Thursday, October 18, 2007


Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix. What happens in Central Arizona in the summer: it's too hot for cacti. Most species go to sleep, usually completely full of water, unable to respirate at night because the temps stay around 80-90F. Cacti (except for a few oddballs) photosynthesize via Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, a system where the stomata open only at night. If it's too hot, the stomata don't open at all. When temps finally cool off in October, you can almost hear all the cacti breathing. So fall is like a miniature spring, lots of growth, lots of flowers, lots of catching up to do.

This fall has also been like spring for me, as my itch to get out and see the environs had to be stifled when it was 115F outside. In Santa Fe, I used to dream about getting out into the wilds all winter. When spring would finally arrive, I'd pretty much bail on everything and just hang out in the mountains. I hear it's freezing in Santa Fe now, with snow in the Sangres already.

Anyway, survival involves picking one's spots. Tempe Arizona is definitely a challenge in this regard. Endless strip malls, cavernous big box retail outlets absolutely everywhere, fast "food" on every corner and in every direction, all the traffic of a city and very few of the arts and culture highlights. A brief walk past the brand new multimillion dollar Tempe Center for the Arts emphasized the bizarre vacuity of this quick-buck town. "Let's invest a gazillion dollars in a state of the art theater and arts center and then...let's program the blandest, most vapid crap we can imagine for the inaugural season!" (The underlying assumption in the programming seems to be that locals are morons, unused to anything with cultural dimensions beyond your average Boston Pops or regurgitated television sitcom). It's a beautiful facility, pretty much a headstone on the freshly dug grave of vitality and risk. Adding to the forlorn contrast: it's on the waterfront of the ridiculous Tempe Town Lake, a manmade puddle full of the Salt River, created by floating inflatable rubber dams that are already at risk of collapsing, after a scant 9 years. Surely, someone has a devilish sense of humor, some billionaire somewhere with greedy fingers in a pie of "waterfront condos" and "lakeside resorts." If these contrasts don't somehow point to the End of the World, I'll eat my laptop.

The general attitude toward water here, where there's about 8 inches of rain in a good year, is simple. Obviously, there's an infinite amount of it. Every now and then a brave hydrologist (who obviously hasn't been hired by the above-mentioned billionaire) comes along, ruining the water party with absurd predictions of eventual catastrophe. No one pays any attention, perhaps waving away this party pooper, maybe muttering "Liberals! Democrats! Always trying to ruin our fun."

A quick thought spurred after the fact: Why is it that art these days in America usually only gets public funding if it is already perfectly suited to the commercial marketplace?


Good Times said...

"Let's invest a gazillion dollars in a state of the art theater and arts center and then...let's program the blandest, most vapid crap we can imagine for the inaugural season!"

sounds like a plan!

rosS Hamlin said...

heyyyyywaitaminute! i was just reading a well-penned tempe-at-xmas promotional email, and now this? what's a fella to think?

we actually considered it, as we're down in sun city for xmas every year (please don't get me started), but we're only there for a couple days and that's a bit of a haul.

betcha didn't know jacko's into stockhausen...

shine on you crazy cactus...