Paris of the Plains

Paris of the Plains

Paris of the Plains

About four years ago, I wrote a piece here about the changes that were happening in my life, not the least of which was that my son was leaving home to embark upon a 4-year program of study – in the United States.

A couple of months before that, the two of us had traveled to Kansas City to check out a college that had offered him a place. We went there from Barcelona, that historic, vibrant city of culture in northern Spain – a city teeming with people from all over the world, a city of literature and music and painting, extraordinary architecture, grand palaces and majestic cathedrals, of narrow medieval streets and expansive plazas, a city still with traces of its Roman origins, if you know where to find them, a city replete with restaurants great and small offering every imaginable cuisine, a city of life and light, of ideas that draw from the past and project into the future. We left all that and arrived at Kansas City International Airport at around 5:30pm on a Saturday evening; and as we drove through the center of town from the airport in the north, to our hotel south of downtown, we saw 6 people on the street. O-M-G!

Main Street, Kansas City, a Tuesday in May, around lunchtime

Main Street, Kansas City, a Tuesday in May, around lunchtime

But there is more to Kansas City than that stark reality check suggested. My wife and I went over there last year to visit our son, and in a couple of days, we are going again – probably for the last time. And to be honest, I feel kind of sad about that. I feel sad because it marks the end of a comparatively large and unarguably important part of my son’s life; and I feel sad because it will be the last time I will see a place which has become, over the last four years, both familiar and fond to me.

Now, I can’t go on with this without comment on the claim that Kansas City is the Paris of the Plains. Whilst I fell in love with Barcelona the moment I rode (on a public bus) down the Gran Via from the airport, part of that reaction was due to the fact that the architecture and the atmosphere I felt on the streets, reminded me of the city I love most of all, not just in Europe but in the world – Paris – a city I hadn’t seen, then, for 26 years. And to be honest, I still struggle to see the correlation between Kansas City and Paris – a correlation that I suspect has more to do with marketing than any real sense of commonality. But what I have learned, from spending time in Kansas City, is that first impressions are not always reliable.

Kansas City did make a valiant attempt to ease my “culture shock” on that first visit by providing the Spanish-styled Country Club Plaza almost on the doorstep of that hotel I had chosen for unrelated reasons – because it was closest to the college we were visiting. And while The Plaza, as I came to know it, is only vaguely redolent of the Barcelona I instantly loved – lacking the medieval streets of the Bari Gottic or the somnolent precincts of Gracia, or the extravagant grandeur of La Sagrada Familia, or the outrageous surrealism of La Casa Mila, or indeed any of the landmarks and characteristics that make Barcelona, Barcelona – I have come to love the Plaza for itself, for what it is.

The Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

The Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

A city of fountains

Mill Creek Park

The Plaza

The Plaza

But there is more to Kansas City than faux-Spanish architecture. For example, it is the home of the wonderful Nelson-Atkins museum of Art.

Kansas City's own version of the SuperShuttle

Kansas City’s own version of the Super Shuttle

OUT! - I think

OUT! – I think

The Nelson-Atkins Museum restaurant

The Nelson-Atkins Museum restaurant

Also worth mentioning, and very close to the Nelson-Atkins, are the equally wonderful Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Kansas City Art Institute where a certain man – who would go on to create a certain mouse – learned his craft. You think I’m taking the Mickey, don’t you? Well, I’m not.

Again, just north of the Plaza and west of the galleries mentioned above, lies historic area of Westport, the provisioning and fitting out point for the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails back in the days of the Ol’ West.

Westport - and the Pioneer Square monument

Westport – and the Pioneer Square monument

And south-east of The Plaza and south of the Nelson-Atkins, lies the lovely, tranquil Brush Creek.

Looking alon Brush Creek towards The Plaza

Looking west along Brush Creek

Moving downtown, a remarkable building is The Sprint Center which is not only the home of basketball in Kansas City but also provides a mufti-purpose entertainment arena where up-coming attractions include: Cirque du Soleil, Jesus Christ Superstar – not sure how that goes down in the Bible Belt of the Midwest – Paul McCartney and Miley Cirus – ditto for the JCS comment.

The Power and Light District, reflected in the wall of The Sprint Center

The Power and Light District, reflected in the wall of The Sprint Center

The Power and Light district is one of the “nightlife” areas of Kansas City; but to this point, I have only ever been there during the day.

The Power and Light District

The Power and Light District

The Kansas City Municipal Auditorium, at the end of this street, will be the main focus of our forthcoming visit to Kansas City, followed by a college gathering somewhere in the Power and Light District. More BBQ ribs, I suppose.

And nearby, what do Sydney, Australia – Glasgow, Scotland and Kansas City, Missouri have in common? Answer:  a funny shaped concert hall. I hope to see the finished product a few days time.

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (in construction, 2010)

But for me, apart from my son being there, the principle attraction of Kansas City lies, to a certain extent, on the other side of the tracks – across The Paseo, in fact. Along with New Orleans, Chicago and New York, Kansas City played a seminal role in the development of the art-form we refer to broadly as jazz. And as if that isn’t enough, the city was the birthplace of one whom I, personally, regard – and revere – as among the greatest of all exponents of that art-form: Charlie “Bird” Parker. For me, no visit to Kansas City would be complete without a visit to the American Jazz Museum at 18th and Vine – and a moment of homage and reflection at the nearby memorial to Bird.

Charlie "Bird" Parker

Charlie “Bird” Parker

If you are even remotely interest in jazz, I recommend a visit to the museum which covers the history of the art-form with many interactive exhibits and samples of music of different styles from a whole range of performers to listen to. In the evening, you can visit The Blue Room next door and listen to live jazz, or if you are there during the day and feel a little hungry, I can recommend the restaurant down at the end of the next block, just before you get to The Paseo.

The Blue Room

The Blue Room

The American Jazz Museum

The American Jazz Museum

I don’t know how much more of Kansas City I’m going to see on this trip. We’re going to be pretty busy packing up and attending functions. But I feel that there is much more to KC than I  thought on that long drive in from the airport on a Saturday in May back in 2010.

Farewell to The Plaza

Farewell to The Plaza

Would I want to live there? Probably not. But that’s no criticism of the city. It just means I’m happy to be where I am now.

So sad to be leaving KC

Outside the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

But will I be sad to leave KC for what will almost certainly be the last time? You betcha I will.



4 thoughts on “Paris of the Plains

  1. Nicely sequenced photos with your essay.
    I’m glad your son stayed the course. 🙂
    Now maybe he’ll end up somewhere else you’ll enjoy visiting!

    • Thanks John, we just got into KC this evening after 27.5 hours in transit. Horribly jet-lagged, can’t sleep, but I had a real warm feeling driving through KC to our hotel. As I grow older, I appreciate the familiar more it seems. Ewen is coming back to Australia with us; but the last four years here has made such a positive impression on him, he really wants to come back to the States.

  2. Escuse me is this the way to Kansas city. A Van Morrison lyric from the album “A period of transition.” Keep up the great work, I miss your flickr content.
    All the best
    Redeyesatdawn. (Ian)

    • Thanks Ian. When I was in my mid-teens, I played in a band and one the songs we played – via the Beatles – was Kansas City. I didn’t imagine then that I would ever go there. And when I finally did, four years ago, I couldn’t imagine developing such a deep affection for the place.
      Keith (XpatScot)

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