IX Art Park
Saturday, January 9 2021
room 31, Oakhurst Inn, Charlottesville, Virginia
This morning as we watched yet more CNN and MSNBC coverage of the MAGA putsch aftermath, I coordinated with my old Charlottesville friend Jessika for a meeting early this afternoon. She suggested a place called IX Art Park, which had a number of food options, including a taco place. I'm always happy to eat tacos, but Gretchen preferred another option Jessika suggested, a bowl-based restaurant on the Corner (near the empty storefront that used to house the Rising Sun Bakery, one of my favorite Charlottesville places back when I lived there). We decided to pick up Gretchen's bowl and then go to IX Art Park (on the edge of the 'hood near the Downtown Mall) and meet Jessika there. On the drive from the Corner, my brother Don called on his new cellphone. Amazingly, he'd been experimenting with the phone and had figured out on his own how to take photographs with it.
IX Art Park is on the site of an abandoned factory. There are bits and pieces of random art painted on the ground and walls, and there are also various installation. Mostly, though, it's the site of various vendors selling food and drink. It's the clever kind of repurposing routinely seen in Portland, Oregon (and now, to some extent, Kingston, NY). After I got my four tacos and order of corn chips with guacamole, we came upon Jessika and her four-year-old daugher Sylvie, whom I only knew through Jessika's Facebook posts. I'd been describing Sylvie as a "Wednesday Addams type," so as to distinguish her from the many little white girls who aspire to be princesses. Jessika's Facebook feed is full of pictures of Sylvie posing in creepy wilderness scenes with well-worn baby dolls. Sylvie loves animals and is such a committed vegetarian that she wants to know whether or not new people in her life eat meat. [This would lead to Jessika explaining the concept of veganism, which is, as we know, where the serious do-no-harm types all end up.] Jessika left Sylvie standing there in the grass while she went back to her car to get a blanket. It was odd and amazing to see Sylvie just standing there like an obedient fawn waiting for her mother's return. My feeling about four-year-olds is that they're generally not so disciplined.
I wolfed down my four tacos and was pretty far into my chips and guacamole before I had the presence of mind to stop eating. After that, the four of us walked around the park and interacted with a few of its features. There was lattice-dome overgrown with vines and three-dimensional boat sitting on a painting of a river, both of which were exciting for Sylvia. She was taking a real shine to Gretchen, who was playing along nicely. Over time I've noticed that when a creature fusses over another creature, the subject of the fussing is quickly repelled. This is why Gretchen has such difficulty relating to cats; she wants to bury her face in them and kiss them, while they'd much rather humans play hard to get. Meanwhile, Gretchen doesn't much like small children, and when she does interact with them, she treats them as she would adults. It's intoxicatingly refreshing for a little kid to be treated that way by an adult, and so they always end up loving Gretchen.
There's an interior part of the IX Art Park as well, which Jessika's husband (and Sylvie's father) Aaron contributed to, and initially we thought we wouldn't be able to see it, since, during the pandemic at least, it's by appointment only. But Jessika has VIP status anywhere that matterts in Charlottesville, so we were allowed in. We entered the unknown space via an unassuming door marked "utility closet." And then we were, as the exhibit is named, "Through the Looking Glass." Ten or so artists had built a magical interior space full of whimsical monsters, blacklight displays, and quasi-grotesque interactive sculptures (when touched, they'd make various ethereal sounds via hidden microcontrollers). The highlight of "Through the Looking Glass" was a small house made of wool, tree bark shingles, and a wallpaper of glued-down leaves. Inside it were a stove, chairs, and other furniture, all scaled down to the size of the gnome that might live there. This was a perfect scale for Sylvie, and she and Gretchen spent a good 20 minutes in there together while Jessika and I took in other parts of the exhibit, including a bouncing-ball display that interactive with our images on camera. Unfortunately Aaron's part of the exhibit wasn't working correctly. It was supposed to have projected animations on a elaborately-photographed background, but the projectors were about twenty degrees out of alignment. (Here is how it was supposed to look.)
Emerging from wonderland, I found one of the businesses had set up a fire pit, which is always a welcome thing in January. I sat down, put my feet up, and within ten minutes my wife Gretchen had fetched me an IPA from a brewery that was attached to the art park. The music playing on the sound system was a series of classic rock standards (well, "You Can't Kill Rock and Roll" by Ozzy Osbourne was in there too). When "Freebird" played, I was reminded of the time Gretchen and I had randomly came upon Jatasya at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Albany, a story I immediately had to tell Jessika (since she knows Jatasya), though Jessika thought maybe I'd told her that story before. Gretchen grimmaced through an inevitable Tom Petty song, and that brought up the subject of popular songs we hate. Gretchen, for example, cannot listen to "Eleanor Rigby" because it is just too sad. Jessika was a little confused and seemed to think "Bridge Over Trouble Waters" was by the Beatles, or that maybe it sounded like a Beatles song she dislikes. Gretchen immediately guessed that the Beatles song in question was "the Long and Winding Road," which turned out to be correct.
Gretchen and I headed back to our hotel room for some more delicious downtime before what would happen later. When evening came, Gretchen ordered a pizza from Mellow Mushroom, the southern pizza franchise with great vegan options. She got the pizza with "extra tempeh," and a few other toppings. The pizza that arrived was incredibly dense and had, dare I say, a little too much tempeh. Unfortunately, the other toppings (onions, tomatoes, and "extra" sauce) had been skimpily applied. There were other problems with the pizza that made me want to write a bad review on Yelp. The vegan cheese has cost $6 extra, and deliver was another $15, making the price of our large pizza about $50. That said, the pizza was so dense that one piece of it was a close to a full meal, though I think I ate closer to two pieces.
Janine wanted us to come over before we left town so she could give us something, so before going to a fire pit event at Jessika's house, we stopped by Nathan and Janine's. Janine had put a whole bunch of work into some sort of secular advent calendar related to Joe Biden's victory in November's presidential election. It came in the form of a bag of various small gifts, all of them on a Joe-Biden-defeats-Trump theme. We ended up hanging out with Nathan and Janine for awhile after that, with Nathan entertaining us with a series of dad jokes. Nathan has always been a good joke teller, though not all the jokes he told tonight were great. A particularly bad one was pirate-themed and derived what little humor it had from the similarity between the word "parrot" and the phrase "pear rot."
Our next and final social event for the evening was at Jessika's house on Ridge Street. In recent times, our mutual friend Leah (who was Matthew Hart's girlfriend for a time when he and I lived on Observatory Avenue) has moved back to Charlottesville (near Jessika's house) from Washington, DC, and become part of Jessika's social network. Leah has a four-year-old son who is now part of Sylvie's coronavirus pod. So when Gretchen and I arrived at the fire pit, Leah was there with Jessika. Jessika had told us Leah would be there, and I told Gretchen she'd like Leah "because she's Jewish." It turned out, though, that Leah is not actually Jewish. But Gretchen and her hit it off anyway. They had a number of things in common, including strong left-leaning politics and the kind of intellectualism that comes with a solid college education (which both Jessika and I lack). Meanwhile, the fire wasn't burning that great. But there were a bunch of pre-cut sticks in the rough area above 5th Avenue that we could gather as needed. I found a few really big, dry pieces and did my best to avoid the cut pieces of poison ivy vine that were also down there. Meanwhile Aaron was inside putting Sylvie to bed, but at some point he was able to come out and join us.
Gretchen, back to the camera, at IX Art Park with random civilians.
Sylvie and Jessika at IX Art Park.
Gretchen and Sylvie in a canoe navigating a two-dimensional creek.
There was an enormous dog named Mozart at IX Art Park. Sylvie loves all animals!
Creepy humanoids in the "Through the Looking Glass" exhibit. When touched, they make various noises.
Sylvie and Gretchen in the Gnome House.
Our $50 pizza from Mellow Mushroom.
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