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Going Nowhere Fasting

August 6, 2014

Cactus

Fasting is never easy. I’m pretty lucky in that it’s generally not as challenging for me as it is for most people. I’m thirsty all day long and I get progressively hungry and irritable as the day goes on, but I don’t go through caffeine withdrawal, I don’t get debilitating headaches, and although I don’t enjoy it it’s nothing I can’t handle.

Today was probably the toughest fast I’ve ever had.

Today was Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av), a day of mourning (and fasting) for Jews around the world. It’s a miserable day in every possible way, and it should be, because mourning is not supposed to be enjoyable. It’s a particularly bad day to be on vacation, as nobody wants to be intentionally unhappy on vacation but there are many activities that are off limits, anything that turns out to be enjoyable brings feelings of guilt for having fun on a sad day, and fasting saps your energy so even if you wanted to have fun it’s physically difficult. 

But when you’re in central Arizona, and the high temperature for the day is 105, and you can’t have even a sip of water, well, a difficult day just gets that much more difficult.

You should have seen the original itinerary for Phoenix when I started planning this trip. An early-morning hike to the top of the highest local peak for extraordinary views of the city. Horseback riding. Go-carting. Phoenix was going to be awesome! Then I realized we’d be in Phoenix on Tisha B’Av and suddenly the day looked much less impressive.

We started by sleeping late, a common strategy to help “shorten” the fast. Then we took our time leaving the motel and getting to Phoenix. By the time we arrived in downtown Phoenix it was almost noon. It was 102 degrees and climbing. Our first stop was not a hike but Heritage Square, the last remnants of the original town of Phoenix, which was settled in the 1800s. We were there to take a tour of the Rosson House, a historic Victorian that was built by a wealthy doctor who later became mayor. Victorian houses are extremely unusual in Arizona, and this one would be pretty special even in New England.

Rosson HouseOf course, a tour of an old house is not the kind of thing Sam gets excited for and it would have been cut from the itinerary if this were a normal day, but on a somber fast day it’s first on the list.

The tour was going fine for about 25 minutes or so until Sam got horribly ill. I should probably mention that Sam was fasting, too. Technically he has a few more weeks of being considered a minor according to Jewish law and thus is not obligated to fast. But since he’ll be fasting for real on Yom Kippur this year he’s been trying to “practice” by fasting as long as he can on fast days. This generally means he fasts until the official midpoint of the day, which gives him partial credit with G-d. Today he fell short of halftime by about an hour, suddenly feeling weak, light-headed, and pukey halfway through the tour. We excused ourselves and hurried back to the car, where he downed a bottle of water and a handful of pretzels and started to feel much better.

Next up was the state capitol building, the 21st we’ve seen. Most of them look pretty much the same–stately granite, giant columns, giants domes. Arizona’s is a little different and more suited to the climate, as it’s a bit shorter and looks almost like it’s made of adobe, though of course it isn’t. The dome is much small and low and thus isn’t as ostentatious as many of the others despite being covered in gold leaf.

Arizona State Capitol

Flanking the capitol on each side, however, are identical buildings for the two houses of the state government. I say “however” because these two buildings are more modern, made of drab concrete, and are so hideous as to seriously detract from the beauty of the capitol.

Arizona House of Representatives

Yup. This ugly thing is just one half of a matching pair.

Directly across from the capitol is a very tasteful monument plaza containing a large Vietnam memorial, several statues honoring various people and groups, and one thing we’ve never seen before: a statue honoring the Bill of Rights, comprising 10 course stone monoliths, each with an Amendment carved into its face.

Bill of Rights statue Arizona

The most touching, at least for me, was the memorial for all Arizona workers who have died on the job. There’s a nice little marble plaque expressing gratitude for the workers’ efforts to improve Arizona, but what’s really striking is the accompanying statue: a young couple cradling a baby.

Arizona Workers Memorial

It’s heartbreaking, really, as it forces you to think not about the dead but about the families left behind, and specifically the children who will grow up without a parent.

We spent only a few minutes at the capitol before heading to Pueblo Grande, a museum and archaeological site that shows where and how the ancient Hohokam people lived from roughly 1125-1450. I figured a museum would be a good choice because it would be both somber and air conditioned. And it was. But the archaeological part was all outdoors and could be seen only via a walking path two-thirds of a mile long. By this time it was 104 degrees out. The museum gave us umbrellas for shade but they offered only minimal relief. By the time we left I was weak, listless, and deeply, deeply thirsty. And the car offered no shelter, as it was parked in the sun and was 113 degrees inside. The A/C took a good, long time to kick in.

As the tour guide at the Rosson House said, “We get three months of ‘Please G-d get me out of here’ and then the weather is very nice the rest of the year.” Well we’re right in the middle of those three months.

Our next stop was going to be the Torvea Castle, an interesting-looking castle with a supposedly interesting history, but the castle is wisely closed in July and August. So we just drove by for a quick look before moving on.

Torvea Castle

 

We were then supposed to visit the Desert Botanical Garden, a small garden of desert plants, but I knew there was no chance I could spend anymore time walking around outside. So we skipped the garden and went straight to Scottsdale to right a previous wrong.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we were in Springfield, Missouri, and we didn’t go to the butterfly pavilion because it was too far out of the way? Well there’s a butterfly pavilion near Phoenix, too, and it’s pretty far out of the way, too. But because we had cut out all the really fun and time-consuming stuff, we had more than enough time to see the butterflies this time around.

Butterfly Wonderland is the largest butterfly pavilion in the world. This surprised us a bit because it’s big but not so immense that we were left awestruck by its size. We were, however, left awestruck by its butterflies. Every color in the spectrum. Patterns that have to be seen to be believed. A range of sizes we didn’t even know existed. And most of the butterflies were friendly and fearless, letting us get right up close. A couple even landed on us momentarily before finding more comfortable perches. The plants and flowers alone were impressively varied in color and shape, but the butterflies were extraordinary well beyond what I could imagine.

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

 

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

 

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

It’s hard to tell relative size from the photos, but the last one is huge (almost the size of my hand), and he/she landed on me a couple of times before settling on this windowsill.

Better yet, it turned out that Butterfly Wonderland is the flagship attraction in what is in the process of becoming a major family entertainment hub, complete with the area’s biggest aquarium, which is scheduled to open next December. However, Butterfly Wonderland already has one next-door neighbor: a mirror maze and laser maze. The butterflies reenergized us a bit, and we had the time, so when we finished with the butterflies we entered the mirror maze, which was lots of fun. Unfortunately we were a little too good at it and we were back out again in just a few minutes. So Sam tried the laser maze, which is a dark room with lasers pointing in all directions, making a Mission: Impossible-style obstacle course. Sam did pretty terribly on his first try, but then he went back in and did much better. It’s timed, and the operator said that anything faster than 150 seconds is a good score. Sam’s second run was 148, and he was pretty proud of himself. Then, because business was slow, the operator let Sam go in again, this time on the “expert” setting, which pretty much doubles the number of lasers. Needless to say Sam isn’t giving Tom Cruise much competition just yet. But we had fun and felt much better.

After the lasers we had nothing left on the plan for the day except the Diamondbacks game a couple hours later, so we stopped off to reload on some groceries for the week and then slowly made our way to the ballpark.

I normally would not attend a ballgame on Tisha B’Av, but balancing mourning and vacation leaves much gray area, and most of the game would be played after sundown when the day–and the fast–was officially over. Unfortunately this meant that I’d be breaking my fast at the game, which in turn meant I’d be breaking it on painfully insufficient and unsatisfying food (in this case, a container of cottage cheese).

Mercifully the stadium’s retractable roof was closed for the game, so while it was 100 degrees at game time it was a comfortable 79 inside. The ballpark is pretty nice, but because it’s basically an indoor stadium it looks more like an airplane terminal than a ballpark on the outside. Inside there are several nice touches but it’s a little dark. The scoreboards are enormous, plentiful, and informative. But the outfield wall infuriates me because it’s far more complicated than any outfield wall should ever be. Home runs should be simple: inside the park the ball is in play, and over the wall it’s a home run. But that’s not always true in this park.

Chase Field scoreboard

The yellow line runs along the top of the wall, and anything above the line is a home run. Usually. Because the wall changes height often and in unusual ways. See the way the yellow line is vertical in those two spots? In those places any ball that hits the wall on one side of the yellow line is a home run, and on the other side of the line the ball is in play. It makes life harder on the umpires and more confusing for the players. I generally like this ballpark but the outfield wall needs improvement.

The Diamondbacks are an awful baseball team, so we didn’t get to see much interesting baseball. They were playing the Kansas City Royals, who have hit by far the fewest home runs in the majors this year but managed to hit three homers tonight. By the time we broke our fast the DBacks were down 6-1. That’s when things got really ugly. With two outs and Royals runners on first and second, the Diamondbacks had the runner on first picked off but botched the rundown completely, letting him advance safely to second while the other runner came all the way around to score, making it 7-1. The next batter was intentionally walked, and then the pitcher struck out but the catcher dropped the ball and the pitcher made it to first, loading the bases. This brought up Nori Aoki, who had not hit a home run all year. He hit a grand slam. 11-1. The crowd was small to begin with but it thinned out pretty seriously after that.

Meanwhile, with our fasting and mourning behind us, it was time to go shopping. Sam often gets a mini bat as his souvenir from baseball games but in the Diamondbacks’ team store he found something a little more exciting: 

Diamondbacks yarmulka Diamondbacks yarmulka

Yessir, and official Arizona Diamondbacks yarmulka! It even has built-in clips on the underside, which is his preferred method of yarmulka stabilization. That was one happy kid. A little later a cheerleader tossed him a Diamondbacks stress ball, making his night even better.

As for me, I was busy having some odd experiences of my own. So desperately thirsty from fasting on a 105-degree day, I bought the biggest soda in the ballpark, which is probably not actually a gallon of soda but is so enormous that I don’t think a gallon would be a bad guess. Mayor Bloomberg would have an aneurysm just from looking at this thing. It’s so big that it came with a coupon for a free diabetes screening. I guzzled down the first half gallon or so but then an obese guy sitting in my row came pushing through and somehow knocked the whole enormous thing out of the cup holder and onto the floor without even noticing he had just overturned a tanker truck full of Diet Pepsi. I was furious. Ordinarily I would have just sucked it up but I had had nothing to drink all day and I was only half done with the soda, which meant there was still enough soda in there to keep a beached whale hydrated for days. I wasn’t sure what to do but I figured that appealing to the kindness of the concession stand workers was my only hope. I took the empty cup back to the concession stand and told them what happened. Without hesitating, they took the old cup and gave me a new one, full. Needless to say I ended up with a little bit of soda leftover. Like a liter. Maybe two. But I was impressed with the kindness of the concession people. The team may suck and the ballpark may be indoors and the city may be 105 degrees, but they sent both of us home happy.

 

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