20 February, 2006

Grand Canyon

Partly in celebration of our second anniversary of meeting, Mrs. Roth and I booked ourselves a one-day guided tour of the Grand Canyon, via Sedona. We left at 6.30 AM, a necessary evil with the distances involved. Mrs. Roth took pictures of the rocks and mountains, and of her and me in front of them. As you can see from this page, I didn't—although I have made one concession to picturesquety, third down. Coming up from Sun Valley as dawn broke over the Sonoran was a grand sight, and before long we were riding towards the newage community of Sedona, former home to the last great Surrealist, Max Ernst. The rocks near Sedona are bright red with iron oxide, which first made me think of the American critic Rust Hills, and then of Eliot's dreary doggerel:

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock), etc.

There's not a great deal to see in Sedona. I stumbled into Cactus Carlos, which sells novelty food-items, including 'Wake the Fuck Up Coffee', and 'Professor Phardtpounder's Colon Cleaner' (pictured above). I also swung by the local church, which demonstrated some classic American signage (below). They were offering leaflets printed from bible-sermons.org, and I took my complementary copy; the material mostly concerned the Second Coming, from the so-called 'Olivet Discourse', Matt. 24, but another theme was the quest for truth and self, hence the sign. The rhetoric was making all sorts of common ploys towards establishing Christianity as the Truth, for instance:

"We were designed with an inner hunger to know why we are here."

"There is a problem with our modern day philosophy that claims that all roads lead to God. If each one is truth, then how is it that they contradict each other. Isn't that intellectual suicide, to say that contradictory teachings are true?"

"The Bible is the one book that has been translated into nearly every language on this globe."

"Nearly every religion respects Jesus."

"There is archeological evidence that points to Mark and Matthew being written before 50AD."

All of these statements are, naturally, either misleading or completely wrong. Still, that's what Evangelism is here for, and free Bibles and searching punnery are pretty good upshots of rural pastoralism. I, for one, am suffering from Truth Decay, as a consequence of spending too much time in the library; alas, I fear the diamond bits and gold crowns of the Word will not cure me of it. No doubt I'll need either extensive root-canal work, or even a new set of choppers altogether.

It would be churlish not to admit that the Grand Canyon really is incredible. The wind was bitter; bitterer still was the view. The picture below looks like a doctored, glossy postcard photograph, but in fact it was taken with a lame digital camera, which goes to show how irreducibly magnificent the thing is. In the middle you can just make out the Colorado River which is responsible for all of this. I'm confident that I've never seen so much space, so much volume, all at once. Allegedly one of Mrs. Roth's uncles had a Life Moment here, realising his infinitesimal irrelevance against the monumental geology. Not me. I was aggrieved, actually, at the cheaply pluralistic nomenclature of all the mesas and buttes: Temple of Osiris, Zoroaster Temple, Confucius Temple, Krishna Shrine, Walhalla Plateau, Jupiter Temple, Solomon Temple (I think they missed the Celts). It lacks American authenticity. But not all of the resources of human foolishness can deplete the wealth of the earth's variety.

And so we drove around the Canyon for a few hours, before exploring the Navajo reservation, a desolate strip of nothing in particular, enlivened only by an iron suspension-bridge here, a 'Friendly Indians Ahead' sign there, and the encroaching monotony of shrubs, dust, birds, sky everywhere. We were taken to an 'authentic trading post', which turned out to be selling the same old junk—silver and turquoise jewellery, hand-woven rugs, dreamcatchers, bows and arrows, endless clay figurines, fetishes, cactus-produce, belts and buckles, garish paintings of hardy Navajo chieftains, decorated pottery, tacky 'Navajo Nation' t-shirts, baseball caps, Old West photographs, beads, candy, and so on. I missed out on the opportunity to try buffalo jerky. I missed out on another opportunity, too: outside the store an antique machine, long defunct, offered certain solution to my Truth Decay. I leave it as the last marker of our voyage, a totem, the ironic laugh of a too newed world which will no longer speak of itself, retaining only the vestiges of a magic I might once have known:

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