Monday, December 24, 2007

...upon seeing a bird on a car in a parking lot...

This afternoon, I saw a great-tailed grackle on the hood of a car in the Trader Joe's parking lot...

Whenever I see one, I am instantly transported back to living in Nicaragua, where, like clockwork at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., the trees across the street would roar to life with the birds, waking and returning...

Quiscali mexicani are called zanates (sah-NAH-tehs) in Central America...

And so, it is a bird that has inspired me to post my first video-clip to a blog--taken when I was still learning to use my digital camera in Central America--zanates at sunset, León, Nicaragua, a year-and-a-half ago:


Earlier in the afternoon, since we both had the day off work, my wife and I decided to go for a short hike--we drove to the eastern edge of the city--strip-malls peter out into ranches tucked into mesquite woods and finally you hit the boundary of national park wilderness-land...A perfect winter-in-the-desert-day: 69 degrees in the sun, after a frosty morning...The view below is taken from the Rincon foothills, looking to the NW, towards the Santa Catalinas and the Tucson mountains...

(Which version shows the textures of the 'teddy-bear' cholla cactus better--the black-and-white or the sepia? S. prefers the b&w...I like the 'old-west'-feel of the sepia...)

Further up the trail, you climb up a ridge that lets you see the snowy forested summit, 8000 feet up...


...and today's word-of-the-day, gleaned from this morning's local paper:


Huh? Here's the link to the article, if you're curious...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Angles of light...birdie woes...

Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere:

On December 21st,
Tucson's sunrise to sunset is 7:21 a.m. to 5:23 p.m.--

10 hours 2 minutes and 14 seconds of daytime,
with the sun at 34.4 degrees above the horizon.

Compare that to Seattle's 7:55 sunrise to 4:20 sunset--
just 8 hours 25 minutes of daytime(!),
with the sun at a measly 19.9 degrees above the horizon.

My childhood winters in northern Germany--8:33 sunrise and sunset at 4:22,
just 7 hrs 49 minutes of day,
with the sun barely peaking at 15 degrees above the southern horizon.

Angles of light are important--
artists speak of 'the special light in Provence'...

or 'the quality of light in Santa Fe'...
'the way the sun rains down in Tuscany' etc, etc...
it's all about geometry--

how many degrees up in the sky, how long are the shadows...

The numbers will make you crazy; they'll send you packing...

No wonder Van Gogh left the Low Countries for the South of France...

More statistics, for six months from now:
Summer solstice:
Tucson-5:18 sunrise to 7:34 sunset (standard time; AZ doesn't switch to daylight savings),
81.2 degrees in the sky, almost overhead; positively tropical.
Seattle-5:12 sunrise to 9:11 (daylight savings time), solar noon at 65.8 degrees above the horizon.

(Incidentally, here's a link to world night/day map:

Nicaragua in December--the sun is at 54.5 degrees above the horizon...
maybe that's why León's colonial streets and its volcanic countryside looked more Tuscan in December...

Here in Tucson now--lovely morning shadows on the mountains; they really are purple on the horizons...
And just in time for winter, last week, and then again today, there has been snow on the Catalinas:

Yes, that's my work-window-view of the Catalinas, in mid-town Tucson...

...and from the entrance to Sabino Canyon, the Rincons on the east are snow-dusted as well:

This past weekend, my wife's parents were in we drove up the Catalina highway; at about 7000 feet up, the icicles were impressive--there IS winter in southern Arizona; all is not cactus: ...and this is the view south, toward the Santa Rita mountains...there was snow all the way down to about 4500 feet, on the northern slopes...

...and we got down to the base of the mountains just in time for sunset: ========================

And now, for birdie woes.

Tango has been sick. Liver problems, evidently...leading to neurological issues, meaning falls and lack of equilibrium--birdie vertigo! Some trips to the vet ($$$), and now with medication and temporary cage-modifications, our Senegal parrot is improving.

I would never have guessed I would one day spend MONEY on a little birdie...(blood test? cholesterol levels?) but hey, when the little companion has a life-span of THIRTY years, you can't NOT help him out, right? (Truly, he is a feathered-friend.) A hamster or a gecko, I might just let go, you know, but a parrot?...well...It's been a dodgy few days for avian health in our household, but he's pulling through...and we can sleep more soundly...

Ay ay ay...

Winter in Tucson, then...freezing nights and snow-capped sunny afternoons, yards full of ripe citrus, an ailing parrot, and now, time off...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lettuce on ice...cultural collision...

The first snows have arrived on the mountains around Tucson...
...down to around 6000 feet...
A thunderstorm hit yesterday afternoon down in the valley,
leaving a half-inch of ice pellets on the ground...and it was PINK!
Seriously...some wind updrafts must have picked up some desert sand somewhere, and it came down as pink hail in our little front yard...
Our little lettuce-garden got beat-up by the skyborn refrigeration;
the perils of winter gardening...

In today's International Herald Tribune, there's a very interesting opinion piece dealing with Arizona;
local issues on in an international stage...
Here's the link to the column:
Where Mariachis and Minutemen collide
by Lawrence Downes
PHOENIX, Arizona

Want to see America unraveling? Come here, to Thomas Road and 35th Street, to M. D. Pruitt's furniture store. Come on Saturday morning and stand near the eight delivery trucks barricading the parking lot, like the wall of an urban Alamo.

For the last seven weeks, a sidewalk protest here by Latino immigrants has blossomed into a feverish reality show, attracting Minutemen, mariachis, children dancing in Mexican folk costume, white racists, United Nations observers, Phoenix police officers and Maricopa County sheriff's deputies.

The weekly confrontation - strident and stalemated - perfectly mimics the national debate. But it's a sideshow to something uglier: What happens when immigration's complexities are handed to local law enforcers sympathetic to the fury of one side.
Thomas Road has lots of Latino day laborers, or jornaleros, who hustle for work near Home Depot. A few months ago, the Phoenix police shooed them away. They dispersed to streets nearby, angering local businesses. One of the biggest, Pruitt's, hired off-duty city police officers to keep jornaleros at bay. The city put a stop to that, so Pruitt's turned to the county sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

Sheriff Joe, as he is known, needed no prodding: Hunting undocumented immigrants is his specialty. He has arrested hundreds under a state antismuggling law (for smuggling themselves) and has had 160 officers deputized as federal immigration agents. They have made more than 50 arrests near Pruitt's since the protests began.

They'll pull a car over for a traffic infraction, then check everyone's papers. They say they act on reasonable suspicion only - if they see a shirt or shoes like those worn south of the border or hear Spanish. They say it isn't profiling.

There is no doubt whose side Sheriff Joe is on. He has officers on Pruitt's payroll, guarding the lot on protest days. Last week, he issued a news release demanding that the demonstrators stop hurting Pruitt's and vowing to crank up the pressure until they went away. It was a naked attempt to stifle dissent and help a business ally.

People here are used to that from Sheriff Joe. He describes himself as "America's meanest sheriff" and has recently been basking in the love of nativists like the Minuteman Chris Simcox and radio host Terry Anderson, who gushed over him at a roast in Sun City West this month.

If Arizona begins punishing companies that hire illegal workers under a law that takes effect Jan. 1 - a lawsuit to block it was thrown out Friday - it will fall to counties to do the purge. In Maricopa, that means Sheriff Joe.

The protesters at Pruitt's are the only real opposition he has faced. Their leader is Salvador Reza, a stocky American of Mexican and Apache ancestry, an Air Force veteran who has spent years organizing jornaleros and small-business owners here.

Reza says he can't understand why America accepts global flows of companies, money and jobs but not workers. Why faith in market forces seems to have been eclipsed by fear of immigrants. Or why the country cannot set up legal channels to let jornaleros come and go and not be hassled.

"They actually are people with a work ethic that would make the Puritans proud," he said.

Pruitt's owner, Roger Sensing, says he needs armed officers to protect customers from jornaleros. Reza calls that ridiculous, and one informed noncombatant, the Reverend Craig Geiger, pastor of a Lutheran church across the street, agrees. He told me he had never seen a laborer enter Pruitt's lot. He also said his Latino congregation did not drive to church anymore. Documented or not, they fear Sheriff Joe. They walk.

Pastor Geiger leaves the neighborhood on Saturdays, because it gets deafening. When I was there, a trio singing Mexican ballads strolled through the crush. A Minuteman with a bullhorn followed them. "Monkeys coming through!" he shouted. His side rushed up to drown the music out: "Born in the U.S.A.! Born in the U.S.A.! KKK! Viva la Migra! January First!"

The restrictionists see Jan. 1 as the dawn of a new era, when the Mexicans disappear and everything gets pure and legal again. It is uncertain whether Arizona's economy will survive the exodus. "Unfortunately, they'll probably wake up when they bankrupt the state," Reza told me.

Lawrence Downes is a member of the New York Times editorial board.

Monday, November 26, 2007

First snow..., not here in Tucson itself--but in mountains nearby.
About 2 hours to the east are the Pinaleño mountains, just north of the agricultural area around Wilcox. The highest peak is 10,720 ft. (3267 m.)-high Mt. Graham. (Incidentally, it is the 20th highest peak in the lower 48 states.) A couple of days ago, we were in the area, and as we we drove by, the clouds cleared and on the forested summit--just a hint of white--the first of the season:

I love the contrasts here--up or down, and you're in a different world.
(We're still waiting for the first blanket of white to cover the Catalinas here in Tucson...)
To the NE, heading closer to the border with New Mexico, is the old mining town of Clifton,
in the gorge of the San Francisco River;
late fall, cottonwoods:

Like so many towns out West, this 1800's town has been through boom and bust...
The historic main street even has 'ruins' (the arched façade of a movie theater that burned down decades ago.)

From the neighboring, much higher, town of Morenci, where the huge Phelps-Dodge mine is located, you can look down on the valley, cut deep into the naked geology of the high plains all around:

And this would be part of the mine itself, scouring away the mountain...And bust is becoming boom again--copper prices have gone up, since demand is rising--newer hybrid cars are fueling (ahem) the need, since they require copper parts!

People come from all over to work at the mine--the only real source of employment in the area.
They even still have a 'company store,' and 'company housing.' And one of the people who lives and works there said that they're expecting some African immigrants pretty soon to help work the mine--cosmopolitan, eh?

And then heading back toward Tucson, as we approached Mt. Graham again, some 'god-light' appeared:

...maybe even suitable for a cheesy Hallmark calendar? Oh, wait--there are no kittens or flowers in the foreground...maybe next time...


Our final few tomatoes are hanging on, ripening as December approaches, on our front porch. Cilantro's doing well, now that it's cooler. (I actually wore wool to work for the first time today.) We've had our first couple of oranges from 'our tree.' Got some containers to grow lettuce and spinach--our 'winter crops.' And that's tonight's weather/produce update from Tucson.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

...published in the International Herald letter!

A couple of days ago, there was an interesting column published
in the International Herald Tribune--one of my favorite papers to read online;
it's published in Paris daily, but it's in English.
The column was about christians vs. muslims,
and the concept of God;
Sweeping generalizations were, predictably, made--but what stood out as
intellectually dishonest was the statement to the effect that 'the christian concept of a triune god is central to the Bible.' Not not true...historically, textually, culturally, not true.

So, during ,during my lunch break, I fired off a letter to the editor to rebut the columnist's sweeping statement--
--and it was published in today's paper!

So, yes, there is a bit of a self-congratulatory tone in this posting,
because it is a small thrill to have my letter published in one of my favorite international newspapers.

But I'm glad an opposing voice will be heard by the readers...
Below are the links to the original column, and to my letter...

The link to the original column:

The link to my letter-to-the-editor-rebuttal:

By the way, this morning I woke up to the pitter-patter of--what is that--rain?! The shower lasted for all of two minutes--but it was the first rain I've seen/heard in months here in Tucson...

(I hope it's raining some in Georgia--perhaps you've heard about the city of Atlanta--major major city--being only weeks away from NO water; the other day the governor had a 'pray-for-rain' (?!)session on the Capitol Steps...)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The border between high-school &, well, the border

High-school: the nebulous border-region between childhood and adulthood,
where hormones and angst build fences
while attempting to tear down walls,
and 'education' tries to stick its head into the crossfire,
a vast social experiment carried out in mall-bought finery...

I submit, then, two local newspaper articles--one from yesterday's evening paper, one from today's moring daily--dealing with a regional peculiarity that might resonate more in far-away places than it would have a few years ago, when immigration was not as much of a 'hot plate hot plate' as it is now...

(after the articles, some photo-minutiae...)
TUSD: Rumor that schools are being raided not true

Tucson Citizen 11-06-07

An incident in which a family returned to Mexico after a son was allegedly caught with marijuana at a Tucson high school prompted a rumor that schools are being raided and children are being removed. It's untrue, police, border agents and educators say.

On Thursday, a family of four that admitted to being in the United States illegally for six years left after police were called to Catalina High Magnet School because a student was acting incoherently and was found in possession of marijuana, police and school officials said.
When police determined he and his family were here without documentation, they called the U.S. Border Patrol, said Tucson police Assistant Chief Roberto Villaseñor.

"We are not patrolling the schools," said Border Patrol spokesman Jose A. Gonzalez. "I've never heard of this ever happening. To my knowledge, it's very rare."
Villaseñor agreed.

"We don't actively seek out and enforce immigration violations because we don't want to put a chilling effect on any segment of the population that may need the services of public safety," he said.
Still, he added, "it is appropriate (when officers are investigating other crimes, such as the marijuana possession) to contact other law enforcement agencies when we come across violations of other laws that they have jurisdiction over."

All public and charter school districts are forbidden by law to deny an education to any child of school age residing in Arizona, said an official at the Tucson Unified School District.

"Police were at the school only because the student was acting incoherently," said TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander.

"The rumor was that there was a raid, and that was not the case," she said. "We aren't even allowed to ask the question if they are in this country illegally."

Lander said she hoped the rumors would not make parents stop sending their children to school or stop them from coming for parent-teacher conferences or other events.
"Schools have always been considered a safe haven," she said.

In this case, Lander said, "the parents were only there because the son was being charged with possession and he was going to be released into their custody."

The situation occurred at TUSD's Catalina High Magnet, 3645 E. Pima St.
The 17-year-old's parents were called in when school officials found a "small amount" of marijuana in his backpack after a monitor noticed the boy "appeared to be under the influence of something," Lander said.

He was taken to the principal's office and the Tucson Police Department was called, she said.
By the time officers arrived, the parents also had been called and had arrived, Villaseñor said. When neither the parents nor student spoke English, a translator was called in, he said.

When the parents, a 38-year-old mother and 39-year-old father, could not provide police with driver's licenses, they admitted they had been in the United States illegally and didn't have green cards or other documentation allowing them to be here, Villaseñor said.

At that point, police called the Border Patrol, and the parents and son were taken into their custody.
They requested that they be able to pick up their other son, a sixth-grader at Doolen Middle School, 2400 N. Country Club Road. Border Patrol agents took them there to get him.

While the older son was given a paper referral to appear in Pima County Juvenile Court on a charge of narcotics possession, Villaseñor said, "If they are all back in Mexico, I don't think there will be any follow-up."
Gonzalez said the parents had no criminal records. The father, however, had been previously deported to Mexico "several times" and had an administrative order to be sent back. The other family members agreed to go back voluntarily, he said.

They were driven by the Border Patrol to a Nogales port of entry that same day and released to walk across the border into Mexico, Gonzalez said.

He said this action does not prevent any of them from returning to the United States as legal residents, "provided they follow the rules next time."

Protest yields entrant-policy change
Student march decries Border Patrol presence
By George B. Sánchez and Dale Quinn
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 11.07.2007

The Tucson Police Department and the Tucson Unified School District no longer will summon Border Patrol officials or immigration authorities to school grounds, officials said Tuesday.

The announcement came hours after dozens of students marched against a family's deportation that played out at two Midtown schools.

Nearly 100 students assembled outside Catalina Magnet High School early Tuesday and marched Downtown to the Federal Building and eventually Tucson police headquarters, protesting the process that allowed U.S. Border Patrol agents onto their campus.

The student march was sparked by the Thursday deportation of a Catalina student and his family after school officials found a small amount of marijuana in the boy's backpack. The officials called police, who notified the Border Patrol after learning that his family was living here illegally. The family's younger son, attending Doolen Middle School, also was pulled from class and deported.

"We're mad because immigration came into our school," said 16-year-old Mario Portillo, one of the protesting students. "The kid broke the law. He was wrong. This isn't about him."

The effect has been chilling, one of Portillo's classmates said.

"Some students aren't going to school because they don't feel safe," said Lizeth Grijalva, 17. "We can't have this at schools."

TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer and Assistant Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor met late Tuesday morning to discuss the incident.

"They came to an agreement that what happened on Thursday will not happen on a campus again," said Chyrl Hill Lander, a TUSD spokeswoman. "The implementation of immigration law will not be done on school grounds."

Tucson police officers no longer will call Border Patrol agents to schools or churches, Villaseñor said. However, police will provide information to the federal government that will allow those officials to follow up on the investigation, he said. The change is based on Border Patrol policy not to respond to schools or churches unless agents are asked to do so.

Under the new policy, Border Patrol agents never would have been called to Catalina, 3645 E. Pima St., although the family of the boy who allegedly brought pot to campus still may have been deported.
Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education, said she had not heard of deportations resulting from an on-campus incident. School officials are forbidden to ask about a student's legal status, she noted.

"We can't ask. That is a federal law," she said. "We educate students regardless."

Warren Allison, TUSD's school-safety coordinator, said school officials had to contact police because the student was caught with drugs.

"By state law, if you have contraband, we have to call the police," he said. "After that, it's on them."
As students gathered in front of Police Department headquarters, 270 S. Stone Ave., Pfeuffer relayed the same message.

Grijalva, a senior, said the students wanted an explanation from police about why Border Patrol agents were notified this time.

Villaseñor said the arresting officer learned through the course of the investigation that the boy and his family were in the country illegally.

"We are obligated to notify the proper authorities when we become aware of criminal activity," he said.
When some of the protesting students learned of the new policy, they said they were glad it barred immigration officials from schools, but they remained concerned about local police enforcing federal immigration laws.
"I still think the Police Department shouldn't be allowed to ask someone about their citizenship," Portillo said. "That's not their job. Their job is to keep us safe and ensure our rights."

The students said they began organizing the march late last week by sending each other text messages and e-mails.

As the students marched through the streets Tuesday, they chanted, "Sí se puede" and "We are students, not criminals," and carried signs that read: "Migra out of our schools."

Villaseñor and Pfeuffer both acknowledged that the students had protested peacefully and sparked an insightful discussion. Pfeuffer also told the students that it's important to have these kinds of talks in a school setting, not just during protests.

TUSD's regular absence policy will apply to students who took part in the nearly five-mile march, Lander said. A student with a parent's note or whose parents called to explain the absence will be excused.
No attendance numbers were available Tuesday, Lander said, but Catalina has 1,482 enrolled.
=====================================================================, on to the pretty pictures...

(Incidentally, the high-temperature yesterday was 91--a record-high for early November, even for Tucson.)

This past weekend--a true Sunday drive--pure curiosity--driven by the desire to 'see the other side,' the other side of the Catalina mountains. So--around the newer suburbs to the NW, to see the 'backside' of the mountains:The peaks in this section, near Catalina state park, are quite dramatic, no?

Speaking of seeing 'the other side,' we saw this also, when we visited the Tohono Chul Botanical gardens and gallery on the way back:

The 'Day of the Dead' is, ahem, alive and well in Tucson--Mexico's pre-Columbian tradition is as much a part of southern Arizona as the saguaro...Isn't it interesting that all over the world, around October-November, there are 'day-of-the-dead'-type celebrations?...The altar set up with photos, flowers, and favorite foods reminds me very much of all the "Chu-sok" festival altars I've seen in Korea in the autumn...Koreans and Mexicans share more than chili-pepper-fondness...Red peppers and ancestor-worship, on both sides of the Pacific...

...and an agave close-up. What the Sonoran desert lacks in lushness, it makes up for with textures...I love the 'echoes' etched onto the back of the leaves, like an ex-ray of the sunlit barbs...(a tequila sunprint?)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall (local) color

Yesterday afternoon--a drive up our 'backyard-highway,' a last-minute Saturday decision to see some the desert. So, up the Catalina Highway we went.
As the local-road-cliché goes: "thirty miles, thirty degrees cooler."
It was definitely true yesterday--in the forty-five minutes it took for us to drive from where we live--Tucson's saguaro-habitat (2500 ft. elevation), to the 9100-ft. sumit of Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina mountains--aspens and evergreens, the temperature dropped from the mid-80's to the mid-50's.
As the highway curves up the mountains, through some fantastic rock formations, you leave the Sonoran desert, drive up through grassland and oak woods, pine forests, and finally the evergreen-and-aspen zone. It's as if you've driven from Mexico to the Canadian border in just thirty miles.
While the mountaintops' colors here are nothing compared to New England (or Korea) in the autumn, it is still a refreshing change to see deciduous trees' changing leaves:
Aspens in southern Arizona live only above the 8000-ft.-line, so the mountains behind Tucson are just tall enough to become autumnal. In another month or so, the first snows will fall on these slopes--Mt. Lemmon's ski-lifts are visible in this photo; it's the southernmost ski resort in the U.S.
On the way back down, we arrived at one of the vista-points just in time for sunset:
Fourteen years ago, I visited Korea in the autumn.
The mountainous spine along Korea's eastern coast burns with maples and gingkos in October and November:
(I am reminded of the ignorant question I was once asked by a fellow student, when he found out I was 'part-Korean'--"do they have trees in Korea?" Yes, oh ignorant erstwhile teen-ager, yes, they do...)
My stay in the country ended up coinciding with my grandmother's death.
I went to the mountains twice during that trip--
before her death, the slopes were still green;
after she died, the mountains were ablaze.
As predictable as the comparison may be, then,
fall's falling leaves always remind me of the end of a life...


Our last patio-tomatoes of the year are still hanging on.
When I was a kid in Georgia, by mid-June our backyard would already be overflowing with the red orbs.
When I moved to Seattle a decade ago, I was amused by gardeners' valiant attempts to coax tomatoes to ripeness (by August or September!) by planting them along south-facing brick walls...
Here, it's almost November, and I'm still enjoying them, warm from the sunshine...
...even when the shapes are less-than-spherical:


October in Nicaragua--month of endless rains--at least that's what it was the year we lived there. No 'fall-colors' there--just lush green fields, chocolate-colored rivers, and our laundry drying on our window-slats. For weeks no one could get their laundry properly dry. School was even canceled for several days, due to parents not being able to launder and dry their children's uniforms! Hanging-socks--what would Gringo-home-magazines say to that as a 'window-treatment?'


Last week, at one of the local high-school's pre-home-coming-pep-assemblies: in addition to the cheerleaders and football-players, the school's ballet folklórico troupe performed--twirling Mexican dresses on the girls, and guys in crisp white shirts, rythmically wielding machetes while kicking between the blades: local color, indeed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

cost of injury

--related to me by a health-care worker:

The other day, a patient, a lady, came in for an exam.
She had been injured in her own home;
evidently her refrigerator had had a faulty door,
and so when she tried to open it, it got stuck in the process,
and somehow, it fell forward on her (!),
pinning her between it and the countertop.

Scary, yes. Sympathy-eliciting, yes.

But this lady insisted on specifying
to the health-care worker the material-details:
"My seven-thousand dollar refrigerator fell forward
and I was caught between it and my granite-countertop!"

Necessary details?
A twenty-year-old frigidaire with no ice-maker pinning a poor person to a formica counter would do the same damage, no?

This expense-citing mentality is notable, eh? right now, all the news footage showing the burning hillsides in southern California--
the half-million evacuees in the San Diego area, etc. etc...
Truly frightening and disruptive, yes, yes...

But why all the insistence, on the part of journalists,
on saying "multi-million dollar homes are going up in smoke"?
Would it be any less tragic if a ho-hum 'poor house' were to burn?
Is that somehow less worthy of news coverage or sympathy?
Everyone's loss--tract-houses with a decades-old-fridges, or custom-homes with Italian marble--everything that goes up in smoke is a family's hardship...why should the dollar-figure matter?
Or, is there a schadenfreude that accompanies these news pictures as the
plebian masses watch celebrities' palaces burn?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Desert-lunchtime: delicacy and idiocy

After living here for four (already?!) months now, I finally got around to trying Feig's Deli for lunch today. A good-ol' East-Coast Jewish grocery/lunch joint, here in the Sonoran desert. It even has 'the best corned beef in the nation.' Seriously...along with Brooklyn-baked bobkas, fresh bagels...Doc Brown sodas...not-overly-dilled cucumber salad...

"Deli"--short, not for delicious, (although it is), but for delicatessen...
But the word, as "urban-Jewish" as its associations may be in this country,
actually has French origins.
(Really, now, did you know that?
Yes, this is a word-nerd moment,
as I digest my corned-beef-on-fresh-rye.)

The word comes into English via German--delikatessen--which in turn comes from from the German borrowing of the French word "delicatesse, delicate," as in 'daintiness, dainty.' Back in the day--the concept of getting ready-to-eat things evidently meant spending lots of money for carefully prepared dainty things...Today it's sandwiches and pickles...mmm.
(Another theory is that it comes from delikat & essen, which means 'to eat.')
And we still refer to fancy-foods as 'delicacies,' no?

A side note--'delicado' in Spanish can mean 'picky; hard to please'... one should be when it comes to corned-beef-on-rye, verdad?

Now for today's idiocy.
It has nothing to do with the deli.
It has to do with the Arizona/Sonora Desert Museum, 18 miles to the west.
And it's not necessarily the museum's fault.
(I love the museum--it's one of the best museum/botanical/zoological garden complexes in the country--any visitor to southern Arizona HAS to go there...)

The idiocy has to do with a situation that has developed due to flags being flown there.
For half a century, the museum, which is a private not-for-profit scientific/educational organization, has flown the flags of the U.S. and Mexico side by side. This would be logical, since the Sonora desert is a trans-national ecosystem...Well, with recent immigration-issues, the flags have become the targets of 'complaints' from various ignorant voices--AND even death threats for the park staff and its animals!! So, partly as a matter of public safety, the museum board decided to take down, not just the Mexican flag, but also the U.S. flag and the Arizona flag...and even the flagpoles...
Not just idiocy, but dangerous idiocy. Dangerous, jingoistic, ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic idiocy.
The museum is not a political place! The desert IS IN BOTH COUNTRIES!
The mere presence of a neighboring country's flag is not 'threatening,' is it?
Besides, this is a part of the country that historically was Mexico--southern Arizona was 'purchased' by the U.S. government in the mid-19th century; the local people didn't cross the border; the border crossed them...

So--should airports in the U.S. now no longer fly flags of other countries?!
If an ethnic restaurant displays flags of other nations--is it going to be threatened as well, now?
Where is this illogic heading....
Are people draping themselves in flags in order to try to hide their ignorance?
Or are they purposely putting their ignorance on display, turning national symbols into symbols of national shame?

This anti-'other' mentality is alarmingly and increasingly EVERYwhere:
Locally, obviously, it's Anglos vs.'s also African-Americans vs. African-refugees...
In Germany, it's Germans vs. Russia, neo-Nazis vs. any dark-skinned Spain it's Spaniards vs. Costa Rica it's Costa Ricans vs. the Domincan Republic, it's Dominicans vs. Haitian France it's the far-right vs. North Holland it's the Secular vs. extremist Belgium, which is divided between its own two halves--Flemish and French-speaking, the opposing political parties are 'united' in their stand to keep out foreigners...and needless to say, in Iraq, it's Sunni vs. Shiite...and let's not even begin to discuss the divide between those who drive Fords vs. those who drive Chevys...between those who have 'christian-fish' and 'darwin-fish' on the backs of their cars...
So much for 'tolerance'...


On a lighter note, the EuroStar train that links London to Paris and Brusels has a new arrival/departure station in London--the refurbished St. Pancras Station. (click here to read today's IHT article)
So--gone is the irony of arriving from France at 'Waterloo' station, named after the British victory that sent Napoleon on his way to permanent exile as Britain became the world power of the day...

I like the way the article ends:

On an open space at the end of the rail platforms at St. Pancras, the developers commissioned a 30-foot-high sculpture of a couple embracing, as if in reunion after a rail journey.

The artist, Paul Day, initially intended to show them kissing, said Luddy, the London & Continental executive.

"We wanted to create this romantic atmosphere, but, being English, we didn't think kissing was quite right," Luddy said. "So now they're touching foreheads.

Kissing would have been too French."

Monday, October 8, 2007

The hills are alive...

...with the sound of poster-form.
(don't worry--this isn't all 'political'--please keep reading...'touristy'-photos of the Grand Canyon coming up!...)

Right now in Switzerland, it's electoral season...
and all over the country, in mailboxes and on public billboards, shopping centers and train stations,
this image is posted:

You don't have to read German to get the picture: the white sheep are kicking the black sheep out of the tidy country...Oh, no--no racist overtones intended--just the importance of creating 'security' (sicherheit), since, as some politicians would have you believe, foreigners clearly commit more crimes than the native born...Incidentally, one in five Swiss residents is a foreign national.

It's also a play on words, since schaffen, which here means 'to create', also sounds like the word for 'sheep' (schaf). But the tone is hardly playful, eh?
Obviously, not all Swiss are xenophobic, and there has been an uproar in the country over this political ad-campaign. Below is an example of the poster being defaced--in the western, French-speaking part of the country:

"Honte" means 'shame'...and so instead of reading "for more security," the defaced poster now reads "shame for more"...(for more information, here's a link to an article in today's IHT...)

Writing from southern Arizona, with more than its fair share of immigration-issues, it is sadly fascinating to see, from afar, what is going on in Switzerland--a country with such an idyllic reputation as an Alpine utopia, with increasing holes in its social its cheese, eh? Yes, yes, too facile of a metaphor; I couldn't resist...

Not to dwell, then, overmuch, on the alarming increase of far-right xenophobic thinking, in Europe and's so much prettier to dwell on the scenery:Not to be an ostrich-poking-its-head-in-the-cheese, but lying down among wildflowers on a high meadow, the Lauterbrunnen valley thousands of feet below, cool breezes from the glaciers on a sunny summer day...if only postcard-views could erase the social cracks that beget political posters...

Yes, those are my feet. Twelve years ago, during a sunny summer-study-abroad, as an undergrad in Europe for the first time since childhood...yes, nostalgia.

But local locales are good for foot-view photos too:

My wife and I went for a quick weekend-road-trip up to northern Arizona this past weekend. Yesterday afternoon, our feet were where you see them above--this shot taken 800 feet above the "Little Colorado River" gorge, a few miles east of where it flows into the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon...Few places on the planet are so photographed...we are all familiar with the multihued cliffs, the mile-deep drop--yes, yes, it's a 'wonder of the world'...But there is simply nothing like standing on the edge of such an expanse of naked geology, peering down in to mineral time...

It was my wife's first time to the Canyon, and I hadn't been since the age of seven. It was a long way to go for a short weekend, for the crowded, cursory glance at the countless ridges and chasms--but there's always next time--more time to spend...on the uncrowded North Rim, we hope. The South Rim, even early on a Sunday morning in October, was CROWD-ED. May I never know what it's like to go in mid-summer. (Now, there's an interesting 'curse' to wish on an enemy: 'May you experience the Grand Canyon. In summer. On a weekend.)

No nature's-solitude at the most popular vista-points, alas...The mini-U.N. along the guard-rails: we heard French, German, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog...(I will never understand why so many people insist on blocking high-traffic pathways to take group pictures of guard-rails. Make way--go to the EDGE, people...go to the EDGE!! See what you came here for!! Stop talking so loud!!) But still--still! You just have to go. Worth the madding crowd, even if they are too close and the drive is just a wee bit far...

Sunday morning, on the way to the Grand Canyon, we drove through some high forest and meadow country near the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountains in Arizona. Around 8000 feet, above the high-desert, above the junipers, piñons and pines, there are aspens--splashes of fall color in the evergreens:

This is Humphrey's Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona--over 12,000 feet, although since you're already at 8000 feet, the extinct volcano doesn't seem all that tall:

The meadows were frosty--21 degrees! A record-low for Flagstaff on that date...

And remember--objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
And so the hills (and canyon-edges) in northern Arizona are alive right now...with fall color and frosty multilingual exhalations...

A thousand years ago, the hills and cliffs were alive with other 'foreign' tongues--the tongues of 'the disappeared' (Anasazi) and ''the ones who are no more" (Hohokam)--the indigenous cultures that built pueblos and cliff-villages such as this one:

Just off the freeway between Phoenix and Sedona--Montezuma Castle national monument. "Condos with a view" from a millenium ago. Prime farmland. Reliable water-source. Abandoned, most likely due to long-term climate-change.

And here, south of Sedona, just east of the mountain-mining-town of Jerome, the ruins of Tuzigoot national monument:

...not unlike a hilltop village of Provence or Tuscany...Archaeologists have found here remains of macaws from Central America!--carried carefully along trade routes across thousands of miles of jungle and mountainous desert, then bartered...and finally, scarlet feathers ceremonially buried. The average life-span of these pueblo inhabitants eight centuries ago: forty years.
The hills were alive...for a short time...a long time ago.

(On a lighter note...
If you want to see an amazing video of a parrot--well, cockatoo--

Monday, October 1, 2007

Critters and glyphs

Tonight's uploads:

Last weekend at Sabino Canyon,
I saw two quintessential Arizona creatures for the first time--a Gila monster and a rattlesnake.

Gila 'monsters' are lizards with orange-mosaic patterns--venomous but only attack if cornered...This little guy (about 3 feet long) was heading away from the trail where we spotted him.
I was walking with a friend and friend-of-a-friend visiting from France. The critters really came out and put on a show for him--the usual lizards and rabbits...but also deer, a roadrunner, the Gila Monster, and then...
...this rattlesnake (serpent-sonnette in French):

He wasn't very long--maybe three feet as well--but the 'babies' can be more dangerous since they can release more venom. (see previous blog entry)

Yesterday afternoon we went for a drive to take a short--a very short--trail in Saguaro National Park--up Signal Hill to see some precolumbian petroglyphs made by the Hohokam culture around a thousand years ago:

Now that the monsoon season is officially over, things are beginning to dry out...and so the ocotiillo are losing their green leaves; 'fall foliage' in the Sonora desert:

...and of course, we couldn't drive back into town without first waiting to see the sun set...


and to end on a random note--
--my wife found these names for nail polish in the ads in this past Sunday's paper.
I submit them for your amusement:
they're from a 'Russian collection:'
Vodka & Caviar, Catherine the Grape, Ruble for your thoughts, Suzi says Da!, Kreme de la Kremlin, and St. Petersburgundy.
We say NYET!!!
The bad copywriting sounds like, well, nails on a chalkboard, eh?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Quick bites...

Brief lunch-break musings...

This past Sunday afternoon, while going for a little hike in Sabino Canyon, I saw my first rattlesnake.
Walking with a friend, he almost stepped on it, when we heard the trademark warning-noise; no matter how many times you've heard it on t.v. or have seen snakes behind glass, that rattle makes your heart jump.

It was 'just a baby,' less than 4 feet long...
...but I've been told that bites from babies are more dangerous, since the youthful serpents don't know how to 'measure' their venom just yet, so they give you all of it...

Then on this morning's news--a story of a New Yorker who was out here over Labor Day for a weekend trip. While taking trash out, she was bit--not once, but twice, on both her feet.
So, her weekend trip out West became a month-long hospital stay,
with two dozen doses of anti-venom...
since she has no health insurance, a bill that bites as well:
Eighty-nine thousand dollars.

Health-care-reform, anyone?

So I'm having my first 'hot' lunch at work since the school-year began--
I finally got around to getting a little microwave--on sale, of course: 35$
...and to think that my parents spent over 300$ on their first microwave back in the early 80's..., another appliance plugged in, sucking energy...adding to my 'carbon footprint.'
That's an expression that wasn't around a few years ago, eh?
But, wouldn't it be more accurate to say:
carbon buttprint?

I mean, really--a footprint is small, our collective consumer glutei taking up more space, no?
And we SIT for most of the things that make our carbon-contributions larger, anyway:
we SIT in cars...we SIT in planes...we SIT and watch TV...we SIT while the dryer dries our laundry.
Just a thought.

And the monsoon-season is now officially over here in Tucson.
Morning lows are positively chilly now--60 degrees...(still 90 in the afternoon)
Cool enough to plant cilantro.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Local calendar. Names and figures.

The school-year's about a month-old down here...
and as usual, by now kids are coming to school with late-summer colds and runny noses...
and eventually the teachers catch it as well.

So I'm at home this morning, sitting here with a faithful box of kleenex at my side...

Before the school-year started, one day we drove by Saguaro National Park's eastern district, which edges up to our part of Tucson. Their newsletter included the native calendar--how the local tribe, the Tohono O'Odham people, call the months.

Here we go, then...I'll start with now.

Wasai Gakidaj Masad
(month of dry grass)
avg. high temp.: 94 degrees; avg. low temp.: 67 degrees
Bats and hummingbirds preparing for early October migration; activity increases.
First-year juveniles must gain strength for first long flights to wintering grounds to the south...

Al Ju:big Masad
(month of planting frost-hardy squash)
avg. high: 84; avg. low: 57
Cactus wrens begin to build winter nests in cholla cactus...

S-ke:g S-he pjig Masad
(month of pleasant cold)
avg high: 73; avg low: 45
Ocotillos produce new leaves within five days of winter rainfall...

Ge'e S-he:pjig Masad
(month of big cold)
Desert mistletoe bearing fruit...

Gakimdag Masad Masad
(month of depending on stored foods)
Succulent plants filling up with winter moisture...

U: walig Masad
(month of mating deer)
If the winter has been rainy, desert wildflowers, such as Mexican gold poppies, begin blooming...
This is also the month of "Festival de los Vaqueros,"
or 'rodeo'-time. Tucson schedules one of its school-vacations for this long-weekend...

Ce:dagi Masad
(month of new plants coming up)
Brittlebush blooming; beetles appearing...

Uam Masad
(month of desert in bloom)
Gambel's quail begin mating; snakes active if the winter has been quiet...

U'us Wihogdag Masad
(bean-gathering month, time of hunger)
Nocturnally-flowering cacti in bloom, including saguaro and night-blooming cereus...

Ha:san Bak Masad
New saguaro-fruit ripening, falling to ground--harvested to eat and make wine...

Jukiabig Masad
(month of rain)
Desert toads croak at night to attract mates...

Sopol Esabig Masad
(month of short planting)
Barrel cacti, asters, morning glories, devil's claw, trailing four-o'clock all blooming

And now for a few more, non-calendar, figures...
Demographics gleaned from this morning's paper:

One in five Arizona adults was born in another country.
Hmm....I wonder where--
The Census Bureau really had to spend lots of data-crunching time
to figure out that 2/3 of these come from Mexico?
About 1/3 of Arizonans classify themselves as Hispanic.
Statewide, however, only 25% of the population says they speak Spanish.
Among the foreign-born AZ residents, (who number about 900,000) 85% speak Spanish,
and only 157,000 of them say they speak English very well.

2.2 million AZ adults were born in the state. 3 million were born in a different state. 70,000 born outside the country but born as citizens. 273,000 foreign-born, but naturalized US citizens. 655,000 non-citizens.

"Locals" are a minority.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day--it read "Leaving Tucson? Take a friend with you."

Nice. The driver of the vehicle, though, wasn't looking too 'native'...