Last Thursday I flew for the weekend to Phoenix. I had never been there before, but I had three preconceived notions about it:

1. That it was hot. Really hot. (True.)

2. That most people there are old (false) and Republican (pending). 

3. That the city contains palatial, almost unthinkably large malls. (This Nora told me, and it was true too; on the way to the apartment we passed the Scottsdale Fashion Center, which spans ten square blocks, includes a movie theater and is anticipating the fall 2009 addition of 30 more stores.) 

But I had not been prepared for the unfamiliar beauty of the place--the green spread of bristling foreign plants and the tall reddish mountains, which press against Phoenix on all sides, as if holding it in. I had never felt mountains so close; the sensation is one of both horizontal openness and parapeted protection. 

Also, the heat is not even so bad! It isn't humid, and most indoor spaces are so air conditioned that stepping outside feels a bit like sliding into a lukewarm bath. And there are pools. Lots of them. In San Francisco, I tried to explain, people don't really go to pools, because it isn't hot enough. Plus, most of them are indoors, like Rossi Pool, where the water is a yellowish green and where, in the eighth grade, Nora and I hosted a middle school pool party. My only memory from this event is that my swimsuit top came off while I was diving in the deep end; then I treaded water in the seven-foot section, away from all the boys, until Helen retrieved it from the floor of the pool. 

 Today I went to the library at 24th and Mission. The building is nondescript from the outside--I had trouble finding the door--but inside, space seems to balloon. I liked the feeling of being in a book-filled cave, and went about gluttonously gathering hardcovers. I found a Mary Gaitskill novel I've been looking for, but I was especially excited to borrow Nice Big American Baby, Judy Budnitz's short story collection. I've been a Budnitz enthusiast since we read one of her stories, Nadia, in my sophomore year writing course at Vassar. After that, I tried to bring her up in class as much as possible. ("I was just thinking it might be interesting to compare the protagonist here with the collective voice in Nadia... Hey guys, is it just me, or does this remind anyone else of that one part in Nadia where...") 

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