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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Knee-deep In Flowers We'll Stray

The Office took our annual "retreat" up to the Skagit Vally Tulip Festival yesterday - basically it's an excuse for soon-to-be Old Boss to take pictures for his watercolor painting portfolio, and for my co-worker to order spring bulbs; me, eh, it gets me out of the office, into the (this year anyway) sunshine, with a bit of walking around and lunch on the Company to boot.

We generally spend a couple of hours wandering around the various tulip & daffodil fields, then head over to La Conner for lunch before driving back to town. La Conner is one of those picturesque little hamlets that dot the countryside, once the epi-center of the valley's family farming industries, it has been transformed in the past quarter century into one of those quaint little regional "artists communities" (think Taos or Santa Fe, Milford, CN, Athens, GA, etc., etc.) that have sprung up here-and-there like weeds, that cater to the sort of folks - mainly tourists - who think overpriced Thomas Kincaid paintings are the epitome of contemporary art, while at the same time injecting some much needed revenue into the city coffers.

I mean, it's all very pretty, in a sort of "good old days that never were" rose-tinted way, evoking a past that generally only occured in Disney movies and Meredith Wilson musicals. But that also just emphasizes how very manufactured and ersatz it is; the old-timey storefronts get preserved, which is good, but the insides are all artsy-craftsy knick-knacks and tchotkes of the type that can be found just about anywhere a similar "tourist crafts" aesthetic has been created as a means to prop up the local economy.

Meanwhile the fishing boats that once crowded the riverfront piers lie rusting in their slips, or, have been replaced by gleaming white charter affairs, and the Pendleton shirt-clad farmers and ranchers who occasionally venture into one of the local cafes begin to look more like extras hired to provide "atmosphere" for the busloads of folks shipped in from the cruise terminals in Seattle, than the real economic pillars they most probably are.

It's progress, I suppose, but of a kind that belies how much the economies of small towns like these have changed in the last half century or so. The truly utilitarian crafts that once supported these places: blacksmithing, furniture & cabinet making, mechanical maintenance and repair, et al have given way to purely decorative arts that serve no real useful purpose other than to bring in cash. Meanwhile the products the local citizenry once relied upon for their livelihoods: the farm implements, the homemaking utensils, the faded advertising signage, get recycled into just another form of take-away memorabilia for the folks from Duluth, or, Osaka, or, Hamburg, or wherever, destined to end up on a shelf (or worse, in a closet) as a semi-forgotten reminder of a trip to a charming-yet-unauthentic little corner of the American Continent; but with most (assuming it had any in the first place) of the historical or geographical context completely rubbed out, sanded smooth, or varnished over.

"Greetings from Anytown, USA" it says, "hope you enjoyed your stay!".

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Posted byCOMTE on 12:30 PM

1 Scurvy Dogs Have Gathered 'Round The Scuttle Butt

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