The all-too-familiar adage “familiarity breeds contempt” strikes me as a bit extreme. Gaining a better, fuller spectrum understanding of people (or places)—becoming aware of their warts as well as their wonders—doesn’t, of course, dictate dislike. It simply provides more input. . . information that allows us to better ground our opinions and test our initial, honeymoon-phase perceptions.
When we first visited Tucson— maybe 20 years ago— it was love at first sight. We were smitten with her relatively mild and clean desert air (compared to that of her more brash, sprawling big sister up the road to the north.) We stood in unabashed awe of the three beautiful mountain ranges surrounding her—each with its own personality and treasures waiting to be explored. And— as a Pacific Northwest gardener— I was enthralled with her amazing varieties of cactus, succulents, and hard scrabble desert trees. The plant life here, in itself, is worthy of its own blog post.
We’re now a week into our second annual month-long visit with this sassy, spirited city. We’re feeling more familiar and comfortable with her, even though the relationship is still far from intimate. We’ve set aside our rose-colored glasses and we see her in her stark, everyday, no make-up reality. We see— and curse— the potholes in her pavement. We see— and cringe at— the indigents who by necessity people her parks. But the more we get to know the true Tucson, the more we like her, despite (perhaps because of?) her obvious faults and failings.
There’s no doubt a darker underbelly to the city that could easily “breed contempt”— or worse— in those having to square off with it “mano a mano.” Except by watching the local evening news, we’ve yet to experience it personally. . . maybe because neither of us is dark-skinned, gay, or wears hoodies. That said, more than other places we’ve hung out in AZ, it’s not hard to locate Tucson’s liberal stripe— thanks, in part, to the presence of the university everywhere in town.
Tucson, in fact— as idyllic as it can be— is a paradise of paradox. There’s no separating her centuries-old cultural traditions from the leading-edge, socio-scientific thinking that spills beyond the UofA’s borders into the community. (The U sponsors some amazing lectures on Monday evenings— free and open to the public.) There’s no arguing with our four-legged neighbors of the clans “javelina” and “coyote.” (Last night, we encountered a family of the former out on a midnight stroll along busy Country Club Drive, and we hear the latter’s early morning song fests wafting from a nature preserve just a few blocks to the west.) There’s no denying the overlay of the city’s technological demand against the backdrop of some of the world’s most awesome natural beauty. (We are thrilled with our view of the spectacular Santa Catalina range from our rented condo’s backyard, but there’s no ignoring the high energy power lines stretching north-to-south across the foreground.)
For all of her curious contradictions, her heritage and her rich resources, Tucson has the right to be pretentious and proud. But instead she makes a point of being friendly, humble, and accessible. We are learning to accept this fine, old seductive city for what she is and has always been, and we respect her for the efforts she’s making to grow and improve. Far from our so-called familiarity with her breeding contempt, we’re finding that to know her is to love her.