June 26, 2009
Even East Coast Super Lefties Think SLC Is WAY Cool
I don't have anything important to say about either Farrah Fawcett or Michael Jackson. I'm sorry they died painful deaths after lots of suffering and I'm especially sorry that through a series of tragic, weird circumstances, Michael Jackson's prodigious and astonishing talent was squandered on things like scary, inappropriate (if not morally culpable) interactions with children, and the intentional destruction of his face.
He really was the man in the mirror: the person who embodied and reflected our culture's destructive, misguided desire for a sort of false, impossible and caricature-like "beauty," which actually kills rather than encourages creativity, even in the most talented. This "beauty" is barren and sterile and it screams of self-loathing.
It's very, very sad.
But here's something productive and fecund that announces a healthy belief in growth and wise self-confidence: an essay in The Nation about how hip, cool, progressive and all-round AWESOME SLC is.
Lisa Duggan, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University writes that
Last fall I lived in Salt Lake City. As a leftist and New York City dyke, I had expected to find a conservative city and a quietly assimilationist gay community. Instead, I was repeatedly blown away by the progressive politics and outright queerness of the capital city, which is about 40 percent Mormon.
Duggan notes that SLC "is home to a floridly queer and unusually politically unified LGBT community" and discusses why it was a great place to spend the aftermath of the passing of California's Prop 8.
Please check it out.
May 19, 2009
Parking for Pleasure
I wrote last time that one reason I like SLC is all the green space. Parks abound, and are usually well maintained. One of the biggest park is Liberty Park, which comprises several city blocks and contains an aviary, a museum of folk art, and this cool water feature that is a miniature version of Jordan River and its tributaries, complete with canyons and labels and stuff so you can learn geography at the same time you're splashing around keeping cool in the summer. It's a totally great place to hang out with friends or entertain kids.
Liberty Park is many people's favorite park, but it's not mine. I much prefer Memory Grove, home to all sorts of memorials--mostly to veterans of various wars, though my favorite is a memorial a guy put up to his wife. (If you do work on memory or memorializations, you've got to check out this place.) It's mere blocks from downtown, and right at the mouth of City Creek Canyon, so you can be out of the city in just a 40-minute walk. Plus it's not called City Creek for nothing-there's really a creek.
But even Memory Grove is not my favorite park--at least, not right now.
My favorite park is the Brigham Young Historic Park at the corner of North Temple and State Street, right across from the Church Office Building.
Personally I don't think that's the best name for that park, even though it lies on part of Brigham Young's old farm, because there's another park a couple hundred yards away that is more Brigham Young-y in that it contains the graves of BY and several of his wives. The graves are clearly the reason that park exists--someone elected (wisely, I think) not to move the graves--but they're not the focus. There is some mediocre, banal, didactic statuary of the sort you typically see on church property, including a statue of BY sitting on a bench reading a book to two small children. There are also two big bronze plaques, one bearing the lyrics of "Oh My Father" by Eliza R Snow (who is buried in the park not far from Brigham) and the other bearing the lyrics to "Come, Come Ye Saints," which always makes me tear up 'cause it's actually a really great song that expresses so much pathos, hope and loss.
There is no statue of BY in the BY Historical Park. There are two statues of women working in a garden (actually, one woman both gardening and minding a small boy, plus one girl who has worked so hard she needs a drink of water), two statues of guys working in a quarry, and two statues of boys playing in a pond--only boys get to have fun in this park. There's a water wheel. There's a big plot of grass and a bunch of signs asking you to stay on the sidewalk.
And there are half a dozen benches on the south side of the park surrounded by lilac bushes, and as I've mentioned before, I LOVE lilacs. These lilac bushes make this spot completely magical. You can sit on one of those benches and have lilacs above, behind and to the side of you. They offer shade from the sun and every so often a breeze comes along, carrying the scent of the blooms. The plants and shrubs on the north side of the park are high enough that you can't see the traffic just beyond it, though you can see the doom of the Capitol Building above the foliage. (You can hear the traffic, but hey, it's a park in the middle of downtown, not a cloud cuckoo land.) It is the single best place I've ever found in my life to read a book. It's also a really good place to drink coffee and feel content. And despite that, it's always relatively empty. I'm usually the only person there.
Lilacs don't last forever; some of the blossoms are already beginning to brown. But one of the reasons I like that park so much is that it honors, accommodates and plans for a transitory pleasure. I think that's really cool, and I think it offers some important lessons about pleasure: it needs to be both cultivated and savored, because while you can make it happen, you can't make it stay.
Here are the lilac blossoms that hang right above my head when I take my position on the third bench.
Here are a couple of the statues and the benches and so forth.
See? It's a nice place.
May 16, 2009
Dong Bu Dong?
As I've mentioned before, I love living in Salt Lake City. Along with Iowa City, it's one of the most liberal, left-leaning places I've ever lived in my life; along with Tucson, it's one of the most geographically beautiful spots I've been lucky enough to call home. It's well planned (kudos to Brothers Joseph and Brigham for that), well maintained, clean, diverse, prosperous, interesting. It has a truly magnificent library that is always packed because I and countless others use it all the time; it has really great public transportation that I hardly ever use because it's so easy to walk in this city and I prefer that to riding the bus or figuring out train schedules. It has a vibrant arts scene, lots of green space, a fascinating graveyard, and plenty of fascinating architecture. It even has a violin making school!
OK, it also has a bunch of homophobic Mormons and the headquarters of the Mormon church, but all of that is remarkably easy to ignore, because as I said, the city itself is really liberal, and that affects life in the city itself (I'm NOT talking about the rest of the state) more than the Mormon church does. And some Mormons here do really great things for the city, the state, and perhaps even the world.
I'm speaking of the current governor, Jon Huntsman Jr, the Republican who miraculously succeeded in making Utah's liquor laws less weird and who has alienated more hardline conservatives by arguing for gay rights. (He balks at legalizing gay marriage, but advocates recognizing civil unions, which is much more generous than many conservatives.) He's a decent guy who makes careful policy. And now Obama has appointed him ambassador to China.
While I'm sorry that Utah will lose a prudent, effective, likable governor, I'm thrilled with this appointment. I think that the ambassadorship to China is one of the more important diplomatic positions within the US government, and I think Huntsman is an ideal candidate to fill it.
Like me, Huntsman became fluent in Mandarin when he served a mission for the Mormon church in Taiwan; unlike me, he appears to have maintained his fluency. But aside from the language issue, I think a mission in Taiwan was probably really good training for understanding a lot of issues in China. I mean, if you want to be a xenophobic jerk who learns nothing at all about the culture you're living in, you can manage that as a missionary, but if you want to understand what motivates people and what they care about, you can manage that too, fairly easily. Actually, I take that first part back. You couldn't even get in the door of someone's house or buy groceries if you didn't understand something about Chinese attitudes toward courtesy and indirectness.
There's also the fact that at the time Huntsman served a mission, diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the Mainland were nonexistent--people couldn't even send mail between the two places. Even when I was there, missionaries were often enlisted to help people in Taiwan correspond with family or friends on the Mainland: missionaries would mail letters from people in Taiwan to the missionaries' families in the US, who would then use US postage and a US return address to send the letter to Peoples' Republic of China. That was a huge lesson in international relations right there.
Plus Huntsman is a billionaire, which I have a feeling the government of China will totally respect.
And unlike Mitt Romney, another Mormon governor/rich businessman with lots of hair, he's not a douche nozzle, which I think will help things too.
The title of this blog entry, by the way, is the Romanization for a question easily translated as "do you understand?" "Dong" doesn't rhyme with "long," you should know; the vowel is the same as in "don't." The question is composed with a standard way of constructing a question in Chinese: you offer someone a set of options and they pick the accurate one--about like, "Do you get it or not?" Even when posing a question that could be answered with "Yes" if the question were posed in English--say, "You understand this, right?"--the answer would not be "Yes" but "I understand" (or even just plain "understand") because Chinese doesn't have a word that corresponds exactly to "yes." All of which is important in effective communication in Chinese, and all of which Huntsman already dongs.
April 14, 2009
Today has been nasty and rainy--not just a little damp, with occasional sprinkles, like Saturday, but soggy and windy and something you don't want to be out in. The weather people kindly informed us to expect exactly this sort of nastiness today, so I took advantage of yesterday's nice weather and spent a good chunk of the day outside.
I went to Red Butte Gardens, botanical gardens at the north edge of the U of Utah campus. I was attracted by their claim that they have 150,000 daffodils. They were nice, but not as lovely as the gardens I saw Saturday at Temple Square, frankly.
But these gardens have other attractions Temple Square doesn't--like all sorts of plants, stuff for children to play on, and a few big ponds with goldfish of varying sizes.
In one pond, I saw something I'd never seen before: a nesting goose. Her nest was in the pond and fairly exposed, which surprised me at first--I would have thought she'd choose something with more cover. Then it occurred to me that probably the biggest threat to her eggs' safety was people, who were more likely to leave her alone when she was in the middle of the pond. Here's the pond:
and here she is, on her nest:
I plan to go back in a month or so, and hope that I get to see little goslings learning to swim.
April 13, 2009
The Bulbs Go On
I hope you had a happy Easter if you care about Easter. I don't, particularly, but I will say that yesterday was an absolutely glorious day, bright and calm and fine. I couldn't help thinking of people who had gotten new outfits, and and imagining how happy they would be to have such a lovely day to wear those new outfits. I was already in a good mood, but thinking of how happy so many other people would be, even if it involved a celebration I don't partake in, made me happier. That's how nice the weather was yesterday.
But I also liked Saturday, which was gray, damp and rainy. I spent Saturday afternoon with friends, and told them they HAD to visit Temple Square, because it's stunning right now. I swear, I've never seen anyplace as aggressive about planting bulbs as Salt Lake City--and the results are lovely. (I'm not saying there aren't other places that don't plant more, just that I haven't seen them.) I had already made a visit or two to TS to enjoy the bulbs--but it's just so hard to go there without being accosted by sister missionaries.
But I figured a damp Saturday evening, particularly when it was the evening before Easter, might be a good time to wander the gardens without being bothered by anyone wanting to chat me up about religion. And I was right! I got a few nods from people scurrying around without umbrellas, but not one was inclined to stop and talk to me, except for a guy sitting on a retaining wall right inside the gate to Temple Square. He had a large plastic cup of--something; he was so drunk I could smell the alcohol wafting off him even ten feet away. He asked my permission to say something he hoped wouldn't offend me, then told me I was a really good-looking lady. Since he didn't try to hit me up for change or ask me to hang out with him, I felt inclined to trust his sincerity, so I wished him a good evening, having had one myself.
And even though I suspected the light would be lousy and feared it might be too wet for photography, I took my camera. The light wasn't great, but the rain never became too heavy to interfere with taking a picture. So here are the results.
This is a photo of the beds to the north of the Assembly Hall, which is my favorite building on Temple Square. I really like this color scheme.
This bed is outside the visitors' center, one of my least favorite buildings at TS. This bed isn't as unified and matchy as a lot of others, but I really like it.
I like the planters full of pansies hanging on the wall.
I think this bed of pansies and pink tulips is really sweet.
I like this funky color of hyacinth. My favorite is the more conventional purple, but this one is nice too.
This bed is between the Joseph Smith Building and the other church office building. Quite pretty.
I used to hate that Wordsworth poem where his heart dances with the daffodils, but when I see something like this, I hate the poem a lot less. I even sorta get it.
Here is one of my favorite flowers. I ADORE hyacinths--the way they look, the way they smell, the way there are dozens of tiny blossoms on one big stalk. I love the way they smell so much that I'll get down on my knees to sniff one from time to time, but I especially love walking past a big bed of them and catching their scent from an obliging breeze.
Wanted to see if I could capture the raindrops on this tulip. Not so much.
This is a better photo. I really like these tulips--they seem to be dwarfs or something. They're different.
This is not a picture of bulbs, but the flowering trees are really pretty.
November 22, 2008
Save the Bees, and Lose the Bee Catchers
When I moved to Utah, I began noticing this strange thing in people's yards: weird plastic containers hung from tree limbs, and full of dead bees. I found them gruesome and strange, never having seen such a thing before, but soon I began noticing them for sale in stores: bee catchers! Yes! For around fifteen bucks, you too can help destroy one of the world's most invaluable AND threatened species, putting all life on this planet at risk!
I don't know why I never saw these dreadful objects before; I'm guessing they can be found elsewhere; perhaps I just never noticed. But they're EVERYWHERE in Utah, particularly in Salt Lake City's (less enlightened and more Mormon) suburbs--one of which is called Fruit Heights. That's right: northern Utah is flush with orchards, producing apples and peaches and plums and pears and god know what all.
And WHY are there all these orchards in Utah? Well, one reason is because there are BEES to pollinate the trees.
If you want peaches every fall, put up with some bees the rest of the year. DO NOT CATCH OR KILL BEES. THEY ARE THREATENED, AND WE NEED THEM. WE REALLY NEED THEM.
In fact, bees were recently named the planet's single most invaluable species. They pollinate a third of the things we eat--including chocolate and coffee--and they are also one of the main polllinators of cotton. In fact, one scientist argues that "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
So I don't care how afraid of bees you are; suck it up and get over it, because the planets needs them.
November 15, 2008
The Saddest Headstone I've Ever Seen
One of the reasons I like Salt Lake is that it's great for talking walks, which is one of my favorite forms of exercise--I do it often enough, quickly enough and for long enough that it actually constitutes real exercise. The U of Utah, City Creek Park, Liberty Park, even downtown: these are all interesting places to walk. Plus the whole grid for the layout of the city and the use of coordinates as addresses make it really easy to know where you are and how far you've gone.
But one of my favorite places to walk is the city cemetery, on the northeast side of the city. I was walking there not long ago, when I saw the saddest headstone I've ever seen in my life. I realize that gravestones aren't exactly cheery--as Morrissey sings in "Cemetery Gates,"
so we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All these people, all those lives, where are they now?
With loves, and hates, and passions just like mine.
They were born and then they lived and then they died.
Seems so unfair, I want to cry.
But this one, there's so much tragedy and loss and suffering conveyed by just a few lines one stone--provided you read both sides of it. Here's the front:
And here's the back:
It freakin' breaks my heart to read that list of dates.
November 13, 2008
I Need to Get This Out of the Way
Remember a long time ago, when I wrote about selling my house? Or last month, when I wrote about how a 99 cent plastic statue of St. Joseph may have helped me sell my house? Well, what I haven't written about is where I moved after I sold my house. And I guess it's time to 'fess up and make the announcement:
I moved to Salt Lake City.
Now, what I want to make clear is that although I have moved back to the west and am damn glad to be here, I have not moved BACK to Utah. One thing that offends me no end is when people assume that because I grew up Mormon, I am FROM Utah. I am not FROM Utah. I am FROM Arizona. Check out my archives: the first topic listed is Arizona. There is no topic in the archives for Utah, because it has never been, until recently, my home. (Though I did add, in May 2009, an SLC stuff category.)
Until late this summer, the only significant amount of time I spent in Utah was the two months I was at the Missionary Training Center, a place I loathed as I have loathed few places in my life. I never went to BYU. I never wanted to go to BYU. I always vowed I would NEVER live in Utah.
And then I moved to Salt Lake City, and I freakin' love it, in ways that continue to surprise me and would disturb me too if it weren't much nicer to like one's home than to not.
It's so amazingly beautiful here--that's the first reason I love it. OK, the mountains here aren't quite as cool and idiosyncratic as the Catalinas north of Tucson, the vegetation not as funky. But late summer here was merely quite hot rather than FREAKIN' BLEEDIN' HOT, the way August is in AZ. And fall has been AMAZING. I love seeing the snow on the mountains. And you know that thing everyone says about the heat in Arizona, how it's a dry heat, and therefore not as oppressive as if humidity was involved? The same goes for cold: it's a dry cold here. You don't feel chilled to the bone the way you do when there's a wet wind blowing off some massively unfrozen great lake.
And Salt Lake City itself is great! It seems more cosmopolitan than many cities its size. There's stuff to do. It's easy to navigate (aside from the construction messing up the roads). It's affluent without being completely horrifying and gross. And I especially LOVE MY NEIGHBORHOOD. The architecture is interesting and fun. OK, there are lots of Mormon churches close to my front door, in every direction. But they are matched by an equal number of cool independent coffee shops. Seriously, I can get four different kinds of strong, delicious non-corporate coffee within three blocks of my home.
I honestly think my neighborhood is probably the most liberal place I have ever lived in my life. Before the election, there were as many Nader/Gonzales signs as McCain/Palin signs--and there were 20 times as many Obama/Biden signs as either of those.
The rest of the state is another matter entirely--it's a really red state, one of the reddest. I face certain challenges when I venture far from my very pleasant home. But it's nothing I can't handle and more than amply compensated by how great SLC itself is. Particularly after living for five years in a town as intellectually blighted as Erie, Pennsylvania.
And despite the fact that I can see the spires of the Mormon temple from the stairwell of my apartment building, I feel oddly insulated from the church. I remarked on this the other day to a friend, who said, "Absolutely! It's like living in the eye of the storm. The real impact is somewhere else. Here, it's pretty calm."
It really is strange and I wouldn't have believed this was the case before I moved here. But while you might be more aware of the church here in Salt Lake than in other places, you're also more aware that ultimately, it doesn't change how you want to live your life, and doesn't have much effect on how you can live it, aside from weird limitations on your ability to purchase booze. (And even still, Utah's liquor laws aren't as weird as Pennsylvania's. At least I can pick up a six-pack of beer at the grocery store here, something I couldn't do in PA.)
However, in California, for instance, it's another matter entirely, especially if you're gay--but as I say, that's the havoc and destruction wrought by the hurricane that is Mormonism. If you were an entirely secular, selfish resident of SLC, you'd never have to know anything about the misery Prop 8 has unleashed elsewhere. And maybe I am too insulated here, but I remain sanguine and hopeful that Prop 8 will be overturned soon, either by the courts or another ballot initiative. Of course, I'll be doing what I can to help the process, via protest and other means.
Anyway. There were things I couldn't really blog about until I clarified where I live now. So I've done that. But just to recap, please, please remember: I now live in Salt Lake City, but I AM NOT FROM UTAH.