Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Full-Blown American Christmas: Part II

Onward, to the day after Christmas and beyond!

(Hannes: "That's aaaa... very timely contribution to the Internet.")

Hannes had decided that the majestic saguaro, tall, stoic, and steady, was his spirit animal, and that he wanted to further commune with them in the wild to learn of their secretive ways. 
One of the things I had planned to do months in advance was to drive up to Cave Creek and Carefree along the Carefree Highway, because it's just north of where my mom lives and is pretty scenic and peaceful. If anyone not from back home as I know it is reading this: it's pretty much just desert out where we were and beyond, mountains and cacti. Plus, Hannes was really looking forward to seeing quaint, rustic, small-town-vibey cafés and saloons and whatnot as well, so it was a clear choice.

Wow, it's really bright and windy!

Ow! It's really bright and windy!

This expression is a classic depiction of the level of excitement one expects in response to, 
"This is the biggest sundial in America!"

We went into a large café nearby to escape the ridiculously cold and intense wind to have some hummus and in Alé's case, a cup of cheddar beer soup.

Since it was too cold to walk around and there wasn't much to do other than that and driving around, I headed back toward the spot where the Carefree Highway hits a large mountain dotted with very pricey houses at Cave Creek, so that Hannes could get his pictures. He said that was definitely the perfect spot.

Ow! It's too bright and cold!

See what I mean? Spirit animal. 
Spinebeard? Pricklebeard? I don't recall the name of their leader, but I'm confident that important things were discussed.

You can tell how cold it is, right? Also my head looks weirdly tiny.

Still way too cold, but this time in the shade, and with a more proportional head

On the way home we also stopped at.. Deem Hills? I think it is? Because Alé suggested that we might be able to walk around and take more pictures there, but by then the sun was going down and we were in the shade, so it was even more ridiculously cold. 
They got out to smoke cigarettes and I stayed put, pointing out that Alé looked like a baby penguin in my mom's oversized fluffy coat, prompting the following crazy homicidal penguin impression:


The next day we chilled and ate Christmas leftovers and I don't remember what else exactly, but that evening we went out to the Bruce Munro exhibition at the Desert Botanical Gardens, something else I'd wanted to do months in advance and that my mom was nice enough to get the tickets for. She did so much for us for Christmas, it was really the best.

Hot air balloon tours just north of the city have always been a big thing, and we saw quite a few close to the ground as we were leaving. I think it was at this point that Hannes finally got to see a hummingbird, too; one that hovered right in front of us, conveniently showing off his red feathers in the remaining sunlight, before flying off. 
It never really occurred to me that most places don't have them and that some of our animals are pretty exotic to Europeans. Like, I think all deserts have scorpions - Italy has them, for example - but the adorable and much-loved hummingbird is a Central and South American thing. 
(The More You Know~)

I miss my mom! Dx

There was an all-female mariachi band playing near the entrance, which I'd never seen before

Actually, I'm glad we got there before it was completely dark so that we could also see some of the plants themselves beforehand lol

They not only had a number of strategically placed bars thoughout the park, but also other live music spots. The atmosphere was so festive, relaxed, and whimsical, it was perfect. I was legit impressed and said a few times that I wished - at this point after about 9 months in Japan, where no one uses social media properly or promotes anything, overcharges for everything, and consistently fails to consider every basic aspect of what large crowds want and need - more people and venues were this adept at organising large events.

The luminarias were pretty ethereal once it actually got so dark that you simultaneously needed them to see where the path was and yet also could not see shit.

I love this one, don't ask me why. 
My camera (the ~$140 I bought in Germany when it was 1E:1.11US) is fantastic for daytime outdoor shots but can't do jack in dim light no matter how you change the settings, so the way these cholla turned out clear but fuzzy around the edges where the spines are was kind of a small victory.


And finally, here we are at the Munro light pillars. They're PET bottles filled with water and miles of fine fiber optic cable, but don't let that spoil the magic. They were really, really fucking cool in this desert setting.

Let this spoil the magic instead! What they look like when you turn the flash on and the mystery off, in case anyone was wondering.

And a see-what-I-mean-about-the-not-so-good-dim-shots closeup..

These light balls were another of the several Munro exhibitions places around the park in addition to the light pillars and mountainside, which were the main ones. 

This dome was also just as awesome as it looks. Taller than Hannes, it made me wonder how long it would take a person to collect this many PET bottles and install them into these structures. I mean, even before taking the many miles of fiber optic cable into account.

Just a hanging metal sculpture that looked cool from below. A few of these together really remind me of the deep sea episode of Blue Planet, with Sir David Attenborough narrating in the background.

No one on Instagram would/could tell me what flower this is. Bonnie might know? Do you read these, Bonnie? Probably not. Mystery for the ages.

These ones were very Avatar-esque, and I think my mom really liked them.

This one and several others are on Instagram, but the majority I hadn't shared with my family yet, in case anyone is wondering about why I'm bothering to do this now for anyone but myself lol

Okay, from this point on you'll see my many and varied attempts at capturing the illuminated mountain, which was truly a sight to behold, if you'll forgive me for using a cliché. It looked very much like a city as seen from the air, or maybe an illuminated but unmoving image of neurons in the brain.

This was the best one, I think. We were drinking delicious hot alcoholic beverages, including butterscotch apple cider, which we later bought the ingredients for to make it at home.

We walked all through the park, though we didn't take one of the long winding trails up the illuminated mountain because it was so dark and would have taken ages; plus, we were getting tired.

Another Munro, there were a few of these placed together

The entrance/exit was also very pretty

When we got home I heated up leftover baked chicken from the supermarket and also made broccoli and Animal-Style fries for Hannes and my mom. I forget what I ate, but for dessert..

.. I had gluten-free frozen waffles with strawberries, marshmallows and chocolate sauce. Aw yiss.

The very next day we set out on our only side trip - not that there would've been time to fit in anything else, even if we tried - to Arcosanti and Sedona. I did a post about Paolo Soleri and his alternative society project when he died, but had never actually visited before. This time you can see how well my inexpensive camera works during the day lol.

No wait, stay there! -click-

There's such a distinctive mid-century retrofuturistic style to all of these types of alternative desert societies and cults, I think, because, well, that's when they were all from. When we were still dreaming of new ways to do things and the moon was still close, in the 50's and 60's.

Bronze windchimes and tiles cast onsite are their main source of revenue. There are actually people who live at Arcosanti full-time.

They remind me a lot of Stargate

Far out, man. 

I think these unique sained glass windows were actually my favourite thing. 

These and other drawings were on display on a coffee table at the bottom of that really cool stairwell there, near one of the exits. Like so many other communities of its ilk, Arcosanti was of course never finished.

such postapocalyptic, wow

so pond. many future-that-never-was. 

This apse is a clever temperature-regulating structure that faces south for maximum light exposure, yet its thick concrete structure still keeps the building fairly cool in summer.

That classic mom look of, "Are you finished now?"

The food at the café smelled delicious, but we didn't try anything.

Again, extremely windy, dry, and cold, but still nice.

Weird little desert berries?

After a walk around that we didn't realise we were supposed to have paid for (they didn't really make that clear until they started yelling at people for it!), we drove up to Sedona, checked into our motel, and headed over to Tlaquepaque.

At the Oak Creek Brewery, a restaurant my mom has loved for I think decades, we had ourselves some delicious drinks and a few huge servings of things to share.

Another terrible and dim picture, but this fruit and cheese plate, these fries and onion rings, and especially the dipping sauces they came with were delicious. That ranch there had a layer of cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, and I think a couple of other spices on top that was somehow, like, totally revolutionary.

Ever since watching Point Break last summer we've been making "Bodhi faces" at each other, making fun of how goofy the Swayze looked, and I think this T-rex skull one was the pinnacle lol


There's a picture of me and my mom sitting in this same spot when I was a baby.

Sigh. He always does this.

... and he was also totally not in the mood for an alien massage?! I mean, wtf?

Kitschy 90's childhood ahoy!

Ow, it's too bright and windy! Still!

Over 101 different omelettes, including an omelette-less omelette for me! You just order the combo you want with no eggs. Brilliant!

Look how happy my mom was once we finally got a seat! (It's always crowded and busy, and we had no idea at the time, but it turns out that the week between Christmas and New Year is the single busiest of the year. One guy walked up, suddenly saw us all waiting outside, and went "Jesus Fucking Christ." and just walked away again lol) She and I both went on many childhood trips to Sedona and this place is very much a nostalgic fixture of those memories.

We ate so. Much. Fucking. Food. Especially me. We were all ravenous after waiting for over an hour and it was more like lunch at this point. That plate with the empty guacamole on it had homemade chips; I had home fries, Spanish rice, gluten-free toast, and a mix of spinach, mushrooms, onions, and I don't remember what else. My mom's omelette had cream cheese and seemed especially decadent. And of course, we all had quite a lot of coffee. It was a feast of kings to be sure.

Check out this photobomb lol. Terrible. Hannes knows, that's why he's making that face.

"Onward, Pepsi truck, to your destiny!"

While walking along the main street we found a fine shop offering a couples' tasting that included four pours each and the tumblers for 17 bucks, so we were like, yeah, fuck it, we're adults.

It was really nice. I still have that bottle up there on the left, with the tree on the label. One family in a small town in Arizona produces a limited number for the holidays each year, and it's amazing; rich and sweet and full of holiday spices, like a special glühwein made to be had room temperature or chilled. Once we had it back here we polished the bottle off right away.

Love this one.

And this one!

I had expected to be able to go on an easy, low-key trek to see some of the rock formations and ancient pictographs up close, but every place was so insanely crowded that it was impossible.
They limit the number of people at those sites to keep them intact, so unfortunately we couldn't get the full experience.

Instead we headed up to Indian Gardens, an area up scenic state highway 89A with a wooden general store and a spot with access to Oak Creek. My grandpa used to take my mom and her brothers up there to picnic and fish in the creek, because there's a fishery nearby that releases... trout? into the water at certain times. I've taken some nice walks there and enjoyed how huge and well-fed the squirrels are because of all the snack-toting visitors.

At least, that's how it used to be. The people who live immediately opposite the creek got tired of people being there all the time, I guess, and it's all fenced off now. The Indian Gardens General Store is a pricey specialty food shop and café now, though they've also expanded their back patio, and it's still really nice.

Our last scenic stop on the way out that day was the Chapel of the Holy Cross, those architecture is quite impressive and compliments the landscape very well (as was required by law), but that we of course visited for the view.

And the view of the most ostentatious house in the state was also one of the focal points of everyone up there

Our last actual stop before leaving was the Blue Moon Café, another one of those little places that gave Hannes the small town diner feeling he was looking for. There was just so much ultra-kitschy Americana happening in this corner behind me..

He and my mom had coffee and slices of peach pie.

After we got home I had my only chance to meet the oldest friend I'm still in contact with, Erin. We were the weird creepy girls who wore mostly black and were into female-fronted alt rock and witchcraft in the 6th and 7th grades at the turn of the Millennium. The last time I saw her was the last time I had been home, two days before her C-section, and being extremely petite, she was enormous. We'd sat outside the Starbucks at AMC 30, where all the Romanians typically hang out, after it had closed.

We caught up in a rapid-fire way at Pita Jungle, once again ending up being the last people there when the staff finally shooed us out, and then I brought her home to say hi to my mom (She shrieked "Mother!!" when she saw her; my mom was kind of the second mom of all my friends growing up, even though my late teens) and meet Hannes. It was kind of awkward because everyone was exhausted after having gotten back from our little trip, it was late, and the two of us were a little drunk, but I was glad to see everyone who had time to meet. Sadly, the only picture I got of all this was of the sweets plate I made up for Erin, because my grandma piled on way more than we could possibly eat, as always.
We also stopped it to say hello to Katie just once more, while she was still at work, and I didn't get to meet the daughter she'd had since the last time I was home, just as I didn't get to meet Erin's son. 

These last few days were more low-key, and involved a lot of Saturday Night Live reruns, Drunk History, sleeping in, and snacking on glorious specialty products that are completely nonexistent in Japan, even at outrageously high import prices. So in that vein, let's have a brief food interlude:

So glorious.. Too good, too pure for this world.. And so inexpensive! T_T

Hannes had also bought this because he's a purely impulse shopper lol. Neither of us had eaten anything so entirely composed and tasting of artificial chemicals for a very long time. It was.. unpleasant.

Kind of hard to tell it's amazing, I know, but this is a gluten and vegan sandwich made with rice bread, a marinated portobello mushroom, melty fake cheese, and roasted bell peppers.

After visiting Katie I tried to use up a lot of the stuff in the fridge we'd gotten (it was so packed) by making these tasty casserole things: my mom's and Hannes' was veggies and turkey bacon with white wine, butter, camembert and brie, and mine was of course vegetarian with red wine and fake cheddar.

Ever so slightly prettier on the plate but not really lol.

New Years' Eve was pretty uneventful, actually: the whole point of visiting was to spend time with my mom, and I never want to be out driving that night because it's so dangerous and means that I of course can't (re: shouldn't) drink.

First we had some of the interesting Australian grape-distilled vodka my uncle gave me for Christmas together with the extremely inexpensive ($1.99 a bottle, it's really no wonder everyone is so goddamn fat) Welch's Sparking White Grape, and then my mom dropped us off at Sarah and Brad's house. She and I have always massively stressed each other out while driving, so on the way there she decided that finding the place was too stressful and told us to just take a cab home. Fair enough.

The last experience Hannes needed to have was the red Solo cup house party drinking experience, which everyone our age in Germany is aware of through American movies, but this brand/these types of cups just don't exist over there. Check and check.

Josh spent New Years' at Sarah's, too, and it was really nice to see him again. We were so busy, it was difficult to find time to hang out with my friends.

We left pretty early to ring in the actual new year together with my mom, you know, with the ball dropping in NYC on TV. Our taxi driver was a really interesting guy, as I guess is often the case, and talked with us about tourists and how Phoenix had changed over the years. He waited patiently with us outside the apartment gates when we realised my mom had no idea how to open them from her place, until she came down to the front in her car. He was a pretty good guy.

Once the countdown was over, we decided to go see if the fireplaces were burning by the nice, landscaped pool area, and found that a large Iraqi-American (Assyrian, actually) family had rented out the lobby and adjacent spaces for their own private party. We ended up talking to this guy about our age, by the fire and with sports playing on the TV above, about his failed relationship and decided that he was an arrogant delusional douchebag, but we were sympathetic at the time and it made for a weirdly interesting night nonetheless.

The following morning, on the first day of this year (hot damn, I'm almost caught up to the present now, only five and a half months behind), Nico and Andrea sent us an adorable photo, so I replied with our massively hungover and intentionally unattractive one:

Then my mom made us breakfast because she's awesome!

Oh, sweet delicious ingredients and endless variety, I took this photo knowing how I would long for you once back in Tokyo.. le sigh. We actually eat a lot of avocados here, though, and my mom has faithfully sent large quantities of corn tortillas, salsa verde, and other specialty foods as well.

That night we had dinner with my grandparents one more time, at The Cheesecake Factory near their house - yet another place Hannes had of course never been to - and we were still drunk. There was also another slightly better-quality group photo I asked my mom to send, but she never did! We had a very nice time and they both got all teary-eyed while saying goodbye. It was pretty intense.

The next day we woke up early so my mom could drive us to the airport, our whirlwind visit already and abruptly over. I said goodbye and walked away pretty quickly to avoid tears, and because I was pretty embarrassed about how much of a jerk I'd been a lot of the time. She had been extremely sick and turned 60, and I wasn't there. Being back was very weird and I kind of regressed emotionally and wasn't handling the guilt very well, not to mention the absolutely terrible jetlag and how sick I made myself eating things I'd become allergic to (again) in Germany. I've pretty much always been emotionally imbalanced, ragey, sick in one way or another, and full of regret, but it was really bad while I was home (and again when Hannes' parents were visiting Japan). I just hope that everyone had a good time regardless and that I can work out my issues to avoid doing it again. Because we had a wonderful, near-perfect time.

One last enormous burrito for the road at SFO...

I was like, yeah, put all of the things on my tacos. 
They're not even tacos anymore, just piles of goodness.

Bye, States. 
The plan is to be back for Christmas 2017 and maybe do the Grand Canyon and Vegas.
Love you guys.