Saturday, April 30, 2016

TUCSON by Elliott Arnold


Elliott Arnold

(Prepared for Program of First Annual Tucson Festival of Arts)

            Some cities have a personality. They have a separateness, something that belongs alone to them, as a person may have a quality of manifest uniqueness, as a dog may have in him something that is wholly different from anything owned by any other dog. This characteristic of specialty may reside in living things or it may inform the inanimate:  men have found a breathing individuality in ships they have loved; pilots have found it in certain planes, while other planes, exactly alike, never had it. This quality may live in a gun or a fiddle.
            Some cities have this and where it lies cannot be determined but it is there, so much there that once a person has felt communication with such a city from that moment on for him the city has a life, it has blood and it has flesh and it breathes air.
            It has nothing to do with the beauty of a city. Many cities have a great deal of beauty, or splendor, or charm, or their settings are spectacular, but they have no personality. Other cities, physically, may not be greatly attractive, but somehow, from some place, they have caught the spasm of life, and they retain this life, and if there are enough people who come to love them, they retain this life for many years. Offhand I would say that Paris, of course, has this, and Naples, which actually is very ugly, has it. Warsaw never had it for me, but Budapest had it greatly. Capri is one of the most sensational places in the world but it does not have the kind of personality I mean, and yet Sorrento, which is not far away and not as beautiful has it. Copenhagen has it and Stockholm, which is much more beautiful, has it not at all, at least for me.
            Tucson has this personality. It has it on two levels:  its patently lovely site which makes the immediate impact, and, much more subtly, an essence that cannot be seen, that cannot be touched, but which is, in its own way, so irresistibly pervasive, that once one’s pores are exposed to it, one never again is free. It is in this second potency that Tucson is alone in the world.
            I have tried for a long time to understand what it was that gave to Tucson this intangible being. There were some obvious answers. It might be the history of the area, during which, over the years, Tucson drew from the many people who have lived here and who live here now, taking a little from all these people, their sounds and their smells and the color of their dress and the song of their speech, working these together with the odor of their cooking and the seething scent of their loves and their hates into an alchemic newness that became Tucson. Perhaps that is it. Perhaps what I am calling personality is only the sum of memories, or possibly the ability to hold memories.
            Or perhaps it is only partly that and something else, the combination of the impalpables with the touchable things:  the memory-stained mountains with the haunting names, Catalinas, Rincons, Santa Ritas, Tortillitas and the Tucson Mountains themselves. Perhaps it is the sense of being observed by these loftinesses that gives Tucson a quality that is not linked with similar qualities elsewhere.
            Perhaps it is these things and other things too, the arid, austere air, the cold, seeing stars, the heat of the sun, the color of the sky, the smell of mesquite, the harsh, compelling, unyielding desert that turns briefly into a girl in the spring.
            Whatever it is, it becomes plain to those who will et it become plain, that there are more than buildings and streets and stores and people and memories. Tucson, one can know, has been loved and hated and fought over, as a woman might be. One cannot live here long without some of this entering into him. To some it enters only to a small degree. To others, poets, artists, writers, men who make music and work in stone, to those who struggle with clay or fashion wool or glass or pottery, it enters a great deal, so much so that once it is inside of them everything they do thereafter is affected by it.
            I do not mean by this that the artists who work here reflect only what may be found here physically. They may write or paint of different places in the world, but the things they write and paint would not be the same if they did not live here. In the stories of other lands written here, in the pictures of other places painted here, in the music and stone that reflects spacelessness and timelessness, there is still the desert and the mountains and the way the sun sets and how it looks during a storm and how it is in the searing summer. They are all there although they may be there only to inform the other things that are more plainly there.
            That is what this festival of arts and what this printed program is filled with. It is impossible to pin down Tucson, any more than it is possible to pin down exactly what there is in the face that a man may love, since another face may have all the seeable things and still not be loved. But in one amount or another, in all the things that are in this book, there is the personality of Tucson. It does not matter, I repeat, whether this personality is something you can recognize:  submerged where it is unrecognizable is the air the artist has breathed and this has colored the paints and guided the pen.
            There is a mother quality to this area in which we live. It has taken something from all of us, to replenish itself, and has given back to each more than it has taken, so that we all, even those of us who do not know each other, belong to each other.
            That is the personality of Tucson as it was felt by the ancient peoples, by the Indians, by the Spaniards, by the Mexicans, by the Americans. It is here, a permanent, and still an everchanging thing. The antiquities still linger in the air after dark. This personality is alive. It grows. It expands. It is subtle in that in its saturation it is signless. Those of us who live here know that its bond is even stronger when we are away. Those of you who visit here will find that to be true as well.

Arizona Historical Society MS 921 Tucson Festival Society Box 2 Series 2 Folder 16

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