Visiting Denver is a challenge – it’s 5,280 feet above elevation – 1600 meters for those in metric.
I spent much of my first day in downtown Denver, which rests just below this elevation, visiting with a friend. It took only 4 hours before I was winded – breathing heavily, feeling miserable.
The elevation was getting me.
Since then my I’ve acclimated to the elevation – I’m not energetic, but I can do things like walk without feeling exhausted just because I’m moving.
Until today: I popped up to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in order to admire its beauty. It’s a natural amphitheater in a stunningly beautiful setting. Driving up there I didn’t expect to be alone, but I expected, at most, a handful of people admiring its inherent awesomeness.
I was not alone.
It turns out Red Rocks is an exercise mecca for people in the area – and it’s set at 6,400 feet above sea level—so nearly 2000 meters.
As I sat, catching my breath, I watched people run back and forth along the seating area, I watched people run up and down, and I watched people do all kinds of uncomfortable looking maneuvers.
It was enough to exhaust me just watching.
This altitude sickness has affected me before – and I fully understand my Mom’s complaint about what it is like to come up to Denver – and how long it takes to adjust. I imagine that if I were hanging out in Denver full time, the extra 1200 feet it takes to go from downtown to Red Rocks wouldn’t kill me. That said, less than a week is not long enough for me to do it comfortably.
Yesterday I popped into a Spouts Market – an American Organic Supermarket chain that is challenging Whole Foods by being affordable.
What immediately caught my eye is the appearance of Pumpkin Spice – and other “pumpkin” – flavored goods.
Now I’m aware of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte – something I partake of about three times each fall (omg! What a sugar rush!) before deciding I don’t need it again for a long time.
In Germany I also partake of Pumpkin Ravioli – fresh made and sold at one of my nearby street markets. The end of Pumpkin Ravioli season is always a tremendous disappointment in my book.
America, though, has taken it to a whole new level – with a seriousness that caught me completely off guard: pumpkin snaps, pumpkin spice popcorn, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin spice chips, pumpkin – well, if you can imagine it, Sprouts probably has it in pumpkin flavor.
This doesn’t feel as raw as it did the first time, but I still go back through the memories of everything I felt that week, when I was in Bloomington, Indiana, and all the attention was on Laramie, Wyoming.
With distance – both in terms of time (16 years now!) and distance (5,019 miles/ 8077 km) – come inherent dampening. Younger people – gay or not – don’t viscerally know who Matthew Shepard is and the (unfortunate) role that he plays in Queer History. Germans my age might not know as much about him – although his impact was global, certainly the majority of the impact was within the boundaries of the United States.
But remembering him and his pointless, untimely, death is something that I do.
Even as same sex marriage is (finally) being made available to Americans (albeit slowly), I still get the privilege of seeing facebook “friends” of friends tell us that the federal government shouldn’t be telling local governments that have banned same sex marriage that the ban is unconstitutional – and that the right to same sex marriage is just like gun control laws. (There’s a certain lack of intelligence, logic, and empathy….)
I shouldn’t let this get under my skin – I should be magnanimous toward the less well educated. (How on earth did they never take a class on US Government? Or if they did, how could such a class omit the concept of “Judicial Review,” as well as the checks and balances built into the three-branch set-up of American government? It boggles the imagination.)
Sorry, I digress.
Today I’ll be wallowing a bit in things Wyoming and things about Matthew Shepard. Re-reading October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (a set of poetry), re-watching the HBO production of The Laramie Project, and – early in the morning – listening to a little bit of Cowboy football (the team is playing at Hawaii, and although the game is Saturday for them, for me, it is first thing Sunday morning.) There will be some brown and gold in my life, as well as some Jason Collins (Number 98!).
I’ve heard of Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände — an old rail yard converted into a park, of sorts, nearby to where I live, but I’ve never visited.
It’s a nice park — a 1€ entry fee (exact change required – and pay because there are random inspections) is required. Once inside there’s a small café, a water tower (a landmark), lots of abandoned rail tracks, and graffiti.
The graffiti is sanction — a list of rules at the entrance gives lots of leeway, but not painting on Sundays.
If there’s one thing Berlin has in spades, it’s history. Lots and lots and lots of history. Much of it is depressing – the kind of history you want to forget but don’t because it should never be forgotten.
Like the Nazi’s Aktion T4 program that killed people who were judged to be insane and incurable; “Mercy Death,” if you will.
The program was based at Tiergartenstrasse 4, right in the heart of Berlin. Today the site is, primarily, home to the Berlin Philharmonic.
It is also, as of last Monday, the site of a memorial to the murdered: a 79 foot long blue glass wall.
This morning I had some time and was in the area – so I stopped by. Adjacent to the wall is a long informative panel, helping to contextualize the murders and put bring it all into focus: forced serializations, mercy killings, and falsified death certificates – to name a few. A few select individuals are highlighted.
It’s a complex display: spoken information with video in German, braille, simplified German language text (in bold yellow print), German text (in bold white print), and English (in a thin, difficult to read, white font). Thus it is accessible to many of the very people who were the targets of Aktion T4.
Berlin is home to a plethora of memorials – within a short walking distance there are three other memorials to the Nazi genocide: the gays, the Jews, as well as the Sinti and Roma.
On some level, it’s easy to imagine that there is memorial fatigue: I can only imagine that the dedicated Nazi holocaust memorial visitor would be visit all four in the space of a single day and leave either depressed or numb – these are, I think, memorials that need time and space between visits in order to keep the impact at a respectful and worthwhile level.
As y’all may have noticed, I was in New Orleans and Montreal last month – a weeklong trip to French parts of North America.
At the same time, the trip had some nice moments of symmetry – things that reflected back and made the overall trip fantastic.
New Orleans was to catch-up with friends who’d I not seen in a long time; it was also my first return to the city since Katrina. On both fronts, I was happy. My friends lead a great life in a vibrant, interesting city – New Orleans is clearly a city I would consider living in, if I had to return to the States. Its principle downside is, of course, the heat and humidity.
While in the city I went to a sculpture garden, where I saw lots of cool statues, including one of an abstract man formed through letters. It was, to be blunt, a memorable statue. Actually, there were a lot of interesting things to look at in the park, but this one stuck out in my mind – not because of seeing it there, then, but because a few days later, up in Montreal, I looked out of a window at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and saw its twin.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was also my introduction to Kent Monkman, an amazing artist. I’ve already blogged about him – and how I saw his work in two different museums on my first two days in Montreal. I also mentioned that I bought a catalog of his work – perhaps the most expensive book that I’ve ever purchased. Reading it this past week made me very happy.
What I haven’t mentioned here, yet, is that on my last full day in Montreal I found his work again, this time at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The museum is a bit bewildering to wander through, but I will forever remember coming into a space, looking at it and thinking, “Wow, Kent Monkman again!”
It’s really strange – I cannot remember any specific artist ever having had this kind of effect on me before. I’m searching out his work and even considering planning a trip around visiting one of his shows.
One last, odd, moment of symmetry revolved around a book: One Man Guy. I read the book early in the trip. I’m not sure when, exactly – possibly on the plane between Munich and Houston. It’s a YA novel targeted at GLBT youth. Featuring an Armenian-American teenager with excessively overprotective parents, he manages to meet a guy who breaks him out of his shell and takes him to a Rufus Wainwright concert.
Honestly, I’ve never (knowingly) heard a Rufus Wainwright song, but there’s this conversation about his song “One Man Guy” that moved me – probably the part of the book that moved the book from being a great book to an outstanding book.
Rufus came up again, this time at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne. I’m not a music person, but when the cashier at the museum asked me if I wanted to see the “Music – Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire” special exhibit, I thought to myself, “how often am I going to be in Montreal?”
Guests are given a pair of headphones and access to an ample variety of music to listen to. This is, of course, a good thing, given that the exhibit is about music. I lost myself – considering my musicality, this is a stunning achievement on the part of the museum.
For me, the moment of symmetry came when I discovered one of that one of Rufus Wainwright’s costumes and a plaque that discussed his work, much in the same vein as in the novel.
I ended up tearing up.
I’m nearing the end of my time in Montreal – it’s been a lovely few days with some nice art discoveries (Kent Monkman — I saw another one of his works today), nice long walks, and some good food.
This is not actually my first time in Montreal – in fact, Montreal was the first place I visited outside of the United States – this was back in the 80s, when I was young. I’d guess that I was 9 or 10 years old.
My paternal grandparents had a summer home north of Albany – nearby the interstate to Canada – and one summer, we headed to Montreal.
I have a lot of scattered memories related to this trip—like crossing the border into Quebec, then stopping at the Welcome Centre to get information about Montreal. The woman working behind the counter – at a welcome center a few miles north of the United States – could not speak English. That was fun for my Dad and Grandma.
Other things that I remember: the Montreal Metro ran on rubber tires and not on metal wheels, as most other subways (e.g. New York City, Berlin, London, Tokyo) do. This is true – I noticed it immediately when taking the metro: it is significantly quieter technology.
We did some shopping at a department store somewhere (I suspect la Baie) and then had lunch in Chinatown, at some restaurant on the second (US counting) floor. This sticks out in my mind because the restaurant was completely empty at lunchtime, when we arrived, and we were the only customers. We were about to leave when they insisted we stay. At the time either my Dad or Grandmother speculated that it was mob-owned, a place to launder money.
But that’s not what stuck out the most to me.
What stuck out the most was a poster that we passed somewhere on the street. It featured a completely naked, muscular, black man. He was holding himself, thus making it not X-rated.
This is the detail that I remember most from the trip – that evening, on my way to take a shower at my grandparent’s summer home, I walked naked from my bedroom to the bathroom, covering myself with my hands. My grandma, sitting in the kitchen between the bedroom and the bathroom, laughed.
That’s probably not why I chose Montreal for the back half of this vacation – at least not seriously. I’d considered a number of other places (Anchorage, Portland, and Winnipeg – to name a few) but landed on Montreal, thus making my trip this week all about French North America.
It’s been a very good, much needed week off.
Over the last two days, I’ve seen two amazing paintings by Kent Monkman. One was at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the other at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne. The first really caught my eye and I spent some time exploring it’s more subtle details — before wandering on.
Then, Friday I was looking at an otherwise uninteresting exhibition about the history of Montreal when I came upon “Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation, 2014″ — really the only thing worth looking at in that exhibit. Again, the detail enchanted me.
So taken, I decided to search him out, and I picked up a copy of “The Triumph of Mischief” — a 2012 catalog covering a tour of his art that year. Amazingly, I paid $200 Canadian for a new, never opened, still sealed in plastic, copy of the book. Over on eBay, a used copy is up for grabs at US$475.
I spent Monday in the French Quarter – wandering randomly, evading rain, and then meeting up with one of my hosts for a tour of the French Quarter. All-in-all, an excellent day.
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