Filed under away …
I had so much fun on my solo trip in the midwest I talked TG into a weekend in Kansas! Some people spend the weekend in Monaco but we went to Kansas.
It’s summer vacation in my world and summer means road trips. I haven’t taken a real road trip in years. I’ve driven to New Mexico and Texas but I haven’t taken one of those cross country trips in over a decade. I’m thinking this summer might be the time to load up the MINI van and drive East just to see what I can see. Penciling it into the schedule is going to be tricky: between Oldest Friend coming for a visit, the Denver County Fair, and that pesky job; I’m already closely booked but I could manage something just after Beav’s birthday in August.
I want to see this place again. It’s the prefect roadside attraction. The house is haunted and the cafe in Lucas is to die for. If I made this trip in late August I would be treated to the sunflowers at full bloom.
I want to meander through little towns in Iowa. The last time I drove through the Midwest, it was a forced march to the Twin Cities and Iowa was a blur in the middle of the night. I have this vision of quiet little towns, green sweeps of lawn in front of picturesque houses all of which have a mandatory front porch and swing.
I want to see the vast fields in southern Minnesota and maybe take another nap in the deep silence of a very hot afternoon. I pulled the Mitz over, opened all the doors and slept for about an hour in the back of the truck. It was peaceful, hot and almost otherworldly when I awakened to the golden light of late afternoon near wheat fields.
I want to swing further to the east and experience Wisconsin, maybe stopping in Pepin where there is no doubt a tribute to Laura Ingalls. Wisconsin sounds like it would be forests which give way to endless cornfields (I’ve never seen them, just heard rumors of them). I want to compare the towns of rural Indiana to rural Iowa and to see if there is a difference between here or there. I will loop my way south of Chicago to avoid the traffic and congestion as to not spoil my palate for Indiana.
I want to drive down Ohio, into Appalachia. I’ve never been to Ohio before. I want to hear fire and brimstone preachers on crackly AM radio deep in the night. I’ve been across highway 81 through the Appalachian mountains to Gettysburg Pennsylvania. That was the first road trip I took as an “adult” and saw the landscape unwind from the front seat rather than the backseat of the family car. From Pennsylvania we went across to New Jersey, New York and Atlantic City. I was just old enough to gamble and drink and I felt like such an adult. What a long trip, I’m so happy I flew home.
I want to push my way back through Pennsylvania and into upstate New York so I can stop and sit in the cool shade of a friend’s yard in her little town. A town I imagine to have a square and a cafe where we can sit and spy on the old guys who gossip more than the high school girls hanging out in the park just down the road. Maybe she will take me to a minor league ballgame while I’m there.
I want to drive along the western edge of Maine where there are only blue roads. I’ve only been to Kennebunkport for a day when I was sixteen. What I remember most was how the fog made the huge homes along the shore all look like Manderly in Rebecca. I longed to stop and explore each one of those huge family houses. They were always completely silent, the only sounds were my footfall and the ticking of an ancient clock.
I want to turn the car around at Presque Isle which isn’t an island but a tiny dot on the map near the Canadian border. The people there would look suspiciously at my dusty blue van with its green and white license plates and they would politely ask if were from “these parts”. I imagine this little place to be carved out of the forest, literally a wide spot in the road.
I want to meander my way down the eastern seaboard making a right turn at Connecticut so I could graze the edges of western Pennsylvania; stopping at farm stores and stands for Shoo Fly Pies, brooms and preserves. When I reach Baltimore–the place that is a pleasant mix of Southern and Eastern sensibility–I would find blue highways to drop into North Carolina to see how their BBQ sauces stand up against “Howdy” (my dad’s sauce).
I want to drive the full length of Tennessee like we did when I was really young and I spent more than a day asking if we were “someplace else”. Texas was the only state I had been to which took longer than a day to cross and Tennessee seemed endless to my eight year old imagination.
I want to swing down into Mississippi and drive the old roads where you can catch traces of a terrible past that should provoke shame and a heartfelt apology. I want to see the wet heat shimmer off little highway 16 just outside of Midnight. Midnight will be worth seeing just for the poetry of the name. Once upon a time in Montana I discovered a place called Rivulet and to Ward’s credit we went hours off our track to Canada to find a place with the name of the path left by a raindrop. Rivulet was gone, the forest had hidden any traces of a town or settlement. The ferns were thick and the ground loamy. It would have been a sweet place for a town. I wonder what happened to it.
I want to drive through Louisiana, a place I’ve never been and a place which doesn’t register anywhere on the map of places I want to see before I die. I imagine it as endless boggy low country and oil refineries. I want to be wrong about this and instead charmed by the people, the music and food and feeling like cost for such a nice surprise is braving the cross town traffic in Houston after where I10 turns into one huge highway in a mass of other huge highways. The interchanges had “cute” names when I was a little girl. I wonder if I10 was part of the Spaghetti Bowl. I remember being disappointed the day we were in the spaghetti bowl and it wasn’t actual spaghetti.
I want to drive across South Texas. Hug my dad and my stepmother’s neck before I push west for a peek at Marfa, a place which fascinates me because it has popped up from a simple idea and one gallery. Marfa is the symbol of our marvelous century: where your office can be held in a laptop computer. You can live and work anywhere. Even if anywhere is a one-horse town in the middle of the Texas desert.
I want to make my way up the interior of New Mexico avoiding a certain hypnosis which settles in on the last days of a trip. But this hypnosis is inevitable in southern New Mexico which in some ways is more “magical” than northern New Mexico. I know someone who swears he witnessed Falcon Gods marching across the mesas outside of Bayoud on 180. The farthest south of Albuquerque is Truth or Consequences. One would think I would plan an entire trip around this deeply existential name but I have been there. I will admit when we drove through there I was waiting for something magnificent and being a nine year old and impatient with the backseat and an older sister I could not find beauty in the strip shopping center and a cheesy sign welcoming me. I was expecting someone to stop our car and ask us questions but I shuddered to think what the consequences would be in that tiny town plopped in the middle of a mesa. Probably more water skiing in an lake the temperature of water from the ‘frig; and I had already suffered through that. Perhaps if I had been pressed and the truth was revealed I could go back to the lake and feel the power and the speed of the boat as it streamed through the glassy water surrounded by otherworldly rock formations.
I want to stop for a green chili lunch at the Shed in Santa Fe; a cocktail and local music at The Taos Inn before the last part of the trip the familiar part of the trip transpires. The familiar part is the worst part. I hate the last few hundred miles of a long trip. I can’t find language to describe my impatience with those last miles. It just is.
I want to zoom through southern Colorado to shrug off my impatience and remember the reason I dislike the Colorado Springs Trinidad corridor is because it’s the last few hundred miles before home. I will have to battle to stay awake and fight disorientation because five days before I was surrounded by molten blacktop just outside of Midnight, Mississippi a few miles north of Yazoo City.
Pesky job interfers with my vacation plans for the summer.
My bucket list
I had one of those Bad Days at work yesterday things happened that wouldn’t have happened if people just did their damn jobs properly, punctually and efficiently…grumble…moan…whine…grumble…
But enough of me in Battle Axe mode because complaining about it won’t help or fix it or change anything other than maybe increase the stress related pains in my neck and shoulders. I would much rather write about something fun and trite like our bucket list. One of my friends thinks the whole Bucket List thing is morbid and sad but to me it’s a positive and hopeful thing having a bucket list. The Girl had equal input on this list:
Places to see
South of France
India (the southern coasts east and west plus Taj Mahal and the Kahjuraho temples)
Oamaru New Zealand
(note the many places by the water last summer me and TG decided all vacations must include water because that‘s what we love the most)
Things to do and experience
Live outside of the US
Visit Oldest Friend in her faraway home
Rent a house for a month or more in Southern France
Swim with manatees (this might happen sooner rather than later)
Write a mushy sappy romance novel
Just write for a living
Full moon party on a beach somewhere in the world
Volunteer at an elephant refuge for a couple of days
See the aurora borealis
I think we can fit all this in. I’m sure of it.
I’ve yet to participate in these festivities in Mexico but I have in New Mexico which is the next best thing.
Today is Dia de las Muertos–Day of the Dead–and I think if I had to choose a holiday to celebrate this would be it. Perhaps it’s my curiosity of Latin American culture and it’s yummy soup mix of Indigenous/Catholic/Magic way of looking at life and the final stage of life: death. To tell you the truth I didn’t really discover Dia de Las Muertos until about ten years ago when I happened to be in Taos for the weekend and it also happened to be November 1st. What a joyful celebration my friend and I stumbled across. After the prayers there was a dance. And everyone who knows me knows how much I love to dance. Which is a lot. I would rather dance than do just about anything else. And what was really amazing about that weekend is my friend Abby met the love of her life at that dance and now they share a life together. What a perfect circle. It was also this weekend I noticed my first ofrenda in a shop. It was an amazing altar dedicated to the shopkeeper’s Grandmother, strewn with red roses, candles, a tea pot, jewelry and multiple pictures of her draped in chrysanthemums. Colorful, festive and joyous like life should be. I was a very shy “photographer” in those days and didn’t take a picture even though she welcomed me to after she gave me a detailed and invited description of this tradition.
I’m not shy anymore and I think it was last year in Mexico when happened to notice a giant nativity scene peeping out at me from the sidewalk in a house adjacent to a store. You can read about it here. She also had an ofrenda off to the corner with a picture of someone and a few dusty plastic flowers. I speak absolutely NO Spanish (aside from maybe asking this woman to use her toilet and serve me a beer with the check) so it wasn’t like I could ask her about it. She saw me glance at it and ducked her head, clearly not wanting to show it off like she did her amazing nativity scene when she pulled me into her home and switched on the lights. Her actions coupled with the dusty condition of it raised about eight thousand questions. All of them nosy. All of them in English. I suppose I could invent my own story but I’m not a terribly skilled fiction writer.
Remembering this episode in Mexico has made me stop and think about what I would include in a table top ofrenda dedicated to my grandmother, Laura.
I would construct it in a Whitman’s Candy Sampler box and trim the box with her tatted lace. The inside of the box would be covered in a crossword puzzle. Somehow I would figure out a way to configure a tiny little television set with jeopardy written in the Jeopardy font. I would include small individual pictures of her eight children and her many grandchildren (12?) . It would be really fun if each picture was at a different stage of their lives so they weren’t all matchy matchy. Next to the collage of pictures would be one of those old small Coca-Cola bottles (the real deal not one of the new one’s). Inside the bottle would be a really tacky plastic rose because one of the things I received from her things after she died was a tacky doo-dad I received from her when I was five. It one of my shoes covered in macaroni, spray painted gold with a plastic yellow rose stuck in it. My grandmother died almost two decades after I made it. That she treasured such small things should be remembered. But the piece de resistance would be the cover of a Rosemary Roger’s <I>Sweet Savage Love</I>. Grandmother’s guilty pleasure was bodice rippers which never failed to amuse me when I was a young woman.
Beav escorted me to Washington DC a few years ago and managed to put up with me!
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad…
Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, 1876
DC? Seriously cool. Like raising the cool bar and wiping out NYC for the coolest place I’ve ever been. Dupont Circle? So cool there needs to be a velvet rope around it and Brooklyn has to wait in the back of the line for the head tilt and nod to join the party. So cool that San Francisco hangs her head in shame because despite her best efforts they are furtive and even the tragically hip of The Mission can’t keep up with DC.
What a day! Me and the Beav powered through The Freer Gallery, The American History Museum and The Natural History Museum after we toured the Air and Space Museum.
It’s like my brain had a big meal and all it can do is sit back, sigh and belch.
Love at first sight yesterday. The quote on the walls of the north entrance of the Dupont Circle metro station got my attention (never mind the escalator is terrifically steep and like Orpheus’ Descent to Hell) but the people here have me hooked. We were standing on a street corner and heard three separate conversations in three different languages. The diversity is wrapped in the lovely facade of old buildings–most of them older than the oldest ones in my city–topped of with a friendly southern vibe. The only other place I fell for this hard was Baltimore. The locals here are very patient with tourists, too. Millions of people stumble through their city and yet, they smile and tell you you are walking in the wrong direction like they have never been asked a question before.
The Beav has never been to the east coast before and coupled with the foreign landscape are masses of people. Many more than he is used to on most days in our city. On the airplane, as we made our descent Beav noticed the wide rivers and the lush landscape. I agreed with him and told him this foreign feeling makes me feel like a hick, especially if I’m on the east coast.
“Golly, Lookat fancy old building! They is big an’ old, ain’t they?”
“Hot diggity! I’m from the Western US of A! All y’all is so fancy!”
“Woo Doggies! Look at all these folks! An’ all of ‘em so diff’rent, too!”
Coupled with feeling like a hick I am also an idiot when it comes to directions and I can’t find my way out of a paper bag without directions and maps. My family thinks I’m completely OCD because I have itineraries complete with walking directions to and from sites when I travel. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t mind getting lost, some of my best times traveling are when I’m lost. Fortunately, the kids and TG are like human GPS units so I can leave the directions to them. But today, even Beav was confounded and we spent thirty-five minutes–in the rain–wandering in circles looking for a metro station (this is how I discovered the people here are very patient with tourists).
Aside from the kindness of strangers and the scary escalator the four things which made the most impression on me:
1. Julia Child used The Joy Of Cooking more than any other cookbook.
2. Mamie Eisenhower wore the wrong dress to the inauguration. The dress she chose accentuated her thick torso and the foofy ruffle thingy over her left hip made her look fat.
3. There was a motorcade of Secret Service agents with a shiny but sinister looking Cadillac moving down Connecticut Avenue today. It was cool.
4. Amelia Earhart’s airplane is the perfect shade of red and if I didn’t know Earhart was a serious aviator, I would assume she chose the airplane strictly based on the pretty shade of red.
Beav, being the adult on this trip, was moved by the majesty of the capital building, The Wright Flyer and The Spirit of St. Louis. He assumed they would be models and was thrilled to stand next to the first biplane and the first airplane to cross the Atlantic. When I cooed: “Oh look at the cute little red airplane, why is that here?” I could hear his eyes roll.
It wasn’t the first time this week and I promise it won’t be the last.
Today’s wayback machine features a post I made in April of 2011: New Mexico seen through The Girl’s eyes for the first time back in 2005image courtesy of Richard barron
Today I saw laughing gargoyles, Casper the Friendly Ghost, an Easter Island monolith and a skull, all in one place. The eye plays tricks when you study rock formations. Yesterday, we traveled through four different geological regions(?) in the span of 400 miles. Seeing New Mexico through TG’s eyes–her first time is amazing and helps me rediscover and integrate what I love about this place. Stopping at Ship Rock on the canyon road was the first place this happened. I remember seeing it for the first time when I was about eleven when we went to Girl Scout camp in NoNM and attended Palm Sunday service in a tiny Catholic church, the mass was said in Spanish and I was terribly lost and confused by the whole pageantry of it. This trip has been uneventful: no imaginary highways or time warps but the mesa–that vacuum of beauty in the minute and the place that haunts my dreams and played a role in surviving the hard bits of my childhood–remains the same.
(my guest blogger today is none other than TG, this is her brief and single entry in the travel journal)
And now for the analytical view of our first journey together. The angel cloud in the sky pointed the way to Ojo. The golden eagle in the afternoon I couldn’t seem to get focused in the view finder floated out of sight like our cares and worries. The star-filled sky and glimpse of the milky way gave us a protective cover for a good night’s rest. We love it here (isn’t she cute, this was our first trip together, four months into knowing one another and she said “we”)
We meandered through the mountains to Taos—the back way I call it—and landed in the midst of that which makes this little town just what it is. The ticky-tacky abutting the pretentions so the grand is sort of dumbed down and looks ridiculous. Seeing the juxtaposition made me remember the Blaine Trump Social X-ray having dinner with the kid from Alsups. The juxtaposition of red cliffs and blue sky is poetry to me. The light this morning was remarkably golden . . .
. . .the quiet and vacant landscape clears the cobwebs in my head and I found myself inventing all sorts of things as we drove. Karen also witnessed what I call “the stoned dogs”. Years ago, Ed and I noticed the yard dogs along the blue highways in NM didn’t rush the fence and bark at you. I even got out of the car in Chimayo or Truchas and walked up to a gate and the dog didn’t even bother to lift his head. Later, a hitchhiker we met at our inn told us it was because the water in New Mexico has lithium in it. We met a stoned dog at a gas station in Tres Piedras, he was more than happy to accept ear scratches and leaned in for more. The stoned gas station attendant wasn’t as fun to deal with.
Just behind our casita [at Ojo Caliente] is a walk into the sandstone cliffs. We haven’t done it yet, most likely this afternoon after TG’s massage [she was having terrible issues with a shoulder which is why we made the trip to the springs at Ojo]. . .
No Bob the Builder today [the inn was under construction so it wasn’t super Zen quiet] much to my surprise and joy. It was clear and warm, the leafless trees are threatening to bud. We sunned, we soaked, we sunned we soaked. . .
It rained Saturday evening, a quiet but steady deluge of water and the air was cool and scented by early spring sage. We slept in on Sunday but decided to take a trip south to the Sand Dunes.
The geography changed rapidly: basalt to sand to elderly volcanoes: each element one on top of the other. The dunes were also unworldly set against Mount Kit Carson a huge conifer covered mountain. It was like God had accidently dumped a load of sand next to the mountains. The sun was at its highest when we were there so the dunes were only lightly shadowed but it was still possible to see the subtleties in the light created by the shifting sands. At a distance without the prospective of trees or scrub or people it was hard to grasp the enormity of the dunes. Once hikers were spotted, the size of this place was obvious. The people in the distance looked like Giamotti sculptures, especially with the small heat waves undulating around them and coming up off the sands.
The sand was a light brown with bits of rock. TG found a lovely bit of green veined granite. The wind shifted and created a small cliff reminiscent of the red cliffs near Abiqui. How exciting it would have been to see the sand fall and form the cliff. And how many years did it take to form this?
We took La Vita pass home and swooped our way down and into La Vista which is always a bucolic green shock after driving over the moon near Alamosa.
Traffic was of course miserable and the transition to the suburbs and then to urban clutter is always difficult. Being home again felt noisy and cluttered. I was instantly lonely for the light in No NM. I miss the yellow light.
One of the funniest things that ever happened in Mexico
It amazes me how quickly our days settle into a pleasant routine when we come to Mexico. I think it’s one of the things I like best about our weeks down here: it’s predictable. The nature of my work isn’t terribly predictable and the doctor I work for is the poster boy for the antithesis of predictable. I suppose my favorite vacation is another example of how June likes her ruts deep and wide. I know S will be next door to us and working for the front desk at Abbey’s while The Other other Girl and her hubs will be just across from us in the charming little studio that attracts sea breezes and unfortunately ants. There is usually an assortment of nice elderly “auntie” types in the beautiful house downstairs. Across the street Don Mulligan (a Bluegrass musician) will no doubt be washing his old suburban at least every other day, down the streets the Bad Dogs who attacked Sweetie, the little mutt at the corner will be barking and nipping at passing tires to protect their jungle territory. Those bad dogs are why we carried a stick last year. They aren’t as barky and mean to us this year; no doubt they were gathered up when the vet students came from Colorado to snip the cur’s bravado with their cajones. On the subject of dogs, it is rumored Wayne was adopted by a family (hooray!) and lives down the street from us. Our elderly girl, Stella, continues to live one street over and accepts ear scratches at the gate if you call her by name. She’s moving slower this year and has a hip which appears to be giving her trouble. Her boy Randall doesn’t appear to be here this winter so she isn’t walked regularly. If TG’s Magic Suitcase or June’s Magic Backpack were really magic we would have a leash with us. I suppose this will go on the list next year.
Despite the simple domesticity we achieve in Mexico, yesterday was not without its excitement and controversy. We were hanging on the beach and a Mexican family was near us. A family who lives in town (we see them on the beach frequently) and they had their extraordinarily well behaved cocker spaniel with them. She’s a nice little dog and prefers napping on a blanket in the shade to running about and barking at people or dashing in and out of the water like the other dogs. Specifically, like the dogs that belong to white ex-pats. Do you see where I’m going with this?
It was a Rosa Parks moment; that family was singled out because they were Mexicans and were on the end of the beach frequented more by expats because our condos and villas and casitas live on that end of the beach. Had we not been in Mexico, The Other Other Girl and I would have been arguing with the police, accusing them of singling out the darker skinned people rather than risking “offending” the white North Americans who actually don’t watch their dogs as carefully. I was horrified the macho idiot beach patrol on their ATV’s called the freakin’ Puerto Morelos cops and had not one, two or four of them but EIGHT of them come to the beach to evict a middle aged couple and an abuela because they had a cocker spaniel on a leash taking a nap in the shade of a pretty umbrella. My guess is the family–let’s refer to them as the Diego-Riveria’s–were well-to-do because we all thought handcuffs would flash when Senora Diego-Riveria began shouting, waving and then poked one of the cops holding an AK whateverbigassfirearm squarely in the chest. The cops, to their credit, kept their cool because they didn’t want to take this family to jail over a dog and probably don’t care if their dog is on the beach because they had to leave the front of the cop shop where they can see who is driving through town; watch the pretty girls walk by and who is stepping out on their spouses as they leave town to hit the highway and make a run to Playa Del Carmen for an illicit lunch. I’m not sure Denver cops would have allowed a middle-aged anyone to trash talk them or poke their chests for longer than about fifty seconds before hauling people to jail. It was one of those moments when I wish I knew Spanish because I would love to know what Senora Diego-Rivera was saying to the cops. My first thought was all of us find a beach dog and bring it to the Nondog Beach to see if the beach patrol would call the cops on ten white people. My suggestion of civil disobediance was met with horrified stares, even by D our Rasta friend.
I want to know where the stupid macho ATV boys are at night? They aren’t patrolling the beach at night and it is deemed “Highly Dangerous” for anyone to walk the beach at night these days. If I did know Spanish I would have a bristling talk with them about just this.
Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t speak Spanish.
I can’t lie, I like a big rich whiskey and yes I’m one of those people who can’t leave good enough alone and feel compelled to mix it with other things aside from muddled fruit and soda but at risk of expulsion, I didn’t mention this on our tour of the Stranahan’s distillery. I know nothing about making booze. I’ve been to exactly one winery in my life and I’ve yet to make it to the Coors Brewery. But after our tour last weekend, I know a little more about making whiskey.
Stanahan’s Colorado Whiskey came about after a volunteer fire fighter tried and failed to put out a barn fire in rural county outside of Boulder. He discovered the owner of the Barn, George Stranahan was a brewing enthusiast like himself. So from the ashes came this lovely phoenix that starts out on your palate like bourbon and finishes like a single malt scotch. It’s a big complex flavor suited for before dinner Old-Fashioned or sharing sips around an autumnal campfire from the requisite tin cup each bottle thoughtfully includes. (Guess which scenario I enjoy Stranahan’s.)
A small company, this whiskey has developed a devoted following in my state and I’m hopeful they will grow just enough to distribute to other states. It sounds like California and New York is in the works. That’s a start, right? They produce only 40 barrels a week so this whiskey doesn’t come cheap but it’s one of those Worth Every Penny things if you enjoy a tipple of fancy spirits now and again, like I do. At sixty bucks a bottle you don’t slam it but you sip and savor it.
There’s also a spirit of openness and community about this company between the free distillery tours, and utilizing their fans to voluntarily work on the bottling crew. As a local product, I don’t mind spending a little more money on knowing it’s a home grown enterprise made a few miles from my home with mostly local agricultural products. I’ve signed up to work on a bottling crew so if you live in Colorado and see “Edgyjunecleaver was here” on the side of your label you can tell your companions: “Hey I know the chick who helped bottle this batch!”
The tours are free and reservations are highly recommended on Friday’s and Saturday’s. After your complimentary tasting and purchasing a couple of bottles, I highly recommend making Rackhouse Pub the last stop of your tour so you can order up some of the best casual dining food in Denver. Do not miss the beer-baked mac & cheese.
And now I’m hungry.
“Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art invites all TBEX participants to visit the museum before we are open to the public for a behind the scenes tour of the collection and storage spaces. Come for a tour with a staff member anytime between 9 a.m. and noon on Thursday, June 14th, and receive a 50% off coupon for breakfast or lunch at our funky and delicious neighbor Jelly Café.”
A behind the scenes tour would only enhance the intimate and interactive feeling The Kirkland Museum offers. Interested? Intrigued? Here is my experience in April:
Another jewel in Denver’s museum crown is the Kirkland Museum. It’s a two mile walk from the center of the Cultural District into the colorful and eclectic Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s a small space, filled with delightful surprises and is one of my favorite museums. I had mixed feelings when I discovered PBS’s Antiques Roadshow paid a visit and the hour long documentary Face to Face: Vance Kirkland and Clyfford Still aired on US public television because this place was my little secret. Not only does the museum feature a retrospective of Kirkland’s varied art but Hugh Grant (director and curator) has amassed one of the most important collections of decorative art spanning from the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century; along with a large and thoughtful collection of past and present Colorado artists.
Vance Kirkland’s paintings intrigue me because of his use of color. As a college student, he failed his first watercolor class because his colors weren’t “right”. But perhaps they weren’t right because his relationship to color was synesthetic and as he created art, he could hear colors. His vision of “blue” encompassed two senses rather than one. A prolific artist, his work moved over five different periods from Designed Realism, Surrealism and his “dot paintings”. His method for creating these pictures is demonstrated in his studio by the large straps which hang over the artist’ table. Kirkland would suspend himself over the piece and meticulously dab the paint. (I had wondered how he achieved the dots without any dribbles, and now I know!) Our tour guide and a docent for the Kirkland–Margaret–told us he painted up until his death in a local hospital and visitors knew where his room was because of the kerosene smell. I love how the objects and art are displayed in an intimate Salon Style over several different rooms, gathered in tableaux or in unobtrusive glass cases. The gathering of objects makes me feel more like a guest in someone’s home rather than a museum patron. The afternoon I visited, early 20th century classical music played in the background which further set the mood and transported me to another age when the art and objects were first created and considered avant garde.
I wanted to sneak under the ropes and paw through all the things sitting about on the bookshelves in the studio. I wanted to sneak into a case and shimmy the vases out and hold onto them feeling the warmth of the Colorado clay or coolness of the Hungarian glass in my hands as I turned the objects round and round taking in the shapes and the nuances of the tiny imperfections every three dimensional object possesses. But I resisted and managed to keep my hands to myself. My resolve against testing the comfort of the chairs, or lounging on the art deco settees was taking a quiet break in the inviting courtyard garden where an abundance of Bleeding Hearts competed for my attention against the large and whimsical metal sculptures.
The Kirkland is easy to find at the corner of Pearl Avenue and 13th Avenue, two miles east of the Denver Cultural Center and the state capital. Off street parking in this neighborhood can be scarce and the museum does offer a few places in front. But half the fun of seeing the Kirkland could be walking the quirky and friendly Capitol Hill neighborhood if you have to park at distance. Admission is $7 for adults, seniors, students, and teachers are $6. Included in the admission Wednesdays through Saturdays is a guided tour at 1:30. I highly recommend experiencing the museum under the helpful guidance of a docent. I was lucky enough to tour gratis with Margaret Saari. The Kirkland asks children between 13-17 tour with an adult and they don’t allow children under 13 because of the delicate nature of the objects on display. If you’re touring Denver with younger children, there’s a cute place across the street–Jelly–which serves breakfast all day and you can tag team the little kids with a waffle bribe.
The lead image and the closing image were found at examiner.com. The other photos are mine, shot by me with my iPhone. A big thanks goes to the nice people who invited me to tour the museum free of charge.
I shot 79 pictures last weekend: 71 of them were crap, six of them were mediocre and one of them was good. (I’m saving the good one for a later post) This is one of the better mediocre shots. But taste is a personal matter, right? So maybe it’s not so mediocre good? Saturday was a frustrating “travel” day. The weather turned on us, making the light flat, washing the colors out of everything. Rain arrived, threatening to wash away the chalk art pictures on the streets downtown. And to round it all out, I carefully packed my SLR camera, lenses, filters and all in a cute tote bag only to discover–five minutes from our first destination–I had forgotten to put the card into the camera. The only reason I didn’t ask to return home was because I had the iPhone. But even that didn’t prove to be infallible last Saturday.
But like the old bumper sticker says: “A day traveling beats the hell out of a good day at work”
I won’t be partaking in the marvelous event that is Denver Gay Pride this year. But as a public service to those of you who might be in town for one of the biggest Pride Fests in the US, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the rainbow flavored things in Denver. Once upon a time, The Girl and I were no strangers to the whole Gay Bar Cultural Experience but we’ve grown up and out of that sort of thing. I was a little surprised when I researched new places and noticed the “Woman’s Bar” has gone the way of the unicorn. Whoa, how the times have changed. When I was a whippersnapper we didn’t congregate too often with the menfolk in our community. They had their places, we had our places and if we did happen to mingle together it was a rare occasion and usually at a “Sunday Afternoon Tea Dance” at one of the seedier men’s bars. (I won’t bore you with the politics of this and how the AIDS crisis did much to bring men and women of the community together. It was inane gender politics and it all seems as stupid as not being allowed to enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexuals. Feel free to email me and correct me if you disagree)
Thankfully, times have changed and Denver has changed so much that the gay community isn’t pushed off into a tiny corner closet of a shabby ghetto. Besides, this, most of my people in Denver are usually home and in bed by 9:30 because they have hot play dates at the Childrens Museum; or need to get to the Home Depot for bannister polishing supplies bright and early the next morning. We aren’t any different from the rest of our people and the last time we went out to a real live Gay Bar was…um…well…I don’t remember. An anniversary a couple of years ago? Maybe?
I might be a little biased but I do think Denver has one of the most active gay communities in the country with loads of organizations and businesses besides bars and dance clubs. If you want to swim, bike, hike, ski, sing, march in a band, volunteer, or read books with kindred spirits there’s a group just waiting for you. But if you’re just passing through and are looking for nightclubs or restaurants and want to do your own research, the best two websites are Babes Around Denver (BAD) and Cafe Vivid Cafe Vivid is a thorough listing of all things Gay in Denver and the surrounding areas. BAD started as the brain child of one woman in 2003 who was tired of never seeing lesbians out on the town so she created First Friday which is still hugely popular and has become the largest women’s party in the country. Another great gathering but a little more sedate is Hip Chicks Out the second Friday happy hour at: The Living Room, a great little bar any night of the week.
This year, Pridefest will be held in Civic Center Park near the state capital June 16 and 17. The festival includes one of the country’s largest gay pride parades on Saturday morning and over 250 vendors plus three music stages. It’s literally dancing in the streets. It’s always fun and welcoming. People travel from all over the western US to join in the celebration. There is also a great family area with activities geared for young children. Even if you aren’t gay, it’s a fun summer festival and one more chance to have a turkey leg and a beer in the shadow of our elegant capital building. Denver is also an incredibly open city with a live-and-let-live sensibility. The only places I wouldn’t feel comfortable presenting myself as partnered with The Girl is one of the Mega-Churches in the southern suburbs which are dangerously close geographically and politically to Colorado Springs where Focus on the Family lives. Every place has at least one cross to bear, right?