Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hooray for Pierre!

For those of you reading this from somewhere other than South Dakota, that's pronounced "peer," and no, it's not some French guy. No, Pierre is our state capital. And until the other day, I had never been there. But now, having made the great pilgrimage, I find myself moved to write about Pierre.

Let me begin by saying that, while I'm pretty sure I'm glad I don't live in Pierre, it seems like a nice place to visit. I ate at two of the restaurants that had been recommended to me (Guadalahara and La Minestra), and both were excellent. There's a really nice park - Hipple (it was either "Hipple" or "Hippie" or "Nipple" - it was dark and I couldn't see the sign very well) Park. While I couldn't see much of it as it was around 8:00pm, the lights on the water looked very pretty and the causeway out to what I was told is an island was kinda cool.

The Capitol building and the grounds around it are gorgeous. As we drove around the drive to get to the parking lot the next morning, we had to go around a pond. It was around 8:30am, and as it was quite nippy there was "sea fog" rising up from the surface of the water, on which rested hundreds of geese. It was incredible, and I wished I'd thought to bring my camera.

Another thing that caught my attention were the hills south of Pierre. They reminded me of the hills in Marin in California (though considerably smaller, and brownish yellow instead of green). On the east coast, hills and mountains are either covered with trees or they are rock. If covered with trees, you don't see the actual shape of the earth. If rock, they have a sharp, craggy appearance. But these hills looked soft and sensuous. They looked like animals - like something alive and in motion (I could not stop thinking of Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants the entire time I was gazing out the car window at them). These are hills that I want to walk on and feel.

I didn't get to see much of Pierre beyond the commercial district, but on the short drive around the neighborhoods by the Capitol, I noticed some seriously nice houses. I think one of them used to be the Governor's, actually, so I wonder if "regular folk" get to live in any of them.

Pierre does not seem to have much of a nightlife. We tried Longbranch, the one "nightclub," but to our dismay, the DJ that was advertised on the billboard outside of town was nowhere to be found. So, we headed to the bar at the Ramkota...and there wasn't much happening there, either. (We suspect that Pierre residents have a lot of house parties if they want to dance. Or else they drive three hours to Sioux Falls. One or the other.)

But perhaps the biggest drawback to Pierre is the mysterious and noxious smell we noticed upon entering and leaving. We could not figure out what was causing it, but we were quick to close the air vents. If you know the cause, please post a comment and fill us in. We're dying to know! Is it a water treatment facility? A landfill? A dead body? Several dead bodies?

The one thing I didn't get to do was see the Oahe Dam. My friend (who was also driving) was completely uninterested, as, she explained, it was a man-made dam and thus involved no "cute little beavers." "It's just a wall," she told me. "Why do you want to see a wall?" However, I have since learned that this dam is unusual as it is made entirely of dirt. (I am not sure I believe this, frankly.) So, at some point - next lobbying day? - I will have to go check it out.

And that's my tribute to Pierre. (I'll tell you about the political side of the trip another time.)

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