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Ian's blog: "LETTER FROM LOTUSLAND"
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Now, on to this month's Letter:
Last month I left you deep in my wisdom teeth, in the hands of a smart 1965 English dentist dressed in striped trousers. Dentists have been in the news lately for killing kindly old lions in Africa with bow and arrow, or else getting irked because they couldn't find a big enough elephant to puncture. Meanwhile Regina and I, far from the mundanity of the present day, have been vintage dancing to waltzes, tangos, and the Lambeth Walk.
We drove from Pasadena, California, through three States to reach Boulder, Colorado for a weekend of dancing and fraternizing with our dancing friends. I didn't do much dancing due to my limited movement, but I watched and read a complete Graham Greene novel ("The Quiet American"). We took three days to complete the 1500-mile journey, and that was an adventure in itself:
Regina packed our bags judiciously, not forgetting a tub of (stoned) dates and other snacks. I brought a plastic container of CDs, including Sons of the Pioneers' western songs for the drive through Utah with its stately but overpowering rocks. Regina was at the wheel, taking us in the wrong direction so that we ended up on the old route to Las Vegas via the Pear Blossom Highway with its flat stretches of scrub relieved by pathetic tatty Joshua trees stretching beseechingly up to a heaven that will never give them aid.
After this desolation, it was a relief to reach the sybaritic towers of Las Vegas. We dined at a noted Italian restaurant called "Bootleggers", dark booths and well-dressed diners. It was open mike night, and the place was readying for showroom performers to do their thing on their night off, and maybe get recognized as being above bussing and waitressing.
On the advice of our friend Dr. Nancy, who has made this trip many times to her Colorado condo, we drove on to Mesquite expecting to find a charming backwater. Turned out to be a rowdy gambling center, especially bustling at the Virgin River Casino where we stayed. While Regina sipped martinis, I watched the sad-faced but determined folk at the craps table. Trying to get a closer look, I strayed too far and was told to exit the work area by suited men who resembled cops. Gambling is serious business. My trespass was made good by our nicely priced room – only $27 a night, thanks to the gamblers. For this bargain, we got a clean space but no soap or shampoo, plus a notice with instructions for disposal of used needles. Rough customers.
At breakfast, I noticed a leathery-skinned woman, who looked like she'd seen the hard edge of life, working a gaming machine intently as she puffed a cigarette. Beside her, at the ready, was an oxygen tank.
On our way. All the towns have "Historical Museums", some in operation, others in preparation. A typical one was curated by a friendly couple. While Regina engaged them in pleasant talk, I was left to examine vintage typewriters, ovens, TV sets, and radios. Many of the towns have empty storefronts. In Salinas, Utah, founded by Danish pioneers, we learned that there had been a massacre of a wagon train in the 1860s by Mormons dressed as Indians.
On to Utah's natural spectacle – bold and brazen rock formations like the backdrop of a John Ford film. In the Arches National Park, we stopped as ordered at "view points" to admire the rugged terrain crossed by the bold Mormons so many years ago. Around us, ready to explain their spreads of jewelry and pottery, were Navajos with smart phones. There were plenty more treasures in their SUVs parked behind them.
Regina was exhilarated to the point of intoxication by the grandeur of the tall stands of rocks, like accusing cathedrals, the work of millions of years. For me, it was all too daunting and made me feel insignificant. My mind found comfort in thoughts of the English seaside, of pulpy comic books, Brighton rock, and George Formby. But I went along with Regina's excitement because the terrifying rocks were bringing her so much joy.
We made our final burst for Boulder, Colorado, where the dance weekend was taking place. We passed a town called "No Name". I had been captivated by a leaflet advertising a mineral hot springs spa: a little girl gazing from her mineral bath at a heavenly blue river pulsing down a canyon. "Find peace and repose!" We just had to stop off there and be refreshed. But the spa was still being built. A one-armed worker was sticking plants into pots; the baths were tiny hot tubs filled to capacity with obese flaccid health seekers; the swimming pool had been commandeered by young blacks yelping and baying in a violent game Regina recognized as "Marco Polo"; a few white children watched warily at the other end; a woman of a certain age sat nearby trying to read her hardback. After indifferent sandwiches, we took our leave.
In Boulder, we stayed at a historic 1934 motor court of wooden cabins. Next day we treated ourselves to massages to make up for the unfortunate spa experience and prepare for the evening's first dance event. This was far out in the country in the converted barn of the main house. We were welcomed by many of our dance friends. I was a little overwhelmed, but settled down after a glass of a strong gin-based punch. First we watched a 1929 silent comedy called "Why be Good?" starring that peppy flapper Colleen Moore. Then the dance started. Bandleader Rodney provided piano accordion. I sat out with a friend who too has health issues.
Next day was dance classes at a professional space in Boulder. I sat on a couch with my Graham Greene novel, or else I sold my CDs from a table. Studying the 1983 photo of me with my accordion on the front of one CD, a woman asked, "Is this somebody you once knew?" But she moved on before I could explain.
On the Saturday there were more classes including one on the pre-war British community step," The Lambeth Walk". At the grand ball that evening – held in the rehearsal space – costumes were encouraged and I wore my pinstriped wedding suit (1989 vintage). Regina looked lovely and got plenty of partners. I trod one gingerish one-step with her – really just a walk round the floor. Sold a few more CDs, too. But my moment of triumph came when I joined two others to sing "Lambeth Walk" with Rodney's fine orchestra. I had made my mark.
Sunday, we de-camped for the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Wooden, courtly, and turn-of-the-century, the hotel was the setting for Stephen King's shocker novel "The Shining". Ghosts abound, and you can go on guided tours. We pushed our way through hordes of sightseers in their shapeless summer clothes (clashing with our party's vintage outfits, hats, and parasols) and retired to the period bar where we chose craft beers. The hotel boasts a list of 1,000 brands of Scotch whisky. A shot of Bowmore, from the Isle of Ismay, costs $800. Nobody has ordered one for two months, said our barman, adding that a sniff would be $20, which we declined because we were saving up for a slap-up dinner at the local Earl of Dunraven's Inn.
The Earl's turned out to be Italian cuisine. We took up two long boisterous tables, and separate checks were kindly allowed. I sat next to Richard Powers, our dance master, and was able to impress him with my knowledge of English novelty dances including "Hands, knees, and booms-a-daisy", which climaxes with the banging of bottoms ever so politely.
Regina stood up to call for a song, which happened to be my own "Have A Martini''. Some of the guests knew this one.
On the final day at the Stanley (where "The Shining" runs 24 hours a day on your room TV), we attended a tea dance that started around lunchtime. I helped Rodney out by adding accordion to his piano. I also gave a 25-minute talk on the songs of World War One. It was fun to see couples dancing to my recording of "I Didn't Raise My boy To Be A Soldier". Anything can be subjected to the social dance. How about a two-step through Islamist Syria? Problems might be solved – or at least eased.
Regina and I duetted on "Till We Meet Again", and reduced an old lady to grateful tears.
Next day we set off home and covered the 1500 miles in one day and a bit, arriving at 4 am. I was too tired to make my morning swim at Cal Tech.
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