“Friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people.”

I spent most of last week at a conference just outside of Phoenix. This was my view each morning:

Not bad, right? But with this trip coming right on the heels of the previous week’s trip to Boston, I was ready to come back to Toronto and have a couple of quiet weekends. Fortunately while I was away the long Toronto winter finally breathed its last. I arrived home Thursday to find runners and cyclists swarming the waterfront, leaves finally breaking out on trees, and the Canadiens playing their first playoff game.

As sure as those are signs of spring, so too is Hot Docs. My travel schedule kept us from seeing our usual five screenings this year, but we did manage to squeak in a few. First, after a bite and a beer at The Oxley followed by a few spectacular glasses of wine (my ’99 Peter Lehmann Shiraz really stood out) at Opus we took in a late screening of Blackfish. I get emotional every time I think about Tilikum or Dawn Brancheau or pretty much any other part of that film so I’m not going to describe it much more here. I’m just going to say this: SeaWorld can go fuck itself. So can MarineLand. So can anyone who goes there.

After our customary pre-Hot Docs stop on the patio at the Victory Café

…we hit our second screening: Which Way Is The Front Line From Here: The Life And Time Of Tim Hetherington. It was directed by the author Sebastien Junger, with whom Hetherington had shadowed an army platoon to create a book called War and a documentary called Restrepo. Not long after the documentary was nominated for an Oscar Hetherington was killed in Libya covering yet another war zone. Junger made the documentary to explain who Tim was, why he was so possessed with telling stories this way, and sharing more of his brilliance than we were likely to ever see otherwise.

After that we needed another drink. We made our way (slowly, happily) down to Bellwoods Brewery, which we’d shamefully not yet tried despite it being named the 3rd-best new brewery in the world last year. We had several tasty pints and ate bread and salumi and rosemary fries, and sat in the perfect inside-but-almost-outside weather.

Spring!

 

Arizona

It’s unlikely that Arizona ever would have been at the top of our travel priority list. However, since I was invited to speak at a conference last week, we decided we’d make a short trip out of it and booked Nellie a plane ticket.

Friday

Watching a new movie (Chronicle), an old familiar favourite (Almost Famous) and a few episodes of New Girl killed our YYZ-PHX flight pretty easily. Walking out of the Phoenix airport we would learn a truth that would prove itself out over the next few days: Arizona is hot as balls. After a pretty large pain in the ass picking up our car from Hertz we drove away in a pretty badass Chevy Camaro SS convertible. We tried retracting the top but starting cooking within minutes. We put the top back up, and good thing too…within a few minutes of getting on the highway we saw a number of dust devils north of Phoenix and actually drove right through one.

A couple hours later we were in the town of Sedona. Which is beautiful, by the way. We had some time before we could check into our room, so we picked up some supplies (read: #50 sunblock) and grabbed a beer and some gourmet hot dogs at the Oak Creek Brewpub. Oh, and a hat. I realized that driving a convertible in Arizona without one would be epidermal suicide.

Now just feeling the need to relax, unpack and maybe change, we checked into our hotel: the Adobe Grand Villas. It took us all of about six seconds to love it there. We got a little tour, admired the pool, and were shown into our room. I remarked that it smelled like fresh bread in the room; our host explained that, in fact, they had just made fresh bread in the room. For reals; breadmakers in every room, set to finish at 3PM. Amazing! We settled in, unpacked, took pictures of our giant room for Tripadvisor, and then went down to the main building where Nellie had a dip in the pool and I availed myself of the best bruschetta and lemonade I’ve ever had while chatting with three giant German bikers and admiring the mountain view. This vacation was off to a pretty good start.

We’d decided to splurge on our first night in town, booking in at L’Auberge, the consensus pick for top (or at least fanciest) restaurant in Sedona. The restaurant is set right next to Oak Creek itself and And mein gott, what a meal. We started off with lots of lobster (bisque for her; salad for me) and then got into the meat (filet mignon for her; honey roasted duck breast for me; all paired with an outstanding bottle of Sea Smoke “Ten” Pinot Noir) before ordering dessert (tarte tatin with salted caramel gelato for her; some kind of chocolate amazingness for me that I don’t quite recall) and being surprised when the server brought us an extra dessert — a salted caramel pot de crème, which we certainly did not need but went crazy for — simply because Nellie had asked about it earlier.

Damn fine way to end a first day of vacation. By the way, if you ever find yourself in Sedona, get your hotel to call Steve at Swift Rides for you. He’s just a nice dude who’ll drive you anywhere in town for $12 in his luxury car, so you’re free to drink as much Sea Smoke Pinot Noir as you’d like.

Saturday

Our sole plan for day 2 was to visit the Grand Canyon. We’d read on the interwebs that the thing to do was bring a lunch with you and eat it at a rest stop, so we grabbed provisions and a greasydelicious croissant-BLT at the Heartline market and took off north. And by “took off” I mean weaved slowly around cyclists and up switchbacks at 40mph as we traveled up the Oak Creek Canyon. We were rewarded with a pretty sweet view at the top though. Really, the geography of the whole state — at least, the fraction we saw — was very impressive, and impressively varied: desert, green hills, rocky badlands, plateaus, lush canyons, snow-capped mountains and, of course, canyons.

After stopping for gas in Flagstaff and then a long drive north, we turned west to enter the less popular east gate of Grand Canyon National Park. First, though, we stopped at a Little Colorado River Canyon park rest stop to snap some pictures, use the washrooms and eat our lunch. We saw hawks swooping and diving and hovering on thermals as we ate, and admired our surrounding.

A little further west we entered the park itself, and made our first stop along the rim at a point called Desert View…

…then drove further west to Lipan Point…

…and then Grandview Point…

…and finally to the main visitor center from which people view the Grand Canyon. They even had a golden eagle on display there.

Of course, none of these pictures could do the slightest bit of justice to the Grand Canyon. It’s immense. It’s this gorgeous scar on the surface of the earth that you can see from space and still amazes in spite of the hundreds of French tourists standing in the way of it or of all the idiots who lean out over the edge or the asshole who leaves their Starbucks cup next to it. It’s somehow just beyond all of that.

Suitably awed, we began the long drive back to Sedona. We arrived tired from driving and hot from the sun. We went for a dip in the hotel’s pool, had a slider prepared by their amazing chef, chilled in the room for a bit and eventually went for some beer and grub at the other Oak Creek location in town, a somewhat fancier grill. We tried all seven of their beers; the nut brown was my favourite.

Sunday

There was naught to do Sunday morning except treat ourselves to chef Michael’s breakfast (hot cinnamon twist and waffle w/ berry compote: unreal) and get on the road back to Phoenix. It’s only a two hour drive, but it was 25 degrees hotter back down on the desert floor than it was in Sedona.

We checked into the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort where my conference was to be held and got in our last few hours of relaxation. We hung out by the pool, availed ourselves of shade and the cooling mist, drank mojitos and local craft beer, and marveled at how willing some people are to cook themselves. We even got to see an annular solar eclipse that night.

Considering how much we felt like we’d seen and done, it was hard to believe we’d landed in Arizona barely 48 hours before. We hadn’t been looking for this trip, but felt very lucky that it had landed in our laps.

Image by Jace XIII, under Creative Commons License

May and June appear set to come up Milhouse

It occurs to be that we have a surplus of awesomeness lined up for the rest of this month:

June isn’t looking too shabby either, what with a Picasso exhibit at the AGO, a long weekend in Prince Edward County, the Flaming Lips playing (free) at Dundas Square, Session 99 craft beer festival and a 5-day trip to New York.

Also: today was the first beer-on-patio day of the year!

Life? Good.

.:.

Image by Jace XIII, under Creative Commons License

At last: winter

Snow drifting on our balcony
Snow drifting on our balcony

After not having much of a winter last year I suspect we’re in for a rough one this time around. Yesterday was cold and messy and made for slow driving, but it’s been so long in coming that people seemed to enjoy it. It was actually quite beautiful for a few hours, until the exhaust had at it.

The next time I’m in a howling February snowstorm I’m sure I’ll forget ever saying this, but I like winter. I like having snow on the ground, even if I have to walk through it, and miss it when there’s none about on December 25th. The feeling of still sub-zero air is one of my favourites, especially when I’m in the woods of my family’s farm or in the Rockies or standing in a downtown Toronto plaza, deserted on a weekend.

Obviously I can see the appeal of living in a place with no cold weather, but I think I’d miss it pretty quickly. I’d miss the variety it provides in the year, and the feeling of sheer joy we all get when spring arrives. Most Canadians with no tolerance for snow just move south to Florida or Arizona, but there’s not enough sunshine in the world to make me move to a state so monumentally damaged. Case in point.