[Saguaro at sunset, from my front yard]
There was a recent piece by Rick Moody about Tucson in Newsweek, or the Daily Beast, or whatever in hell it's calling itself these days.
Here it is. I thought it was accurate and evocative, actually, though I thought the photo they ran with it -- a line of ugly palm trees on some alley or something -- was ill-chosen. Occasionally, you'll see some palm trees that some horticultural vandal has planted in Tucson, but by and large, the Tucson tree (well, actually, it's a plant) is the giant saguaro.
Tucson really is, as Moody says, a place of startling beauty and sometimes horrific contrasts.
There's a lot to be said for, and against, Tucson -- but the truth is, I myself have never lived anywhere that I've liked as much as Tucson. Tucson, as I said yesterday, is the capital of what some people jokingly refer to as Baja Arizona -- that is, the southern part of Arizona that most definitely is not Phoenix.
Tucson is full of pleasant surprises. For example, just last weekend, my wife and a friend and I saw a local production of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" put on by a Tucson professional non-profit theater group, Arizona Onstage.
Jaded ex-New Yorkers, we were not expecting much, but we were blown away by what we saw in Tucson, at the splendidly named 1927-vintage Temple of Music and Art.
My wife and I both saw "Sweeney Todd" in its original Broadway run in the early 1980s, a big-scale production with Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett. Then about six years ago we saw a wonderful Broadway revival, a stripped-down production with Patti Lupone as Mrs. Lovett.
Here in Tucson, we were astonished to find a terrific revival, with the huge chorus largely drawn from the University of Arizona's excellent music and dance programs, and great star turns in the lead roles by Kit Runge as Sweeney and Jacinda Rose Swinehart as Mrs. Lovett. I am here to tell you: Ms. Swinehart was in every measure -- voice, presence, timing -- a better Mrs. Lovett than either Angela Lansbury or Patti Lupone. I have no doubt that Stephen Soundheim, had he seen her, would have agreed.
But yet the review in the local paper was tepid, as if the critic were bored. Reflecting the critic's obviously narrow theatergoing experience, the review mostly complained about the fact that the set was big and needed to be shifted on occasion in full view of the audience. Egad! It wasn't like "Phantom of the Opera" at all!
Anyway, if I had a quibble with the Newsweek/Daily Beast piece, it would be the assertion that Tucson is characterized by a golf-resort facade. That's only true if you happen to visit one of the golf resorts in the foothills (and hey, no better time than now: They're really discounting because 1. Resort business is in the tank and 2. Nobody plays golf anymore except guys like John Boehner.]
I thought it also overlooked the very remarkable amiability of Tucson, a place where in my experience men actually hold doors for other men. This does not occur in Phoenix.
But what the heck, it's a short piece. A longer one might also look hard at the disgraceful scandal of the zillion-dollar, never-happening downtown redevelopment fiasco called Rio Nuevo; the lack of a decent hotel that isn't in the foothills; the laughable condition of the so-called convention center; the extremely questionable proliferation of red-light and speed cameras at a time when other cities are removing them; the way the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team stiffed the city and skipped town (for Phoenix) after a $38 million stadium was built for its spring-training use; the utterly dispiriting complacency of the local media; etc.
The local paper did stir itself to express outrage about the Newsweek/Daily Beast assessment of Tucson, however. A local columnist alleges that Newsweek/Daily Beast misreported the temperature one day, and was off by a year on its assertion of when the first traffic light was said to have appeared on the main east-west drag, Speedway Boulevard.
Well, let the record be set straight, for what it's worth. Newsweek/Daily Beast is correct, indignant local columnist aside. "It was never 114 here this summer," the hometown columnist insisted.
Well yes, Scoop, it actually was. It did reach 114 degrees in Tucson one day in June and again on a day in July. (That's by no means the record, incidentally.
My thermometer said 114 on one day and 115 on the other, and my thermometer is accurate. Neighbors said the same when I asked. That's basic reporting. Well, yes, it evidently did register a degree or two lower on those two days at the airport, where the official temperature is logged.
But as George Carlin said, "Who lives at the airport?"