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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Seems I am Doomed Never to Get to Buddy Guy's Place

On our first run through the Windy City (some four weeks ago now) we schlepped along Wabash to find Buddy Guy's club closed for a private party. We shrugged, and decided we would save the pleasure for our return trip. Thanks to a six-hour delay on our Amtrak service from Denver, we got here at nine o'clock last night. By the time we found our hotel (a very salubrious apartment, in fact, with a fully fitted kitchen, out along the Gold Coast) it was ten, and by the time we had eaten it was close to midnight. Ho hum, maybe another time. I did see his younger brother, the late Phil Guy, in the UK, but that was many years ago. Close, as they say, but no cigar.

Today we take the train - maybe I should say we hope to take the train - to Charleston, West Virginia, where we catch up with a fellow I've known for... 55 years. I have a lot of catching up to do on here as well, so watch out for upcoming posts on: Taos Pueblo, where we saw the San Geronimo festival activities and ate ourselves silly in other people's houses; on our three-day trek on horseback in the Huachuca Mountains; perhaps too on our visit to the Canyon de Chelly (below).


Saturday, 10 October 2015

And there, at the back, banging on her tambourine, was Joan Osborne

My daughter  bought 'Relish' for me back in 1996. It's a fabulous album that has rewarded my endless replays, and Joan Osborne has become my favourite female singer. So I was terribly excited to find out, just before we left the UK, that she was on tour in the USA - and would actually be in Tucson, AZ, on one of the two days we were in the city visiting friends. Osborne was performing with Mavis Staples (with whom, I discovered, I share a birthday) at the Rialto, a downtown venue that was once a cinema. Think rows of folding seats. Not the plush upholstered kind (someone had sold those off years ago), rather the type you might find in a church hall or school gym. So the whole event had an old-fashioned feel to it - and so, to my great delight - did the backing band: Stephen Hodges on drums, Rick Holmstrom on guitar and Jeff Turmes on bass. Simple, powerful, effective. Three seriously able musicians who really rocked. They could do it all - hard, slow, loud, tender, raunchy - and did. In spades.

The big surprise for me, however, who has always thought of Osborne as a musical god, was that hers was in fact the opener and support act for the legendary Mavis. Joan was on first, and although the audience clearly loved her, it wasn't until Mavis finally appeared that they became seriously animated. Personally, I was cowering low in my seat. The very mention of the word Gospel in a musical context gives me the heeby-jeebies. I start seeing wild-eyed preachers wrestling with snakes, and moaning converts in river-drenched clothes swearing off the demon drink forever.

But back to Joan. For me, it was a little like watching someone like Van Morrison: just to sit and let that amazing voice wash over me was a huge thrill. She's well known for her range - from country to blues to soul - and we got the full works here: she gave us in rapid succession 'One of Us', 'Saint Teresa', 'I Don't Need No Doctor' and 'Shake Your Hips'. Wonderful stuff, all backed by that superb band of three. And then Mavis, who, I have to admit, is a hell of a performer (just don't ask me to describe her set: I do not have the musical language to hand). Joan came back on to share a version of - ha, the name escapes me (it escapes us both) - and then hung around the fringes of the stage for the last three or four numbers.

So there she was, far left, almost in the shadows, swaying her hips, rattling the tambourine and grooving along. She might have been 'one of us'. It wasn't what I'd imagined, but what the hell: I've seen her, been dazzled by her voice, and afterwards I had a brief few words as she signed my new CD (Bring It On Home).

Life is good - even though we're now in a Motel 6 in Santa Fe, on our way to Denver. There we drop the car, spend a day in the Mile High City, then take the train to Chicago and, with luck, an evening at Buddy Guy's blues club.

Monday, 5 October 2015

A Stranger Rode in Along the Canyon...the Canyon de Chelly

Yesterday we had our second western riding trip, along the Canyon de Chelly, formerly home to a number of Anasazi settlements some 800-1200 years ago, later a stronghold - and farming settlement - of the Navajo. Today, although a National Monument, it is within the confines of the huge Navajo tribal reservation.

We booked a three-hour ride, which took us from the entry to the canyon, just across from where we were camped, to the junction of its two arms. These are the main canyon and the Canyon de Muerto, named for the deaths that occurred in a battle with the Spanish in 1805.

Most of these photos were taken by Alyson. Every time I took the lens-cap off, Birdie - that's the horse I was riding - spooked. She even got excited if she caught sight of my shadow making a strange movement, like touching my hat or pointing at a petroglyph. As for snapping a shot of the view - well, here's what happened.

I have a lot more scenic shots of the Canyon, but they will have to wait. We've just arrived in Tucson, Arizona, and are off up the mountains early tomorrow for a three-day horse-ride.

So here's a parting shot of a novice horseman taking his mount back to the stables.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Anasazi ruins at Chaco Canyon

Fajada Butte, just along the canyon from our campsite
It’s several days now since we left Chaco Canyon, and this is turning into a stunning, memorable journey. Every day has brought us novel experiences, dazzling landscapes and remarkable people – most of them offering the kind of grace, warmth and hospitality that would make any of us resolve to be a better, kinder person. If that sounds sentimental, so be it. If I get the chance over the next few days I shall see whether my writerly skills are up to the task of conveying more fully what I mean.

For now, I can offer these images from the astonishing ruins that are to be found at Chaco Canyon, a centre for Anasazi ceremony and culture in the mid-9th to mid-12th centuries A.D. The largest structure is Pueblo Bonito, a D-shaped complex of dwellings, storehouses and kivas (circular ceremonial chambers) originally three and four storeys high which formed the largest building in North America until (if I recall the Ranger’s talk correctly) 1871. Or it may have been 1880. Either way, you get the picture: lots of rooms – 600 in total.

Pueblo Bonito from the mesa
The architecture and stonework of these buildings is fascinating; this gives a flavour of the style

There are many other complexes along the canyon – such as Chetro Ketl, a Chacoan great house which rose to three storeys and encompassed 500 rooms. It was neither wind, nor storm nor any other natural force which reduced their stature – rather the zealous pot-hunters of the nineteenth century. (No comment.)

Rear wall (i.e., against the canyon), Chetro Ketl

Chetro Ketl from the mesa
And there were more modest dwellings like this one, tucked away under the bluffs just fifty feet from where we pitched our tent.


As well as these fabulous ruins we were able to enjoy scenery – both along the canyon floor and up on the mesa - that took our breath away.

...even though some of it was hard to get to




Tomorrow we drive west to Canyon de Chelly, and try to catch up on a wonderful three days in Taos.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

I'd Rather Be On Horseback - Maybe Somewhere Like Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Our wrangler for the day, Blake, arrives at the trailhead with Blanco and Rio, our mounts.

I've travelled a great deal in the western States, and I've lived out a lot of my dreams. The one thing I had never done until today was ride a horse out in the back country. Now, thanks largely to the six riding lessons A bought me for my birthday, I was able to sign up for a three-hour ride in the mountains above Taos.

We climbed a narrow winding trail, rising from about 8000 to 9000 feet through pines and aspens, crossing a spring-fed creek several times. Our man Blake was not only a terrific teacher - how to steer, how to halt, how to stop the horses eating everything in sight - but also a mine of information on the landscape, its vegetation, and a whole raft of topics from feedlots (he detests them) to living off the land in the Hawaiian jungle, which he counts among his many achievements.

So far, neither of us is saddle-sore - but we haven't gone to bed yet. And in any case, we are confident that any pain suffered now, as our muscles adapt, will make the three-day trek we have lined up for Arizona in ten days' time a little easier.

After climbing for about 45 minutes to an hour we rested. While we ate our snacks the horses chewed on spruce branches - and our apple-cores. Then it was time to retrace our steps, sit back in the saddle, heels down, as the horses negotiated the steep downward path.

Tomorrow we're up at six, in preparation for the foot races up at Taos Pueblo, which begin around 7.15. This is the start of the Feast of San Geronimo, about the biggest event to which outsiders are invited. Sometime between then and our setting off for the Canyon de Chelly (0700h Thursday) I'll try to write up some notes on our two nights at Chaco Canyon, our visit to the Aztec Ruins in NW New Mexico and our stay in Albuquerque, where we had a delightful lunchtime visit with my old writing tutor, Rudy Anaya.