Friday, June 29, 2012

A Summer Storm

In the midst of a stream of beastly hot summer days I watched this morning as the radar showed a large area of red, yellow and green moving in our direction. Outside it grew increasingly dark, the clouds arranging themselves in rolling layers. The rain fell, hard, accompanied by a background chorus of lightening and thunder.

As the rain moved on it left in it's wake a sensation of freshness. The air, thick and oppresive for the last few days, feels soft. A sweeet scent that can almost be felt seems to float on it. The soil, grass, plants and trees, baked in the recent heat appear refreshed by the cool, damp air.

I know the heat will return. However, for now, I will relish and enjoy these moments when the air is cleansed, winds are calm and our portion of the earth feels renewed. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Welcome to Las Vegas

That first night we wandered the strip. At one point, getting lost inside Cesar's Palace, where thickly muscled men wearing gladiator attire wander about in an attempt to add atmosphere. We spend 45 minutes trying to find our way out. The Vegas strip  is gaudy and obscene and completely unapologetic about it.

The next morning we breakfasted early and did a quick shopping trip before the heat of the day would make that activity, indeed any activity, uncomfortable. Oddly, we found a store in the middle of the desert that specialized in Alpaca Peruvian knits. Even though it was July, I bought Lama motif gloves. I live in Chicago, we have notoriously nasty winters and they were on sale.

Returning to the hotel I headed down to the pool. Generally when I'm lying in the sun I read. It was the first time in my life I experienced heat too intense to allow me to concentrate on the written word. I also learned, quite quickly, to get a lounge chair as close to the pool as possible, as concrete baking in the sun and bare feet do not a good combination make.

I had noticed the night before the above average muscular development of an above average number of men on the street and in the casinos, aside from the aforementioned gladiators. As I was lying by the pool, surrounded by men with monstrous pecs and biceps sporting abs you could bounce a quarter off of, one particularly well tanned specimen appeared and stripped down to a competitive bodybuilders posing suit. It then dawned on me. I had seen a poster at my gym in Chicago for a major bodybuilding competition being held in Las Vegas that weekend. Not only were the competitors and guest posers running amok through the city, but all their gym rat weightlifting friends were there as well. As if LasVegas is not surreal enough on any given day, you now had scores of massive bodybuilders thrown into the mix, not that I'm complaining.

That evening we went to what was, at least a the time, the only gay strip club in Vegas. Considering the mock glamour of the casinos the bar was rather seedy. Considering the large amount of muscle on display in town that weekend the strippers were, by comparison, nothing to write home about either.

The next day was spent by the Luxor pool killing time until our midafternoon flight home, once again surrounded by the visiting hordes of musclemen. One bounces his pec's to impress his girlfriend, another hikes up a leg of his shorts to flex his quads. Just another day in Vegas. 

Meteor Crater and Route 66

The next stage of our sojourn was to visit Meteor Crater and then attempt to locate a portion, or portions, of Route 66. We had breakfast at a diner, across from the Flagstaff train station, along the section of the famous roadway that passes through the town. The decor of the midcentury diner seemed frozen in time, much like our motel of the previous night. The town of Flagstaff possesses a certain charm with it's vintage western architecture and laid back vibe. We took a short walk through it's historic section before setting off.

Meteor Crater is located along a 4 lane highway that was once a 2 lane stretch of Route 66. Along the way are the ruins of a roadside zoo called "The Lion's Den" and a restaurant and gift shop called "Two Arrows". It looked as if it was abandoned but two twenty foot arrows sticking out of the ground still announced it's presence. After the wealth of natural wonders we had experienced over the past few days Meteor Crater was something of a let down. It is a large hole in the ground, with, of course a gift shop standing next to it's entrance. We came to call it "Big Ass Hole in the Ground". The idea of what happened there is more impressive than the site itself. After waiting out a rain shower we pressed on in our search of more of the remnants of the iconic Route 66.

That day we experienced the weather phenomenon of desert pop up rain showers. In the Midwest storms move in waves over the earth. Storms are big and contiguous, soaking large areas at one time. In the desert that day a small cloud would appear and a small area would get a quick dousing of rain. Then the cloud would disappear. As we drove through the desert in bright sun we would watch as a patch of earth a mile away would get drenched. It reminded me of San Francisco's microclimes, where I could stand dry on one side of a street watching it rain on the other side.

Like the rain showers the signs for Route 66 would also pop up and then disappear. We soon came to realize that Route 66 had become the frontage road for the small towns in the area. More modern road builders decided a straight line was a more efficient way to get from one point to the next, as opposed to the more meandering feel of Route 66. Straight lines are more efficient, however less interesting. Straight lines in our modern roadway system have now made it possible to drive from coast to coast with out really seeing anything. Instead of a road going over or around an obstacle, such as a hill or mountain, we simply blow a hole in it and build through it's center to make sure we get where we are going on time.

Ironically, when we did turn off the interstate onto Route 66 the first thing we encountered was a long, yardstick straight stretch of road. With no cars visible for miles in either direction my friend decided to "open up" the car to see how fast it would go. When we got to 100 mph I suggested that the experiment was over. He agreed and we returned to a more moderate speed.

A stretch of the original route has been restored as a tourist attraction. It begins in Seligman AZ. There is a short section of the main street restored to it's look of the 1950's, complete with vintage cars parked along the sides of the road. Several stores sell all things Route 66. Sweatshirts, tee shirts, magnets, virtually anything that can be printed or decaled. The road follows the terrain. It rises up then descends, twists and turns through the desert landscape.

As we drove we discussed our next move. We had that night and the next before our flight home out of Las Vegas. After several options were passed back and forth we settled on spending the last portion of the vacation back in Vegas. We had been in the car quite a bit and decompressing by a pool sounded inviting. We stopped at a Denny's in Kingston AZ. My friend, with great foresight, had brought with him a Las Vegas guidebook. Taking it into the restaurant we ordered lunch then started making calls to Vegas hotels. We found affordable accommodations at the Luxor, made the reservation and headed off to the adult playground in the desert.

Along the way we crossed over the Hoover Dam. I have a problem with dams because of their negative effect on the enviorment, but from a purely aesthetic and architectural standpoint, this dam is an Art Deco masterwork. It was late afternoon as we passed the famed "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign and checked into our room inside a giant pyramid made of black glass with a real bright light on top.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grand Canyon's South Rim, The Painted Desert, A Mormon Parade

We woke up and went to breakfast. Coming out of the restaurant we found our way out of town blocked by a Mormon parade. People on horseback, two women in pioneer garb, long dresses and bonnets, perched on a flat bed pulled by a pickup truck, standing on either side of a butter churn. It was a mercifully short affair. Oddly, there did not seem to be any spectators. We killed time in a lapidary store until it passed. Stopping briefly by the motel as we left we inquired "Why the Parade?" The girl at the desk replied "Because it's July 24th!". July 24th, of course, how stupid of us?!?! Later research revealed that July 24th is "Pioneer Day", commemorating the Mormons arriving at the Great Salt Lake. It is a state holiday in Utah. In Chicago we celebrate Pulaski Day. Pulaski was a Polish officer during the Revolutionary War. I had never heard of him prior to moving to Chicago. I guess my point is who are we to question? Local heritage is different things to different people in different places.

We set off. We drove along the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The road follows a red cliff miles long which has shed stones over the eons that have tumbled down and now resemble staircases ascending to the cliffs summit. Again, as we traveled up each rise in the road we waited, breathless, for the visual feast that would await us on the other side. We drove through The Painted Desert with it's kaleidoscope of colors. Half of a dune would be the beige shade of ordinary beach sand, the other half as purple as an eggplant. At one point we came across a quarry which, where the ground had been stripped away, revealed stripes of colors, different layers of the earth built up over time. We stopped at an outdoor trading post. After we finished shopping we had the proprietor take a photo of us leaning against either side of the hood of the hot, sexy, at this point somewhat dusty camaro.

Our goal that day was the south rim of the Grand Canyon, having visited the north rim the previous day. We were taken by surprise by a smaller canyon which leads into the larger, more famed one. There is a large tourist trap market there. Aisles of stalls vending all manner of southwestern and Native American wares. We stopped to view this smaller canyon, our car top down, our shirts off. Along side us another convertible pulled up. Out of the car emerged a man, his wife and two teen daughters. He gazed at us with a look that was an equal mixture of envy and hatred. He then looked, in a forlorn manner at his shirt and then his car with it's top up. We drove off, our car top still down, our chests still bare,  feeling somewhat sorry for him.

The south rim of the Grand Canyon defines the term National Treasure. At a lower elevation that the north rim the wind sculpted rock formations and the bands of color in it's sides are more evident. We arrived late in the afternoon affording us the opportunity to watch the shadows slowly morph along the canyon's walls and in it's depth as the sun lowered in the summer sky. We made a brief visit to the historic Grand Canyon Village before heading to Flagstaff where we intended to spent that night.

It had become dark. A small sign appeared along the roadside reading "Flagstaff City Limits". We saw a few house lights then found ourselves back again in darkness. Assuming we were back on the open road due to the lack of buildings or street signs we returned to full speed. Suddenly we heard a siren and saw the dreaded spinning light on the car behind us. We pulled to the side of the road. A handsome, beefy, blond highway patrolman approached. He asked my friend to get out of the car. We asked him what we had done. He told us we had been going 65 in a 35 mph zone. He also said we had been swerving. To make matters worse, the pollen that day and been particularly bad and my friend's eyes were seriously bloodshot. The hot patrolman asked us if we had an explanation for our actions. My friend relayed to him how we had seen the lights, then didn't see lights and thought we were back on the highway. The swerving was us trying to see if we could pass the car ahead of us then returning to our lane after seeing oncoming cars. He then turned his flashlight on my friend and asked us if we had been drinking. We said no and explained the bloodshot eyes.

As an aside, many years before I knew him, my former roommate in San Francisco once spent 30 days in an Arizona jail after a routine traffic stop went horribly wrong. I began to sweat. Apparently he considered our story plausible and let us go after giving us directions to a nearby area where we could find a motel to spend the night. Gazing at his blond hotness I considered asking him if he wanted to frisk us for any reason but thought better of it. God only knows what would have happened if we had chosen that red convertible at the beginning of the trip.

That night we stayed at the "Arizonian", a one story affair built during the middle of the 20th century and then never touched. Fake shutters on either side of each window had the silhouette of a pine tree cut out of the center of them. It was the second time during the trip we had to hit the air conditioner with a shoe to get it started. The room did have free HBO however.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Grand Canyon's North Rim and The Four Seasons

Upon leaving Zion we drove through a tunnel dug through the sandstone cliff. Although only a mile long, once inside it feels much longer. Emerging on the other side we are met with a sight that is almost lunar. Here the elements have ground the rock down to smooth rolling mounds. Some have had swirling patterns etched into them by the wind, sand and time.

We are headed to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We have done some research and discovered that the nearest place to it where we might be able to get a room for the night is in Knapp, Utah. It is 90 miles from the canyon, about midway between it and Zion. We stop there first and secure a room at the Four Seasons motel. This has led to a long running joke regarding how we once stayed at the Knapp Four Seasons.

The terrain had once again turned to desert. It could not, however, have been more different than the flat, featureless expanse that surrounds Las Vegas. For the next several days we would hold our breath at each rise in the road in anticipation of the vistas the would reveal themselves on the other side. Buttes, mesas, cliffs and sand in the most amazing array of colors would fill the horizon. We drove through this wondrous landscape to the Grand Canyon's north rim. Along the way a line of vermilion cliffs could be seen in the distance.

Arriving at the Grand Canyon we were surprised to see a large stand of evergreens covering a portion of the canyon's rim. It was a few miles away from where we were. A column of smoke rose from it. We thought it was a controlled burn. Later we were to find out that it was a raging wildfire. The day after our visit everything from Jacob's Lake, the tiny town at the junction of the main highway and the smaller road which leads to the north rim itself , was closed. Had we not gone that day we would not have been able to experience the canyon from this side.

The north rim is the "high" side of the canyon at 8800 feet. The view is down and across the canyon. It is a spectacular sight, though not as colorful or expansive as the more famous south rim view which we would be visiting the next day. Again the elements have carved the rock into shapes that look like they sprung from the mind of Salvador Dali. Due to the high elevation the air is fresh and cool, even during midsummer. There is a small natural outcropping along the rim. Clinging to the rail installed there we inched our way out onto it to get this slightly different perspective.

My friend took a short trail down a bit further into the canyon. I attempted to follow but, between the slant of the trail and outcroppings of the canyon I was overcome by vertigo by the myriad of angles. I bided my time along the rim. A mother was taking a photo of her daughter against the backdrop of the canyon. I offered to photograph both of them together, happy knowing that photo would become a cherished memory of their trip.

My friend returned from his sojourn. We got a quick snack and started to return to the car. Night was coming on. As we walked through the parking lot scores of bats emerged from their daytime hiding places and flew overhead feeding on the insects that are brought on by nightfall.

Earlier, when we were driving to the canyon, my friend noted the desolation of the, area and lack of ambient light, which would afford us extraordinary stargazing conditions. The night was crystal clear resulting in a thick blanket of lights in the sky. The stars were so numerous it was impossible to pick out even the major constellations. We pulled to the side of the road, laid our heads back on the headrests and gazed at the heavens in awe. It was at this point that a thought occurred to me. "We're sitting in a warm car with the top down in the middle of the desert. A situation which is probably attracting venomous snakes and lizards from yards in every direction." We quickly started the car and continued on our way. 

The town of Knapp appeared as a thin line of lights sparkling in the distance. We drove towards them and made our way back to the motel and our room for a nights rest after another amazing day.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Zion National Park - An American Treasure

Zion National Park is in a canyon carved over thousands of years by the river that runs through it. Although a small stream during the summer months, during the winter snow runoff it's power is evident by the height of the solid rock walls that surround you. As the rock is exposed by the force of the water the elements go to work on it carving it into fantastic shapes. The layers of earth built up over almost incomprehensible ages are also exposed creating stripes of bright, often otherworldly color. Extraordinary grandeur and beauty greet you from every angle.

After depositing our bags in the cabin we drove back to an area we had seen when we entered. There was a small area where we could park the car and access to the river down a short scrub brush covered slope. The cool shallow water rippled over a rocky river bed. We sat on stones feeling the water wash over us enjoying the stunning views that surrounded us. On one wall an arch had begun to form. Wind had driven sand into the red sandstone chipping pieces of it away creating another amazing formation to add to the virtually countless others in this area of the country. The eons spent on the carving of these natural wonders gives one a feeling of almost endless time. Quiet and serene, we relaxed in the midst of this remarkable enviorment, enjoying the gentle and delicate sounds of the stream which had a hand in creating the landscape around us. Feeling calm and peaceful we returned to the car and drove back to the cabin.

We had reservations for dinner at the restaurant in the park's inn. Showering the river's silt from our bodies and rinsing out our swimsuits, leaving them hanging to dry, we fixed cocktails and pulled two chairs onto the porch. A family of wild turkeys, a tom and hen, with several waddling chicks in tow, wandered by. They came up the side of the cabin, walked in a circle between our cabin and the one across from ours, then wandered off the way they came, heads down feeding on the bugs in the grass. We returned the chairs to the cabin and took the short walk over to the inn for dinner. A circle of lawn sits in front of the inn. On the edge of the lawn stood two juvenile deer. Through the brush across the road appeared the doe and stag, the stag sporting a magnificent crown of antlers. Suddenly the juveniles faced each other, reared up on their hind legs and briefly sparred with each other, rehearsing for the mating rituals they would engage in later in life.

We shopped in the inn's store then continued upstairs to the dining room. In the restaurant a wall of windows faces a formidable and muscular cliff wall. Not yet sunset the eyes of all of the diners were fixed on this breathtaking sight. Those chairs that would normally have had their backs to the windows had been adjusted by those sitting in them to take advantage of the stunning view.

Night fell and we walked back to the cabin after a tasty and thoroughly satisfying dinner. Looking at the fireplace we had a moment of inspiration. We turned it on, set the camera on it's tripod on one of the beds, set the timer and posed. It got warm fast. we turned off the fireplace and crawled into bed at the end of what would prove to be a string of wonderful days.

The mornings in Zion stay cool until the sun climbs far enough in the sky to rise above the stone walls and penetrate the canyon. I shower, dress and go to the inn to get coffee, leaving my friend asleep. I have to don a light jacket I brought with me, the only time I wore it on this trip. My friend is beginning to stir when I return to the cabin. We have breakfast at the inn then board one of the shuttles to travel deeper into the park. Along the way we pass the "Emperor's Throne", a rock formation the height of two Empire State buildings, one stacked on top of the other. Getting off the shuttle we hike back on a path that runs alongside the river, which is wider at this spot. Growing by the path are plants displaying enormous white blossoms that resemble morning glories on steroids. On one rock wall thrives a type of small snail found nowhere else on earth. The river, although still shallow is extremely cold. Very little sun reaches this narrow portion of the canyon. Several teen boys are wading in an icy, waist high pool. One pulls out the waistband of his board shorts, checks his male appendage and then announces to his buddies "It's still there". My own appendage was shrinking at the mere thought of the frigid water. Eventually the canyon narrows to a point where further travel is not possible. We return to the shuttle and ride it back to the area of the inn.

It is still somewhat early in the day and, as it was midsummer, we still had a number of hours of daylight ahead of us. We decided to linger for a while before setting off to our next destination. Across from the inn the river becomes a tiny stream only a few inches deep. We soak our feet sharing the cool water with tiny baby rainbow trout and dozens of tadpoles, their leg buds just beginning to form, before getting in the car and setting off.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We Drive Through The Desert to Zion

We got up the next morning, loaded our bags in the car and grabbed breakfast. At the time I was working at a store that had a branch in Vegas. We delayed our departure so I could pay it a short visit. We mentioned, while there, that we were on our way to Zion National Park. One of the employees insisted that we had to stay in the park itself. I asked if that would be possible, as these accommodations would have to be arranged at the last minute when we arrived there. He assured us it wouldn't be a problem. Armed with this suggestion we returned to the car and headed off.

This was one of the few times the cars top was up due to the intense heat. After all, it was high noon and we were in the desert. The landscape outside of the city is flat, brown and featureless. We didn't feel as if we would be missing anything in terms of a view.  Eventually, as the road begins to ascend, the featureless desert gives way to stunning rock formations. We stop and let the top down. The higher altitude had given a refreshing cool tinge to the air. Within a short time we found ourselves in the small town that sits outside Zion. There are several motels available, but, following the suggestion of the young man in Vegas, we enter the park and proceed to the visitors center. Not only are accommodations available inside the park, there are options. There are rooms in the park's inn or we could stay in one of a cluster of historic cabins. The cute park intern, his badge identifies him as being from Belgium, suggests the cabins. We agree and register.

Due to past pollution problems in the park, it is a narrow canyon and car exhaust would be trapped there with no way out, the only cars allowed are those used by people staying in the park, and those are allowed access only up to the park's inn. A shuttle system ferries visitors to the other parks sights and attractions. The shuttle operators also serve as guides dispensing information over a loudspeaker system as you ride.

The cabins consist of a main room with two full beds, a closet/dressing area with a sink, and a bathroom with another sink allowing two people the opportunity to brush their teeth at the same time. We found this to be a quite efficient arrangement during our short stay there. There is also a small, covered front porch. The cabins are duplexes. A connecting door to the identical half would allow the cabins to accommodate families or larger groups. Each cabin contains a gas fireplace, although it being summer we didn't think we would be using it. Many of the furnishings are fashioned out of natural wood and branches, manufactured, ironically for us, in Indiana. We tote our bags up the steps from the parking lot to the cabin and settle in.

My First Glimpse of Las Vegas

We landed after nightfall. We were originally scheduled to arrive mid afternoon, but after the missed flight and waiting out the thunderstorms, my first glimpse of the neon lit adult playground that is Las Vegas would be after dark.

We retrieved our bags and caught the shuttle to the rental car lot. The way it worked was that they dropped you off amid a field of cars, you chose the one you wanted and drove it off. Well, there was a kiosk that took the cars, and your information and checked you out as you departed so it wasn't quite as risky for the car company as it sounded when it was described to us at the airport. We had both agreed that a convertible was the only way to go. I heard a red corvette speaking to me until my  friend mentioned that red cars were police magnets. We settled on a green Camaro. Low slung, with a spoiler gracing its rear, it was, quite frankly, the hottest, sexiest car I have ever traveled in. For the next few days I felt like the ultimate convertible ridin' stud muffin. The top was almost always down and our chests were almost always bare as we cruised the highways of America's southwest.

It was Saturday night and traffic on the strip was moving at a crawl affording me ample time to take in my surroundings as we moved along the hotel and casino lined street. At the Bellagio the waters danced as the voice of Frank Sinatra boomed thorough the warm air of the desert night. Roller coaster cars zipped past a mock New York City skyline, gondolas glided down the canals of an imagined Venice and a multitude of lights, in a multitude of colors, spun, flashed, blinked and twinkled.

My friend had made a reservation at a hotel near Fremont Street, on the far end of the strip from the airport. The hotel, "The Downtowner", was selected by him based on it's modest price. The reason for the modest price was evident as soon as we entered the room. Sparing the details of the decor, I will just say that to get the air conditioner running we had to hit it with a shoe. It was, unfortunately, not the only time during this trip that we would have to resort to this. The hotel's sign was a prime example of high 60"s geometric kitch. It's pool, while it did look like the photo on the web, was located across the street from the hotel. The chain link fence which surrounded it had originally had plastic slats woven through it for privacy. Over the years the desert sun had taken it's toll on these leaving them faded and broken; which left large swaths of the chain link fence exposed. This also left bathers exposed to anyone who might pass by on the sidewalk. As it was well after dark we would not be using the pool and would only be using the room to sleep in the one night, planning to leave early the next morning. We dropped off our bags and headed out into the visual riot that is Las Vegas at night.

Our first stop was Fremont Street, the former main drag of Las Vegas. It is the home of the famous neon cowboy sign and the iconic Golden Nugget casino. The street has been arcaded and a light show is projected nightly on the white, arched ceiling of the arcade. We then drove to the newer area of town. Passing by the Bellagio again the waters now moved to music by Aaron Copeland. The Flamingo leaves it's doors open to the street and the superheated desert air. Walking from the outside into the uber air conditioned inside feels almost as if you are walking through a solid wall of cold. As we passed through Paris Paris, with it's miniature Eiffel Tower and scantily clad cocktail waitresses I remarked "The French already hate us, I can't imagine what they would think if they ever saw this."

It was my first time in Las Vegas. I expected it to be bright, garish, somewhat tasteless and over the top. It did not disappoint.

Monday, June 11, 2012

America's Southwest - It All Started With a Travel Voucher

I had just gotten an American Airlines Advantage credit card. It came with a travel voucher. Spend a minimum amount on airfare and a second person would fly free. I decided to share the voucher with my travel buddy. We met at his apartment to discuss where we might want to go.

It was at this point that we discovered the catch with the voucher. Airfares being what they were at the time, the minimum amount we would be required to spend would mean that we would have to fly to the moon and back in order to redeem it. We decided to go a different direction.

I don't remember exactly how we came up with the concept but we were soon making plans to experience the natural wonders of southern Utah and northern Arizona; flying in and out of Flights were booked, a car, we felt the only option was a convertible, was rented and a hotel room for the first night in, was secured.

The day of the flight Chicago was in the grip of a serious heat wave coupled with intense humidity. The air was so oppressive it was almost solid. The moisture in the air so dense that the park across the street from us could barely be made out. The appointed time for my travel buddy to arrive at my apartment came...and went. I made phone calls. They went unanswered. After more time and  several more calls, I, in desperation, mixed with some concern, began to walk the few blocks to his apartment. I met up with him on the sidewalk, rolling luggage in hand. He had gone to a party the night before and had slept through his alarm. Standing on the sidewalk using his cell phone we reserved seats on a later flight then went to my apartment to snooze until the new departure time arrived.

After checking in at the airport we were informed that our bags were being subjected to a "random" search. This was prior to 9/11. I think they were suspicious because we had missed our initial flight. As we boarded the plane a cold front came through colliding with the heat of that day, setting off intense electrical storms. Since we were already on the tarmac in line for takeoff we had to wait out the storms sitting on the plane. Pelting rain streamed down the windows. There were lightening strikes and thunder seemingly everywhere. It is somewhat disconcerting to be in a large metal object in a large open space in the middle of a massive electrical storm. Eventually, the storm passed, the plane took off and were were on our way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gay Subtext - Jack London and Dr. Watson

First off, I do realize that Jack London was a real person and Dr. Watson is fictional. Therefore it follows that Dr. Watson's words are actually Arthur Conan Doyles'. But they are funneled through the voice and character of Dr. Watson, so I am justified in referring to him in this post.

Growing up, as I did, in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was expected to have a working knowledge of Jack London and his works due to his association with that region. To back up my premise that there are gay undertones to his work, in particular "The Sea Wolf", let us consider two factors. He died of a drug overdose; major DRAMA QUEEN! Also, he spent quite a bit of time in Alaska during the gold rush era. During that time he was living predominately with men. While it's true that there were some female "camp followers", from the photos I've seen they looked like men which just seems to validate my point. You cannot convince me that there were no same sex shenanigans going on. It's cold up there for one thing so the shared body warmth alone you would assume would be welcomed.

For anyone who has ever read Jack London's "The Sea Wolf", they will notice how many times he mentions the captain's apparently mega buffed body. In one section in particular the character relating the story rhapsodises on the magnificence of the captain's form after seeing him naked. He even goes so far as to compare the captain's physique to other naked men's bodies he has seen. He just seems to be a bit too interested if you ask me.

On to Dr. Watson. On occasion after occasion he mentions the physical attributes of the men that consult and come into contact with Sherlock. He goes to great lengths to describe their hulking, powerful bodies. Bear in mind that Edwardian clothes were quite modest so he had to use his imagination to a large extent. Gay fantasies anyone? Plus there is his constant gawking infatuation with Holmes himself. He sometimes resembles a starry eyed, love struck teenage girl when talking about the detective. I know that at one point he was married, but that is true of any number of gay men. Plus, they never had any children....if you get my drift.

Upon reflection, it is fortunate for me that since Mr. London is dead and Dr. Watson is fictional I cannot be sued for libel or slander for the contents of this post.

500 Views 6 Continents

I began writing these posts in a travel journal during a Caribbean cruise in March of 2011. In June 2011 I set up this blog and began to post my travel journal entries. This blog became a creative outlet , as well as a way for me to set my memories down "on paper" without amassing large numbers of spiral bound notebooks in our modestly sized apartment. After repeated comments from friends and acquaintances I came to the realisation that I had been extremely fortunate, "lucky", over the years to see the places I have seen at the times I have seen them. I have been extremely "lucky" to meet and know some of the people I have known over the years. There have been challenging periods over these years but from my eternally optimistic, glass half full, perspective; in always keeping myself open to new experiences as they come along, I have been the recipient of much good fortune.

In May I reached two, what are to me, important milestones in regards to my blog. Assuming my stats are correct, I have had over 500 views of my posts. Also, I have had views from all continents, excepting Antarctica. As only 2 dozen or so people live there I don't see myself breaking through that barrier any time soon.

Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to view my postings. I appreciate and value each one. My sincere hope is that you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dots and Dashes - A Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective

The Art Institute of Chicago has recently mounted another of it's impressive special exhibitions, a retrospective of the work of Roy Lichtenstein. His early work from the 1950's was in the Abstract Impressionist style of the time. Apparently, many of these canvases were destroyed. Of those that survived the four on display reveal a young artist struggling to discover his own voice. The comic book inspired "dot" style he is most associated with eventually developed.

Some people, myself included, may at first find his highly technical work cold and antiseptic. Yet, as I moved through the exhibit his sense of humor began to be apparent revealing the humanity of the artist. This humor keeps the work from projecting the cynicism which seems to permeate some pop and modern art. He took the everyday and banal and used it as inspiration for his art. Ads and comic book panels were adjusted, realigned and reimagined as things of balance and harmony. While much of his work contains bold, bright color, golf balls and car tires become mesmerizing studies in black and white which draw the viewer into the image. A steaming cup of coffee is a muscular artistic statement in yellow and brown.

Initial reviews of his work were highly critical. One magazine questioned whether or not he was the "worst artist in America." Perhaps in response to this one piece shows a woman standing behind a man, both gazing at a painting, and the woman exclaiming, in Lichtenstein's trademark speech bubble, that the work is a masterpiece and soon his works will be desired all over New York.

I found myself beginning to be hypnotised by the comic book dots, evident in virtually every work. I marveled at the precision of these spots of paint. Later in the exhibition I learned that he used perforated steel panels as a sort of stencil to produce them. These same steel plates are used in a different manner in some sculptural three dimensional pieces. In some works a second layer of dots is laid over the first. Dots connecting with other dots creating a dense visual landscape of paint.

One gallery contains parodies, created by Lichtenstein, of the work of other artists. He declared that he admired that which he parodied. This is where his sense of humor is most evident. There are Monet's "Haystacks" reimagined in his dotted style. A Mondrian where two of the geometric spaces are filled with his dots as opposed to Mondrian's vivid blocks of color. A Picasso piece looks as if the Spanish master was inspired by Lichtenstein, rather than the other way around.

Four paintings of artists studios, one containing representations of his own works within the larger work, are reunited for the first time since 1974. Much of his later work, while retaining his trademark bold lines and dots, becomes less representational. Some appear like small segments of cartoon panels greatly enlarged. Many of the pieces in the exhibition are in private collections so rarely available for public viewing.

A special treat is the collection of works on paper. Many of these are studies for some of the larger, finished pieces on view. It gives the visitor the ability to see the progression of the artwork from it's original conception. In one trio of pieces a woman's face transitions from recognizable features to a series of lines and planes of color.

One irony of Lichtenstein's artistic vision is that the comics and ads which inspired his work are no longer composed of dots. In this digital age of high definition images we have gained clarity, but perhaps at a cost of losing a portion of our innocence.