Showing posts with label Arizona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arizona. Show all posts

Me and Webster

On our last night in Phoenix, Dan and I attended their local Ignite event held at the Phoenix Art Museum. It was great and if you are so inclined, you can read more about what I thought on the Ignite London blog.

While at the museum, I was delighted to find this picture of Noah Webster , father of US spelling conventions and the main topic of my Guardian post of a few weeks ago. I couldn't resist a photo with the miserable looking man. The Phoenix Art Museum was genuinely great - lots of fun stuff to look at including an incredible, immersive installation by Yayoi Kusama called Fireflies on the Water (the video this links to does not begin to do it justice).

It was a wonderful way to spend our last night in the desert.

Update: After a little bit of Googling, I just realised that Kusama is also responsible for an amazing installation I saw on the South Bank last spring and another I saw at The Mattress Factory a few years ago. 

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Thoughts on Six Weeks in Arizona

Tomorrow morning, we fly out of the fifth largest city in the US (Phoenix ) and head off to San Blas , Mexico via a circuitous route that takes us through Dallas, Texas . We've enjoyed being here, but we're both ready to move on from this lovely gated community on the edge of the desert.

I don't want to be too much of a hypocrite as we've enjoyed having a pool and spa in our backyard, a lovely big house and excessive air conditioning but this state has some whack policies. It doesn't want illegal immigrants, but it wants to be able to employ people for low wages - I can't help but wonder how many of the city's elite think their homes and pools were built so cheaply, or why they are able to pay the maid so little to clean the big house... I digress.

There are plenty of things I've loved about this place, and other things that have made me miss England just a little bit. Here's my list:

Better in Arizona
  • Sunshine - it's sunny pretty much every day here. My serotonin levels are through the roof!
  • In city hiking - you don't need to go outside of the city to enjoy beautiful hikes and see interesting wild life. 
  • Wild life - The only critters we saw in Islington were the occasional dog or cat. Arizona is filled with really unique wild life including snakes, Javelinas, lizards and more bunnies than I've ever seen in one place. The plants are also really beautiful and interesting and most of the desert has been in bloom since we arrived - beautiful. 
  • Sunsets - Because it is rarely cloudy, you can see them better here and there aren't a lot of tall buildings where we're staying to block the view. 
  • Dairy Queen - I've always been disappointed by the selection of ice cream in London. There are a few stands in central London but I've found these to be overpriced and generally poor quality; apart from those, it's ice cream sandwiches from news agents or nothing. The US has Dairy Queen, which is just as good as I remember it being. 
  • Service - Generally, service in restaurants and shops is better here. People are just friendlier and more helpful - they understand that being pleasant is part of their job. 
Better in London
  • Public transportation - I'm told that there is some kind of tram in central Phoenix and a few buses one can take. Out in Scottsdale, where we're staying, there is absolutely no public transportation to speak of - I have yet to even see a taxi out here. Just to go to the store for a treat is about a 20 minute drive. I really do miss the convenience of not needing a vehicle and London gets public transport so very, very right. 
  • Chocolate - The USA is the land of Hershey and, I'm sorry, but Hershey is not very good chocolate. Cadbury and other brands are also occasionally available, but you have to go looking for them. I miss Twirls and the range of other good news agent brand chocolate bars in London. 
  • City Centre - Phoenix is a city of sprawling suburbs and even in outlying communities, there isn't much evidence of a core. The result is a city that feels disconnected from itself and, apart from the political brouhaha, without much identity to tie its people together. Although London's center is very tourism-focused, there are so many lovely little neighbourhoods - great spots to meet, talk, play ... Phoenix doesn't have anything like this from what I can see (though I am going to Ignite Phoenix tonight, so maybe I'll be proven wrong).
  • Sustainable, cruelty-free food - Apart from the very expensive specialty markets, it is very hard to find free range anything in Phoenix. Even at Safeway, which is by no means cheap, we had to look very hard to finally find a brand of eggs from non-caged chickens. It's sad that you have to spend a fortune to be able to eat with some morality - eating cruelty free should not be a privilege for the wealthy. In the UK, free range options are more expensive than non-free range, but there are lots of options and the price isn't so high that it's prohibitive.
  • Diversity and cultural policy - Arizona's politics reminds me of what it might be like if the BNP actually held any power in the United Kingdom. It's scary. 
It's been a great experience and I'm so happy we've had the opportunity to spend these six weeks here. Thanks to those who made it possible (no idea if you read this, but you know who you are!).

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The Mission, Tucson and Tombstone

A few weeks ago Dan and I drove to Tombstone , stopping in Tucson on the way. When I was about 16 I went on a choir tour to Arizona - yes, I was a choir geek - and I remember visiting an old mission outside of Tucson. It was really beautiful and I was determined to go back.

Usually these kinds of memories are best left in the past and turn out to be not nearly as lovely as they are from a distance, so I was prepared to be disappointed. But it was beautiful. It's on the south end of Tuscon, so there's a dusty drive along the highway that loops through the town and just when you think you've gone too far, there it is, rising up out of the desert like a big white glowing castle.

According to Wikipedia the Mission San Xavier was founded in the late 1600s by the Jesuits:
Outside, San Xavier has a white, Moorish-inspired design ... No records of the architect, builders, craftsmen and artisans responsible for creating and decorating it are known. Most of the labor was provided by the local Indians, and many believe they provided most or all of the artisans as well. Visitors entering the massive, carved mesquite-wood doors of San Xavier are often struck by the coolness of the interior, and the dazzling colors of the paintings, carvings, frescoes and statues. The interior is richly decorated with ornaments showing a mixture of New Spain and artistic motifs.Native American ... At least three different artists painted the artwork inside the church. It is considered by many to be the finest example of Spanish mission architecture in the United States.
After exploring the Mission, we headed into Tucson for lunch. The center of the old bit of the city is very pretty with colourful old Spanish colonial houses with bright, cute gardens.

Our last stop was Tombstone, which is about an hour south of Tucson. It was kitschy and depressed - like a Disney exhibition long forgotten. The old Western streets were interesting enough, except that there was nothing authentic about them, and the few stragglers in the town that weren't tourists like us looked like they'd taken a wrong turn somewhere and couldn't ever make their way out again.

Here are some photos. there are more on my Flickr

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Smells from Home

I recently came across these photos on my Auntie Dianne's Facebook page. I'm guessing I was about seven or eight years old. Both were taken at my grandparent's cabin where we spent the majority of our summers when I was growing up. The lovely little boy in the photo above is my cousin Justin. He was one of my best friends when I was a kid. I was a horrible brat to him most of the time, but he always remained sweet and loyal. Empathetic to a fault; whenever I would cry, Justin would cry, while telling me not to be sad. Even when I didn't deserve it.

The picture above is me with my Uncle Glen. I'm not sure if he still does, but he used to have the craziest mustache. It was long on both sides and he curled it around so that he had these two loopy twirls on either side of his mouth.

It was about 110 degrees in Scottsdale today so Dan and I saved our walk for dusk - right around 7:30 pm. We walked along the radiantly hot asphalt (you can't walk in the gravel because of the rattlesnakes) under the early darkness and as we neared the community center out of nowhere, we could both smell lovely damp grass that seemed to cool the surrounding air. In the desert there is almost no humidity and your senses become attuned to smelling dampness in a hungry, all-encompassing way; just the slightest smell of water outside sends tingles of pleasure up and down my spine. I think the little bit of greenery here must explode with happiness at a drink and somehow we can smell that too because the smell is stronger and fresher than I've ever noticed it being anywhere else.

About ten minutes further into our walk, we passed a yard where they must have had a small fire going, an insane thought given the temperature probably won't dip below 90 tonight and it hasn't rained in well over a month. But that wonderful burning wood smell, that sticks to the inside of your nose and always seems nicer in the dark had me breathing in deeply and thinking of camp fires at Regina Beach.

Scents from home are so dear on a dark, hot night in such a strange place.

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Meet Wabi-Sabi

Awhile back, when we were still in London, Dan and I took a break from work and wandered around Soho. We ended up in an artist supply shop where I fought off my instinct to buy yet another blank notebook (seriously, how many do I need?) and instead picked up this little guy.

He's from the same family as the wooden hand and physique models used in drawing classes in lieu of actual naked people. We kept him at the office for awhile and I came up with the name Wabi-Sabi , likely inspired by some design book Dan was reading about Japanese design. As he didn't really mesh with the minimal office decor, Wabi-Sabi eventually made his way home to our London flat, where he lived very comfortably on a shelf in the living room.

When I was packing for this trip, I threw out, sold or gave away a lot of things I really like so I have no idea why this ridiculous wooden cat made the cut. I enjoy the idea of photographing him at all the different places we'll be visiting and I kind of like his scowly face. I miss having pets and although Wabi-Sabi is a poor substitution, I kind of like having him around our mascot.

Although when I named him I had no idea we would be doing this year of travel, his name seems appropriate - a good omen to follow us around the world. From Wikipedia:
Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is 'imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.' It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence, specifically impermanence ... Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the suggestion of natural processes. 
Although our first lay-over in Arizona has been nothing if not comfortable, the lack of stuff and ownership over my environment is a struggle that I only imagine will become more pronounced as our surroundings become less familiar and less luxurious. My natural inclination is to try to control my environment, so this is occasionally a tricky endeavour for me. Hopefully Wabi-Sabi (the cat) will serve as a reminder for me to really look at these new places and people and appreciate their imperfect, impermanent beauty, take a deep grateful breath, and then move on.

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Zinnias Antiques and Retro Store in Phoenix, AZ

A few weeks ago, on a particularly sweltering day, Dan and I went antiquing. We didn't intend on buying anything, but were looking for some cool, retro shots to use on Contentini (where you can also see more shots of some of the things we saw). We hit three places - Zinnias, old town Glendale and a gigantic antique warehouse on the edge of the number 15 highway.

Of the three, Zinnias was my stand out favourite. It is located in a large warehouse space, but unlike the place off of highway 15, it wasn't overwhelmingly big. The staff were really friendly, which is notable considering we wandered around for close to a half an hour and took photos of everything. Before we left I bought two old photographs for about $1 and even then they were nice and invited us back. Dan considered buying a giant album of postcards from the 60s but thought better of it given that in a few weeks we are moving on and it would add considerable heft to his luggage. It was amazing though - dozens and dozens of strange postcards someone collected over years. And some of them were even filled out.

Antique shops in America are very different to those in the UK. Over here, the focus is on things from the last hundred years, with a particular focus on kitsch and chotchke. Vintage telephones, cameras, toys, jewelery, postcards, figurines - mostly from a period of time that still seems tangible. I may not have lived in the 40s, 50s or 60s but their influence is still so present that they feel familiar to me; more familiar than relics from the 1700s, as lovely as they may be.

If you aren't boycotting Phoenix and you're looking for a lovely way to pass some time, I highly recommend Zinnias, located at 724 W Indian School Road.

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Thing I Pulled From the Pool - Photography Project

Dan and I are currently in Scottsdale, Arizona (on the edge of Phoenix). It's seriously hot every single day here - I think it's currently sitting around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and it's nearly 6 pm. I recently heard that they only get 7 inches of rain here annually, which isn't much compared to London where there is often as much as 30 inches.

To keep cool, I've been spending quite a bit of time in the swimming pool (I know, it's a hard life). To try to make this lazy time useful, I've started to take pictures of some of the creatures I pull out of there. Sometimes there isn't much of interest, so I'm not planning to update this regularly - only when I find something strange or gross.

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Lots of Cacti - A Digital Short Film

Lots of Cacti from Amy Thibodeau on Vimeo.

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The Dangers of the Desert, the Grand Canyon and Other Adventures

To see more photos from the Grand Canyon, visit my Flickr set. Sorry some of the text above is a bit fuzzy - not sure how that happened and don't have time to fix it.


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Hellloooo Phoenix!

We arrived last night after a fairly uneventful 14+ hours of travel. We're staying in an absolutely stunning house in a suburb called Scottsdale, which is right on the edge of the city - we're pretty much surrounded by desert.

Last full English breakfast in Giraffe in Heathrow Terminal 5.

Heathrow Teminal 5, waiting for our departure to LA.

From the flight between LA and Phoenix - first glimpse of the desert.

Baby owl, nesting in a cactus, Phoenix.

The only bad part so far - I am clumsy. And I tripped on a path and skinned my knee on the gravel. It looks worse than it is!

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