August 2012

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Spanish tarot cards

Spanish tarot cards. Photo by David Lansing.

The vortex tour with John, the former Dairy Queen proprietor from Minnesota, ended up back at the Center for the New Age so I figured I might as well have a look around. This place is the Wal-Mart of New Age paraphernalia. If you wanted it, you could get sage bundles and sage wands, herbal incense, mystic minerals and healing stones like black coral (“Absorbs Negativity!”), or a copper table-top pyramid to be worn on your head when you weren’t near a vortex.

There were lingam stones from the Ganges River in India, energy candles, animal essences in little brown bottles (eagle, bear, dragon fly, wolf, wild horse, spider—how do you suppose you bottle the essence of a wolf?), crystal balls, Celtic pendants, amber pyramids, nebula stones, satin spar selenite, Tibetan singing bowls (“Invoke a Hypnotic State!”), and a whole room full of nothing but crystals.

There were Good Karma yo-yo’s and harmonic planet CD’s and aura photos. They also had a bookcase that was nothing but tarot cards—sacred path cards, medicine woman cards, mana cards (Hawaiian tarot), Irish fairy cards, African tarot, and authentic Egyptian tarot cards.

I ended up buying a Spanish tarot deck with El Loco (the Food), El Colgado (The Hanged Man), Los Enamorados (The Lovers), and the like. Now I just need to find someone to read them.

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Center for the New Age in Sedona

The Center for the New Age in Sedona. Photos by David Lansing.

It’s a straight arrow of a drive east from Palm Springs to Phoenix. About 270 miles of nothing but desert. From here I should have veered south towards Tucson but what’s a road trip without a detour or two so instead I headed north to Sedona, the New Age capital of the world. As I was passing through town I came across the Center for the New Age in the shopping village of Tlaquepaque. I thought I might buy some crystals to guide me or give me good luck on my trip but instead was seduced by a young woman with long red hair into taking a vortex Jeep tour.

My guide, unfortunately, wasn’t the young woman with long red hair. Instead I got a guy wearing a black felt cowboy hat with a rattlesnake skin around the crown and a clear crystal on a gold chain around his neck. His name was John and he told me as we headed off in our open-sided Jeep in search of a vortex that he had once owned a Dairy Queen in Minnesota. Then his wife died of cancer and now he was a vortex guide in Sedona.

Vortex guide in Sedona

John, my vortex guide. Photo by David Lansing.

First John took took me to Cathedral Rock, which is the most popular vortex in Sedona. There was a naked man with very long gray hair sitting on one of the rocks meditating. We tried not to disturb him.

John says most of Cathedral Rock used to be under the ocean when the Gulf of Mexico covered the area. He pointed out a gray band about midway up the spires that he said was once the bottom of the ocean floor.

“You can go up there and find nautilus fossils,” he said.

I liked being out in the desert and thinking about it once being the bottom of the ocean.

From here we went to the Airport Plateau to experience another vortex and then to Bell Rock. Finally we went into the Boynton Canyon vortex that is known for its balanced male/female power, John said, and is protected by a red rock column called Kachina Woman.

Standing in front of Kachina Woman I concentrated as hard as I could on everything around me, hoping I’d feel some special energy but all I noticed was that my eyes were watery and red and I was so congested I could hardly breathe.

Taking a good hard look at me, John said, “That there is the power of the vortex.”

If so, the power of the vortex is a lot like hay fever.

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Desert Hijira: To Palm Springs

Racquet Club Garden Villas

The pool at the Racquet Club Garden Villas, once part of the famed Racquet Club Resort. Photo by David Lansing.

Yesterday morning I was sitting in the sand on the edge of the Pacific watching a small group of middle-aged women taking a stand-up paddleboard class. There was a slight breeze coming off the water, keeping things to a comfortable 75 degrees or so.

An hour and a half later I was in Palm Springs where, at noon, it was 108 degrees in the shade. I am staying in a small garden villa that was once part of the Racquet Club, a resort I’ve written about before that was founded by Charlie Farrell, a character actor from the 20s and 30s whose career was revived in the 50s when he played the worried father of troublemaker Gale Storm in My Little Margie.

Charlie Farrell was quite the bon vivant both in Hollywood and Palm Springs. I guess you could say he was Carey Grant before Carey Grant.

Marilyn Monroe at Racquet Club, Palm Springs

A young Marilyn Monroe, circa 1949, at the Racquet Club. Photo by Bruno Bernard.

Anyway, Charlie, like his beloved Racquet Club, became a bit of a mess after his wife died. But I remember going out there in the 80s, a few years before Charlie died, and it was still something to see. You’d walk into the Racquet Club, where Bing Crosby used to play bartender, and see all these old publicity photos on the wall: Marilyn Monroe, in a robins-egg-blue two-piece bathing suit sitting coyly on the end of a diving board; Spencer Tracy playing chess with Charlie; Kirk Douglas catching a breather between sets of tennis. There were shots of Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis and Joan Crawford.

It was something.

Now there’s a low wall between my condo and the old Racquet Club, which has been deserted for years. From my courtyard, I can still see the old Bamboo Bar and the boarded up buildings that used to be the famous bungalows nestled around what used to be the verdant Mission Garden but is now just a dusty, weedy lot. A few years ago there was an ambitious plan to bring back the Racquet Club to its former glory. Infrastructure was built. Some of the historic Albert Frey bungalows restored. Then the market crashed and construction stopped dead. Now I hear the homeless often break into the old bungalows and crash there until the police run them off. Like Charlie Farrell’s last years, an ignoble end for a once magnificent desert character.

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My hejira to the desert

David Lansing, 15 months

Me, at 15 months, preparing for my first road trip–alone, of course.

When I was nine, or maybe ten, and living in Southern California, I convinced our next-door neighbor, who was leaving her husband, to take me with her to Casper, Wyoming. She drove a blue Corvair, the car that made Ralph Nader famous when he condemned it in a book as “Unsafe At Any Speed,” and I remember Marge—that was the woman’s name—crying so hard as we drove through the desert north of Barstow that the car continually went off the highway. Sometimes she’d just drive through the soft sand, plowing over cacti and tumbleweeds. I thought it was great fun.

When I was sixteen, living in Central Oregon, I stole my father’s pickup and drove to Olympia, Washington, to a Woodstock-like music festival over Labor Day weekend. A few years later, I left my dorm room at college in the middle of the night and hitchhiked down to Disneyland, without telling a soul, just because I was tired of the rain. When my mother died, I got in the car and drove the length of Baja and then back again. I have no idea why I chose to drive through Mexico, but I did.

I like road trips. Always have. Particularly by myself. I like putting on some Joni Mitchell and getting all melancholy about nothing in particular (from her song Hejira: I’m traveling in some vehicle/I’m sitting in some café/A defector from the petty wars/That shell shock love away/There’s comfort in melancholy/When there’s no need to explain/It’s just as natural as the weather/In this moody sky today).

I like driving through forests, along a river, down into a valley of chaparral, through endless miles of desert. When I was 25, I went on an overland trip from Nairobi to London; my favorite part was getting lost in the Sahara.

You know it never has been easy/Whether you do or do not resign/Whether you travel the breadth of extremities/Or stick to some straighter line.

When I was growing up, my family spent almost every Labor Day weekend camping along the Colorado River in Arizona. I remember our station wagon breaking down and being towed to some dinky little gas station near Blythe or maybe Parker. My dad hung canvas bags filled with water in front of the grill to cool the engine but the radiator overheated anyway and my sister and I would sit on top of our metal Coleman cooler, a square block of ice keeping mostly beer and sodas cool, trying to lick our Creamsicles before they melted down our arms, while my dad conversed with the mechanic. It was always over a hundred along the river so we’d sleep on air mattresses in our swimsuits, no sheets or blankets, close enough to the river’s edge that you could reach out and touch the water passing swiftly by.

I tell you all this because Labor Day is approaching and I have an ache in my body to get in the car and head for the desert. It started when I read a story over the weekend about the Hatch Chile Festival, in Hatch Valley, New Mexico, which starts on Saturday with a parade down Main Street. I read that story and without even knowing I was doing it, I found myself looking at a map of the southwest and tracing the route with my finger, murmuring the names of places I might pass through: Desert Hot Springs, Joshua Tree, Blythe, Sonoran Desert, Saguaro National Park, Las Cruces, Hatch Valley.

A lot of road. A lot of desert.

I think I just may do it.

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If you’ve been with me for awhile you might remember a story I wrote a couple of years ago when I was in Cuba about searching for the family home of a friend of mine. His name is Diego Mederos. A brief recap: Diego’s dad and uncle fled Havana after Fidel came to power and ended up being part of the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion. After being imprisoned for several years, he was released and sent back to the U.S.

The deal was that when the Mederos family fled Havana, they, like a lot of Cuban families, had to leave everything behind—including a lot of friends and relatives. And never saw them again.

So when Diego heard that some of us were going to Havana, he asked if we’d try to find his old family home. He didn’t have a lot of information about it. He thought he remembered the address but he couldn’t be sure. Anyway, it ended up being a hell of an adventure for us. But we found the house. Then we went looking for one of Diego’s relatives. Well, we didn’t find her.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. This weekend I got the following email from Cuba:

Hello. In the article “The search for Casa Mederos”, you refer to a Diego Mederos? Well, I am hoping that it is whom I think it is. You see I knew a Diego Mederos, went to school with him. We studied together in the same school called Cander College, in Marianao city. He had a cousin, Nico Pardine who lived in the 1950s on Street E in Vedado. Referring to Diego (if it’s the same one) his family sent him to the United States to study. He fell in love with a local from the U.S., got married and had a little girl. I know he visited Cuba at least once in the 1950s, and he spent several day in my house which was on Calle Linea which was across a street from the movie theater named “Rody” (I think that now it’s called Yara). I would greatly appreciate it if you could pass along my email, would like to hear from the family and find out what happened to my friend.

Thank you,

Jorge E. Tamargo

(This was typed by his granddaughter, I am sorry if there are any typos or if comes across odd. It’s very hard to type down what he is telling me before he forgot. Thanks!—Cecilia).

So is it possible that Jorge E. Tamargo of Havana really knew Diego’s father?

I’ve passed this email on to him. Stay tuned…

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