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If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's the Water!

I've been seduced by electricity and running water and I've been deduced by Mt. Kilimanjaro. ("Deduced" is the opposite of "seduced," isn't it?) I've been in the U.S. for about five weeks now. I'd planned to return to Tanzania June 26, but the plane left and I wasn't on it. K2 called just a few days ago and told me he'd booked himself to guide so many Kilimanjaro treks that we would have only a few days together between now and October. Meanwhile, friends in Arusha say that Tanesco (the government agency that supplies electricity) has cut everyone back to electricity only from midnight to 8:00 a.m. And K2 tells me that, while we do have water at the outside tap and in the storage tanks at the house, it will not trickle through the pipes and into the house. So I have decided to leave K2 in peace to earn money while I stay here until October taking hot showers and watching television and washing my clothes in a machine that uses both electricity and water.

For those of you who visit my blog to read about Tanzania: sorry! I'll be writing about America for several more weeks. But don't go away mad...I've already been having fun and visiting some interesting tourist sites. And as soon as I told my friends I'd changed my plans and would be here all summer, they quickly booked me on three National Park excursions that are going to be fabulous: touring Yellowstone Park in July with an old Peace Corps friend; riding mules to the floor of the Grand Canyon in August with my cousin; and hiking in Sequoia National Park amongst the giant trees in September with a favorite travel buddy. So stay tuned for great summer adventures!

I kicked off my visit home with a road trip to Arizona.

 Driving south, I got slowed down by horrible road construction stretching for miles south of Salt Lake City. Then I got slowed down by the presence of Amy, a friend/former coworker in Beaver, Utah. It was so nice to see her again that I stayed overnight at her place so I could hear all about her new District Ranger job with the Forest Service. Well, the job isn't that new anymore, but it's been awhile since we caught up.

The next day I drove through the Navajo reservation south of Page, Arizona. I could hardly see any of the stunning landscape, even though I knew it was there, because the wind howled and wrapped me in clouds of white dust.

I reached Phoenix and my cousin's house by evening. Chris and her husband Jerry welcomed me to their beautiful house that feels just like a posh Mexican beach resort. Chris and I both love museums. Jerry's a good sport and accompanies Chris to many museums when they travel. This time he loved that Chris and I could go to the Heard Museum and Taliesin West together and he could stay home.

I've wanted to visit the Heard Museum for over ten years, ever since I read that it has one of the world's best collections of Native American pottery. I know--I'm a nerd. But it did not disappoint!

   Mixed in among the more traditional designs was this bowl (right) with a Harry Potter theme.

Pottery and more! Textiles...


...sculpture (That's Chris!)...

Chris and I are very compatible for museum viewing. The two of us spent a lot of time admiring each item and taking pictures of everything. So it's good that Jerry didn't come with us.

I love this little Navajo brooch! But I have to say, when you drive around the Navajo reservation, most of the dogs don't look this perky.


...the occasional ceremonial headgear...

..and this great contemporary Yaqui mask of a tree rat.

The Heard Museum is small but beautiful. They focus their displays on the tribes of the Southwest U.S. If you're interested in those tribes, you really should go and see the Heard. Even if you're not anthropologically inclined, the displays are so aesthetically pleasing that you could wander through without absorbing any information and just let yourself be enfolded in the sheer beauty of the place. Plus, their restaurant serves seriously delicious Mexican and southwest dishes. And I was on a Mexican food binge all the way through Arizona, since that's one cuisine that is not good in Arusha, Tanzania (offered, but not good).

Next, on to Taliesin West, Phoenix's own Frank Lloyd Wright house. He started building it in 1937 as a winter camp where he brought students for field education and free labor. He experimented and added to the house for years.

He built the walls of local rocks placed into molds and held in place with a very dry sand mixture, which has held for years due to the dry climate.

He found rocks with native pictographs scattered around the property and, unthinkable today, moved them to use as decorative pieces around the house.

He placed and designed the house to blend into the surrounding desert. At this time, most architects were building in a more Victorian style with tall, square houses.

At about this point in the tour, I sidled up to Chris and whispered, "I must be a cultural cretin, but I think it's ugly." Why did I whisper? Because we had at least two Frank Lloyd Wright groupies in our tour group and I didn't want to 1) spoil the experience for them by being rude, 2) be hit by a groupie's camera, or 3) reveal myself to anyone but Chris as a cultural cretin. (I think Chris already knew.)

Outdoor sculpture on the approach to the living room.

Sitting inside the spacious living room, I actually felt the Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetic for just a few moments. The guide invited us to sit in the original furniture, which is not what you could call cozy. The woman above is sitting in an interesting chair made from one piece of plywood.

He installed canvas roof/ceilings to get just the right quality of desert light. Our guide (standing) invited any pianists to come forward and play so that we could experience the acoustics. One woman in the group played a lovely classical piece (again, cultural cretin, so I didn't recognize it) and the music filled the room perfectly.

He left the large windows open to the elements for years until two things happened at around the same time. His third wife, who lived there with him, prevailed upon him to install glass so the house would be more comfortable, and large sheets of glass became available for the first time. 

This first century Chinese pot had been sitting here on a shelf in the window for decades before the glass intruded. When his students started to widen the shelf in order to move the pot away from the plane of the window glass, Wright stopped them. The width of the shelf in relation to the size and shape of the pot was perfect and not to be tampered with. Instead, he cut a hole in the glass so that one side of the pot sticks through! (This pot is a reproduction. Last year, a valuable piece of art was stolen from the house, and the managers replaced some items with reproductions.)

So much for making the house comfortable! If this had happened in 2011, his third wife would have dragged him to a couples counselor, who would have postulated that he was being passive-aggressive in resisting his wife's dictates to change his design. But, since it was way back when, it's just another example of his aesthetic genius. I've read that his houses are hard to live in, because he was so much more concerned with aesthetics than with comfort and practicality.

Wright got a good deal on a group of Chinese ceramics, and ordered them shipped to Arizona. Most were broken in shipping, but he used them, anyway, incorporating them throughout the house.

Pixie from the Chicago World Fair

A few more pictures of the grounds...

This Buddha's head traveled with Wright and his entourage. It has settled here outside one of the three theaters at Taliesin West.

Our tour guide entertained us well and, additionally, she really helped me appreciate the significance of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, even though I thought Taliesin West was ugly. The whole experience reminded me of a traveling art exhibit I saw about five years ago, "Pre-Impressionists to Picasso," or some similar title. It displayed paintings in chronological order and explained the evolution of one style to the next. I still came out of the museum loving Monet and not liking Picasso. But I understood the links between them and could appreciate the ground-breaking genius of Picasso's work. This house, spread out all over the mountain and settled into it, was ground-breaking in moving away from previous ideas. This past weekend, driving through my own town here in Utah, I passed through a 1950's-era neighborhood that was clearly based upon his ideas, but 20 years or more after he first introduced them.

Over lunch, at a wonderful Mexican restaurant nearby, Chris and I got to talking about Wright's life and books people have recommended to us. I'm planning to read these three:

Loving FrankLoving Frank by Nancy Horan

This one sounds good because it's all about the scandal of Wright running off with a client's wife.

Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin MurdersDeath in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan

Our guide didn't mention this! In 1914, seven adults and children dear to Wright were brutally murdered and his premiere house, Taliesin, was burned.

The WomenThe Women by T.C. Boyle

A novelized version of Wright's sensational personal life and the building of Taliesin.

Back at the Mexican beach resort that is Chris and Jerry's house, Chris mentioned she'd seen a flock of rosy-cheeked lovebirds in a small nature preserve a couple of miles from her house. They're native to West Africa, but she had a magazine clipping with a picture to prove they were there. I demanded a trip to see them, and Chris obliged.

We saw this mama mallard with her adorable ducklings.

We saw this egret reflecting on the meaning of Frank Lloyd Wright's work.

And we saw these adorable baby Clydesdales when we surprised ourselves by wandering outside of the preserve on some other side from where our car was parked (I hate to say "lost," it's such a harsh word).

And we saw this gorgeous palo verde tree positively glowing in the hot Arizona sun. rosy-cheeked lovebirds, but still an interesting walk.

I still want to tell you about the rest of my road trip south to visit bff Tami of Tucson, and a stunning drive home through the Navajo reservation on a clear day, and a stop at a quirky tourist attraction I've been meaning to visit for years. But this post is long enough already, so stay tuned...

...Tucson is next!


  1. Glad u included me at the end in one of my stick figure poses. I had sooo much fun! Thx for helping me with my first virgin blog. When I return to better health watch out... I'll be posting like a mad woman!

  2. I'm in Phoenix once or twice a year (and try to get to Page, the GC, etc for photo ops!), Would have been funny if our paths would have crossed. Enjoy your stay stateside - hot running water etc. But, it's not all it's cracked up to be. The grass is always greener . . .

    Safe travels

  3. @Tami-I'll be waiting for the posts, although I'm wondering if you just sent me a fake invitation, since it wouldn't let me in.
    @AC-I suppose you're too smart to visit Phoenix in August, which is when I'll be going to the Grand Canyon...

  4. Well - actually, I'll be there the last week in July. When I was there in April the weather was wonderful. I've been there in the summer. They call it "dry heat" - well the oven in my kitchen has dry heat but I don't plan to stick my head in it! Also, thank's for the head's up on the new website I fixed the setting!

  5. Hi Barbara - thanks for the hilarious comment on my blog! Made me chuckle...

    What an amazing blog. Fantastic photos. Love it.

  6. Hi, Nicola--sadly my comment was nothing but the bare truth! I'm glad you enjoyed my blog, too, thanks!