Sunday, June 26, 2011

Non-Chicago Illinois

Listening to Hollywood or the publishing industry, you'd think the US consisted of Los Angeles, New York, and a bunch of useless flyover country. The term "flyover country" gets under my skin quite a lot. LA and NYC are actually just a small fraction of the US. Millions of Americans live anywhere but. Not every location may be for you, but it's definitely worth getting to know the rest of the country before dismissing it.

Today's sampling is from central Illinois, deep in America's heartland. Illinois is very green and flat. The soil is excellent for farming, and they produce a TON of corn and soybeans.

There are four seasons with extremes--it can get (for short amounts of time) around zero in winter,

yet soar into the 90s (with 90% humidity) in the summers.

It's also in Tornado Alley. The countryside is dotted with small towns and railroad grain elevators, and the only dips in geography occur along river beds. I notice that some people are mountain people (that would be me) and really need mountains or at least hills towering around them, with the occasional chance to be up high and see everything. But other people find mountains claustrophobic, and want wide open skies. Another mountain/western vs. prairie difference is that in the west, there is plenty of public land with trails for hiking and snowmobiling and the like. In Illinois, all the land is privately owned. You may be able to go jogging on the sidewalks in town, but hiking opportunities are...well, maybe take a vacation elsewhere. But the people in Illinois are very nice and well-educated, so if you like small town life with high educational qualities, if you like to catch fireflies and listen to cicadas in the evening, and if gardening is your favorite thing to do outside, this may be a good location for you.

Champaign and Urbana are really two sides of the same town, and together they house the state's flagship university.

UIUC has the largest library of any public university in the US, with labyrinthine levels deep underground. (This is to keep shade off the state's first experimental corn field in the middle of campus.) To enter the main stacks you have to be a graduate student; undergrads may request material from there and pick it up in the undergrad library. Nonstudents *may* be able to take a guided tour of the stacks, however. Urbana's regular public library (photo here) is ranked in the top 1% in the US as well. And Savoy (which touches the southern end of the town) has an extensive independent bookstore, Pages for All Ages. Consider ALL your reading needs taken care of here! In addition, I've never seen anywhere with as many free pianos listed in the classifieds as here.

UIUC is a large school with many excellently-ranked graduate programs, so it tends to attract a lot of international students, many of whom live in the university's family housing area.

The buildings are not well built (although work requests are addressed immediately). The university rents garden plots to students, and the city of Urbana rents garden plots to residents, so you can see large, beautiful garden plots around town. There's also a good little public bus system. Depending on where you are going, you might be surrounded by people speaking Chinese and Urdu and Spanish and Arabic. It's fun. :)

In nearby Monticello, the university owns an estate and grounds called Allerton Park.

It's quite pretty, and you can check out their web page here.

Illinois towns are the kinds of places where Halloween decorations start a month in advance, where whole neighborhoods go crazy with the Christmas lights, and where the county fair and the summer sweet corn festival are big.

For more (and much better) photos, I recommend taking a look at professional photographer Larry Kanfer's work.

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