Sunday, March 31, 2013

razing Arizona

I've been thinking a lot about Arizona since we've returned home. It's a place that digs deep into your psyche, because it is so very removed from normal life. A place of contrasts and extremes, a place that should not support human existence, but a place that many people love nonetheless. Full disclosure - I could never live in Arizona. I could never even spend a month there, like my sis and bro in law do, but the five days that we spent there was perfect. I could do five days anytime.

Arizona has the strangest flora. Cacti, of course, but far more varieties and species and weird shapes than I ever dreamed possible. It also has trees like the palo verde (which are bright green thanks to the chlorophyll in the bark), palm trees, and citrus trees growing right outside your door. 


Arizona is coffee on the deck in the morning sun, early sunsets, cold nights and dinner outside around the outdoor fireplace to ward off the chill of the desert evening. 
  Arizona is the ballsiness of building cities where none should exist, and the joy of spring training baseball on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. Arizona is taking pictures of fountains and cacti coming out of people's heads.  It's a weird place that keeps calling you back.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

standing on the sun

 My favourite restaurant meal of the Great Southwest Sojourn was eaten at a museum. The outdoor courtyard of the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art in Phoenix is a deliciously sun-dappled oasis, cool and restful. Set in the centre of striking Spanish-influenced architecture, it's an ideal location for a high quality restaurant that focuses on tasty and tastefully-presented food and impeccable service. I had tall frosty glasses of iced tea, served in the traditional unsweetened American style, and the best carnitas ever.

Since, left to my own devises I tend to bounce aimlessly from exhibit to exhibit, we opted to join in one of the 45 minute museum tours. Oh my lawd didn't we get Gloria for our tour guide.  An 80-something self-confessed bossy-pants (there was speculation amongst the crowd that she must be a former teacher), Gloria pounded the display glass with her bright red talons, turquoise rings flashing as she expounded points that wandered in and out of focus. I suspect they have to break out the Windex after Gloria finishes her tours. She was awesome.

 My favourite exhibition at the Heard was that of the Native American Code Talkers.  I knew of the role that the code talkers played during wartime, but didn't realize that instead of simply translating English messages to Indian languages, as I thought, they actually developed a code within the native languages, based on alphabet and on Indian words that matched the function of the war machinery.  A fascinating, but troubling chapter of American history.

If you exit through the gift shop with the aim of bringing something home, though, you are going to max out that credit card.  There were some pretty pricey offerings therein, including a katsina doll that could be ours for the very reasonable price of $28,000.00.

Two consecutive days of museuming turned out to be the perfect leadup to an afternoon of major league baseball.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

when I run dry

Taliesin West, just outside of Scottsdale, is where Frank Lloyd Wright moved - in his seventies - to take advantage of the warm dry Arizona winters and the cheap $12.50/acre land.  He always meant it to be a temporary camp.  The buildings were constructed to be open to the elements, with no glass in the windows and canvas on the roofs. 

Architecture students who studied with him there in the barren desert slept in tents until they completed their own shelters in the desert, and were pressed into service hauling rocks down from the hills for masonry and building the only road by hand.  They were also expected to participate in formal evenings.  Evidently FLW instructed those students applying to study with him at Taliesin West to bring a tuxedo or ball gown, and a sleeping bag.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a bit of an eccentric kook and, from what I understand, somewhat of a dick, but there is no denying that he was a genius.  And he built structures that resonate with my soul.  Photos of the inside of Taliesin West and its inner courtyard are not permitted, but after a 90 minute tour on the second day of our great Southwestern desert odyssey, its striking lines and dramatic desert presence will be forever burned into my psyche. 

Also forever burned into my memory will be the rounds of Cards Against Humanity that we played later that evening on the back deck of the condo. Nights are mighty cool in the Sonoran desert and the sun sets around 6pm, so with a fire crackling in the outdoor fireplace to keep us cozy in the dark, we guffawed and snorted and wiped tears of laughter from our eyes and snots of laughter from our noses. Who knows what the neighbours assumed the loony Canucks were up to?  

Yet to come, a pilgrimage to Phoenix for the beautiful Heard Museum, a sojourn to Salt River Fields for spring training baseball, desert hikes, pancakes and neighbourhood bars.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

sun baking

 There's some highly unusual flora and fauna living in the desert of the American southwest, and I am not just referring to family members who are vacationing down here. I have learned so many names for cacti since arriving. Evidently that which I have always called Bugs Bunny cactus is really known as Saguaro. There's also the Teddy Bear Cholla (which literally attacks you when you walk by,) and a bunch of other weird and wonderful ones whose names I have written down somewhere but can't think of offhand.  

I especially like the Palo Verde tree, which has a bright green trunk that produces chlorophyll.  It reminds me of the blue-painted trees we saw last time we were in Seattle, except of course that these trees are naturally tinted and Seattle could not be more opposite from Arizona.

We were lucky enough to spot a little lizard sunning itself outside the condo on the first day, as well as a hummingbird and a whole bunch of cute little quails (the Chicken McNuggets of the desert) and they run really fast with their little top-notted heads abobbing.  

I thought it was pretty cool that after all the heart-warming family friendly statues that we admired outside the library (where a young mini Jimi Hendrix was coaxing distorted tears out of his electric guitar, sending vibes across the mesas), I spotted a rather fierce statue of a mountain lion tearing the innards from some small desert creature. I was admiring the bravery of the juxtaposition until my family pointed out that it was actually a mother carrying her cub. D'Oh! 

Day one of the Great Southwest Desert Odyssey was fabulous.  To come - Taliesin West, the Heard Museum, major league spring training and family shenanigans.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

hoping for armadilloes

We are jaunting off to the American desert tomorrow.  A quick trip, to elbow in on my sister and brother-in-law's southern sojourn for a few days.

I'm looking forward to expanding my (currently non-existent) knowledge of cacti.  I have been known to kill every kind of supposedly indestructible house plant, including cacti, so am looking forward to meeting some that can hold their own against my non-green thumb.

I'm really hoping to immerse myself in the colours of the desert. I have a feeling that there will be some amazing photo ops amongst the taupes and the dusky sages.  Hopefully even an armadillo and a rattlesnake or two.

There will be cactus league baseball - spring training for the major league.  I can't wait to relax at the ball park with my peeps on a hot Sunday afternoon with a cold beer and some peanuts and Cracker Jacks. In fact, I don't care if I never get back.

And I am especially pumped about a planned excursion to Taliesin West, to observe how the topography of the American southwest influenced the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Throw in a little pool time, some morning hill hikes, and hanging out with my tribe sunning our toes, and I think we are in for a great trip.  Catch you on the flippety flip.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


This is turning into a very lucky place for me.

The confluence of the Bow and the Elbow rivers is where, over the past year and a half, I have seen shiny new roads pass under and guitar shovels break the ground. This is where I have watched the unveiling of public art and the elevation of the food truck to the level of essential service. It's where I have discovered hopefulness among the homeless and healthy rebirth along river pathways. It's a neighbourhood where I have rubbed elbows with some fascinating movers and more than a few shakers.

What a boffo surprise, then, to return home from the coast to find I had won a  rather remarkable prize, here on the very spot that has been the centre of my imagination for the past eighteen months.

Monday, March 11, 2013

when in doubt, brunch

We may have looked a little like the Adams Family whilst brunching, what with the giant squid monster decor and all, but it was later at dinner, at a neighbourhood Korean restaurant that we really felt uneasy. 

It was great to nosh with our west coast friends and poke through some consignment stores, post-noshery. Sadly, it was far too brief a visit.  The spousal unit and I had a hockey game to get to.  

The Junior A game, held at the old arena out in the PNE grounds, was jam-packed with elementary school kids, each determined to wallop their noisemaker louder and more vigourously than the next. It was a fun game, and we enjoyed the between period entertainment, including the remote control airplane that dropped Subway coupons into the crowd, causing audience members to lose their shit.

The Spousal Unit and I were on our own for dinner, and we decided on the restaurant second closest in proximity to our abode. The Korean restaurant, which is a mere 94 steps from the hotel (I counted), is one that we have passed countless times, but for some reason never thought to stop in. I blame the embarrassment of eateries within a few short blocks.  You can only eat so many times in one day, after all.   

Only half a block from the Greek restaurant that has nothing but a couple of water-logged blue tarps separating the roof from the sky, is said Korean restaurant that from outside looks like a typical tiny takeout place. Surprisingly, there are actually eight full-sized booths inside, each separated from the others by a blaze orange tarp, artfully pinned back and made private with low hanging tarp pieces. 

It's a little startling when you first walk in.  All those pristine tarps pulled tightly and just so filled the entire room with an eerie orange glow. It felt very much like one of Dexter's kill scenes. The food was good though. Better than you would expect from a serial killer's lair.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Psi Chi with bunnies

The feral bunnies of Jericho Beach are really cute and quite friendly, a far cry from their much larger, way bad-asser cousins back home, the jack rabbits of south Calgary. On the second day of our west coast sojourn, we spent a bit of time admiring the wild life and the puppy population who were enjoying the sun and light sweater weather along the shore.

Afterwards, we were on our best behaviour as the proud (but not embarrassingly so) parents of a brand new Psi Chi Honours Society inductee. I gotta say, the Psych Department serves quality snacks. If we are basing decisions on snackability alone (and there are far worse ways to make decisions), the OFKAR chose her major well.  

Fortunately, after some prerequisite walking and random cat petting,  there was still room left for a good sushi feed.  Actually there is always room for a good sushi feed.