American Dream. Part 2. Phoenix.

The flight from New York to Phoenix is about 6 hours long. 3875 kilometers and a huge cultural gap between two dots on the map. Everything is different: people, weather, landscape and lifestyle. Here for the first time I realized why two Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov described the US as “Odnoetazhnaia Amerika” (Single-Storied America) in the Russian version of their famous book “American Road Trip”. No skyscrapers. Only  “downtown” rises above the average level of buildings. Besides this place is conquered by cars. Life without a car here would look like a house arrest.

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One more astonishing fact is the quantity of religious places. Russian or European churches and cathedrals usually are generously covered with gold and have elaborate architecture. Local buildings look very modest and remind hobby clubs. It’s a place of socialization where people have at least one common interest. All the variety of “churches for any taste” seemed so absurd that it brought association with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarianism.

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Only the quantity of cacti can compete with the number of religious buildings in Arizona. Cacti are everywhere, of all the possible forms and sizes. That is why any souvenir brought from here will depict a cactus. In my mind Arizona equals cacti.

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People are the most interesting part about any place you go. I should admit that Arizona justified some stereotypes about Americans which were so carefully put in my Russian mind since my childhood. I do not believe in stereotypes only in individuals though in this case I could not help but give in. It is not universally true and everything depends on a particular person but the first impression is staying with me.

I was lucky enough to visit a very interesting place I’ve never seen or heard about before. It is called “Venture Out”. Imagine a closed territory with many little houses which has different facilities such as swimming pool, hobby centers, canteen, sports ground and a bunch of other things. It all reminded me a summer camp in Siberia for children from 8 to 16. “Venture out” is exclusively for members of age 55+. It was astonishing to me that people of middle class can age having such a great lifestyle and lots of fun.

Venture out

Venture Out

By the second day in Phoenix the mind was hungry for some cultural program. Who is the best advisor nowadays? Right, Google. It suggested going to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)This place was founded by a former CEO of Target Corporation, Robert J. Ulrich and his friend Mark Felix who originated the idea for MIM after visiting the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels.

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The collection of  MIM consists of more than 6,500 instruments brought here from  200 different countries. At the entrance you are given earphones so you can experience the way all the instruments sound when getting closer to them. Besides that there are TV screens  allowing guests to see the instruments in their original contexts like performances that are often as spectacular as the instruments themselves.

Gamelan - traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia

Gamelan – traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia

The national costumes of many countries are also displayed next to their traditional instruments.

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The guy on the left is called Shava (the Deer). He is from Mongolia. This costume is used in Buddhism Tsam masked dance. Shava represents new life and fertility.

My only regret that I could not touch and try to play these instruments myself. Turns out MIM has the Experience Gallery for exact this purpose. It’a a pity I found out about it only now. So maybe this information will be useful for some of you.

Finally, I should say that Phoenix has become a very special and very American experience for me. Though it justified some stereotypes it also showed me something absolutely new and I am grateful for it.

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