There’s something about meat in the desert landscape. The barrenness of the world makes you crave it. You think about the intensity of flesh and the satisfaction you will have once you get it.
It might have something to do with the blatant force of heat and extremes. My recent trip to Arizona was no different. I had driven a million miles already when Alyson, my traveling companion, and I finally arrived in the sleepy town of Winslow. In the bastion of old Southwest culture (this is where the Eagles’ song “Standin’ on the Corner” is set), you can feel the depravity of the climate. It was only May, but we were parched. Our skin peeled, complaining at any unnecessary sun.
One day we went to the Grand Canyon and after 6 or so hours of hiking, we were starving. I had taken the more scenic and direct route through Navajo country, but it was slower, more lonely. We finally drove into Flagstaff after 8pm, the sun having long set. We were still at the outskirts, ranches pushing up to the ancient volcanic hills.
I knew in this land there was no such thing as eating at “European hours”. One of the cafes or restaurants had to be open and if it was a burger and Coors Light, we were in no mood to complain. We drove down the road and a wagon wheel beckoned; we followed.
Horseman’s Lodge. Sounded perfect. We parked in the dirt parking lot and walked up to the log cabin building. “You still serving dinner?” I asked the man wearing a ten gallon and a lariat. “We sure are, sweetheart.” As we waited for someone to show us to our table, we tried to take in the walls covered with various rodeo memorabilia: the signed glamour shots of the rodeo queens dating back to the 1970s, the various ropes and chaps from winning rodeo riders, and of course the large assortment of taxidermied animals.
It was the kind of place where the owner would point to a moose or a deer and say, “I shot that guy back in 1983 and boy did we get some great dinners from him.”
The menu went on and on about the wonders of meat. We could feel the fat and testosterone of the design wafting around us. Even though I’m much more of a meat eater than Alyson, even I felt overwhelmed. I saw mountain trout and with the various options, it sounded good. And didn’t I eat trout on a past trip to Arizona freshly caught from the creek?
We ordered: mountain trout for me and some sort of broccoli-vegetable pasta for Alyson. We both got a beer; the salad bar was an extra bonus. I had expected some florescent lit hodgepodge of the leftovers of the night. But shining before us was a glory of American picnic salads (two types of potato salad, coleslaw, carrot slaw, waldorf salad, egg salad, pickled beets, and whatever else I’m forgetting) and heaping mounds of fresh lettuce and mixed greens. A cast-iron cauldron held the day’s vegetable soup.
We piled up our plates and were even more surprised at how good it was. Nothing was dripping in mayonnaise or strange sauces. We had done ourselves well.
But our good thoughts came too soon and the next thing we know is that we’re being handing enormous plates of food. My mountain trout is two “lightly” breaded filets covered in pine nuts, being at least a 1lb of fish. Alyson’s pasta bowl is a giant block of pasta with broccoli florets stuck in the sauce like decorative trees. We try to eat what we can, but just can’t fathom eating it. Mine is underseasoned, and Alyson’s looks like something from a chef who has never seen pasta but only read about it in manuscripts thousands of years old. The cheese looks like glue holding in the other items.
|Thank God for Salad Bars|
Of course, this could have just been an average, not very good local institution, famous more because of its character than its food. But what made it even more curious was the table of Frenchmen near to us. I couldn’t hear them speaking at first, so when one of the guys got up from his table, I assumed he was a local. He was wearing jeans, with a pale plaid shirt tucked in, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. He starts looking at some of the elk on the wall and next thing I know he is commenting in French about the animals. One of his companions gets up and I realized I should have known that they were European: this one had a light sweater knotted around his shoulders.
I felt bad for them seeing the American stereotypes around them. The very overweight family on the other side of us (“If you eat this much all the time, no wonder you end up so fat,” Alyson commented), the bad food, the wastefulness of the portions. But they seemed to eat every bit of it up.
I had long dismissed most of the “cultural” lessons we had had in our French textbooks in high school, but one stuck out: the strange passion French have for the American west. We had even watched Tintin en Amerique a French tv show based on the comic where he goes to America, meets some Indians, sleeps in a teepee, etc. For any Europeans reading out there, there are no teepees in the Southwest. You need to find some Plains’ Indians for that. But this seemed like their idea of a great vacation: that were even wearing the right clothes. I didn’t see them packing any guns yet though.
I have to thank the Horseman’s Lodge for being so damn true to Southwestern stereotypes. Amen to lots of food, fat people, and French tourists.