Thursday, 30 September 2010

Desert Diary

The few days we have spent in Tempe Arizona mean that I have an acute understanding of what a rasher of bacon feels like under the grill. There ought to be a more superlative adjective to adequately describe Arizonian heat other than "hot". I suppose if you are still in that slightly groggy first day in a place and will insist on heading out to stroll around looking for a cafe in the midday sun you have but yourself to blame for not lasting more than five minutes. Sauna. Oven. Furnace.

We left our hotel and headed on towards the Arizona State University campus just across the street. A sprawling mini city of desert coloured concrete buildings home to almost 60,000 students no less. Palm trees dot the main avenue. Cactus line the walkways between the various departments zig zagged with students, golf buggies, skateboarders and enough bikes to make you feel like you are on a busy street in Shanghai. Boy has now become accustomed to being on of them, though, thankfully, his mother has finally worked out that if they leave early in the morning there is less chance for collisions with tardy students dashing for their lectures. Most of which do so upon the retro style Schwinn bikes, in array of pretty pastels, high handle barred glamour bikes. A world away form the bikes fellow students had when I was back at college. Aside from survivable heat around 8 in the morning it also provides the perfect opportunity to breathe in the perfect lull before a place wakes up.

As I do my comical speed walk to barely keep up with boy I take in the courtyards that branch off of the main strip some with trickling fountains at their centre others strewn with heavy concrete (desert coloured) tables under the shade of trees. Students cramming in information. Similarly when we take our ride towards early evening, whilst dad naps before his show I take a moment in between sprints, to bask in the laid back rhythms of a closing day. Vast skies overhead, desert sunsets humming with a pink purple glow beyond the arched walkways in between buildings, palm tree silhouettes gently swaying in the breeze.

Last night we went to Phonecia for dinner. Without time travel. On one of our boy-bike mum-sprint jaunts we came across a crossroads just after the main department buildings with a different place of worship on each side. A couple of churches, a performing arts centre and a mosque. Out of the four, the latter least ubiquitous, especially with the craggy (desert coloured) hill jutting out beyond it. The temple's white walls, blue tiles and gold detailing gleaming in the morning sun. From the courtyard beyond the walls sounds of children playing. Later we see them returning to the classrooms on the upper level via thick white stone steps. I enjoy imagining I am in North Africa or Arabia for a moment. When I notice the grocery store next door I escort biker boy in and touch every exotic box I can find, feeling a pang of nostalgia for the turkish and arab shops of home. I buy a pack of spices because the name on the label reads something unfamiliar. We take a baklava home for the dad. Next night I take the boys back to feast on their homemade houmous and falafel. We order an Ultimate Combo from the fast talking waitress - a one woman show in the making - and take the next hour to chomp through a feast of freshly grilled, perfectly seasoned delights. If it hadn't been so hot (even at 5 in the evening!) I would have sat outside on the white stone benches inlaid with those same blue tiles.

In stark contrast to my day dreaming of Arabian lands the day before had seen us decked out in our best for a bit of Puttin on the Ritz at The Ritz. As part of the publicity for the show, Jeffery the effusive tea maitre d' (yes there is such a job) at The Ritz throws parties in which the visiting casts come and chat with locals who partake in tea and conversation. And scones. With proper cream. Very kindly Sam and I were invited too. Boy, somewhat under the impression that it was a show we were going to watch, refused to leave his regency sofa seat until the end. In practice it meant we were, in all intents and purposes, watching our new family move between tables to mingle with the guests. After a scone break (all breaks should come with scones like these) they broke into a snippet from the show accompanied y the resident pianist who throughout tea was playing a jazz background version of all the characters main songs. We drank green tea on account of Frankenstein and all. On leaving we were presented with a bear who is dressed in the image of maitre d', also named Jeffrey. Sam has christened him his baby girl and we have made a theatre out of the cardboard box he came in. Whilst the paints were out Sam attacked the hamper lid with Pollock gusto. On the balcony. Wearing nothing but his y-fronts like any new wave painter worth his salt.

Tonight we explored the Urban Garden market, next door to my favourite mosque. It is a corner plot of land given over to the nurturing of veggies. Lump in our throats looking at the raised boxes. Our babies at home are doing great, my folks sent us a picture of the grape and apple harvest and Cory almost cried. He actually did cry this afternoon when playing Sam an excerpt of The Sound of Music. It was his first film he remembers watching with his mama. There he was now sharing it with his boy. I'll tease him later.

Down at the market mum feasted on everything she could get her mitts on, from fresh, award winning salsa (now in my fridge) to raw honey from cat's claw plants. I now own a propolis cream and have eaten half a packet of raw flax seed crackers. I also bought homemade incense from an Arizonian hippy who told me that I ought to burn the pine one when in need of mental clarity and money. When I am going to the casino he added. Or, if sharing a dorm place in a drawer to not overpower fellow students. I decided, whether or not this was his intention, that I would take the last comment as a compliment. Though he may have thought me a mature student but hey.

In an hour or so dad will be back from the theatre across the street. An impressive building by the late Frank Lloyd Wright, one of his last. Originally designed for Baghdad as their opera house, but a regime change meant whoever had commissioned the job was fired and so the plans were kept by Mr. Wright. Tempe decided to snap it up and are now proud owners of a something that looks, from the outside, like the cross between a wedding cake and the Colliseum. Desert coloured. Of course. I look froward to exploring inside on the weekend.

Although the magical lands of Sedona are likely to remain elusive to us on account of time constraints, we do look forward to a day with our friend's mum tomorrow. Her daughter took our headshots last week. It is always wonderful to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. Then there's the Meet the Crew Party, poolside in an hour or so. Cory and I had planned to party in shifts with one of the cast offering to sit in with the boy later. I have just had news however that our friend in the crew has a room right next door to the pool and Sam might just sleep there whilst we party within earshot. Plan Stan. Infinitely better than our original one of piling cushions into the hamper and laying him on top to then wheel it down. Not even we will go to those lengths just for the photo and the story. Maybe.

In truth I have been feeling the twinge of homesickness rear its head again over the past few days. Our new family is very lovely, personable, friendly - we had a great travel day with ma and boy getting to know everybody. I suspect the feeling is compounded by the fact that I received my first rejection from a literary agent and threw myself into a moment of self-bashing for what I perceived to be self-aggroindesment on my part. I worried that I had fallen into that ugly trap of being someone who enjoys writing a blog for pleasure and then, like thousands of other would-be writers, decides to pursue a future in books. My tail is a little in between my legs. Lasted just up until Sam launched into one of his complex imaginary journeys in which he was skateboarding down Orlando beach (?) and would I please call him on the phone as he is heading home now thank you. Always good to know what job is really pressing. Pat on the backs or lack of them pail into insignificance when there's a three year old to nurture.

Going to dive into that salsa, burn me some sandalwood and lather myself in lavender propolis for the occasion. Glad rags. Spot of blusher. Get to know our new friends. That's what the homesick doctor ordered. And she doesn't even charge a $350 fee.

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