Friday, December 17, 2010
Mesa and Phoenix, Arizona
Thursday, December 16, 2010
I am at leisure today. The motor home is in the parking lot of the Walmart in Mesa at the intersection of Greenfield and U.S. 60. Some of the motor homes in that parking lot are ones I saw when I stayed there last Friday night after walking as far as Apache Junction, and they appear to all intents and purposes to be permanently moored. So it’s an accommodating place for recreational vehicles.
The reason I’m back there now is that I have decided to take the rest of the week off before flying back home for the holidays on Sunday the 19th. Laurine’s cousin in Mesa has graciously agreed to let me park the motor home in front of her house until I return on January 2nd, and meanwhile I’m in the friendly confines of Wally World.
A word or two about Walmarts. I did a count this morning, and after tonight and tomorrow I will have spent a total of 172 nights in Walmart parking lots, in 73 different locations, since I began the journey in September 2009. On several mornings I have awakened to discover that I’m parked under a sign that says “No Overnight Parking” because of a municipal ordinance, but this has made no difference. I have never been harassed, and only once was I asked to move to another part of the parking lot. On another occasion the security guard who patrolled the place stopped simply to welcome me and tell me which spot would be quietest and most conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Whatever else might be said about Walmart as a corporate institution, parking a motor home overnight there seems to be one of the great unwritten and God-given rights in this country, together with the right to be left alone. I’m amazed by my unparalleled good fortune in this respect. Of course it costs Walmart nothing, and earns them goodwill and extra business, but still I can’t help feeling that it’s above and beyond their calling as a purveyor of groceries and cheap merchandise. It puts me in mind of the medieval concept of sanctuary, where a person had the right to go into a church and place himself under the protection of ecclesiastical law and out of the reach of civil authority. That was self-serving on the part of the Church, of course, since there was always a conflict between religious and civilian authority, with the Church claiming the higher jurisdiction. And that’s another story for another time.
Today I’m driving toward Phoenix, down Main Street in Mesa through the spacious center of this city, heading for the Phoenix Art Museum. The downtown of Mesa is modern and alive, the street corners filled with bronze sculptures--life sized replicas of people and animals and other more abstract renderings. The light rail tracks run down the center of Main Street. Perhaps tomorrow or Saturday I’ll spend a little time looking around, but for now I’m headed west.
Main Street becomes Apache Boulevard in Tempe, and then becomes Mill Avenue, carrying me through the commercial heart of the Arizona State University campus, and then to the Tempe Bridge past the town beach and across the lake/river, where I walked on Tuesday. Off to the north are the brown hills and bluffs that form the natural geographic barrier between Tempe and Phoenix. To the southeast I can see the cluster of tall buildings in downtown Phoenix.
The Phoenix Art Museum is located on Central Avenue, just north of McDowell. Parts of it are closed for renovations, including the sections containing European painting and medieval art. This is disappointing, since those are my favorite things. They have moved some paintings out of the section they’re working on, however, and the first gallery I enter has an eclectic gathering of paintings and sculptures from what they call “the long 19th century,” comprising the period from about 1780 to the beginning of World War One. Featured are several American portraits by Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart, including a familiar one of George Washington. Also some 19th century American and European landscapes and a few French Impressionist paintings.
The museum has a large collection of contemporary American art, including the familiar Lichtensteins and Warhols, as plentiful as Picassos because of the fecundity of the artists. My favorite item is a sculpture by Tony Oursler called “Blob.” It’s a roundish white thing that resembles a giant tooth about four feet square with a mouth and eyes projected onto it from a little box in front. There’s no nose, and the features are scrunched together. The eyes blink and roll around independent of one another and the mouth, perhaps that of the artist, lasciviously babbles all kinds of things, just to make the lips and tongue and teeth move around in different ways. The colors on the projection go from white to green to red to blue and back again, slowly. I sit and groove on it for about ten minutes, and it doesn’t repeat. I wonder how long the projection loop is. Fascinating.
Another fine piece is a large painting by Peter Saul called “Night Watch” from 1974, a modern, brightly colored semi-abstract version of the Rembrandt work of the same name. In the gift shop, at the end, I get to at least see posters of some of the paintings I missed because of the renovation.
It has been a rare rainy day here in Phoenix, and after spending a pleasant afternoon at the museum I emerge to see thin streaks of light in the west as the rain tapers off, and I head down a wet Palm Avenue, eastward toward my sanctuary.