Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fifty Shades of Brown

Do you find Brown sexy?  I’m talking about the color Brown, not Charlie Brown, to be clear. 

I’ve never read Fifty Shades Of Grey, but I can speak to Fifty Shades of Brown.  I’m one of those people who has spent most of their life in what we call the ‘deciduios forest’, no matter how urban that ‘forest’ may be.  Basically, I’m used to four seasons, not necessarily Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but rather snowy winters, mild, blooming springs, hot, leafy shaded summers and an autumn glorified by red, gold and orange foliage as our trees  bid their leaves farewell until our mild springs return. 

I’m writing this on Easter Eve, AKA Holy Saturday, and though April Fools Day is just around the corners, April may be very well fooling us with this beautiful, balmy weather.  Sunshine, 50 degrees.  Sounds like heaven after a winter of eight degree (Fahrenheit) days and a few feet of snow.  Snow?  Fifty Degrees as heaven?  Weather is all relative, no?

Less than 72 hours ago I was Leaving Las Vegas with 75 degree days, pure sunshine and zero humidity.  These kind of days, when found in the deciduous forest, are considered pure perfection.  Beautiful.  No complaints.  Sunny days in the 70’s with no clouds and no humidity?  I’m familiar with these kinds of days.  We got married on one of these days in a New York October, and from a weather perspective, consider ourselves pretty damn lucky.  But for the Las Vegans, it’s damn chilly!

Let me tell you about Fifty Shades of Brown, or the first time I went to Las Vegas.  We flew in on Labor Day Weekend when Rob and I were engaged, part of a two-week road trip to our friends’ wedding in Sonoma.  Rob’s family moved out to LV in 2000 and our first stop was with them, in Henderson.  I’ve never been to Las Vegas prior to meeting my husband, and his east-coast transplanted relatives because I’m not a gambler (CPA’s never are) and any entertainment value LV may offer, I could surely get in NYC. 

We flew into the Vegas valley in early September 2009 when temps still easily hit 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) and then some.  Rob’s aunt and uncle live in a development filled with beige and brown single-story homes, his cousin also live in a development filled with beige and brown single-single story homes, surrounded by other beige and brown homes, surrounded by other developments in the same color pattern.  Everything looked the same, in fifty shades of beige, or brown, sand, taupe, coffee, whatever you wanted to call it.  No Blue.  No Red.  No Green.  Fifty shades of brown.

As we drove around the surrounding area, there was a lot more brown.  In the buildings.  In the mountains.  In the valley.  It was everywhere. 

Rob and I took a small prop plane trip to the Grand Canyon.  The prop plane covered miles of land that was baked, hot and brown.  Cactus.  Death.  Dryness.  Brown.  Didn’t Moses lead God’s people out of the desert?  Maybe that wasn’t the North American Desert but really, no one should live here.  I’ve never had a (clinically documented) panic attack, but this time in the desert was putting me on the edge.  It was disturbing me so much that I wanted to crawl into the fetal position, yes, while on the prop plane and cry.   I’ve lived at sea-level deciduous forest most of my life and I just didn’t feel well being in this immense dryness.  I had been to Egypt, and  it’s dry  but it’s on the Nile.  In 2001 I went to Cairo and to me it felt like a sandy city.  I went to Alexandria and it felt like a sandy, transposed European beach town.  I’m ok with sand when it’s at the beach.  But at some level, I knew I was inland, trapped and stuck with all this dryness, and it upset the very core of my being.

The prop plane got to the western side of the Grand Canyon, we took a helicopter ride down to the bottom of the canyon and then took a pontoon boat ride along the Colorado River for a little bit.  It was fantastic.  The Grand Canyon is not truly well captured in photographs, nor can I truly capture its depth and size in words.  But you can see layers upon layers of rock history on the walls of the canyon as you descend, and it becomes more and more beautiful as the light of the sun hits these distinct layers of rock as the daylight passes.  There is beauty in the desert, but it’s not so easy to find, especially for a sea-level girl like me. 

Our helicopter ascended the layers upon layers upon years upon years of rock history that comprise the Canyon that is truly Grand.  And our prop plane took us back from one desolate desert to another desert covered in modular homes.  But all this Hudson River girl could see was fifty shades of brown. 

We stopped by Lake Meade, a LAKE! Wow,  my sea-level self was starting to revive.  Lake Meade was generated by the building of the Hoover Damn in the 1930’s (damming up the Colorado River), and one could see the high water mark well above where the current water level and it gave me pause, where has this water gone?  Is Vegas so over-developed that it’s draining the lake dry (yes!)

Two years later, October 2011, we made another long weekend trip to Las Vegas to visit the family.  I was five months pregnant (read: tired, don’t feel great and don’t remember much of the trip) so we can just chalk it up to ‘more desert’ or more ‘brown’.  But during this trip we drove across the bridge near the Hoover Damn and I got to Arizona for about fifteen minutes.  ‘People’ (names withheld) have told me Arizona is beautiful.  I’m sure it is.  But the sliver of this State which I saw with my own eyes was more desert, more brown, and a few signs reminding all of us visitors that Arizona is in a different time zone than Nevada.  Honestly, who gives a sh--, it’s all friggen desert, time doesn’t matter, the sun has baked everything.  For a pale-skinned dermatologist-frequenting White girls from sea-level deciduous forests like me, the desert is equivalent to a quick melanoma-induced death. F-U desert states.  Give me my Atlantic Ocean and my polluted, mafia body-dump Hudson River any day.

Yes, Nevada has no state income tax (when you can gamble in the supermarket, we can guess where the state gets its revenues from).  And Nevada is nationally ranked third in education, third from the bottom, that is.  But sure, after a winter with eight degree (Fahrenheit) days, it seems like a good place in which to relocate, no?  Eighteen months after our last visit, we return again, March 2013, with baby in tow, and yes, we made it through flying with baby both Westward and Eastward, thank God.  And thank JetBlue too. 

Now I look at Las Vegas as a city I would bring my child to (because I did bring my child here).  He’s too young to remember this trip (I hope, in some regard).  Las Vegas has clubs, martinis, comedians, musicians, gambling, celebrity chef restaurants and name brand shops.  So does Manhattan.  But now we go to Vegas for family, for times with the cousins.  We rented a minivan and fit the whole clan in one vehicle for a trip to Death Valley ( just rename it Death Desert), which actually provided some ‘desert diversity’ if you will: sand dunes, mountains, salt deposits, and multi-colored mountains.  We drove two hours north of Las Vegas, hung a left at Beatty (an Old West town with RV parking and a Subway), stopped by Rhyolite, a former mining town gone to ruins which made for a great photo op, and then crossed the border into Cali to Death Valley, visiting Furnace Creek, a campsite/rest spot filled with hippie Californians, which recorded its highest temperature at 134 degrees (Fahrenheit).  We then stopped at Badwater, a salt flat which collected the salt from the mountains over the last who-knows-how-many-hundred years.  We drove through Artists’ Pallet, a passage which brings you close to the mountains colored by their residual mineral deposits, left the park, drove back into Nevada, through Pahrump (where prostitution is still legal, read: we can guess where the state gets its revenue from), ’over the hump from Pahrump’ as they say,  and back into Las Vegas.  There is beauty in the desert, but it’s not so easy to find, especially for a sea-level girl like me.

 This trip was about a family visit.  Yes, Rob and I got a few nights out on the strip, but also Nicholas probably won’t have any first cousins, so this way he can get to know ( or rather they can get to know him) his second and third cousins. (Or is it second cousins once removed?  The children of his father’s first cousins?)   

We were there in Henderson to go to a very modern Palm Sunday service, and also sit down together for a Passover Seder.  Call it ‘desert diversity’ if you will.  While Uncle Alan read the Haggadah,  I thought about my own exodus from the desert – three and a half years earlier – we  drove west to the marvelous coast of Santa Barbara.  Now it would be an exodus via JetBlue back to JFK.  But this time around I wasn’t having a panic attack.  The desert, though generally horrible to a sea-level girl like me, was starting to grow on me somehow.  Maybe I had gotten used to the Fifty Shades of Brown that accompany a housing development built into Nevada’s Black Mountains.  Maybe I was fully amenable to 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) in March, when we had just dug the car out of a snow bank only a few days earlier (back in the Seventh Borough).  Either way, desert or deciduous forest, I want my son to know he has family in different climates, different faiths, in different time zones, and that they love him very much.        

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