Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Best of Twin Falls

As you are already aware, I spent Thanksgiving week in Twin Falls, Idaho with the sublimely talented Annie. I assume it goes without saying that I went to Twin Falls with the purpose of visiting my best friend and not for the tourism. However, this sleepy little city in the middle of the desert far exceeded my expectations when it came to providing interesting attractions and opportunities for excitement. And so today I give you, the best of Twin Falls, according to moi:

My first sensory delight occurred on the plane as we circle the Boise airport, and on the drive from Boise to Twin Falls I acquired an even keener appreciation for: the scenery. Now, I suppose if you live in Idaho and you routinely trek from one side of the state to the other, the endless miles of desert and plateaus and the views of distant mountains could seem a little blasé. But to someone who’s spent the majority of her life in the Midwest and on the East Coast, the Idaho landscape’s stark and desolate beauty was novel and thrilling. I saw my very first live-and-in-person plateau!!! My only previous experience with these flat-topped geological wonders was in a fourth grade textbook, and here they were, bold and powerful in their seeming defiance of the usual curves and slopes of nature. The only topographical feature I found more compelling than the plateaus were the canyons. As we drove over one and peered into its depths I spotted the only patches of green I’d thus far seen in Idaho, and pools of inviting blue water nestled at the bottom of the enormous crevice. I could go on and on about the miraculous natural scenery, but for now suffice it to say that I have a new appreciation for the desert landscape, and I understand why so many artists – poets, painters, novelists – feel drawn to the barren beauty of the North American West.

My second distinct moment of sensual joy came on Tuesday morning, when Annie introduced me to her favorite coffee house, Java. Though I was more than intrigued by the prospect of a “Keith Richards” (the contents of which I am still unsure, though I surmise from the name that it is thoroughly caffeinated) I was highly skeptical of whether Java could live up to MokaBe’s in St. Louis, The Java House in Iowa City, or New York City’s Abraço. So imagine my dumbfounded awe when Java surpassed them all. And though I was overjoyed with Tuesday’s “Keith Richards”, I was even more impressed by Wednesday’s “Bowl of Soul”. Part of me grieved that I was visiting during a holiday week, as we were prevented from going to Java on Thursday morning. But on Friday I sipped my final Java-crafted drink with relish, and marveled at the unlikelihood of tasting the best coffee of my life in the tiny isolated town of Twin Falls, Idaho. I wondered if enough non-Idaho-natives would visit Java to spread the word nationwide that there is an espresso oasis teetering on the lip of a canyon in the vastness of Magic Valley. Probably not. Java will likely remain a small town wonder appreciated only by the initiated. But perhaps its relative anonymity is part of its allure.

Speaking of small town wonders, possibly the greatest, or at least most uniquely memorable, moment of my trip to Twin Falls was a discovery of the type that is virtually exclusive to smaller communities: on Tuesday evening Annie and I decided to go for a spree in the mall. Upon entering the mall drive, we spotted signs touting the “Mile of Lights” now available for viewing. Some marketing genius thought to increase traffic to the mall during the holiday season by erecting Christmas light displays around the perimeter of the shopping center, and inviting potential shoppers to see the Mile of Lights. Well, intrigued, Annie and I took the bait. We tuned the car’s radio to the appointed station as directed by the signs, and listened as our disembodied hostess advised us that the best and safest way to view the Mile of Lights was from our car, with the headlights on, keeping our arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. We were giggling furiously even before the dedicated station crackled and fizzled out of range as we drove a few hundred feet down the road. Apparently, lacking sophisticated broadcasting equipment, the Mile of Lights narration is only audible from a few points along the circular route, and its designated station is more frequently dominated by country music than official Mile of Lights commentary. Somehow this only made the attraction more enjoyable, and we cruised happily along the mall drive, laughing heartily at the glowing depictions of Evil Knievel attempting to launch himself over the canyon, of polar bears advertising Mike’s Refrigeration, and of Santa Claus merrily base jumping. And just as we came to the end of the Mile and were already seizing with hilarity, we encountered the coup de grâce of Christmas decorations: a forty-foot, twinkling, festive depiction of Nessie, the Lochness monster, sporting a stocking cap and Christmas scarf. Now we were laughing so hard we had to pull over. And take a picture. We so enjoyed our magical Mile of Lights experience that on Wednesday we returned, this time with Annie’s husband Peter and sister Jessica in tow. And again we oo’ed and aah’ed and heehee’ed and haha’ed the full mile. And on Thursday, feeling emotional and melancholy at the prospect of parting the following day, we took one last joy ride around the mall, and bade Nessie a fond farewell.

It was a marvelous trip and the best week I’ve had in years. Twin Falls now holds a special place in my heart, not only as the home of my best friend, but as a place of beauty, of unexpected culinary delight, and a source of guileless merriment of the kind best shared with loved ones while cocooned in warmth and holiday cheer. I knew all along that I would enjoy my trip to Idaho and the opportunity to spend a full week with one of my favorite people in the world – what I didn’t know is that Twin Falls would have so much to add to our experience and that the local landscape would burn itself indelibly on my heart.