Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Drive-By Reminiscing

Posted By on December 31, 2008

Stella hears the desert whispering

Stella hears the desert whispering

12.30 Gallup to Scottsdale: 348 miles. Two states: New Mexico and Arizona. Signs: “Zuni Fetishes Direct!” “Don’t Drive Into the Smoke.” “Cops Every Where. Don’t get Blitzed.” Sounds: XM Seventies, CNN, William Boyd’s “Restless.”

When I was little, I always thought the word in the title above was pronounced “reminsking.” I was an only child, and books were my siblings. I read them like most kids eat candy, including under the covers with a flashlight, and while other kids might have preferred to play. So I knew the meaning of words I had never heard spoken. (I also read Candy when I was eleven—having found it stashed behind the collected works of Hemingway—which may explain a lot about the following few decades.) I share this, really, because I am starting to get a little cabin-crazy.

Anyhoo. As we turn south at Flagstaff and head down toward Phoenix, I am painfully aware that there’s no time to detour through Sedona and visit My Old School. The two years I spent at Verde Valley School assumed importance in my life way beyond their small time-frame, percentage-wise. I drove a tractor to pick up the trash (the only girl on campus allowed to do so), hiked 150 miles in the Grand Canyon carrying a 60-pound pack (I weighed 90 pounds at the time; it wasn’t a walk in the park), and discovered the real me for the first time (other discoveries followed). Tonight’s destination in Scottsdale is the second home of my room-mate from those seminal years, Mary, who remains one of the most important women in my life, among a pack of powerful dames, after (mumble-mumble) years. She now lives in Idaho, and we are trying to coordinate our visits to Arizona so that some year, we can hike again in the red rocks of Sedona and reflect upon everything that’s happened since we first sat on top of Cowpie rock and smoked Camel non-filters, wearing Frye boots and Levi 501’s, squinting reflectively into the distance, with wisdom far beyond our real years. But little adult things always seem to intervene and thwart our girlish enthusiasm. Like life, work, and chemotherapy. Next year, in Sedona, I say to her every year when I pass through this spiritual place.

Yo. This is a little on the chilly side.

Yo. This is a little on the chilly side.

I’ve had the Malibu crowd on the phone about tomorrow night’s New Year’s Eve dinner party. My great friends from the ‘bu are keepers of one of the most estimable wine cellars I’ve ever met, and since I can’t keep up with these particular Jones’es in the beverage department, I cook something nice whenever I land in their comfy guest room. This year, God Love ‘Em, they’ve decide they’d like to have quail. For ten. (It was going to be six, but you know how these things escalate.) So this morning I wrote out a comprehensive shopping list, and instructed Dutch Michael (yes, he is Dutch; she is Austrian) to unwrap, rinse, thoroughly dry (I put these two words in bold, underlined, italic caps), and liberally salt and pepper the birds—and for goodness sake please try to find partially boned quail. Completely boneless quail are easier to eat, but tend to look about as spineless as my first husband on the plate. Partially boned birds nicely bridge the gap between ease of eating and attractive presentation. We won’t roll in until 5 or 6pm, depending on the New Year’s eve traffic on the I-10 (plus, we have to stop at Surfas and pick up a meat thermometer and some truffle oil, for the mushroom-Cognac sauce; Malibu is a wasteland when it comes to such things).

Since this will be our first non-hotel night in yonks, we stop at a fancy supermarket in Scottsdale to pick up dinner: green salad with garbanzo beans and slivered salami—mmmm, nice and light, for a change. I don’t know what the state of Mary’s pantry will be, so I buy a bottle of dressing (Girard’s Original, the lesser of the evils). This is one of only two bottles of salad dressing I’ve purchased in half a decade. When we roll up to Mary’s house, the sun is still high in the sky and it’s 72F. There’s time for a long walk amongst the saguaro and ocotillo: old, old friends. There’s even time for an hour of glossy magazine-gazing from the poolside terrace-with-a-view. The elaborate property-sales vehicles, with their faux-Tuscan kitchens, fountain-centric courtyards of faux-rustic stone and improbably tall cypresses, look obscene, in view of, you know, things.I venture the opinion that a year from now these kind of estates will have been dismantled and sold off piece-meal, to support a myriad of divorces.

I encourage Stella the swimming terrier to “Go for a swim,” which means I must stand on the top step to convince her, thereby bringing my feet close to frost-bite (it gets very, very cold in the desert at night, the pool never has a chance to warm up). She goes for the step, but is too smart to actually plunge in and swim laps, although I can tell she would like to. Tomorrow, my pet, the Pacific.


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