The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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The Idyll of the King

Instead of using the Interstate to Phoenix, we took 280 and 87 through Payson and Mesa. It was a biker route and the massive convoys of Harleys took up all available space, including both lanes when the highway expanded. The groups moved right along so it was no problem, though it was humorous, of course, watching middle class adults pretending to be part of biker gangs. It’s a nice escape from the humdrum of everyday life, though sitting on a Harley for hours at a time is not my idea of fun.

In the lower stretches of the Tonto National Forest, the desert was in bloom, so we stopped, hiked a bit, and had some crackers, almonds, cheese, and what was left of a bottle of wine. Though dry, the setting was gorgeous.

Waiting for our plane at the airport, I got freaked out by the strange characters who were traveling back to Minnesota with us. I had forgotten that Arizona was a mecca for oldsters, the so-called blue birds who spend summers in the Upper Midwest and winters in the South. The guy I sat next to was typical—dyed black hair, a jaunty cap, too overweight to be stable on his feet, and master of his little realm (meaning his wife). When I politely asked if I could sit down (which meant he’d have to remove his shopping bag from the seat), he sneered, shakily put it on the carpet, and didn’t say another word to me. I counted at least seven wheelchairs. No one seemed under 80. I felt I was in the middle of a Guindon cartoon. In a way it was good. Like the bikers, they can pretend they are younger and more attractive than they actually are, that the world still has some unexplored places, and that theirs is the only point of view that matters. Of course, it’s a bitch getting old, but must we all become absurd caricatures of ourselves?

April 15, 2010   1 Comment

Listen to me, I know what’s best for you

We spoke with an interesting couple yesterday at breakfast (one of the joys of B&B’s is meeting new people). Both the husband and wife had piercing minds so it was enlightening to see reality through their eyes. Still, as with all humans, their minds filtered what they perceived through a sieve that was formed by their likes and dislikes, their needs at the moment, and their life experiences. These were charming, wonderful people—the cream of the crop—but the reality of being human is that we take care of ourselves first and everyone else second. I have no issue with this. It is simply how it is.

So, I find it peculiar when a person pretends otherwise (as I do from time to time). No one can embody cosmic consciousness. No one speaks with God. No one represents a higher order of being. We are all shits seeking to fill our bellies first, and then, and only then, do we have time for more enlightened pursuits. Of course, the most ridiculous and obvious examples of these pretenders are Bible-thumping televangelists. Next in line are politicians and novelists. But the truth is that almost all of us suffer from this disease. We too often forget who we really are and speak with the voice of supposed authority.

In any case, the couple we met were enlightening because they had deconstructed the world in such a way that it made sense. It was a brilliant way of living and so different from my own experience. To me, the world seldom makes sense. I accept it for what it is (mostly), but it never feels comfortable. Love is too often a four letter word meaning, Listen to me, I know what’s best for you.

To get this shit out of my head, we went for a leisurely, three-hour hike along Long Canyon, then drove to Jerome (an old mining town cum ghost town now a destination spot for tourists), and then scored a table at Elote, which was every bit as good as everyone said it was. The diners’ desperation to get in was only matched by the religious experiences they had over their food. At the end of the day we hung out on our terrace and watched the sun sink behind the buttes. Tomorrow we return to the reality of jobs and noisy neighbors.

April 14, 2010   Comments Off on Listen to me, I know what’s best for you

Roundabouts

There are a series of roundabouts (circular intersections) on 179 between Oak Creek and the various intersections of 89A in Sedona (on a 6 or 7 mile stretch). I don’t know the exact number, but I’d guess between 8 and 10. No stop signs or stop lights until you get to West Sedona. If you pick up a local map, it warns you not to stop in the roundabouts. In the States, of course, the traffic comes from the left, so they make sense as long as you anticipate what the approaching car is going to do. In the British Isles, the traffic comes from the right, so they are confusing for first time drivers. They are good in a way. It’s nice not to have to stop, but they seem to have the same effect as stop lights (at least the ones here), since the the radii are so small that it is impossible to go more than 10 miles an hour through them. I remember Chas from England coming to corporate headquarters in the States and complaining to all and sundry about stop lights and why didn’t we have roundabouts! He must not have been on the ones in London when traffic so heavy that the noses of cars are separated by inches like a pack of rabid dogs. Which reminds me, we still haven’t seen one of those small, wild pigs that supposedly attack when challenged, or a scorpion in our room (the host supplied a flashlight so you can get to the bathroom unharmed), or a rattle snake. Who knows? Perhaps today’s the day.

April 13, 2010   Comments Off on Roundabouts

West Fork

Today we walked the trail along Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona. At first, I though it was going to be a nightmare, since one old gal was having major difficulties crossing the stream. Her husband angrily shoved aside anyone who tried to pass them. It would have been funny had it not been so annoying. At one point I counted twenty people waiting behind her. Naturally, I scooted around by walking directly through the stream. Since there were several rustic crossings—the latter ones requiring hikers to wade through the icy water—we soon left them behind. Actually, no one was willing to cross the stream except for us and a young couple from Derbyshire in England, and they had to catch a plane and soon turned back. We spent a couple of hours by ourselves with only the wind and water, the birds, lizards, and butterflies, and the steep canyon walls to keep us company. I couldn’t believe it. It was our first true wilderness experience. What had started out so lamely quickly became one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. By the end of the hike (6 miles in and back), I was stoned on the beauty of it.

April 12, 2010   Comments Off on West Fork

My Left Foot

Our host forgot that Elote was closed on Sunday evenings, so we backtracked and found ourselves at a place called Fork in the Road, which the chef/owner calls an American Bistro. We sat outside and then next to fireplace (fake, of course), drinking too much Pinot gris and consuming our tasteful, interestingly textured entrees. Our waiter was of Irish/Dutch extraction (you can see it in his face and expression) and was a wonderful wag, so we chatted about the restaurant business, his current employer, his father—an unsuccessful artist whose paintings he’s put away in storage—and the realities of living in Sedona. I didn’t know that there’s a monsoon season (was he pulling my leg?) when the dew point reaches the level where it rains every afternoon. Like other Sedona residents, he referred to Phoenix as a hot hellhole. People come to Sedona to catch a break from the weather, sort of like going to Duluth in the summer. The food, ambiance, wine, and conversation were too pleasant and charming for words. I guess I’m finally a convert.

April 12, 2010   Comments Off on My Left Foot

Sugarloaf

We met an Englishman today who helped develop the catalytic converter. As a schoolboy, he was tracked into the lower (non-university) stream and had to work his way through his O-levels and A-levels and to university through the dint of intelligence and hard work. He is now an American by way of Norway, and has lived in Philadelphia for thirty years. He and his wife were interesting–so charming, in fact, that I ordered a dirty martini after my Fat Tire (which tastes like flat tire) so that I could spend more time chatting with them. There were also three attractive young women at the bar who were trying to interest the bartender into partying with them this evening, but he had absolutely no interest in them. His attitude (I asked him, of course) was “been there, done that…I’m married.”

Tonight we’re headed to the number one destination restaurant in the area (Elote), and have to show up at 5:00 to have any chance of scoring a table without a wait. Our hike today was around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. I finally gave up trying to have a wilderness experience in Sedona. Too many bikes, women getting their exercise and talking at the tops of their lungs, tourists stretching their legs after stopping along the highway, and hikers to have any chance of that. Our host said that the chamber of commerce has estimated that Sedona gets more visitors than the Grand Canyon. That seems doubtful, but the area definitely gets its fair share. On our hike, we passed near the rounded shape of a butte that we immediately dubbed “sugarloaf.” Notice the single human candle on top. After our hike, we went to the airport, which is on a ridge overlooking the city, to buy wildflower honey at the farmer’s market, and then ran into the Englishman and his wife over beers at the pizza place we like so much (Picazzo’s). Hopefully, Elote is everything our hosts have said it is.

April 11, 2010   Comments Off on Sugarloaf

Jon Stewart Is My Idol

We did a five-mile loop across Brins Mesa and back through Soldier Pass, and then had pizza and beer at a place in Sedona that was recommended at breakfast by the cook. Except for an extended climb of 500 feet, the hike was pleasant and generally easy with the alm at Brins Mesa being the high point for me because of its wide vistas. Encountering a Sarah Palin lookalike on the trail once too often, I began doing my best Jon Stewart impression. She and her companions thought my comments were funny until the humor began to bite after I overhead them saying that global warming was a hoax. The host of the Daily Show understands that the best way to deal with wingnuts is to make fun of them. Is this a bad sign? Perhaps I’m already getting bored with Sedona. Moab was much more fun—with more burned-out hippies, more bikers, more motorcyclists, and more hardcore rednecks than in this staid, comfortable, and wealthy community that seems like an endless California suburb. Who knows? Maybe the vortexes have begun to affect me.

April 10, 2010   Comments Off on Jon Stewart Is My Idol

View from Our Balcony

Beautiful and sunny this morning in Oak Creek, the town where we are staying, a few miles down the road from Sedona. I generally hate B&B’s but this place was too beautiful to pass up (see the view from our balcony). Had a nice, long talk with one of the owner’s last night, a former professor (professoressa) of history. We discussed how civility has disappeared from American life and that the notion of commonly accepted facts no longer exists. A fact is anything you proclaim in the media. Of course, the root cause of this state of affairs was dismantling the Fairness Doctrine, which required the media to report dissenting views. Grover Nyquist, one of the architects of the GOP revolution, made this one of his principle aims because he knew the extent to which it would polarize the country. In any case, the morning is gorgeous. The coffee shop in Oak Creek is cheap, but good. The coffee is roasted locally by one of the two roasters who were in business with one another until they had a falling out. The barista is witty and talkative. So are the patrons.

I meet Midwesterners everywhere in the Southwest, who have an affection for their former homes. Yesterday at the gas station I bumped into a woman who had moved here eight years ago after her husband was laid off by American Express Financial Advisors. He was part of the computer support team who was replaced by IBM– who created such a tangled network that no one could get anything through it–who were later replaced by a group in India. We shared war stories of how ridiculously bureaucratic the corporation became after American Express took over. My negative experiences there marked the end of my career as a project manager (or career as anything really) since I burned every bridge I came to.

After breakfast this morning, and a consultation with the male owner of the B&B about which hike to take–he built the place ten years ago knowing exactly what he was doing (don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?)–we’ll go off on our first hiking adventure. Viva Oak Creek! Viva Sedona!

April 10, 2010   Comments Off on View from Our Balcony

Plato’s Theory of Forms

After an uneventful flight to Phoenix on Sun Country (which is more laid back than Delta), we discovered that Hertz didn’t have the car we wanted, so I complained and got a red Camry, which no one else would drive, at a subcompact rate. Our agent, who was as fed up with Hertz as I was, gave us every discount imaginable. It was a nice start. But then we had to find our hotel in the dark. As usual, my defective direction gene kicked in, and though I had north and south correct, I somehow had east and west reversed. (Tell me how this is possible!) Oddly, we found the hotel without difficulty, which we had reserved through hotwire. Our casita was the size of a small townhome, which we got before taxes for under $100 (yes, bargains can be had through hotwire), but there was one minor problem. When I woke up a 2:30 a.m., I discovered we had been placed above a group of party animals who continued to celebrate nonstop until I finally called security at 4:00 a.m. I liked the oddly syncopated rhythm of the hip hop they were playing, but really did need to sleep.

Our reason for being in Phoenix was to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park—140 acres of cacti, agave, and succulents—which we did the following morning. The place is hard to describe—a carefully cultivated desert located between weird rounded buttes in the middle of the city. It is an eight wonder of the world with more desert species than any place else on earth. I can’t capture the essence of it in words or pictures, so I’ll simply post an image of an agave species (I think it’s agave) which I liked because it had outlines of itself embedded on its rosettes, almost as if Robert Graves or M. C. Escher had designed it. It reminded me of Plato’s theory of forms, as if the plant were reminding itself of its own very distinct form.

April 9, 2010   Comments Off on Plato’s Theory of Forms