Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 11.4.20

downtown | Can you imagine visiting the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, looking up in awe at the creative miracle of Michelangelo’s 16th-century ceiling frescoes, but without even leaving the metro? That is, without the benefit of some crazy advanced AI technology, interdimensional space-time manipulation, or even quaint, old-fashioned time travel? Well, you will have to travel in time a little bit, into the future, but at the speed limit. Not too far, though—an exhibit of full-size replicas of the High Renaissance masterpieces begins Friday (Nov. 6) at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis. And you won’t have to crane your neck to see them dozens of feet overhead. The group of 34 reproductions will be displayed on the convention center’s second floor, and visitors will be able to walk right up close after a short escalator or elevator ride. How, um, conventional. Explore St. Louis, operator of the convention center, is making lemonade from lemons here: The facility was able to accommodate the exhibit only due to trade-show cancellations from the pandemic.

Used to be Taubman Prestige Outlets was just one of two—count ’em, two—outlet malls in the Chesterfield Valley floodplain of the Missouri River. And since there was already a so-called 500-year flood in 1993, that means present and future investors don’t have to worry about another such natural disaster until the year 2493, right? We thought that global warming was supposed to be real slow, kind of gradual. That is, of course, if it’s even a thing, since certain politicians have tried to persuade us it isn’t. Maybe we’ll all be long dead when the next flood inundates us. Meanwhile, however, natural disasters come in all forms: We’ve been promised a cataclysmic earthquake to beat any that ever happens along the San Andreas Fault in California. Then, of course, you may have heard that there’s this nasty virus going around. All that said, construction continues apace on The Factory, one of the major features of The District, into which the former outlet mall is being transformed. Now, whoever thought it was a good idea to build two outlet malls within four miles of one another is a question that’s been asked thousands of times already, so we’re loath to ask it again here. Developers say demographics indicate the metro needs another concert venue outside of I-270. No argument there, although existing concert halls, The Pageant and Delmar Hall in particular, are having a hell of a time selling enough tickets to keep the doors open as well as remain in compliance with social-distancing protocols. The Factory will comprise 52,000 square feet of event space, with a capacity of 3,000—in a perfect world, of course, which ours is anything but. The Factory is slated to open in 2021. Sometime. Many of us also hope that Busch Stadium and Enterprise Center will allow people in, too. Sometime soon. I mean, is it too much to ask the gods to smile on us by Opening Day?

Next time you want to buy a book, don’t automatically click on C’mon—they’re already getting enough of our precious pandemic pennies. If you’re fond of local enterprises and can’t or won’t shop in person, click responsibly. Think of the local bookstores that depend on us to survive for the long term, such as Left Bank Books at 399 N. Euclid Ave. in the CWE. It’s among a number of local indie bookstores that joined the American Booksellers Association’s ‘Boxed Out’ campaign against Amazon last month. Nationwide, shops posted harsh messaging against the online retail giant in their storefronts and on social media, starting only days after Amazon’s once-a-year savings event, Prime Day. They warned, “Don’t let bookstores become a work of fiction” and “If you want Amazon to be the world’s only retailer, keep shopping there.” It was only a few weeks ago that Left Bank reopened to book lovers by appointment. Recently, it pleaded for customers and even donations from bibliophiles. Meanwhile, Amazon’s profits continue to soar, and not only from books, its original product line when first it reared its ugly head in July 1995. In July, the online juggernaut doubled its net profits. The timing of the ‘Boxed Out’ campaign aligns with the lead-up to the holiday shopping season, typically the most profitable and important quarter for retailers. (An aside: Even if your beloved has asked for a Kindle for Christmas, resist the pleadings!) Times are tough for print media all over. Periodicals are suffering, too. The Riverfront Times laid off staff and ceased publication in March as advertisers abandoned the free weekly because of the pandemic. As if to add another nail to a coffin, Ray Hartmann, former publisher of the RFT and St. Louis Magazine, declared bankruptcy last week. For anyone who’s loved or loathed his role as a “Donnybrook” panelist on KETC, Channel 9, the metro’s public TV station, you can bet he’ll have a few things to share at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, Nov. 5).

notable neighbors
You may call her a Renaissance woman, and not only because her wardrobe could lead you to believe she just left a Renaissance Faire. “People ask, ‘What festival did you just come from?’,” she quips, and Lara Csengody of Ladue is quite the quipper. Comedy is part of her stock in trade, just one of the ways she wields words wonderfully. A freelance writer and multimedia specialist for corporate clients, much of her oeuvre is necessarily somewhat serious. But that’s not what you’ll see and hear when you get sucked into YouTube or glued to Instagram to sample her priceless pre-pandemic patter: Csengody has performed stand-up and improv with Second City and other clubs in and around Chicago, where she graduated cum laude in 2003 from Columbia College with a B.A. in fiction writing. In the early aughts she also waitressed at Zanies in the Windy City, then scooted to L.A., where she honed her craft for seven years on the Left Coast. In 2012, “I popped my own bubble,” she says. She backpacked Europe: climbing her family tree in Croatia, traipsing from Copenhagen to Bratislava to Budapest, teaching English and doing her funny business as an expat, even failing to bomb in Berlin. Back home since 2017, she’s enjoyed the open mic at Venice Café. After you finish this, trip along to her funky, fresh quarantine presentations under the ‘Journey is a Verb’ umbrella on YouTube. (Speaking of umbrellas, and I digress, which is unavoidable spending time on the phone with an intellect whose thought process is anything but linear … when she first answered her phone, she sounded a bit under the weather. It was a chilly, rainy evening. “I’m under the weather, for real,” she observes, “but I have an umbrella.”) Her backyard includes Deer Creek and all manner of wildlife, from chipmunks and Rocky, a domesticated squirrel, to trash pandas … raccoons. Somewhere in or near the creek, on or not on a rock, is where she delivers any number of other bits, some NSFW: from her cheeky ‘Creek Comedy’ and ‘Psychedelic Pearls’ to sparkler readings of Jack Kerouac—a sparkler illuminates her delivery, natch. Fireside chats are in the mix, too. Oftentimes she squats near the fire pit. “The fire is the original microphone,” she notes. It’s been a bit humbling, with no audience except Josh, her main man since they met on a train three years ago, behind the camera. “From the inside out is where the magic happens,” Csengody says. “You gotta bring that shine out.” And often she’s not so much a comedian as a performance artist, which is where she really shines through gestures, body language and expressions. Her patois evokes Kerouac’s beat poetry. She’d have been comfortable on the road with him. She can give you a walking tour of anywhere, so long as you don’t have a destination in mind. She chuckles. “Do I look like someone you should ask for directions?” Visit or hit up @laracsengody on Instagram. Your skull will be scrambled. And you’ll love it.