I’ve been thinking about regionality, and the sad recognition that it is disappearing in America. I’ve been traveling, which always leaves a person a little dizzy–it’s hard to know where you are sometimes.
But it wasn’t that. It was the movie theater the other day. The Peak, it was called when I was a child, a downtown theater with plush velveteen seats and a great theme of the Old West. I shot this photo because I was intrigued by the adobe-imitation of the wall. It’s a very regional, southwest touch, to go with the sand-painting colors of the murals of bluffs and desert on the wall. It made me think of Manitou Springs and copper bracelets from the tourist shops and the whole world of angle of travel that existed pre-what? 1980? When did regionality start disappearing?
Because it has. Not entirely, of course, and any devoted traveler can plunge into the history and culture of an area of the US to find its true flavor. Across the southwest, there are still concrete teepees alongside the highway, right there in Navajo country, where nobody ever lived in a teepee, which is a funny and silly and ingrained part of the entire tourist parade.
Sitting in the Peak Theater, I thought about Garden of the Gods and the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe and the Redwood Forests and Maine and Florida. I have a vintage post card from Florida in about 1927 that’s beguiling and laced with the promise of adventure. The Far Away.
Once, Colorado Springs was steeped in regionality, with a particular look and spirit and feeling. Some of those buildings still exist–the Cheyenne Canon Inn, on the far west side of the city, holds the spirit, and you can feel it on the top of Pikes Peak in that gaudy gift shop, and the strip of theme motels heading up Manitou Avenue stands in tribute to that era. Manitou itself, though spiffing itself up, feels very authentic old Colorado Springs to me. The town is working hard to preserve it. The spa building, right, was nearly destroyed by a flood some years ago. It sat empty and forlorn for years while the council and owners tried to figure out what to do with it. Happily, the past year, it has been rescued and restored. Adams Mountain Cafe (the restaurant upon which Annie’s Organix in Madame Mirabou is modeled) just moved to the lower level. Manitou is working hard at preserving its spirit.
But Colorado Springs, in general, looks like any other American city. The flavor of Native American spirituality and turn of the century gold boomers is starting to fall away. The landscape is still spectacular, thank goodness, but I mourn a lot of the old buildings that once kept a finger in the pages of history–the old trading post at the Garden of the Gods, the old Antlers hotel, the Chief theater. As with every other growing city in America, the old gets torn down to make way for the (more profitable) new.
How do we preserve the heart of our special places? The kitschy tourist heart isn’t that heart, either, but at one time, differences were embraced and paraded around, rather than tucked away beneath the creeping American beigeness of Starbucks and Borders, subdivisions and Targets, Cinemark monster theaters and clever little shopping center with quaint lighting.
Maybe this is one reason I love the southwest so much. New Mexico still holds the sense of itself as a separate entity. I knew I was in the southwest the second I stepped off the plane. Everything about it still feels like Another World. The building materials, the style of building, the decorative aspects that are valued by the population, and the way the population identifies itself.
I’m not saying regionality is gone. But homogenization is spreading through our landscapes, erasing the peculiar and the quirky and the specific in many, many places. No answers. Just thoughts.
What makes your region peculiarly itself? What quirks are being preserved for future generations?