearly every ingredient was  from within a county or two.  Often Robyn and I knew which farm the potatoes had come from, who raised the eggs, the meat.  And Chef Chris Kraut, turned these ingredients into little delights.  It was the epitome of terroir culinary ideology, make the food a distillation of the locale.  The best meal of my life was at a little local inn in rural France, the second and third best meals I've ever had were both at Buttonwoods.  Certainly, we found that knowing where the food was from altered the experience of eating it quite a bit.  Alas, Buttonwoods, per se, is no more, but you can still get Buttonwoods style food from Chef Chris Kraut, as the breakfast section of the bed and breakfast.  On our most recent trip to Sycamore Farms, we checked in, and er. settled in, had dinner and a movie elsewhere, then came back had chocolate covered strawberries (provided by them) and champagne while lazing in bed and watching the House marathon.  Then for breakfast we had yogurt parfaits of fresh fruit, and potato and vegetable fritattas.  Now I've had parfaits before, even yogurt ones with the little toasted oat crunchy bits.  But it's still a great way to show off fresh local fruits at the peak of ripeness, and set off with a few sprigs of herbs for contrast.  Likewise, the fritattas were a jumble of flavors and textures, held together with the eggs and light (mayonnaisey) sauce, and again highlighting the locale produce.  One of the other couples staying there that night were newlyweds with a just decorated car, but they ate breakfast before we did to get off to the airport in time.

Maybe that's what I love about Sycamore Farms, it makes me feel like a newlywed again.  The whole place is clearly a labor of love.  The innkeeps are personable and passionate. We've been to a few of the bigger events there, and they had the feel of a wedding reception even though they weren't.  It's earnest and caring, romantic and a little bit kooky, a little out of its proper time.  At Sycamore Farms, I almost feel like Venus herself is hiding behind a mist and smiling.  They are certainly     

Just one more reason I am proud of Terre Haute.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Terre Haute vs Comedians

Terre Haute has got to be an easy place to make fun of.  Its in the midwest, big enough the audience has heard of it, small enough that they probably haven't heard much.  Like Peoria.  I'll bet Peoria, IL has the same problem being an easy target for comedians.  But I've recently learned that Terre Haute has a tradition of fighting back against comedians that make fun of it.  The locus classicus (i.e. the most famous example), is our tussle with Steve Martin, in 1979-80.  He called Terre Haute the most nowhere town in America in a Playboy interview, and someone, probably a lot of someones must have called him on it, and well here is the ultimate outcome

[hmm blogger won't let me embed the video, but its on YouTube here I'm having troubles finding good still shots too]

Now taking on a comedian is a very dangerous, usually foolish thing to do.  This may be the first time I've seen someone take on a comedian and come out looking reasonably good.  It is so easy for the comedian to make their attacker look bad.  Dealing with hecklers is a key part of most comedians early job experience.  Going after a comedian makes it socially acceptable for them to be a little more aggressive than they could normally get away with in fighting back, and ups the ante so they sorta have to fight back to maintain their own reputation.  It is SOOOO easy to misstep when you try to take on a comedian.  But Terre Haute's response to Steve Martin is spot on.  Now Steve had, even at the time, a reputation for gentle wacky humor, subtle and sly, but even he could have been a lot cruel in his come back than he was.  The key to taking on a comedian and winning is to work with them.  Humbly mock yourself in a good-natured way, while correcting their errors, and feed them material in their style while not upstaging them.  Legend has it that the Mayor of Terre Haute at the time was "miffed" but that his secretary suggested inviting Steve Martin and working with him.  The people of Terre Haute are completely playing along with Steve Martin in this clip, and they must have helped with writing the material too. The people of Terre Haute poke fun at him in signs.  There was a 2008 documentary called "One Wild and Crazy City" trying to explore some of the backstory of this encounter.   The official tour takes him to the fertilizer plant and a tractor store where he is given a toy "fertilizer spreader" tractor in response to his joke in Playboy.  Steve Martin IS making fun of Terre Haute here, but in a good natured way, and with the clear help and collusion of Terre Haute, and Terre Haute is willfully and wisely playing along.  As Martin says at the end of the clip, "the main thing I have learned is that I will never make fun of any person, place, or thing that can possibly strike back."  Indeed, making fun of Terre Haute becomes a running gag in Steve Martin's work, and always with a careful mix of barb and mildness.

Terre Haute's tradition of striking back against comedians does not end with mild-mannered Steve Martin.  My readers probably all know this already, but I didn't until last week because my family hasn't had TV in 7 years, but there was a tussle between WTWO and the Daily Show in 2006.  First, WTWO aired these commercials about their superior weather coverage.  Then the Daily Show (rightly) lambasted them as over-the-top, here.  So Dwayne Lammers (General Manager of WTWO) half-heartedly attacks the Daily Show in the Tribstar, in the WRONG way, suggesting they are hard up for material if they are attacking WTWO.  Bad strategy, especially against Jon Stewart.  Stewart replies with the following "A Humble Apology" in which he calls Lammers out on national TV, is funny about it, and slips in a dig about something embarrassing that Lammers had done earlier, lacking the courage to show the "Book of Daniel" when every other NBC-affiliate did.  Jon Stewart is a political comedian, and that means it is especially important for him to be able to deal with hostility from opposing forces while still being funny.  Stewart has a famous running fight with Glenn Beck, for example.  Stewart took financial entertainer/analyst Jim Cramer to the mat in repeated interchanges where Cramer just didn't learn the lesson that if you fight a competent comedian they WILL find everything embarrassing and pathetic about you and present it in a humorous and understandable way.  But WTWO learned the lesson after Jon Stewart's second attack on them.  They did not cower in submission.  They did not slink home.  They fought back again, but this time the RIGHT way, or close.  They produced and aired this commercial.  This commercial was funny, self-mocking, and very much in the style of the Daily Show, as well as riffing on and making fun of their own weather attack ads that started the whole brouhaha.  It was a tribute to the Daily Show as well as being an attack against it.  It tacitly admitted that the first commercials had been over-the-top while calling Jon Stewart on mispronouncing Terre Haute.  There was perhaps a little too much wounded pride in the tone, and the dig against the audience of the Daily Show was weak, and probably off-tone, but it was a very credible response, and Stewart let the matter lie after this rather than going another round, as he probably could have.

But to my mind there is one classic comic dig against Terre Haute left to avenge.  Before I ever moved here, I read the Onion's 2001 article "Garage Band Actually Believes There is a Terre Haute Sound" (that's "The Weebles" in the picture the fictional, I hope, garage band being made fun of by the Onion).  I have no doubt that it colored my perception of the town I was moving to.  Now I'm not much of a local music guy, with young kids its hard for me to hang out late night in bars.  But I've seen several good bands here (and singer/songwriters), and heard rumors of several more.  I'm not certain the best way to fight back against the Onion, perhaps it is simply too late as the article was published 9 years ago.  Maybe someone could write a "Holy Shit Now There Really Is a Terre Haute Sound" article.  Or maybe do a "where are they now" parody on the fictitious bands in the article that slips in what has happened to the Terre Haute music scene since.  If it is to be done at all, it must be done with humor, self-mockery and in the style of the Onion, a tribute to the Onion as well as a response to it.

One of my brother's best friends growing up was Jordan Freie, and his older sister Cara became a lawyer, but then dropped out of law practice to be a comedy-writer (how's that for a career change).  Her first book was "I Love Ranch Dressing: and Other Stuff White Midwesterners Like" (much in the style of "Stuff White People Like" and I believe but am not certain that she did some of the writing for them too).  Her #100 thing that White Midwesterners like is "Being of Good Humor."  We like to poke fun at ourselves.  Even when it hurts just a little, we like to take it with a grin to show we are tough.  My experience of the South wasn't quite like that, although they were a lot more careful not to offend in the first place, to leave the dangerous things lying under the surface unsaid and back away slowly and politely if an uncomfortable subject came up.  We like to prod just a little and joke but try to see that everyone is of good cheer about it, and diffuse with more jokes in a different direction if they aren't.  Maybe that's why Terre Haute likes to fight back against comedians.  We are just sensitive enough about our bad image that when it is used as a cheap shot we want to fight back.  But usually, and at our best, we fight back in the right way, with a little careful humor of our own.  So our habit of fighting comedy with comedy is

Just one more reason I am proud of Terre Haute.