Building The Thingstead
My fiancée and I moved out of a lovely little apartment where we lived in Iowa City for the last two years and into my mother's apartment, just across town, where I had spent most of my childhood. We will live there for a few weeks while we wait to move to Mount Vernon, New York.
Our apartment was on the third floor of a beautiful brick building constructed in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was one of the first buildings in Iowa City when the city was still the territorial capital. The living room and kitchen windows looked out onto the trees of a pedestrian mall surrounded by bars, and restaurants. It was steps away from everything we ever really wanted except advancement.
My mother's apartment, the kind of building that popped up all over the U.S. between the 1980s and 2000, is lovely in its own way. It also looks out onto trees, but they seldom seem to shade anything other than cars and squirrels which are not as loud as the Ped-mall was but are loud amid the quiet suburban soundtrack. My childhood bedroom is an office now—though my posters of track-stars and marathoners are still up—and the spare room I used to play in is a hydroponic herb garden. The fresh smell of basil drifts from their leafs when someone walks through.
Charlie and I called our old apartment the Thingstead, after the Anglo-Saxon word for a space set apart from the family familiarity of the homestead or the labour of the farmstead. The Thingstead was, then and now, a place for strange meetings, for forum, for miscellany. It was a place we could host people, have readings, make and keep friends.
Those things came and went. Went more frequently than came, came less frequently than we would like.
When the Thingstead was first built it was a single story supply shop. In the 1860s a second floor was added to serve as a home for the business owner and his family. The business was converted into a stable and the stable family grew with the building, adding a third floor around the 1970s.
A few days before the move I was walking through the alley and saw a door that had been stripped of paint. I don't how many time I passed it over two years and it never changed until then so I took a picture. The day of the move we were walking past and I noticed again: different, painted. The paint wasn't fresh even, not wet. And the door wasn't new—but there it was—new. A found-painting literally framed by the architecture that surrounds it.
I write this at a time when Iowa City is undergoing a massive urban beautification art project. I don't know what will be here when I return and I'm eager to see it but I appreciate these bits of unintentional art just as much.