Friday, July 25, 2008

The Three Cs in Illinois

Did you know that more than 92 million acres of corn were planted in the U.S. in 2007? (Fact courtesy the King Corn web site) I think we found them. They're in Illinois.

I have to admit that when we got to the Carterville to Collinsville to Charleston portion of our itinerary, I had a little trouble keeping track of where we were going and where we had been. All those "C" names in one state were a bit confusing. So let me clear it up.

On July 24 we visited the Arabesque School of Dance in Carterville, IL. The studio itself appears to be a former drug store or small grocery with walls a deep purple. The class was evenly divided between younger and older students-- four little ones and four more advanced, so Valery-- shown here explaining how proper carriage of the arms helps with balance-- did separate combinations for each half of the class at the bar and in the center.

Collinsville, Illinois is in the greater St. Louis area. We could see the skyline and its famous arch as we pulled into town. Collinsville is also home to the very welcoming Sherry's School of Dance.

The weather in Illinois on July 25 was much cooler than we'd experienced during our time in Alabama and Kentucky. After two weeks of 95+ temperatures, a 71 degree morning was a great relief.

Sherry's School has a lushly feminine decorating scheme with yellow walls and flowers on the ledge over the door. In the corner is a display case filled with ballet figurines and tchotchkes.

It was another small class, about five students.

Each introduced herself to Valery Lantratov by name before class began.

After our class at Sherry's we drove to Charleston, Illinois-- the second Charleston of our tour. (Charleston, Illinois is the flat one)

The route from Collinsville to Charleston took us through miles and miles of corn unspoiled by any signs of civilization.

Our journey began on roads bearing markers for the Lincoln Heritage Trail. Illinois is, of course, the Land of Lincoln. Indiana next door is simply the Birthplace of Lincoln. But if there are sights of historic importance on this route, we missed them. We saw corn and more corn. There might have been a soybean somewhere.

The one landmark that broke up the endless view of farms was a giant cross that appears to be made out of aluminum siding.

The Effingham Cross is one of the few landmarks that actually lives up to the often heard line "you can't miss it."

It stands 198 feet tall; the height of a 20-story building. It is made of 180 tons of steel and can withstand winds of 145 miles per hour. It was built at a cost of more than $1 million.

The Cross Foundation, which was responsible for the giant expression of faith says, "This site is intended to serve as a beacon of hope to the 50,000 travelers estimated to pass the site each day."

The idea of giant religious monuments is that their sheer size produces a sense of awe-- the realization that we are small in the face of the grandeur of nature and time. This was the inspiration behind the great European cathedrals with their mighty spires and endless stained glass windows. In a nation shaped by the value of rugged individualism, we have very few opportunities to feel this sense of smallness and oneness with our culture or society.

"Many landscapes were beautiful," wrote Alain deBotton in Art of Travel, "meadows in spring, soft valleys, oak trees, banks of flowers (daisies especially) but they were not sublime... A landscape could arouse the sublime only when it suggested power-- a power greater than that of humans, and threatening to them. Sublime places embodied a defiance to man's will...Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves."

Yet it was hard for me to imagine anyone having a transcendent experience gazing at roadside cross made of the same material as a garage door, even though comments on the cross's web page claim that they have. It is, to my mind, like comparing Leonardo DaVinci's "Last Supper" to a well designed marketing billboard.

My recommendation for giant cross fans is the Cross in the Woods in Northern Michigan, which places its monument in a secluded wooded setting where its carved presence seems fairly organic and inviting of contemplation.

The cross behind us, we pulled into Charleston, Illinois for a class at one of our new favorite studios, The Jacqueline Bennett Dance Center.

"The dance center provides many performing opportunities, which are vital to the dancer's overall development," Bennett told the Daily Eastern News. "Performing teaches responsibility, provides an environment that requires group unity and effort for a common objective, instills confidence and rewards the performer with a sense of accomplishment."

To us she said, "There is ballet on the prarie!" and there is a very inviting and welcoming studio as well. Valery was impressed by the student's openness, focus and willingness to learn. We met some great people, and hope to come back again.

C Is For Cookie - Sesame Street - Cookie Monster