Monday, 2 December 2013


It's breathtaking... it's stupendous, the most perfect sight you ever saw, a poetry beyond words. They've thrown eulogies at it all down the ages, they'll go on doing so, but not one of them, either then or now or ever again will ever get close to doing it justice. Because the hot desert air, lifting out of Grand Canyon, has collided with the cold front of the storm that found me in Flagstaff. The two have collided at the Canyon's southern ridge, and there, spilling out and over the land, is nothing but a dense mist that claims all but the five metres in front of your nose. And so I stare. In rapture and in joy, at the most magnificent sight America has given me to-date. A dozen of them, a dozen Chinese faces are looking right past me into where Grand Canyon was supposed to have been. They're crestfallen, wrapped up and woebegone tight, a couple of ladies starting to shiver, and each one of them looking stark-raving miserable... like the UN just recognised Uyghur and Tibet as independent states, like Foxconn just moved to India. Even in this cold, frigid air you can smell the disappointment ripening on them. Their eyes have disappeared, absorbed into gloom, all I can see are frowns, perfect heartbreak as the third world start getting their hands on first world problems all of their own. Mist in the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon's broken. And I look at them, not even troubling to conceal the smile of the guiltiest pleasure all over my lips. To be honest... to tell the truth... I can't remember the last time I felt this happy... anti-climax is so underrated, and when it's someone else's... well... the stuff is even better.

I watch as the Chinese start planning to wait it out... resolve to outlast the clouds. Valiant, one of them pulls out a camera all the same, removes a lens cap and takes a shot. Captures. Mist. Perfect Mist. A clicking of shutter that sounds as underwhelming as a wet fart. A few gather round, look at the screen as, slowly, a new concern presents itself. An elder shouts over... pointing urgently at the camera, just as the girl holding it begins to scream. The elder he goes goes on pointing in earnest, shouting an easily decipherable Mandarin... 'the mist'll get in!' He leans across, grabs it, replaces the lens cap, fumbles camera back to bag.

I turn from them, look back into the mist myself. I wonder why it is I'm so pleased at their letdown. I suppose I feel it serves them right... serves them right for treating nature as some sort of performing monkey, one to be appreciated only for those tricks they call upon once in a lifetime at Arizona. It goes beyond that thought though, because more than I relish their disappointment in the faulty, non-refundable tourist commodity they purchased, I feel sad that these people, and millions like them, will never look inside themselves for the very spirit, the wonders they were told would be waiting unfailingly for them inside Grand Canyon. At least, and in spite of that, they cut a good picture of the universalism of mankind. Hanging saps, drips less lifeless than the icicles... these sad, dejected souls could well have come from Hertfordshire, from some plastic suburb of southern California, from Bavaria as they did apartment buildings outside Shanghai. The faulty Grand Canyon and the world, united in oneness.

After half an hour they turn away, they regain their bus, which starts its engine and pulls off with a slurry of snow. Some time later, for the slightest second, and for only the briefest of moments... the cloud slips, its fingers part, and for the shortest time I'm given a quick glimpse of red rock torn apart, an eyeful of Canyon. And it is beautiful, and it is magnificent, and your mouth does open, or at the very least it smiles, before the clouds fold back, and the Canyon is gone again. I like to think that this was some reward for the fact that I came here without demands, didn't care what it was that I'd see, and so I was shown a glimpse of the good stuff. And yet, I know that this is just the ego of my mind, that it was only the sun, burning off the mist.

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