Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cultural Bumping, Part 1

I'm taking a course in the American Southwest this fall, and one of our texts is a book by Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez entitled Border Visions. The author describes "cultural bumping" as a process in which one culture bumps into another culture which can result in defeat, change, assimilation, or refreshment of one or both of the cultures. "Human populations often may become more distinct but sometimes more similar after bumping into one another."

While Vélez-Ibáñez is using this concept to describe major historical change over hundreds or thousands of years, I think it's also an interesting way to look at more recent change. There have been so many immigrants to this country in the past 100-200 years, and each group has brought its own cultural history with it to "bump" into the existing US culture and continue to change and enliven it.

Today this blog will start another new series in Southwest observations, that of "bumps" observed around town and on the road. I've already begun addressing this topic in the "Not Quite Spanglish" entries, part 1 and part 2.

On a recent trip north, I drove about two and a half hours from Santa Fe, a beautiful drive up Route 285, and stopped for lunch in the first town over the Colorado border, Antonito. I ate at a Mexican-American restaurant called The Dutch Mill. It was clearly a local hangout, and the food was fabulous. But I loved the incongruity of the sign (pictured above), which features the name of the restaurant, an illustration of a windmill, and the slogan "serving Mexican and American food".

Inside, more cultures clamored to be heard. The sodas were served in Japanese Coke glasses, and a small sign claimed that Antonito was where The Wild Bunch was filmed. The adjoining barroom next door (traversed to find the restrooms) was right out a movie about a small town in the west (sawdust floors, neon beer signs) but the restaurant itself was decorated with posters of impressionist art, including one from an exhibit at the Museum of FIne Arts in Boston.
Only because I loved the look of the building, I've included a shot of the Palace Hotel (established 1890) next door.

Just two miles after leaving Antonito, I drove through the most beautiful stretch of lonely highway fringed with yellow wildflowers and populated only by herds of cattle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kevin Costner Fans

Writing about your own blog seems a bit self-centered to me, but I couldn't resist sharing my surprise at the huge outpouring of Kevin Costner fans who inundated my previous blog post Saturday-Monday. I had the biggest two days of site visits I'd had since I started posting, thanks to an observant fan who posted a link to my blog. (Click and scroll down to the second message in this thread.)

Not only did I have visits from every corner of the US, but from 12 foreign countries, with top honors going to Canada, Belgium, Britain, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. Who knew there were so many Kevin Costner fans all over the world! (And not only out there, but checking fan sites on a daily basis for info...)

So for all you Kevin fans out there, here's another photo from the concert!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Kevin Costner's Swing Vote

Let me tell you what I was doing at midnight last night: I was watching Kevin Costner and his band Modern West entertaining a few hundred die-hards with a fast-moving 45-minute set of rockabilly, on the set of his new movie Swing Vote, on the grounds of the Santa Fe Rodeo.

After six hours of filming (we unpaid extras walked in lines towards the metal detectors for two minutes, then backed up and did it again and again; then sat in the stands while they filmed the distance shots with a helicopter, the mid-range shots, and finally the closeups) the cast and crew took a "lunch" break about 11:30 p.m., and Kevin changed out of his suit and tie, and spent the break entertaining the crowd. It was a lovely interlude!

At about 12:30 they wrapped up the concert, everybody came back from break, Kevin's hair people fixed his hat hair, and they picked up filming again. The remnants of the ever-shrinking crowd went back into the stands, but I was too tired to sit through another round (and hours on hard benches in the cold was taking its toll!).

What fun, though! The movie (an "indie political comedy" produced by Costner) tells the story of a very close presidential election, where a run-off between the two candidates is mandated, and it all comes down to the state of New Mexico, and a single vote to be cast by Kevin Costner's character--a small-town, not-very-successful, single dad. The scene we were filming shows the candidates on stage at the local rodeo grounds in what is billed as "The Final Debate". Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper play the candidates, and other cast members include Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, and Judge Reinhold.

Here's a short video interview with Kevin which also shows him with his band a few days earlier.

We couldn't take photos during the filming, so I have no on-set photos of Costner, Grammer, or Hopper, but here are a few set shots to give you a flavor.

Stand-ins for candidates Grammer and Hopper while they set up the mid-range shots

Stand-in for Costner

Setting up the close-up shots with two tracks for cameras

On my way out; part of the set

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Confusing Signage, Part 1

On a recent trip to Colorado, I spent a night in Salida, a lovely little mountain town. It's a popular rafting destination on the banks of the Arkansas River, and has a great "Old Town" section with a number of antique stores that stock depression glass and Victorian items--my specific areas of interest. (I even bought a pink depression glass two-handled plate--a rarity for me to find pieces I want for my collection in this part of the country.)

There is a park along the river where the following signage was posted:

As you can clearly see, the big sign in the center says NO DOGS ALLOWED. The small sign to the right says: "Dogs Must be Leashed on Riverside Park Trail." The small installation to the left is a dispenser of dog poop bags and an encouraging sign about their use.

Serious mixed signals!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

These Are (Not) My People

Throughout my adult life, when I have traveled to places in the US where country music was popular, I have listened to it on the car radio. It can fit in Georgia or New Mexico or Wyoming where it doesn't seem to fit when you're in Boston or Chicago or LA.
Since I moved to Santa Fe I have listened to quite a bit of country music. The buttons on my car radio represent an eclectic mix including two NPR affiliates (one in Santa Fe and one in Albuquerque), one Spanish music station, one oldies station, one classical station, and one country station, KRST in Albuquerque.

I started tuning into this station because I got clear reception of it on my clock radio, and could use it as a not-too-interruptive way to wake up on the days I actually had to set an alarm. And I enjoy the morning host patter (something that has, in general, driven me away from commercial radio because it's almost uniformly juvenile and aims so low. Years ago, I used to listen to Jess Cain on morning radio in Boston, and he spoiled me for anybody else because his show was always so smart, funny, and interesting. Upon embarking on this blog entry, I discovered that The Get up Gang, the KRST morning show, won an ACM in 2006 for Best Show (Medium Market), so I guess I'm not the only person who finds them entertaining!)

(She meanders back to the point.) I like quite a lot of country music--the melodies are hummable, the words often quite insightful. But in some songs (as is the case, frequently, with rock music), if you really listen to the words you find a stupid and not very insightful song. I'd like to share one with you today.

The song is a Rodney Atkins anthem entitled "These Are My People." If you don't really listen, you can get into the chorus and sing along with gusto. But the verses tell another story.

You can view the full lyrics here, but basically the gist of it is: We screwed around when we were kids; then we went to the local community college where we hung out in a haze of booze and sex and eventually got thrown out. Because we had no education we couldn't get decent jobs, and even though we had high hopes for our lives (based on what?) none of us achieved what we wanted. Now we suffer through our bad jobs all week and get drunk and fight all weekend. Oh, and we've also got some mental issues.

And another rousing chorus--ain't life grand!

In contrast to other titles which look at the blue collar/red neck/simple life through a more sympathetic lens ("Red Neck Yacht Club", "I'm a Lucky Man", "Never Wanted Nothing More"), I find this particular song downright offensive.

Just thought I'd share!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bears in Trees

During August, I saw small black bears in trees in two different states--Alaska and Colorado. (Ho-hum, another week, another bear in a tree....) Unlike the grizzly, the black bear--even as an adult--is an adept climber, and runs up trees to get away from a predator or enemy (including humans). Both bears I saw were cubs--the Alaska bear probably a one-year-old, since it was still with its mother; the Colorado bear a two-year-old who was on his own (according to the ranger who was monitoring the situation).

The Alaska bear had apparently climbed into his tree shortly before we arrived at the area, while his mother and siblings continued to forage for salmon. This is a proverbial fish-in-the-barrel opportunity--the bears stand by the stream, up which the salmon are swimming, and grab them out of the water.

They eat the head and guts and throw away THE GOOD PART!! Seems like we're missing a reciprocal exchange agreement here--just think of all the heads and guts that are discarded by humans, and the beautiful salmon steaks discarded by bears.

We were close to the wild in this area--right near Mendenhall Glacier, and most of us were much more interested in photographing the mother and two other cubs, so I didn't even get a picture of this bear in a tree.

I suspect that the bear probably meandered down as soon as the park closed and the small groups of humans left.

The Colorado bear had wandered into downtown Fort Collins--probably in search of food (no handy salmon streams), and climbed a tree when it felt threatened.

The tree in question (or trees, actually, since it came down one and went up another several times) were old, very tall trees on the grounds of a historic house on the corner of Mountain and Meldrum--directly across the street from The Edwards House, the B&B in which I was staying.

In contrast to the Alaska scene, the Fort Collins bear WAY up in the tree attracted huge volumes of townsfolk, as well as the local media.

Since the bear was there for about 30 hours, many people came and went, including a couple of midnight visits from various groups of newly-arrived freshmen from the University of Colorado. (Since I was having breakfast every morning with parents of freshmen, I felt like I got to know this group very well!) Also several Department of Wildlife rangers down from Estes Park were there monitoring the bear full-time, and providing lots of useful information to gawkers like me!

Several attempts were made with fire engine cherrypickers to get close enough to tranquilize and trap the bear. But most of the time he was too high to make this feasible--apparently they only have five minutes after they tranq the bear to get him down; if they don't get him trapped and down before then, he will become immobilized and likely fall out of the tree and be seriously hurt.

At about 3 a.m. on the second night they were finally able to catch it and take it back up into the Rocky Mountains in a waiting cage. (According to the rangers, they planned to entice it with melons and berries--yum! These bears eat well!) The bear was tagged before release--if it wanders into an urban area again it will be euthanized--the Colorado two-strikes law at work.

By the way, Colorado has a black bear population of about 12,000, while Alaska has more than 50,000. (On a personal level this makes sense to me, since I saw four bears in Alaska, and only one in Colorado!)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

September Garden Update

I had high hopes for the garden this season, but was challenged by frequent rains in the spring and VERY hot weather this summer. I successfully planted a lilac and two phlox, but 6 hens and chickens died, and the lavender I bought I didn't get into the ground in time. I hope to do some more planting this fall--it is obviously going to be a multi-year project!

However, the big surprise of the summer was the fact that I have a prolific peach tree. I knew it was a fruit tree of some kind, but I assumed it was an ornamental--it had no visible fruit last year, and I just figured I would get beautiful spring blossoms and a nice tree and that would be that. So imagine my astonishment when I came back from an early August vacation to find rosy-hued peaches all over the tree! It looked like one of those crayon pictures of fruit trees that little kids draw--a big ball of green with glowing fruit all over it.

I do have a hard time keeping up with the birds for getting the peaches at the precise point of ripeness. Unlike some other fruits (apples for example), peaches stop ripening when you pick them--they only soften. So you can't pick them too early (one of the reasons why supermarket peaches often don't taste that good--they weren't allowed to ripen fully). Every day I go out and pick the ripe peaches, but the birds have a knack for finding lots to snack on. I probably throw out 20 a day or more that I pick off the ground in varying states of deterioration.

I've discovered that about twelve peaches (peeled, pitted, sliced, and syruped) fill a quart Ziploc bag--what fun to have this fruit of summer packed away in the freezer for a winter treat! (I got all my tips about picking and freezing peaches from the "Pick Your Own" web site.)

Meanwhile the apple tree is also being incredibly productive--as well as shedding apples like crazy (the best of which I'm trying to ripen indoors in a brown paper bag).

In the apple ground photo below you can also see my two phlox plants--one on either side of the apple tree--I'm just so pleased they're not dead!