Four years ago, I had no reason to locate Saint Louis, Missouri, on a map. It was enough for me to know it was somewhere in the middle, among Budweiser, Boeing, and corn fields.
Three years ago I moved to Saint Louis, still not knowing where it was. The pilot of that little, little plane knew, I hoped, and that was enough for me. I saw the city’s landmark, the famous Arch, as I peered out the window from my seat. That was all I knew of you, Saint Louis, three years ago, that first day.
We landed somewhere in the middle of the map and I felt lost amid Budweiser, Boeing, and corn fields. For the next three years my mission became to locate home, happiness, and me. To do so I had to find Saint Louis first. I did. Now here we are again: Arch, plane, and me, except this time, I am taking off.
Before I do, I finally have a map of this city to share. It took me three years to draw, but,
Dear tourist, dear businessman,
Dear person who just missed their next flight,
Here is what you should know, see, do, drink, eat in Saint Louis, Missouri:
The Arch. You might as well; you cannot really miss 630 feet of stainless steel. Built to commemorate President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the monument honors the spirit of America’s western pioneers. Skip the ride to the top and picture instead the view it offered those coming from the East: of a new and vast frontier they called the land of opportunity, the American Dream.
The Mississippi river, largest and longest in North America, that flows from Minnesota to the Gulf. Grasp its historical, cultural, and economic significance. Watch it reflect the city lights at night. But not from the waterfront; instead, walk to the Four Seasons Hotel nearby. Slip past the valet, the concierge, and take the lift up to the eighth floor. Step out onto the rooftop. Order a Prosecco by the pool. Take a deep breath. Now look.
Highway 64 heading West, like Lewis and Clark did centuries ago. Stop by Papa John’s on Laclede and order one Large Two-Topping Mushroom and Olive Pizza, to go. Our Monday evening regular; the cure to our workweek blues. Olives for mon chéri, crust for me, and a movie. Speaking of movies,
If it is Tuesday keep driving on the highway to the Wehrenberg movie theater, family owned and operated since 1906. Our weekly movie night date. One large popcorn to share, two soft drinks, and if you are still hungry after the show, the frozen yogurt place on Laclede by the house is always open late.
If it is Wednesday, go to the World Chess Hall of Fame, for the Monthly Music Series; have Beethoven and wine to a backdrop of chess boards and art inspired by Duchamp.
If it is Thursday, go an evening stroll and have picnic in Forest Park, home of geese, turtles, squirrels, joggers, lovers, a boathouse and art museum on a hill. The latter hides Monets, Matisses, and Beckmanns. Modiglianis, Degas, and Van Goghs. It opens late on Friday nights; there are musicians in the main hall. Outside, old movies are played on a large screen. Once a year fireworks over the lake. In the winter the snow covers the trees and sculptures, and hot cocoa is served in the café.
On a weekend, make reservations at our favorite French restaurant. The waiters there are friends of ours. The bread tastes like Paris. The candles, hydrangeas, wine. Have a seat by the window, have a seat at the bar. Have the caviar blinis, the roasted beets, the warm goat cheese on a toasted baguette. Have the tarte feuilletée aux fruits rouges, if you still can at the end.
The courthouse in Clayton where we were married, in a snowstorm in January. The spot where our car sank in the snow. The bistrot where we had our wedding lunch for two; the glass of champagne on the house.
The dolphin fountain in Saint Louis University, the singing one on Maryland Avenue. The statue of the little boy and his plane, that of the two sisters reading a book. The magical light and sound show each night on the ceilings of Union Station’s Grand Hall. The impromptu tango classes at the Ritz-Carlton on Sundays, the old pianist in the lobby at the Chase.
The fancy sushi restaurant, the first half of the month. The cheap sushi restaurant the second half. The endless walks around the Central West End, daydreaming, window shopping, talking, holding hands.
The observatory at the Science Center. The City Museum’s bus on the roof. The Butterfly House, the botanical gardens, the indecipherable baseball games. I found so much more in Saint Louis than Budweiser, Boeing, and corn fields. Most importantly, I found the friends who became my Saint Louis family.
You know who you are. I cannot thank you enough for three years of happy memories. You put Saint Louis forever on my map and in my heart.