There’s only one reason Europeans travel so far to the micro state of Monaco. No, not for culture: for the casino! Recently I flew hundreds of miles, past three states, due south to Arizona for the “casino thing.” From Sky Harbor I went by road to the Arizona Casino. The road infrastructure alone was a sight worth telling of; I also looked at colors. These are the three things to tell you about my trip: colors, road and casino. And then I’ll try to perceive the context of it all.
Arizona is sunny like Italy, with the same quaint red tiled roofs everywhere, but often duller, even grey. In “the grand canyon state” shoveled dirt is brown not prairie black. Pottery is red. Homes and structures are of dull earthy colors: ochre, rust, brown, grey-white (never a Greek bright white) or grey. A couple times I saw red buildings, but both were dull in hue, not bright like a barn. Nothing colored like a lime fruit, be it green or yellow. And no blue; never a bright hue. Phoenix, of course, is not surrounded by emerald ocean and brilliant jungle, but by dusty desert. Truly sunny, yes, but without intense tropical colors. No bright parrots. All the birds of the desert have dull feathers.
Do you like public art? In Calgary, the city has mandated that that all city infrastructure projects allot a tiny percentage of the budget towards public art, to be built very close by. Hence the giant hula hoop as you approach YYC. And hence the crude sketchings in the concrete under the overpasses: For me, the only memorable road art in Calgary is the realistic fish glimpsed along the Glenmore Trail walls as you are rushing by.
Around Phoenix, the broad highways are amazing. All the overpasses and road walls are a brownish red. They surely mix their cement powder with red dye. The art changes every mile. For the road walls, I invite you to imagine an endless variety of “crafty” decorations, such as cross hatching, swirls and vertical lines. Changing every mile. Now imagine embankment zigzags of ribbons of little rocks, bisecting land of different textures. Amazing embankments! All sorts of simple brick lines, as well as carefully landscaped repetitions of shrubs, then cacti, then bushes. All on reddish ground. No grass. Ever changing. Each red overpass, facing the oncoming traffic, has a different artistic picture on it—often a modern-art type animal, never mere realism. How affluent it all seems. You would think Arizona must be erupting in gold, or gushing in oil—more oil Alberta ever sees.
If you watch too much TV, you may be expecting elegant ladies in pearls and men in tuxedos. Nope: Forget James Bond. Although back in the 1950’s we all dressed up for special things like air travel and going to the cinema, no one does now. The slogan near the casino door, under multi-media screens, goes something like “the local folks casino.” And yes, the folks are all people you would see in everyday Arizona life, maybe not like “the people seen at Walmart,” but truly like folks at the local mall.
No windows in the dimness. A constant sound, allegedly musical, tries to keep you excited: How silly, but at least it’s not like the blinging bells of an old video arcade. The sit-down slot machines have the same flashing vibrant colors of a pinball machine, while new digital technology allows flowing pictures. For example, The Walking Dead slot machine had chained zombies moving through a forest, and sometimes a close up of a zombie approaching. My own slot had dancing hot peppers. Wearing sombreros. Not much action at the gambling tables—the poor tables seemed lonely.
Again, as with the roads, there’s art: lots of indigenous art was inset behind glass along the walls near the restaurants. I saw a dress, with beads, of Navaho turquoise, that was off the shoulder. In other words, the aboriginal artists felt safe doing things a little modern, even as they surely felt pressured to be authentically traditional. Same with the bracelets, being inscribed traditionally, yet still a wee bit modern and free.
Tourism broadens the mind…
As for art and culture, I am still accustomed to my favorite decade, whence I was born: the 1950’s. I wonder: Is it a betrayal of our ’50’s uptight conformist culture for us to build and appreciate Arizona’s “artsy fartsy” highways? Are artists with aboriginal names, while making modern art, betraying folks of earlier time-space locations? If so, then do we call today’s artists “they” or “us?”
I wonder, because recently some people would make “culture” into a sacred cow, referring not to different “nations” but to different “cultures,” —that being their synonym for nation. Call me middle aged, but I grimace. Or laugh. I figure those folks don’t realize their fetish for rigidly separate and unique “cultures” is not “a new improved idea,” and certainly not “a fixed point,” but merely part of a pendulum swing, as new ideas, just like new styles of “off the shoulder” clothing, will have their day in the sun. (Like those sweatshirts after watching Flashdance) But some folks seem unaware, bowing down to their raised up “culture” as if it were a golden calf.
I like how my clothes closet figuratively has a Nehru Indian shirt next to British sailor bellbottoms, next to a Yankee preppie vest that looks like some sort of old life preserver. Hey, the styles might come back again… Meanwhile I amuse myself by extending the consequences of people’s fetish idea, imagining each one of “these American states” as having it’s own culture, where people who would cross state lines must step through watertight doors like on a submarine.
I would recommend you go to Arizona even if you don’t gamble. Why? Easy: When I left there today it was a dry 32 degrees; (90 Fahrenheit) when I touched down in Calgary the tarmac was sopping black and there were snow flurries blowing across the plane windows. A whole planeload of hardy Canadians all groaned.
South East Calgary
Trying to warm up
Footnote on road speed
So there I was, driving a rental van in the dark, along a winding well-traveled rural desert road, with only one narrow lane each way, only a dotted line to keep us from oncoming traffic. I told my passengers, “The speed limit is 65 miles per hour, but I’m only going 60. It’s dark.”
With the windows rolled up we couldn’t smell the warm callitas; as we sped along we could contemplate the pompetis of love.
Have you ever driven the Queen Elizabeth II highway up to Edmonton? It has two lanes going north, with a hundred yards of grass separating you from oncoming lanes, along straight flat prairie. The Canadian engineers put the speed limit at 110 kilometers per hour. This snakey desert road was nearly that fast!
(And it was faster than the divided Stony Trail highway of 100 kph)