Friday, April 13, 2007


The youngest of "the lower 48"...
The only state to have the Beginning and the Ending of the Alphabet
in its two-letter abbreviation.

So, here's the A to Z of our brief visit, (I returned to Seattle the day before yesterday),
an 'abécédaire touristique,' if you will...

A--ARID, but not desolate--such a variety of colors and textures in the surprisingly abundant life in the Sonoran desert; this is not the dune-dominated landscape of the Sahara...But you do have to re-train your eyes so that they don't equate 'beauty' with 'pastoral greenery.'
B--BRONZE. The French verb for 'to get a tan' is literally 'to bronze oneself.' Be careful though...Bronze easily turns to leather under the influence of solar alchemy. Legions of retirees are living proof...Use sunscreen.

C--CACTUS. Duh. Inevitable. But so cool...Saguaros can live for centuries and hold tons of water..Woodpeckers nest in them...Native Americans harvest the fruit to make wine...The blooms are gaudy, like pre-teen jewelry in thorny settings. Cholla-buds have more calcium than milk and more potassium than bananas. Got cacti?

D--DRIVING. Everything spread so far out...Tucson, although founded in the 18th century, really only grew in the 20th, and so it is a car-centric metropolis. The main E-W thoroughfare is prosaically named "Speedway Blvd."

E--ESPAÑOL. Well, obviously, yes, Spanish is the second language...although histoically one could argue it's the FIRST (European) language of Arizona. You hear it everywhere--from the poshest mall to the hiking trails in the mountains...I can't imagine living in Arizona and not knowing Spanish...Will the SW develop into a bilingual society, in the vein of Montréal? Time will tell, hombres...
F--FRONDS of palm trees, waving high above the asphalt grid, adding to the impression of living in an oasis...
G--GUINEA, as in Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. We met a couple of families from this country, immigrants in Tucson. They'd also lived in Gabon for years, so they speak French as well. Most people don't realize that there is an African Spanish-speaking country, as one of the guys told me--so when he's on worksites, often his Mexican co-workers are surprised when they learn that he knows what they've been saying about him, ahem...Watch them racial comments, amigos...
H--HEAT, yes blessed warmth. 'But it's a dry heat,' people apologetically (and condescendingly and defensively) say when the thermometer hits above 100 in June, July, and August...
I--ISLANDS. As in "sky islands." More on this when you get down to "Z".
J--JUICE, the sweet magenta liquid of the ripe prickly pear, made into syrup, taffy, marmalade, margaritas...
K--KINO, Francisco, a Jesuit--one of the first Spaniards to explore southern Arizona and establish missions in the 1600s...The Hispanic roots go way back here...Those who insist that people 'should go back where they come from' should think twice...while they repack their suitcases for Wisconsin and Ontario, eh?
L--LACK of rain...Well, yes, this is a desert...and it's full of ruins of pre-Colombian civilizations that developed towns, agriculture, canals, trading routes that stretched into South America...all of that during relatively 'wet' centuries...Prolonged drought in the 1400's led to ALL the settlements of the period being abandoned...Cautionary tale of climate change?

(ruins of Casa Grande, Hohokam settlement built around 1300, abandoned by 1450)
M--MESQUITE. It's more than a BBQ-flavor--it's one of the predominant trees in the area, and the shade under them can be twenty degrees cooler than when you stand in the sun, dudes...They don't grow tall, they grow wide.

N--NEVER drive without spare water in your car..for your engine...for you...literally life or death.

O--OASIS. On the NE edge of Tucson, we spent some time in Agua Caliente park--a conspicuous grove of palms around spring-fed ponds where egrets fished--it looked like something out of 'The Ten Commandments,' a stand-in for Egypt; you half expect baby Moses to float by through the reeds...

P--PALO VERDE trees. "Green pole" trees. Korea and Japan have their cherry blossoms; Tucson has its Palo Verde blossoms in spring--bright yellow against the cloudless sky.

Q--QUAIL. Funny little birds with a feather head-dress that run around in single-file, parents followed by chicks as they dart around cactus and lizards...and roadrunners...

R--RED, for the omnipresent ocotillo blossoms--slender thorny arms stretched upward, waving fiery bouquets twenty feet above your head...

S--STRIP-MALLS...The inescapable blah-chitecture of modern America...But hey, if you're gonna have one on the desert's edge, you may as well have an Irish pub, a French bakery, and a Lebanese restaurant in well as a pharmacy that sells liquor! Outpost of consumer-civilization? Blight on the wilderness? At least it's convenient and cosmopolitan...(But, all is not cookie-cutter in Tucson; there are some old historic adobe buildings:)

U--UNUSUALLY high number of senior-citizens on bikes. Perhaps only Holland has more white-haired cyclists than Tucson...VIVA bike-trails! Tucson is one of the bike-friendliest cities on the nation.

V--VAST. Wide open landscape--naked geology, almost over-bearing sky. Roads that continue straight; art-textbook examples of perspective and the vanishing point...Dust-devils in the distance... in the historically American mantra: 'Go west, young man, and grow up with the country." Would the modern version be "Go west, retiree, and grow old among the golf carts"?

X--XAVIER...Ha! You thought I couldn't come up with something for 'X' did you? Well, the Mission San Xavier del Bac, just south of Tucson, gives me something to mark this spot with...Founded in the late 1600's, the current mission dates from the 1790's--one of the last bastions of Spanish empire in the New World. It's an excellent example of Baroque architecture--built when Europe had already moved on through Rococo and on to Neo-classicism; the Tohono O'Odham tribe still uses it as its parish church and school. The white domes and spires stand out like an old-world mirage on the desert floor.

Y--YOUNG. The young were conspicuously absent from the above-mentioned French café where I went a couple of mornings for my café-au-lait; I was one of the only non-grey-haired newspaper-readers there! Retirees in socks-and-sandals (my wife will be glad to know I did NOT wear socks with my sandals there, hehe) made up the vast majority of the clientele...Logical, I guess; they have time to sit and talk...all the people who ordered 'to go' were the moms-with-kids and men-in-ties-on-their-way-to-the-office...
Z--ZONES. As in climate-zones. Sky-islands. In the Sonoran desert, several short-mountain chains with elevations up to 9000 feet stand out from the arid lowlands--as you drive up these mountains, the climate literally changes from cactus-dominated desert to pine-and-fir-forests! It's like driving from Mexico to Canada in an hour, as you climb from two to nine-thousand feet above sea-level. These 'sky-islands' are a summer refuge, since the summits are often 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the surrounding desert. The Santa Catalina mountains, on Tucson's northern edge are home to the country's southernmost sky resort on top of 9,157' Mt. Lemmon. We drove to the summit and took the chair-lift--still a bit of snow under the trees!
Out of letters.
Out of time. time?

1 comment:

  1. Love the A to Z. Very creative AND educational. We need to get together and get caught up again, now that we're all back in town.