Phoenix, Arizona

I’ve only been in Phoenix for a few hours, but I’ve had a chance to form a few impressions that I thought I’d share.  Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera as I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to take any pictures, so unlike my visit to Copenhagen, my description will have to be entirely verbal.   In any case, I’ve had a couple of unexpected hours to wander the streets and learn a few things.  None of them are complaints – but they’re all things that really stood out for me this evening.

First, you don’t sweat in Phoenix.  Sure, your body might try, but the dry desert air sucks the moisture off of you so fast that it doesn’t have the opportunity to accumulate.  In fact, it sucks the moisture out of your pores, sinuses and throat too.   Oddly enough, you don’t really notice until you walk past a restaurant that is sprinkling cold water onto it’s patio as if it’s guests were ferns.  At that point, you notice how dry everything else is – and realize you should have packed an extra bottle of water when you went out walking.

Next, the vegetation in Phoenix’s downtown core is out of this world.  Nothing here grows in soil – anything that isn’t paved is covered in crushed red rock, out of which spiky cactus, succulents and whip-like grasses form tufts of green (or yellow) that look positively Martian.  I did find a strip of what was probably grass, once upon a time, but even that was growing (or had been trying to grow) out of a patch of crushed red rock.

The city is scattered with art, perhaps to made up for the sparseness of the landscape.  My favorite looked to be a 5 story tall net and metal “thing”, suspended above a parking lot, which was sort of reminiscent of what it would look like if you crossed a jelly fish’s dome with a mobius strip, flipped it inside out – and then made it out of enough mesh to shield a small african nation from mosquitos.

The building are tall, straight… and brown.  Actually everything is tall, straight and brown – or some shade between beige and red.  Coming from Vancouver’s green glass landscape, the red somewhat sears the eyeballs.  Everything from the soil to the bike racks to the entire face of a 30 story building are all painted or designed in a desert landscape palette.   You really can’t forget you’re in a desert when you’re in Phoenix.  (Even if the constant barrage of cacti weren’t enough.   For the record, I’ve always been a big fan of cacti, ever since I was a child, so this really isn’t a complaint!)  Even the architecture reminds me of cacti – either tall and narrow, or squat and boxy.  I propose that desert architects are probably inspired by the limited vegetation.

The days are short in the summer.  This is not a bad thing, really – the sun is seriously bright and hot in Phoenix, and I probably got more sun in 3 minutes here than I did all of last year.  However, I was surprised to see darkness descend at 7:30pm.  Summer days in Vancouver, for comparison, stay bright at least another 3 hours.

Finally, downtown Phoenix is pretty empty on a Sunday night.  That probably doesn’t surprise anyone, however.  I’m used to seeing tons of people out and about on in the summer time, enjoying patios and the good weather.  I suppose when your good weather never ends, there’s just that much less pressure to make the best of it.

All in all, it’s really a pretty place – and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to wander around a bit.  And, for the record, they do really good calzones here. (=

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