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?