Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mile 0 –- Bloomington, IN, USA –- Day -3 until departure

In Bloomington, the sky is a wash of gunmetal haze and the ground has begun to crack for want of rain. The quiescence of summer is given way before the vanguard of returning university students who walk the shimmering pavement, pitting the fulsome heat of youth against the soaring temperature. At length, even the clamorous tone of the cicadas fades; the still air hangs like gauze as distance dissolves into humidity.

The summer monsoon in Cambodia sounds better than it once did.

You will forgive this grim paean to Indiana in the month of August, but it is only proper to consider the merits and faults of my own home before commenting on foreign cities and their environs. Bloomington has been my hearth for many years and I am inordinately fond of it, perhaps giving context to my later remarks if I now say something of the place.

I have spoken of heat that makes me long for tropic climes and alluded to the presence of Indiana University, a pleasant campus of short skirts and limestone shadows. Indeed, the chalky aspect of most academic and municipal buildings in Bloomington makes it a city of ivory towers; a generalization, perhaps, in light of the old neighborhoods of peeling Victorian construction and abandoned manufacturing plants, but an accurate and useful metaphor. Southern Indiana is much know for the production of cattle feed, hogs, gravel and stone blocks: thus I believe it best to call attention to the community's most upmarket means of production.

The town itself is unsurprising--a center square with a towering courthouse (which I need not remind you is surmounted by a bronze trout) ringed by shops and dining as well as the university campus, in turn surrounded by established neighborhoods then again encircled by a weedy hedge of businesses occupying long strips of concrete, very few of which involve any actual state of déshabillé. These are each interspersed with young forests and even younger reservoirs which have settled across and the land's ancient contours, untouched by the glaciers that flattened the northern half of the state during the Pleistocene era.

This arrangement can be seen throughout the nation, if my sundry adventures along the numbered highway system are any guide. Whether my fondness for Bloomington stems from its small-town characteristics and Midwestern timbre enhanced by higher education or some elemental connection to the place where I was raised (both may well be the case), it is an admirable city at odds with its corn-fed surroundings. Indiana University stimulates and attracts worthy citizens and sets an example of cultural pluralism just as Bloomington has begun to conduct several worthy experiments in community living. Recycling, for instance, has begun to improve in Bloomington in recent years as has the availability of regional produce and artistic pursuits including music, cinema and theater in addition to the slow transition from an automobile-centric city to a walkable pedestrian downtown.

These facets of local life are growing, for now, and I find them promising. If they take hold, then the city will prosper in the years to come. I take comfort in Bloomington's ability to change and adapt from its agricultural and industrial past and in due course I will be glad to return to it as an oscillating resident: always leaving and always returning once again.


  1. A spectacular description of Bloomington Dan, although I can't help but feel you sold some of the more positive aspects of our quaint University town short. You did not mention the cultural diversity of 4th Street, nor the rather vast musical society it possesses. Don't misunderstand though, I loved your description, particularly of the University, keep it up!

  2. I've been away all summer, you're making me homesick! I wish I could write so beatifully and articulately.

  3. Thanks! I'm glad to hear from both of you.

    I think some of my impatience to be on my way shows through here, and may be responsible for the ambivalent tone. Glad to know that it tugs as the heartstrings, though--I really do love Bloomington.

  4. I'm ready to move... I have always enjoyed B-town, but your description creates a true longing. Best of luck on your travels- can't wait to read about them! LW