Indistinguishable Memory Fragments.... (uh oh I am reminiscing once again)


Honestly, I simply don’t remember much about this spot. I know that I have been here many times and for long periods, yet it feels like a brand new experience. As it is, I too am far different now and like me, it has also gone through so many transitions while we have been apart. Now it is my home.

Example Familiar rock formations around the Patagonia area

I have experienced this sensation in other places fairly recently. While traveling abroad and even upon return to my hometown, my birthplace, I have felt this same unsettling sensation. Towns and other locations where I had lived or visited or spent a good amount of time in earlier in my life have become almost unrecognizable upon revisit. Disturbingly, I have been unable to find my way around or even to recall the most rudimentary of landmarks; unable to get my bearings in the least. Inadvertently summoning up an anthem of our generation, I remind myself that the times are certainly ever changing and perhaps this phenomenon of time occurs far too quickly for any of us. The acceleration of later age stretches and speeds one’s perception of time. Nevertheless isn’t change what life is all about? Am I so advanced in the aging process that I already find this trend annoying?

Example Little statues on the side of the road - Christmas Eve Day

We traveled the road to Nogales, Sonora via Patagonia, Arizona countless times in the good old days; in those days the trek was always a welcome change from the road more frequently used by most people driving to Mexico from Tucson (often employed as well by drug traffickers and human smugglers). Yet on Christmas Eve Day of 2006, when we embarked upon a drive in the very same direction that we had oft traveled so many years ago, the whole trip was an entirely new journey.

Beautiful as the countryside is, I didn’t recall the scenery, the route or even retain a sense of place (save for the ridges of the gorgeous Santa Rita Mountains which are of course, the ultimate unforgettable contours of divinely inspired horizontal formations, likened to an exquisite paragraph in an universal written language, and one which will surely be preserved for eternity in the visual qualities of rapture in the event that our incorporeal celestial remains somehow be endowed with a version of eyes). Anyway, simply put, it all looked alien. Interesting, lovely, yet unknown. All until we came to the roadside shrine.

Example Detail of the Telles Shrine

Seeing that familiar sight opened the psyche’s floodgate and memories of our previous ancient trips, (in an old dusty van with air no conditioning) to the border town of Nogales came pouring out. Since then I have seen many a similar religious shrine in other countries and particularly in the countryside. Yet I remember the day so long ago when we first found this one, the Telles Shrine outside Patagonia, Arizona.

Though it was erected in 1944 by the Telles family to commemorate their son who was sent off to war, it has particular poignancy even now as so many have been recently killed and maimed in the middle east during in the current tide of American occupation and war. (Having lost loved ones since then, the whole concept of erecting and maintaining a shrine has since taken on a new and deeply personal significance for me). Those days of travel down a dusty back road in Arizona, a quick stop at the Patagonia crossroads for a soda and the long hot drive, are also something anchored firmly in the past. Patagonia is now morphing into yet another country cutesy town, along the way to Mexico.

Example Lake Patagonia is an odd yet lovely surprise in the desertscape

Reminiscing as we old fogies are wont to do, I have to say that my recollections evoke a time when the streets of the Mexican border town Nogales were filled with bizarre bargains, smells of spicy grilled foods, interesting and forbidding cuisine and strange, affordable items such as pretty handmade jewelry, an armadillio purse (made of the whole hollowed animal with colored rhinestones for eyes), hand-woven horse blankets in beautiful bright colors, inexpensive pottery and leather sandals with rubber tire soles for only a few dollars.

Even as a poor employee in a Tucson thrift shop, back in the day I was able to afford to shop with abandon in Mexico then. In days long gone, I remember countless fascinating shopping adventures just across the border; trips for fresh roasted coffee (pre latte days), vanilla, raw sugar, fresh herbs, unrefined flours and reasonably priced liquor. We would park for free in the Safeway parking lot on the American side of Nogales and walk into the Mexician side of Nogales. We had to remember to wear tennis shoes because other wise we would be accosted by children attempting to smear our shoes with polish and then force us to pay them for a shoe shine.

Now we have found that every parking spot on the American side has a price and a monitor to make sure that the fee is paid. The little shoe shine shysters of long ago have all disappeared. In the present day, those same Nogales streets remain somewhat unchanged in their dirty condition, smelling of filth and urine and the “curio” shops are filled with over priced junk; each one grittily the same as the next. As an added and somewhat disturbing feature, contemporarily prominent are the farmacias located on every block; each hawking (illegal without a prescription) drugs at huge discounts. Gone are true curios; the authentic curiosities which brought us back often. The thin, greasy, unwashed men working in the shops nowadays follow you (the white skinned, overly fleshy, well dressed human “mark”) down the street, begging for your money in a way that I do not recall in my indistinct memories of nearly thirty years ago. In times past (good old days?), there was friendly haggling but not the utter and open pleading for American currency. “Lady, I NEED your dollars!” one man cried at me repeatedly last spring, until I, in utter annoyance, finally lost any semblance of patience, civility or amusement and assertively instructed him to go away post haste (which he did without further protest).

Economical concerns have forced a transformation over time; one has to consider whether a scary mutant is perhaps emerging. A unrecognizable creature may have evolved in our absence. Though we lived in Tucson, Arizona once before, in the mid 1970s, the town is, like so many places which have opened theirs doors to the lucrative industry of tourism, an entirely different place now. Some spaces in this Arizona magnet continue to exist even as they did when we first explored the area, (and long before we ever set foot here). But for the most part the entire state seems altered. Only occasionally do I see something that strikes a familiar chord, and then memories come rushing in; of days when the desert state was open place, a vast desolate tract and my memory feeds me mental images of a place which felt a bit like the surface of the moon; a beautiful and unique climate without air or light pollution, sans the subdivisions and gated retirement villages.

Example an old lady (moi) on the banks of Lake Patagonia

Luckily, as my husband says, there is plenty of room here and so the crunch doesn’t feel so uncomfortable or as obvious as it might otherwise be, particularly in places such as Sacramento or Los Angeles in California. We like our new house, our new neighbors, the dry air, the warm and happy days full of sunlight and this place where our old life will take yet another turn at developing and nurturing an additional chapter.

The crunch isn’t really so bad, I guess. After all, these days I too am different; having evolved in my own personal values and seeking different qualities from life. It isn’t a negative, this transformation in time, except perhaps to those of us who remember it as an open and unaltered arid region. Like so many things we, (certainly no spring chickens) have experienced in our ever increasingly expansive lifetime, I suppose you simply had to be there, back in the day, in order to know what it felt like.


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amanda said...

Tucson has really changed. It is so big and doesn't seem like the wonderful town I remember either.

henry said...

Tuscon is too huge! I remember the shrine too.

LaVonda T. said...

Shrines like that are found all over Italy as I am sure you have noticed. I don't know much about Arizona or the American southwest but I can imagine that it is interesting to see the shrines as you are driving down the road.

Anonymous said...

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Sorry that Arizona has changed so much -- or are you happy there now?

jzb said...

Please don't mistake my commentary for complaining. We do love living here. But it is as if we had never been here before and I am experiencing some consternation in trying to come to terms with something which should feel familiar, but does not. Time is such a major factor in all of this; in the perception of its' passing and in the understanding of its' effects.

Elsa Winchelle said...

The Sonora desert is a beautiful place and you are absolutely right: it is a little bit scary to see how quickly and carelessly it is being developed. Kudos for your observations, Jan.

reynaldo said...

you don't look too old, to me!

Patsy A. said...

How old is old? I am in my 50s and can remember loving the desert southwest. It wasn't that long ago, was it?

Nathan Richfield said...

I love Arizona. I love Tucson!

Ted from SF said...

You can't be that far along in age...I think you will be happy in Arizona. Good luck and best wishes.

allison said...

Time changes everything.

marte h. in daly city said...

Your guys at Wordsmith did a great job for us... we like your blog too.

bix said...

Arizona is growing so fast that it makes my head spin.

julie said...

we just moved to Tucson and we love it

michael said...

you are not alone on this one --- i have seen this shrine on countless trips to mexico --- can remember when patagonia was just a dusty stop on the way to the border too.