Always very grand

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 27, 2015 9:51 PM

The first and only time I saw the Grand Canyon was almost by accident. It was the summer of 1984. I had graduated from college just over a week earlier and my mother and I had set off on our cross-country journey shortly thereafter. We had stopped to see friends in Colorado Springs before heading south to Santa Fe, New Mexico where we had lunch. We stayed in a horrible hotel – more likely a motel – in Gallup, an equally horrid town. The next morning, we headed west across the Painted Desert. I remember driving through, marveling at the colors and the flat lands surrounded by mountains. Along the road were a number of street vendors, Native Americans, selling silver and turquoise jewelry.

In 1984 there were no navigation systems, no cell phones. We had an old fashioned map and an itinerary prepared by the Automobile Association of America. We knew we were in Arizona, but had no idea how far we were from our destination. My car, a 1979 Toyota Celica, didn’t have a computer to tell us how many miles to go. All we knew was that we were on the right road and that we were heading into the setting sun. 

We came upon a number of cars parked along the side of the road. People were out of their vehicles, congregated more or less together and staring out at something. We stopped, too. Whatever it was must have been worth looking at. We walked to the edge of the road and there it was: The Grand Canyon in the last part of the day. It was breathtaking, unexpected, and startling. Rock formations that were lower than where we stood, in various shades of gray. As we watched the sun dipped too close to the earth’s surface to bring out any distinctions in the canyon, making it flat. Eventually, we made our way down the road a little farther and pulled into El Tovar. 

El Tovar is the lodge on the Canyon’s South Rim. It was built in 1905 by Chicago architect Charles Whittlesey who wanted his structure to be a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian Villa. It cost $250,000 and at the time was considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi. It was built even though President Theodore Roosevelt, who had visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, said: “I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country – to keep this great wonder of nature as it is now ...I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loveliness and beauty of the Canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it.” In 1906, Roosevelt issued an executive order for the Grand Canyon Game Reserve. In 1908, the Canyon was established as a National Monument, and became a National Park in 1916. 

The hotel was supposed to be relatively small but because of the number of visitors to the Grand Canyon, the size was increased and it became a destination resort. My mom and I weren’t looking for a destination resort, just a nice place to sleep for the night. It was lovely, rustic, with a great dining room. It was the perfect complement to the discovery of the Canyon itself. We had a nice dinner, and slept in a decent bed, one of the best that wasn’t in the home of a friend, and in the morning, after breakfast, walked along the rim of the Canyon, marveling anew. 

President Roosevelt stayed at El Tovar for the first time in 1906, and again in 1913. There were originally 103 rooms and 21 bathrooms. Now there are 78 rooms, all with private bathrooms. It was renovated in 1983 and again in 2005. On January 1, 2017 it will close again for renovations. The carpet will be replaced, the rooms will be painted, the electrical and plumbing systems will be upgraded as will the heating, air conditioning, entertainment systems and the internet wi-fi. Evidently they’re also hoping to find the source of entrance for the ring-tailed cats that occasionally dine with the guests. There was an article in the paper about it today. It will open again in April of 2017. I hadn’t thought about El Tovar since we stayed there but as soon as I saw the photos I remembered. It was a grand lodge, on a grand trip. It will be even grander soon, still the perfect complement to the South Rim of the spectacular national park called the Grand Canyon.

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live out loud

Happy Christmas Eve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 24, 2014 8:38 PM

It’s a beautiful day in the desert as I write this, 55º with a slight breeze. It seems both impossible and completely plausible that today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas. Such is life in the desert southwest. I have become used to it and yet I always hope that there will at least be clouds. Perhaps it’s my upbringing, but Christmas always seems more Christmasy when there is weather.

Today is filled with a lot of nothingness. Luckily all of the shopping has been done, the presents are wrapped. Even the shopping for food has been done. I will make a big pan of manicotti, Kevin’s favorite, then put it in the refrigerator for tomorrow. It’s always better if it has a day to sit. Tomorrow I’ll simply put it in the oven; I’ll make garlic bread and a salad.

Tonight at the Arizona Inn

This afternoon we’ll go for a walk, then do a bit of wine tasting. Tonight we’ll go to the Arizona Inn and sit in the library. It’s so terribly civilized, cultured. Each year they do a gorgeous Christmas tree with thousands of lights and ornaments. We’ll sit in front of the fire and sip a glass of fine red wine as music plays softly in the background. Afterward, maybe we’ll stop at Pastiche, one of our favorite restaurants. There isn’t much open tonight, but they are… until 9.

When we return to the house, we’ll have more wine. Some stuffed mushrooms, some additional munchies. We’ll listen to music; put a movie in with no sound. We’ll enjoy the season.

It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Christmas. We’ll be leisurely and open presents. We may have mimosas. It’s the only time of year we do that, and it makes the day that much more special. It’s supposed to be cloudy and perhaps rain. Rain and cold makes it, somehow, more festive though not more joyous. The joy comes regardless. It’s the joy of giving, of sharing, of laughter and the season. I’m a sucker for this season and all that it brings. The music, the gifts, the decorations, the movies. This year it also brings our good friends Roy and Bobbi. It’s the first year we haven’t had Justin, but we’re making a new tradition and spending it with friends instead. Next year, we’ll be in the new house. It will be another special year.

This Christmas Eve, we’re celebrating a beautiful day, and a fun evening to follow. We’re going wine tasting. We’re cooking. We’re enjoying. We’re watching and listening.

And we’re wishing everyone a Happy Christmas Eve.

On Sundays alone

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 25, 2014 10:24 PM

For the past four days, we’ve had company. Our dearest friends Roy and Bobbi have been with us and oh, what a time we’ve had. They drove on Wednesday, leaving around 9:30 am. The plan was to take I-10 across California, into Arizona, down through Phoenix and finally exit in Tucson. That was the plan but plans change. As the old saying goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Also really bad accidents. One did, on the 10 at Blythe, closing the freeway in both directions. There is no other way to get through Blythe and into Arizona when on the 10.

Luckily they found out early enough; Bobbi sent me a message from the car. We started researching in order to plan an alternate. South on 86 out of Indio, past the Salton Sea, to the 111 and on down to the I-8. The I-8 runs from San Diego straight across the lower part of the Sonoran Desert, dangerously close to the Mexico border, so close that you could see the fence. It’s not significantly longer, maybe 20 miles. They stopped in Yuma for lunch, one of the biggest armpits in the country (apologies to people who live in Yuma), then zoomed along, finally arriving around 6.

We were waiting. We had some cheese, some wine. I made pasta with two kinds of sauce, or as Roy calls it “gravy.” We laughed and talked through the night. Over the next couple of days, we just enjoyed ourselves. We visited some wonderful places, places we had discovered and wanted to share. The Lost Barrio downtown, the famous Hotel Congress where John Dillinger was staying and where he was finally caught way back when as he was exiting the Rialto Theater across the street. We went to the Arizona Inn, a landmark that first opened in 1930. It’s a throw back place, full of history and possibility. It looks like old Hollywood glamour. I know that stars like Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Katherine Hepburn and more used to vacation in Tucson during the 1930s and 1940s. I think the AZ Inn catered to the elite. It still caters to an older clientele simply because of the décor, the style. It’s old world and gorgeous.

We went to The Dish, an eclectic and impossibly small bistro that serves things like a bowl of mussels, swimming in a garlic-saffron broth, with a glass of wine for just $12.50 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Kevin and I had the mussels, Bobbi had smoked salon flatbread. Roy had a salad and squash soup. We all shared a Spanish wine.

Roy is an artist. Kevin has been pitching him as his artist representative and several weeks ago, booked a one-man month show at a gallery on the east side. We went to check out the space, take some pictures. We went to the house, took a picnic, went south to Elgin to do some southern Arizona wine tasting. We tasted our own wines, our Syrah and our Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our three full days of fun came to an end this morning. They loaded up their rental car, and drove off into the desert as Kevin, Cooper and I stood in the driveway watching them go.

It’s been a strange day. We’ve been trying to get some work done, and Kevin has been making more progress on that front than I. Cooper has been napping. He doesn’t seem to be feeling well today. Or maybe he’s just missing Roy and Bobbi. I know we are.

They’re our closest friends. We get along terrifically. We’ve always traveled well together; we stayed together well, too. There was no stress. It was just easy and fun. On this Sunday, as the warmth wrapped around us, we were missing our friends but celebrating our time together and the good times yet to come, when once again we’ll be living it out loud together.

January begins much the same as December ends

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 1, 2014 9:35 PM

As this New Year begins I am celebrating the idea that it starts literally as the last one ended: with Christmas.

Each January 1, I have a tradition. I sleep in a bit later than usual, lounging about with coffee and then, with the annual New Year’s Day Twilight Zone marathon on SyFy, I de-Christmas the house. This year was a little easier than usual simply because I didn’t have as much out and about. I started by taking the wreath off of the front door when we returned from our very late morning walk with Cooper. I wrapped up the extension cord that we had in the courtyard so that we could light the wreath every night.

Then I took the various Santas off of the dining room table. I took the very large Santa, with his wine, grapes and wine menu board, from the entertainment center. The two lamp lighter Carolers were removed from the mantel. The Carolers were all placed in my dining room hutch since that’s really the only place I have for them currently. I don’t have a dedicated space any longer but Kevin is going to build me something. And I just don’t have the heart to put them into a big plastic storage bin.

I went to the storage room in the garage and pulled the various boxes I’d need in order to re-store things. The big wine Santa box; the motorcycle Santa box. The box that holds my near life-size Santa (child size, actually) and the box for the wreath. All of the things that needed restored were on the eat-at bar. The boxes were thrown into the room in front of the bar while I continued to de-Christmas.

I pulled the strands of colored lights from the tree and wrapped them up. Then I pulled the three strands of lights containing grape clusters, followed by the three strands that contain soft plastic wine bottles and glasses. The Santa who hugs the top of the tree was removed and put into the hutch drawer with the stockings.

All of the lights were piled into the bottom of the box that holds the child-size Santa, then he was put into his plastic bag and placed on top. The box was closed and re-taped. The wine Santa was put into his box and taped up; ditto the motorcycle Santa. The wreath was put into its box.

Then I disassembled the tree. It is in three parts that fold or have to be folded down, and placed into its rather large box. That was then followed by a re-taping. Everything was taken back to the storage room in the garage and put away. Christmas music CD cases were restocked with their respective CDs and put back into the Christmas CD section of our somewhat vast CD collection, not to come out again until next year.

The tree at the Arizona Inn, with its 2500 lights

About an hour later, the house was back to normal. I dusted, I changed the sheets on our bed and the bed in the guest room. I cleaned the guest bathroom. We put any residual gifts left over from Christmas morning away. The season had come to its official end.

Except that it hadn’t.

The Arizona Inn, which is family owned, first opened in 1930 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It is nestled off of a side street not far from the University, situated in a lovely neighborhood. It is absolutely exquisite, and each Christmas, they put up a big Christmas tree in the library, strung with more than 2500 white lights. Each evening, between 5 and 8 through New Year’s Day, they serve cocktails in the library next to the tree in front of a roaring fire. We decided that we should end December with Christmas and start January with the end of Christmas. We got ready and drove the couple of miles to the Inn, and walked through the lobby. It’s got an old-world kind of feel to it. Rich with history and wood and atmosphere. We made our way to the library and there was the tree. We settled onto one of the couches flanking the fireplace, ordered a glass of wine and just relaxed, letting the residue of the season past wash over us even as we toasted the new year. It seemed the perfect way to welcome 2014.

Here’s to a year filled with 2500 lights. I can’t think of a better way to live it out loud.

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live out loud

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