Posted by Sheila Connolly

Okay, here's the much anticipated report from My Trip to Tucson (no, don't go change the cat litter or take a nap–please! I promise I'll be brief). I went, I saw, I conquered. All my flights arrived on time (two were actually early!), and my luggage arrived too. This alone may qualify for some sort of prize. Oh, wait–that was the prize. I'm not complaining. I attribute the smooth return legs to the blessing I received from a chatty Navaho jewelry maker at the San Xavier mission. Couldn't have hurt, anyway. (It didn't help at the nearby casino, though. Oh well.)

07_12_07_tucson_142 Let me say first that I am probably the laughing stock of Tucson for saying in all innocence, "I want to see cactus." The fact is, you can't not see cactus in Tucson, starting with the airport parking lot. Silly me. I did mention that I had never seen a desert? I have now seen much desert, and many, many cacti. I am sorry that I wasn't there when the snakes/lizards/tarantulas were out and about–too cold, I'm told. It was sixty degrees, when it had been twenty degrees out when I left home. But I am not a lizard, so what do I know?

I could rave on and on about the sights, sounds, smells of the place, but I guess I'll have to save that for my glassblower books. What I do want to talk about is...souvenirs.

The term "souvenir" derives from the French for "to remember." We buy things to help us remember where we've been, what we've seen–mnenomic devices to jog our memories. I do a lot of jogging. I am the queen of gift shops. I have returned with much loot. Swag. Plunder. Whatever.

Isn't it convenient that most public institutions place their gift shops right at the entrance? You can take a quick peek and decide what things are really important to look at, so you can buy the pretty things to help you remember them on your way out. Somewhere in the internet world there is probably an analysis of what percentage of any non-profit institution's income is derived from their gift shop sales, but never mind–they all want you to buy things. I am happy to make them happy.

Yes, I bought t-shirts, despite my extensive historical collection that numbered over sixty the last time I dared count them. At least I wear them, and I figure they might inspire me as I write about Tucson. Good rationale, no? Voila: two new t-shirts.

07_12_08_tucson_076 Then I bought glass pieces. That's research, right? A brace of paperweights: one reminded me of a cactus, the other of a stained glass window. Different styles and techniques, but I will certainly remember the two very different glassblowing studios where I found them (and all the gorgeous pieces that were far beyond my 07_12_08_tucson_078 modest budget). By the way, one of the most impressive pieces I saw was a very large glass spider, but I can't imagine trying to pack that. I can't imagine even picking it up.

Also, handy guides to flora and fauna. I do not expect to find a gila monster in my back yard, or a saguaro, or even a cactus wren, but I want to be prepared.

And of course, since I couldn't bring it all home with me, I took pictures. Of everything, including the food on my plate (I won't bore you with the picture of the giant chimichanga, which was delicious and lasted two meals). Mountains. Cacti (yes, again). Rainbows. The 07_12_09_tucson_038 Fourth Street Fair (who knew that so much tie-dye was still out there?). A dude ranch. Native American petroglyphs.

Man_in_the_maze_2 There was one image that I kept seeing everywhere, that struck a chord: the man in the maze. It's the symbol of the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Native American tribe that lives in the Tucson area. The maze represents the changes one goes through during life. I thought it was particularly apt, since it has been an amazing series of twists and turns that led me to write murder mysteries set in Tucson.

So now I'm back home, armed with a wealth of details to enrich my books. Rain in the desert, and how quickly the washes fill–and how careful unwary drivers have to be of suddenly flooded roads. The endless variety of cacti, against the changing background of mountains. The wonderful and subtle food. The absence of crowds, and the sense of space.

It was a trip well spent. And I have lots of souvenirs.

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