The Grand Tour 17: The Secret Museum and the Perfect Taco

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

We cannot separate a people from their landscape. To visit one is to visit the other. This makes tourism a kind of natural resource that people living in attractive or unusual landscapes can choose to exploit as they would oil or timber or fertile crop land. But in the case of tourism, the choices and the control are not so completely in their hands. The road brings all who wish to come. Along Route 66 it is clear that people are working hard to exploit the tourist potential of the old route and welcome those who travel it. As we wander off the old road into yet older country, the receptiveness of the people is less clear cut, though their manners certainly never fail. 

May 14, 2019: Winslow to Tuba City. You can’t see everything, we keep telling ourselves, but today there are two things we really want to see, and they are in opposite directions. West along Route 66 itself is Meteor Crater (yes, that’s its name). But from Winslow we want to make a detour off Route 66 to visit Second Mesa, a detour that will continue to the Grand Canyon. So, for the first time on the trip, we decide to simply double back. We head out on Interstate 40 to see the crater and then drive back to Winslow before turning north towards Second Mesa and Tuba City.

Mona Lisa and the NFTs

NFTs are suddenly a topic in the discussion of arts funding. For an example, see Elle Griffin’s newsletter on the subject.

There is an awful lot of bafflegab around NFT’s (Non-Fungible Tokens) and I don’t propose to unravel it for you, since that would involve the unpleasant business of working it out for myself. But I think I get the basic idea behind NFTs.

Can Someone Explain Book Trailers To Me?

A friend asked me yesterday if I had thought about doing a book trailer. She even pointed me to a list of the ten most viewed book trailers of all time:

I watched them.

I don’t get it.

It is not that they are not good. They are as slick as any Hollywood movie trailer. There is a reason that the site that created the list is a film site, not a book site. They are all great examples of cinematography and acting. If I was a teenage girl I would totally want to watch those movies.

Grand Tour 16: Finding Fern Seed and Elephants in Petroglyphs and Rock and Roll

This entry is part 16 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

Sights ancient and modern are larded with claims of certain knowledge that are dubious at best, given the available evidence. Without contradiction, a guess hardens into assurance. But our certainty is tinged with aspiration.

May 13, 2018, Gallup to Winslow: I’m not sure what the climate classification is for the landscape West of Gallup, New Mexico, and into Arizona. I think it is high desert, but it does not seem quite a desert to my eye. Instead, it is an endless plain of yellow grass punctuated more or less richly by pale green shrubs. It is not lifeless, but it is muted. But anything it lacks in vibrancy, it more than makes up for in vastness.

I Am Serializing a Novel on Substack

My novel, The Wistful and the Good, begins serializing on Substack tomorrow, November 27. You will be able to read the first chapter at and you can subscribe to receive a new chapter by email each week. Besides the novel, I am also serializing a series of backgrounder posts discussing the historical background and literary issued behind the novel. (But feel free just to read the novel!) There is an index of both the novel and the background posts here.

Grand Tour 15: High and Low, Wide and Steep

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

From the low of a mine to the height of the Continental Divide and from the width of the plain to the steepness of Gallup’s streets, this is a day on the move. And a chat with the ghost of Jimmy Stewart.

May 12, 2018, Albuquerque to Gallup: We begin the day with a tour of Old Town Albuquerque. As seems to be our pattern as early risers, we arrive before it opens and pretty much have the place to ourselves in the cool of the morning. The pattern here is pretty much what we have seen in Santa Fe and even in the Taos Pueblo, a collection of early buildings around a working church. None of the buildings are preserved as historical artifacts. they are all commercial locations. basically souvenir or art stores or restaurants.

There are three types of Old Town, I think. There are the reconstructions that operate as museums, like Upper Canada Village, Colonial Williamsburg, or Fortress Louisburg. Commerce on such sites it usually restricted to restaurants, serving more or less period food in more or less period costume. The only other selling on the site tends to be confined to giftshop in a visitor’s center, usually a modern building slightly off the old site.

Grand Tour 14: Holy Jumble and the Intrusiveness of Tourism

This entry is part 14 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

To travel is to intrude. The intrusion may be welcomed. It may be invited. You may pay for the privilege of intruding. But it is still an intrusion, and sometimes you feel like an intruder even where you are welcomed. But then, there are some places, no matter how foreign, where you always feel at home. 

Friday, May 11, 2018, Taos to Albuquerque: Our day begins with a visit to Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continually inhabited sites in North America. Being continuously inhabited means that it is inhabited still, and thus I feel like an intruder visiting here. These are people’s homes. We learn that they are now more like a family cottage than a full-time home for most Pueblo people. Only 15 people live here year-round we are told. But each family in the tribe has a house here which is still used for ceremonial purposes and family gatherings. I think my condo association would not look kindly on busloads of Pueblo Indians turning up every day to tour our complex. It feels intrusive to do the same to them.

Grand Tour 13: Holy Dirt and the Sacredness of Real Things

This entry is part 13 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

All through the New Mexico portion of this journey, I have noted how much it matters here what things look like. This is in some small part a reflection of how much things matter. I don’t mean this in the sense of how much it matters to have things. Rather in the sense that things are important in themselves. This is magnified by the sacredness attached to certain particular things (and things cannot be sacred unless things, generally, matter). Nowhere is this very Catholic habit of finding the sacred in real things more evident than in Santuario de Chimayo, which is the second big stop of this day. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018, Santa Fe to Taos (part 2): I will go back now to the beginning of our route from Santa Fe to Taos. I dealt with our visit to the Poeh Cultural center in my last post. Now I will go back to the beginning and start with the description of our route.

Grand Tour 12: The Museum Has Become the Artifact

This entry is part 12 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

The museum has become the artifact. These days one can often tell more about a people from how they structure and present their museums than from what those museums contain.

Thursday, May 10, 2018, Santa Fe to Taos: This was a day mostly about visits to various sites and there is enough to say about some of those sites to warrant breaking it up into more than one post. This post will concern itself with our visit to the Poeh Cultural Center in Pojoaque, New Mexico and the thoughts that it occasioned about the nature and function of museums.

Grand Tour 11: Intimations of Mortality in a Town Too Pretty to be Beautiful

This entry is part 11 of 17 in the series Grand Tour

Wednesday, May 9, 2018, Santa Fe: A day on foot in the heat and altitude of Santa Fe leaves me feeling ten years older and ruminating on my mortality. The themes for the day are towns that try too hard to be beautiful and end up looking contrived, and a reflection on mortality in general and the pioneering spirit and the way time slowly robs you of the capability for adventure.

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