Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 07, 2006

Neti pot

The night before leaving for Tucson, a bunch of friends came over to the house--high school friends who were home for the holidays. We are now getting to the age where the discussion starts to tend towards bowels and such. In the course of the conversation, one friend brought up how he is now hooked on the Neti Pot.

Better than the stuff he was hooked on in college, we all laughed, before exploring the matter further. Turns out, the neti pot is an Indian tool for washing out the sinuses. His wife has had chronis sinus difficulties for decades. She even got the painful roto-rooter surgery where they just drill things out up there. It helped, but nothing helped like the...

Neti Pot.

Of the many websites selling the Neti Pot, I chose the one with the prettiest model--since the practice itself is not particularly graceful. Google the phrase for many more Neti Pot options, as well as many more pictures of models of varying attractiveness using the device.

Today when I woke up with a sinus headache, I wished I had a Neti Pot. Instead, I went across to the drugstore and got some nose sniffer. It helped, but I really think that I need a Neti Pot.

While researching where I might find one here in Tucson, I ran across this article from the University of Arizona which recommends the Neti Pot as one way of combatting the flu.

With the bird flu on the horizon, I think I am going to pick up some stock in a Neti Pot company as a way of hedging against the economic disaster a pandemic would bring.

Tucson sunset

Okay, I could get along without the two electric wires in the middle of the picture, but I was in a hurry to catch this sunset before it faded, which it did in about two minutes. I wasn't the only one out on the hotel balcony taking pictures.

January 06, 2006

Gate's Pass

Tucson is surrounded by four mountain ranges. On the west are the purplish-brown Tucson mountains. If you go west on Tucson's main drag, Speedway Avenue, you end up at the top of the range at Gate's Pass. From there, I got out and took some pictures looking northwest. I love the velvety desert vegetation which gives the mountains the look of being draped in an old velour towel.

Here is a closer look for those of you with faster connections. The distances involved are difficult to guage from pictures. The most distant mountains are probably forty miles away, while the closer ones are about fifteen.

From Gate's Pass, you can look back towards the city of Tucson. Notice how clear the skies were today. No wonder star viewing is so good tonight.

"Lay me down under the old mesquite tree..."

If there isn't an old song with those words, there should be.

Undomestic disturbances

Thanks to the scourge of cell phones, a person out in public will inevitably be privy to one end of a domestic argument every now and then. Just now, while outside walking, I couldn't help but hear a man who was loading things in the back of his pickup say, "Just let me talk! I know you don't believe me, but...will you just shut up for a second so I can talk?"

That was only one end of the conversation. Thanks to technology, it gets better. Last night outside Barnes and Noble, where several people were sitting trying to read (yes, it is warm enough out in the evenings to read outside), a man was sitting with his cell phone on the table and his wife was talking back to him on a speaker--so we got to hear both sides of the argument! Added bonus!


When I was four years old, Mom and Dad frequently read to us out of a small storybook about the New Testament. One of the pictures from that book which sticks in my head is of a starry sky over Lake Galilee. The stars in the picture, contrary to my experience at the time, were multi-colored--like a sky full of Fruit Loops. Although that would have been my preferred experience of the sky, I knew it was false, and I probably asked Mom and Dad endless questions about why the stars over Galilee were colored while ours were a bland white.

Well, tonight, while walking back from supper here in Tucson, a city which regulates night-time lighting to maximize star viewing even in the downtown area, I spotted Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Right now, it appears beneath the contellation Orion, about 15 degrees closer to the horizon.

I had to look twice because what I saw was unbelievably bright, and it was twinkling in so many different colors--red, green and blue, at least--that I thought at first it was a far-away plane coming in for a landing.

Looked it up when I got inside and found that Sirius is considered "the king of the twinklers." I don't think it twinkles in the Minnesota night sky, but here in the clear desert air of Tucson, after a day which was perfectly cloudless, Sirius was really putting on a show. Sirius is usually more towards the blue end of the spectrum, but tonight it was busyly changing from blue to red to pink and green in quick succession.

One of the pleasures of Tucson: A twinkling, clear winter sky with weather warm enough to get out and enjoy it.

January 05, 2006

Franciscan courtyard

We went snooping around the back of the mission and found the entrance to the monastery, which was locked up. But I got a glimpse of their cloister courtyard through the gate.

Tile Madonna

Weblog reader Irene asked if I had a close-up of the tile Madonna by the water fountain. Here it is.

Stress in Paradise

In the big city, you get far more chance to overhear people's unguarded conversations. I am struck by how many restaurant conversations are spent discussing the ridiculousness of somebody who is not present.

Yesterday at IHOP (International House of Pancakes) a man, I won't call him a gentleman, with a loud Southern accent was carrying on about a friend of his. "Ah don know wha they kip givin him all them medications, he's half dead anyway." The conversation moved on to the person's disconcerting habit of buying nine gallons of chocolate milk at one shot. Wha? Wha would he do that?

Does he put it on cereal? the other person asked. "That's a hell of a lot of cereal!" he answered, before going on about how all that chocolate milk must smell in about three weeks.

We were half-way across the room from this guy, and every word was fully audible.

Tonight at the sandwich shop across the street, a woman was talking business on her cell phone at a volume which made it sound like she was on the overhead speaker. Meanwhile, her order, number 239, was ready, and the poor girl behind the counter kept yelling in the actual overhead speaker, "Two-thirty-nine! Two-thirty-nine! Your order is ready! Two-thirty-nine!" It made for quite a racket.

At a Thai restaurant this noon, the waiter, who barely spoke English, mistook the order of two businessmen next to us. The waiter thought they wanted number three and number five, but the businessmen had wanted number forty-seven, and the three and five were referring to the level of spice they wanted. Ooops. The poor kid apologized over and over, took number three and five back to the kitchen, and gave them their meals for half price. All the businessmen could do was glare at him and grumble after he left about how he should learn English.

I have written about it in this weblog before, but that was two years ago: One public place where politeness and camaraderie seem to prevail in Tucson is at the Circle K. There are 110 Circle K gas stations and convenience stores in Tucson. They tend to hire scruffy, loud, friendly people who chat it up with the regulars.

Today, I popped into a Circle K and the rule held. People were laughing, carrying on, teasing each other about quitting smoking after the next pack, and so on. I wonder how corporate headquarters keeps such an attitude going at so many stores.

Also, at the IHOP across the street, which I have gone two a couple of times per visit for the past many years, the attitude amongst the crew is always great, really exceptional. Somewhere above the fray is a good manager.

January 04, 2006

San Xavier Mission

My dad's high school roomate Elmer took Lance and I to San Xavier Mission today, just south of Tucson. The mission was built by the Spanish and completed in 1797. Right now it is undergoing a restoration of the stucco on the towers. The work is slow. Each tower will cost $1.3 million.

Attached to the mission is a functioning school and a Franciscan monastery. The arches frame the scene looking north towards Tucson.

I have a feeling that this old wood door is original from two hundred years ago. The round plates, of which there were several, are raised above the surrounding wood by about 1/4 inch, and are supported by wood--as if the exposed wood was worn down by two hundred years of sandblasting from the desert winds, while the wood protected by the round iron plates remained at the original level.

Hundreds of votive candles flicker around the interior of the church. Here, they reflect the recently restored painting of the stucco on the inside walls.

The sun shines off the beautifully painted walls of the inside of the church. The interior restoration was completed several years ago, and was meant to reflect what the church might have looked like originally. After touring two dozen Mexican churches one year ago, it was interesting to get back into a similar building. While the themes and basic designs are similar in each church, the painting of the walls is the one area where riotous individuality prevailed.

Speaking of individuality, while I was soberly recording San Xavier, Lance found the humor. I had taken a picture of this tile picture of Mary, but Lance thought to include the drinking fountain.

January 03, 2006

Copper chimes

Pima County Courthouse

This beautiful tile-domed 1927 building sits on a plaza with fountains and green grass just across from the Tucson Art Museum.

Broken window

In a mild climate, there isn't quite the impetus to fix broken windows that there is where it gets below zero.

Historic Tucson

Went down to Tucson's historic district this afternoon to see the art museum and the old houses in the area. Some of the architecture was striking.

Part of a mural in the background sets off marble used in the museum's construction.

THE TUCSON Museum of Art is well worthwhile, a good mix of modern, 19th century and early pre-Columbian American art. The sculptures from Incan civilizations of 2000 years ago were detailed, artistic, and extremely well-preserved. Some of the Western American art was stunning. Most of the modern crap was crap, although about five total pieces in the modern section were truly beguiling.

The chocolate chip, coconut, butterscotch chip bar at the museum coffee shop outshone most of the art.

This bougainvillea brightens things up in front of a coffee shop near the museum.

Things you don't see in Fertile

Okay, I was shooting from the hip and didn't get a good picture of this guy at the coffee shop because I didn't dare ask him if I could take his picture. Yellow shoes, mauve socks, white boxers, yellow shirt, plaid bow tie--and mauve jacket on a man who looked to be in his late eighties. Priceless.

The Tucson effect

Each year when December rolls around, I debate: Is it worth it to go to Arizona? Should I just stay home and tend the stove?

Most years, I cave in and go to Tucson, but with mixed feelings. Perhaps this year the charm will wear off. Perhaps this year I will get there and realize that I really no longer enjoy it.

And, every single year, when I arrive and get out and smell the smells and hear the birds and feel the sun, I say to myself, what was I thinking? One day in the sunshine of Tucson is worth three or four days anywhere else. There is so much stimulation, from the sounds to the culture to the sunshine and warmth. It is simply a different quality of life. Even being stuck in traffic in Tucson is salubrious. Windows down. Sun shining in. Cool breeze. T-shirt and shorts. Just like a perfect September day in Minnesota.

Yesterday, for five dollars per head, Lance and I ate at the Ghandi Indian restaurant, rated as one of the best restaurants in Tucson. Noon lunch is a buffet. It was excellent. Indian food is some of the most healthy food possible. Beans, rice, veggies, herbs, spices--it makes you feel good.

Today, we are going down to the Tucson historic district to check out the Tucson Museum of Art.

January 02, 2006


Lance and I spent the afternoon at the cafe at Barnes and Noble working on stuff. At the table next to us was an Asian gentleman. Eventually we got into a conversation, and he told us he is writing a children's book. He is also teaching languages at the university.

Lance eventually asked him how he liked it here, and he said, well, he used to like it, but he doesn't feel welcome any more. One reason: He has pretty solid evidence that his emails have been monitored for the past several months. Who or whatever was monitoring the emails was marking them "read" before he even opened them. What's more, the emails started to arrive sorted by country of origin, something he can't do on his own computer. He has many friends in the mideast, and those emails were segregated out.

He was amazed at the crudeness of the survelliance. He didn't think it was possible--until word came out three weeks ago that emails to other countries were being watched by the NSA and FBI.

I know that many people take great comfort in knowing that our goverrment is watchen them ferriners. "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," is their favorite argument. "If they don't like it, they can leave," shout the comfortably native-born white Rushheads, who probably will never have an original thought worth monitoring anyway.

I don't want any government agency monitoring my email. Period. Are we so spooked by the possibility of terrorist attack that we are willing to give up our freedom of speech? Will this be our permanent state?

It is so easy to advocate eavesdropping when it doesn't affect you. It is so easy to say, well, tough--they can leave. But put yourself in the shoes of the millions of people in this country who might have friends in the mideast, or anywhere else overseas--many of these people are being permanently disillusioned about this country which talks about freedom but, when whipped up into a paranoid frenzy, seems to throw it away so quickly in the name of security.

A couple of years ago, I met a Spanish citizen here in Tucson. He was dark-skinned, but was Jewish. Even so, FBI agents knocked on his door the day after he had checked out three books on Afghan languages at the University library. (In case you aren't aware, the FBI is free to find out from University libraries who is checking out what.) He was asked why he was so interested in Afghan languages. The agents weren't particularly nice to him.

That man was also a student of languages. He is a musician as well, an assistant conductor for several opera companies throughout the country. The FBI agents made it clear that they knew where he had been for the past several months. Even though he was doing nothing more than conducting opera, they felt he was suspicious.

So we're safe from Jewish conductors.

When I have related this story to some people I know, they have been utterly blank--wondering, I think, why in the world I would object to the FBI monitoring some Spaniard? And, really, if a person has such bizarre interests, shouldn't we keep track of them anyway?

The monitoring, snooping and intimidation itself doesn't bother me so much as people's indifference to it. As the gentleman we spoke to today said, "The people must approve of it or it wouldn't happen."


I was happy to see Minnesota's spectacular contribution to the apple world, the Honeycrisp, on the shelf at the grocery store here in Tucson. I bought a dozen, and they won't last long. They were only $1.99 per pound, which is one dollar less than they were in stores following harvest two years ago.

This is the first world-famous apple variety which we will be able to grow in northern Minnesota. Although the Honeycrisp is rated Zone 4, I have heard that the University of Minnesota is considering classifying it Zone 3 (our zone in Northwest Minnesota) due to the tree's good performance at Grand Rapids and other points north.

Now, planting an orchard in our area is simply not going to be a profitable venture. The one-in-twenty years cold spell will probably wipe out the whole works, as happened at our nursery in 1996. We lost at least a couple of dozen mature, producing trees that winter, including the hardy Haralson.

Yet, with the market for Honeycrisp exploding, it is tempting to put in a few trees. The next trick is getting ahold of them. We are on back order for our trees for spring. Commercial growers are the culprits--they are snapping up the tree as fast as they can be reproduced. According to the U of M, which collects royalties on every tree, there are about 1.3 million Honeycrisp trees growing around the world, and that number is growing fast.

January 01, 2006


Left Flagstaff this morning. Decided that, although Lance has never seen the Grand Canyon, the forecast there was for a high of 40 degrees, while the high temperature in Tucson was to reach 74 degrees. End of discussion.

Headed south to Sedona through the Oak Creek Canyon. Some nice scenery, but the road was surprisingly clogged. Thought we could have breakfast in Sedona, but found every cafe to be jammed with snoots. We ended up eating at a casino down the road.

A light haze over the Sedona area was enough to screw up picture taking. I was most taken by the Navajo pottery on display at one of the scenic overlooks. I ended up buying a couple of pieces, and then felt justified in taking some pictures as well.

The juniper berries looked pretty in the morning sun. These hung from a drooping type juniper which was labeled a cypress. These are the berries used to make gin. They are very aromatic.

One picture of the rocks of Sedona. It is very difficult to capture the red rocks of Sedona anywhere near as well as the thousands of professional photographers who prowl the area do. I get Arizona Highways magazine, and their photography is not to be equalled.

Finally, we hightailed it towards Tucson. I feel at home when this sort of scenery appears--the flat lands, as flat as the Red River Valley, but with what are called the "sky islands," groupings of mountains, in the background. Even at mid-day, the mountains show various shades of purple depending upon how distant they are.