Notes on tour: Dreams and the sun
The cliché is, of course, that the desert is devoid of life. The other cliché is, of course, that it’s not true. And, of course, don’t forget the one about it being endless too.
All of them, of course, are true.
It’s hard to detect life behind the grey ribbons that now grid the sand and the rocks of Scottsdale and Phoenix in Arizona. You can travel for ages, and the only animate, non-automotive creatures you’ll see are Jack Rabbit and Mr Lizard running in the Sun Valley races. Cacti bear their arms upwards and serenade the sun, while ushering you past ranch lofts, coloured a citric concrete, low slung on pink gravel, failing to hide in the sandy skies.
The things that are deserted here are the things that are green: parks, lawns, verges. No one’s out playing, few people picnic; there’s no kite flying, no ball games. It’s as if the most pleasing rebellion you can instigate in the desert is to leave a tap running and disappear.
The desert itself, meanwhile, is rush hour busy. Wheezing up Camelback Mountain, you’re overtaken by people for whom the hike is merely an outdoors step aerobics class. It’s as if this is an instinctive, vigorous, obvious response to the fact that the land has been conquered, by middle aged spread – from afar, it appears that we’ve bellyflopped into canyons of concrete, and left swimming-pool sized imprints everywhere.
Which we have, in a fashion. This is a place of a certain type of unshowy, flat wealth; where you can’t escape from the resort, where you’re charged $2.17 for a banana, where you’ll most certainly get run over by a golf buggy, where convention guests proffer name badges and almost-dry handshakes and try to distract you from their grey or cream corporate uniforms and fuchsia blouses.
It’s a bubble – a bubble made of sand, but a bubble nonetheless, where you can both be renewed, and yet simultaneously be deracinated, physically and emotionally. All the factor 50 in the world won’t stop you have to shake the dust out of your poses for days after.
And yet, and yet, none of this answers the question, ‘Why come here? What do you actually do in the desert?’ My answer? That you go there to answer the question, ‘How much happiness do you need to make you happy?’
It’s not just about refining and running down expensive dreams in the sun. It’s about dreaming of new futures. Fleeing Italy or Wisconsin in the winter, as Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright did respectively, means that there’ll always be pockets here where the summers of various loves carry on, being excavated and constructed, in new ecolabs and arcological encampments.
It’s about being in a place where promises, by you, to you, are made. Where you can find a window in which you can see your future, and you’re dared to step through and seize it.