About That Novel

Jun 30th 2010: Thoughts, Travel

Need a place to write that novel? Consider Jerome, Arizona!

After receiving suggestions from a couple of blog readers to visit Sedona and its canyons, I arranged my tour to drive from Prescot to Sedona via this historic road, 89A. It was one of the most scenic drives on this trip to date. Following a curvy and treacherous road at at 20mph, wiggling itself along the deep edge of a beautiful, red-glowing canyon, I got to see a different side of Arizona. Always associating it with hot desert, cactus, and tumbleweed, I was surprised to find myself in a luscious green forest, which then opened up into a magnificent canyon with a view on the plains of Sedona and Cottonwood.

As I came around the last corner I suddenly was, unexpectedly, in Jerome. Formerly a copper mining town, Jerome is tugged away against a relatively steep hill side of Cleopatra hill. The houses are build on a steep incline with views on the whole valley. The main street wiggles down, back and forth, houses left and right. Everything is so small, close together, that my first thought was how much it reminded me some Greek mountain town – small, isolated, cute. And there are more similarities. It immediately astonished that people were hanging out on the street. This is not something I have come to associate with the US. Americans are mobile. Always busy. Doing stuff. People hop in their SUV, drive five blocks, park, do their thing, come back. It’s faster that way… unless there is no parking, of course. The notion that in front of every store and house was a chair or a bench and people sitting, right by the sidewalk, hanging out, talking, is, at first sight, so … un-American. To me anyway. Intriguing. Furthermore, the town tries to maintain the old-town charm and succeeds in doing so without sinking to the level of a Disneyland special. The houses are old, but well kept and feel lived in, not just decoration. Fascinated I decided to stay the night.

My hotel was a charming former hospital and asylum. It was kept old-style: the phones are still connected through a switch board, the elevator has those old scissor doors, the A/C is a ceiling fan. Beyond that, the hotel is also apparently fully equipped with some authentic ghosts. Personally I didn’t hear anything, slept like a log, but at breakfast a few guests shared their story of the previous night: being woken by what sounded like a cabinet full of dishes crashing down, or falling asleep listening to easy music on an ipod, just to be freakishly awakened when “something” turned up the volume to full and changed the song and all ipod settings.

Strolling around in the cool evening air, visiting the popular local bar “The Spirit Room”, listening to a Texas band playing there live, and meeting some locals, I came to appreciate the town even more. It had been almost abandoned after the mine closed. Then, somewhat recently, it was revived as both, a tourist attraction and an artist town. And I think that’s what attracts me most about this place. It is cute, yes. It is quiet, nice. It has great views, sure. Being located 5,000 feet above sea level it also has a Mile High Bar, awesome. But in the end what makes it special is how it feels like a real community, not staged. And a creative community at that. Galleries are located all throughout the town. Venturing off on side streets you’ll discover sculptures, ceramic ovens, paintings, and many, many patios of small, colorful houses filled with the kind of useless crap I’ve only seen artists accumulate in their studios. And if you think this place is only filled with red rock painters and driftwood decorators, consider that it also is home to one of the best record stores in the area and that people like Maynard Keenan from Tool have come to live here. It’s a great town to retreat, to hide. So come here to write that novel. Come here to write that song. Come here to paint that painting. Come here to take that photo. Come here to relax.

As I am sitting here, reflecting, sipping my coffee, it hits me: this is not Greece. This is not anywhere else. This could not be anywhere else. This place provides what has always been fascinating about the rural Southwest. This is what Georgia O’Keeffe escaped New York for and, in her case, found in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It’s hard to put in words. But it has to do with peace. And the desert. And community. Come to Jerome some time and see for yourself.

Posted in Thoughts and Travel by Ernst Bruening on June 30th, 2010 at 4:06 pm.

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