Monday, July 16, 2007

American Quilt Part 9- A Richley Woven Tapestry

I concluded my story with a contemplative trip to the ghost town of St. Elmo. The drive there offered spectacular views of the collegiate peaks. I'm not sure which one was Mt. Princeton, but I imagine that one of them had to have been!

The ghost town itself had that essence of Americana that I actually enjoy, and I was glad to have visited.

This little town actually reminded me of Lars von Trier's film "Dogville." Luckily, there were no gangsters or crooked townsfolk (though the place is reportedly haunted by a crazy woman nicknamed "Dirty Annie"). Also, all of the buildings were real, not just chalk drawings on the floor. Incidentally, that was an excellent film. I was able to imagine the setting despite the film's lack of an actual set. It was an emotionally difficult film to watch, but brilliant (with a most satisfying ending).

I was amazed that people actually survived here in 1878. The place made me reflect upon the richness of the history of this country. I'm not talking about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and other more obvious "patriotic" choices, but this seemed like the kind of spot Jack London would write about. This led my mind to weaving literary threads of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Zora Neale Hurston, J.D. Salinger, Gertrude Stein (this list could go on for a while and I'd never be satisfied with it). I let my mind wander into the visual realms of American painters and filmmakers, photographers and sculptors... This is MY American history, the part of the culture that fascinates and fuels me. Unfortunately, it is the part that, without commercial zest, sports appeal, or military might, is marginalized by society.

I thought back on my adventures at the springs. I wondered if any of my subjects were aware that the strange, quiet girl sitting in the corner with her meatless meal and oddly-titled book was finding art, poetry, and comedy in their colorful vacation world.

Friday, July 06, 2007

American Quilt Part 8- Lloyd's Place

I write this conclusion shortly after the July 4th festivities of this country. Traditionally, we gather in groups to celebrate our "freedom" by eating potato salad and hot dogs cooked over an open flame, drinking carbonated malt beverages, and then lighting explosives while inebriated.

For some reason, I wasn't in a festive mood. Perhaps it was the recent commutation of Scooter Libby's "unfair" punishment of a couple of years in prison (why did we freak out when Paris Hilton was allowed to serve the remainder of her sentence from home, resulting in her being thrown back in the slammer, yet this is somehow excusable- driving on a revoked driver's license is, I suppose, somehow more punishable than outing a CIA agent). Or maybe it was a friend's recent experience of having his Internet access at work censored, despite the fact that he is a web developer and needs access to such risqué sites as CNN and Google.

My point is that I can sometimes get irritated at the goings-on in this country that I call home. I get upset when "I'm an American" begins conjuring images of people behaving badly and loudly in restaurants and foreign countries, certain that only here can we drink beer and coke, buy a car and/or gun, vote, drag our country's flag behind our trucks, and not give a damn about any other place in the world that might not like these things. This results in the criticizing from behind a curtain of "patriotism" any citizen who finds this behavior appalling. "If you don't like it, leave," I've heard, as if disagreeing with the government is now unpatriotic, rather than the backbone of the Bill of Rights, or as if your home is akin to a football team that either kicks ass or loses and if you don't like they way they play you should uproot your entire way of life so that you don't spoil the fun of the game. This was the feeling I got from Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.

There are, however, times when "I'm an American" can actually mean something to me beyond what I say to the customs agent when traveling abroad. Arriving at Lloyd's Bed and Breakfast was one of those times.

My initial feelings about the place were mixed. I was looking forward to quiet. It seemed very small and peaceful. However, it came across as an odd mix of "military compound" and "vacation spot." The property was surrounded by a tall, unflattering chain-link fence and contained a man-made pond upon which sat a large plastic paddleboat shaped like a swan. A spotlight illuminated an American flag at the front entrance (reassuring me that I hadn't driven to Mexico or Peru- I was, in fact, still Stateside).

Despite the odd outside decor, I knew I was at least going to get some sleep. I parked my car and beeped the alarm, securing my chips and soda. To my surprise, I was immediately greeted by a smiling man in his slippers. He was soon joined by a woman in her bathrobe. Both of them welcomed me with open arms and offered to take my bags.

I was led through the entryway. It became clear that I was to be given the customary tour so that I could offer my approval of the place before accepting the room. This amused me. Quite frankly, a cot would have satisfied me at this point. I was, however, happy for the tour.

The hallway was decorated with oil paintings of Native Americans, black and white photos of trains, mining towns, and post offices, and various rusted tools that, unlike the random bits of junk that decorated the walls of the Mt. Princeton Resort Restaurant, seemed infused with history and importance. Of course, there were still dead animals on the wall, but they had a sternness to them. There was no faux happiness on their faces and their presence seemed purposefully haunting. These animals were hunted by the person who owned the place, not purchased at a flea market to fill an empty space on a wall.

I was led through the common room where the family sharing the bed and breakfast with me was playing a board game by the fireplace. I was introduced to my fellow vacationers who welcomed me and greeted me warmly.

"She says there were too many spring breakers down the street," the woman explained. My new housemates shook their heads. "Oh, that's too bad! What a way to ruin a vacation. We promise to be quiet, though."

I was led into my room. It was decorated with old furniture and smelled of fabric softener. I had two large widows, one with a view of the swan pond military compound, and the other with a breathtaking view of the collegiate peaks, which I was sure would light up as if they were on fire at sunrise. Most importantly, it had a large, clean, soft bed.

"Well? What do you think? I can give you the same rate as the place down the street if you want it for the night."

"For the night? I'll take it for the next three days!"