In 2006 I took a Road Trip from San Francisco to New Mexico and back over the course of a month, writing and taking photos all the way. Two years later I had a show of paintings based on those photographs. This is one of a series of twenty-nine posts of those paintings accompanied by the relevant diary entries.
16.May 10th 2006
So I drove the 64 to Cameron, the 89 and 160 to Tuba City and onto the 163 at Kayenta to Monument valley. Saw the Elephant Feet, two natural stone pillars near Kayenta-then stopped at the Navajo Nation Memorial and took a stroll to look at the medieval Indian village c1280.
This monument looks interesting but I barely skimmed it in the diary. I was probably seeing too many things and moving too fast, but I think that is the nature of the Road Trip. I also saw these Dinosaur footprints, just west of Tuba City. Didn’t mention them in the diary at all.
Another thing not in the diary…I was sure the signs that said END DAYLIGHT HEADLIGHT USE were protest signs decrying the use of car headlights in day time…
Then, Monument Valley. Enquired about horseback tours but a fat lady (Indian) in a red cardy, who was in charge, was passed out in her jeep. I went to have lunch and became increasingly more disenchanted. All the things I am doing because I am ‘supposed to’, became, ‘I have to’. I decided I didn’t want to take another tour, not even in my own car, around Monument Valley.
Starting to take photos of the ‘sights’ juxtaposed with the ‘real world’. It expresses more what I am feeling…
Impressions:Heaving, thrusting, red and hot-that’s the landscape, columns and pinnacles, cleft canyons, striped pink hued. It’s a very sexual place, (or maybe that was just me), lots of ideas for paintings.
A dead animal, hind leg in the air, on the hard shoulder at Farmington, Wal-Mart, fat Indians, the road between Ship Rock and Farmington becomes the Waterford to New Ross Road…a bunny darting across the road, a herd of donkeys in the red landscape.
A rotund Navajo lays out her wares on a fold out table at Elephant Feet. A Navajo boy in the Wal-Mart car park tries to sell me beads as I get in my car. I say no and then curse myself. Crows have replaced the buzzards, circling in the sky.
All sorts of thoughts came up-am a tourist in my own life?skimming the surface...Is it good that tourists are herded or corralled?Protecting the landscape?
The interpretive centre at Monument Valley had fueled my thoughts, petrol on a raging fire you could say. Initially I thought yes, it’s a good thing to keep people from trampling everywhere but then, as with a lot of preservation, I wonder who we are preserving things for?Time passes, things erode and change. Why do we try to stop that?
Is my feeling that the ‘wild west’ has been tamed and packaged-like many other cultures including the Irish-just a cliche?Is it better like this?Are these visitor centers and parks a product of our modern culture-the culture of the skin, of the surface. We prefer the wilderness packaged and handle-able, to look at it but not to survive it.
So I drove and drove and now I am in a motel, drinking beer watching TV and looking forward to a night in a BED. I prefer the TV to the ‘real thing’ because its painful to see how the real thing has been two-dimensionalised. You know where you are and what you are doing with the TV. The TV has become more real.
Having been to college (yus, I is now educated) I realise my thoughts were connected to the French sociologists Jean Baudrillards’ hyperreality. If you want to entirely wreck your head you can look that up yourself. Interestingly I only realised this year he did his own American road trip and wrote a book about it which I have bought but as with a lot of Baudrillards’ writing (all of it) I immediately start thinking he should have got out into the fresh air more. Pot and Kettle here. So I haven’t even got past the first chapter.
The other issue that kept coming up was fatness…and I realise my attitude may offend some. To explain, on this trip realised I was overweight for the first time in my life and I was horrified and projecting that horror a lot. Through my 20s I was skinny, I could eat and drink anything (and I did). My college buddy had created the only known flat-chested cartoon hero, Choclatey Clair, just for me. I had remained convinced I was skinny in my 30s but I was filling out. My image of my body was still in my head and I had not yet realised this so I projected it onto others…
The ads on TV portray ‘normal’ sized people stuffing themselves with junk food…in real life there are fat people everywhere stuffing themselves with junk food. Do they actually think they are the same size as the TV people?
Hitting middle-age my body started to change in ways I could not control. I became one of those women I never wanted to be:obsessed with my weight. But now I also understand now how hard it is to shift fat. It’s easy for some experts, young men usually, to say its all about eating less. It’s not. My body has become alien, some days I am fat and some days I am not and its seems to bear no relation to anything in the ‘real’ world. Someone should make a sci-fi/horror film about being a middle-aged woman…from the diary…
My whole front is swelling and drooping simultaneously.
I will always remember driving down the 140, the sun streaming into the car, hitting a gleaming white roll of flesh hanging over the top of my jeans and realising…that’s me!
…but hey!-that fat is coming off!
Baudrillard, J., (1989), America, New York:Verso