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My Beautiful America, Part 2

The Battlefield Park at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, claims to be the most intact battlefield of the Civil War. Maybe so, maybe so, bare of monuments except for a few that acknowledge the reunions of those who fought here. That's always still hard to imagine. A return to hell.

Again, it's only 1862. What is yet to come? My respects have been paid.

Slowly, humbly back into Bentonville, Arkansas.

High afternoon on a Monday. Time for Crystal Bridges. The Walton children of Wal-Mart combined are worth more than 42% of us? Why such an American national debt?

All American us, the art. It's not as far out of town as I expected, wanted, but it is in its own woods.

I don't like the building from previous published observations. I know I don't as I drive up to the main entrance, all poured concrete, severe Safdie architecture in a woodsy setting and a tall, twisted chrome plated winter bare tree stuck in a green mound, severe as a lightning bolt. Whose work? I forgot to look. To me it's something of a shock, something folksy or perhaps to welcome you considering it's all American art.

I knew the building would stink and it does. My initial and finally found permanent words to describe it our “A dam with an armadillo skin.” I've since learned that the staff uses the armadillo reference.

It is just cold to the touch, to the eye, armadillo blockhouse.

It doesn't sit right in its setting, a machine gun bunker in some French countryside, ponds and the lake that look like holding tanks, brewing tanks behind a nuke reactor. Other than that it's the silly saying by people who really aren't used to or don't want people saying how they really feel — “Bill, now tell us how you really feel.”

It's free. I take it all back. No I don't.

It is sleek and airport terminal — what isn't? It all needs some wood and some native stone, organicy, Frank Lloydy, me being that true disciple of he.

Smooth, a smooth front desk to give your zipcode. Floor to ceiling windows galore, an immense airline terminal restaurant, lofty and cold, with a great Claes Oldenburg to greet you, looking like a playful look at someone's intestines, plasticy pinkish. Really something — something Good Humor.

The galleries. I am overwhelmed instantly. The building itself is forgotten, hardwood floors, comforting, solemn and relaxing, gentle, strong, soothing, serious — and that's just the beginning.

Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and that's just at first glimpse.

It's awesomestruckness and I'm only in a few feet. I'm an American. I feel it, proud of it. Us, ours. Not a sound, perfection, American Prado, no grand staircases or two miles of French furniture to climb over.

Copley, Moran, Catlin. I feel at home, among brothers, Masters of course, but somehow deeply connected.

It's not too much and enough, just the way I like it, humbled, uplifted, each in equal doses.

I can't list them all for you, my intention always being, here, some, come yourself if I've hopefully piqued your interest.

Now the building feels better, somewhat shut off from the hard exterior. And here is a catch your breath room between the main room and a smaller gallery. Plump lounge chairs, art books on a table. Relax for a bit, we appreciate how intense the masters can be.

I plump down. I think I'm looking at a dainty silver Calder mobile. Baby you can drive my mobile.

It surely is, suspended in his dainty air.

It's a qualified pleasure. It floats in an open space between lounge and exterior, all glass behind. Behind the glass is wall slab of bunkered up concrete with a hefty metal tube, like a blunt cannon out of a gunport, sticking out. It makes the Calder feel endangered, a butterfly in a metropolis. I want to point this out to someone but the surprise Calder will have to do.

The side gallery is Native American photographs, Edward Curtis. Okay, I've seen dozens and hundreds. The drive here through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma. Reservations. No need to be reminded.

On to, in to late 19 century art, American, the transition from one century gallery to another as smooth as glass, lots of it, somewhat floating, the gleaming hardwood floor a bridge across. Crystal Spring is the source. Crystal Bridges thus.

Classic bronze statuary to make Europe, and the Greeks, weep. Just two on either side of the hardwood bridge. I wish I could tell you who. As it was to me I'll leave it as a surprise to you.

Thomas Hart Benton is in here. Hush. Hush my beating heart — first ones I've ever seen. Books upon books worth and my desire for Pollock and his initial contact with Benton. And this is Bentonville after all. No relation. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. That's who.

The Bentons are supernatural, mesmerizing cartoons, life made liquid, flexible, funny, eerie, his.

What a privilege to turn from Benton to John Singer Sargent. Holy fuckin' holiness! His image of Robert Louis Stevenson. I can't believe it! One of the most remarkable paintings I have ever seen. It holds me by the hand, by the neck. Holy shit. I am born again. I am looking at it and I can't quite comprehend the genius of it. Holy shit.

The rest of this collection you're a guest at a banquet. O'Keefe, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer.

Another acre of gleaming hardwood flooring to carry you across. Wish I could look out on a hardwood wall but — armadillo on concrete.

Two more noble bronze statues. Calder? Can't be. Yes, I think I remember be.

You know that lounge chair I told you about? Well, excuse my misdirection. It's here. You say “reflection room.” That Calder I mentioned too. Please reflect on the fact that I'm sort of glazed over with belief. Not too much, more than enough. Glazed over.

Before I continue over into another American Century let me leave us with John Singer Sargent's “Capri Girl” on a Mediterranean rooftop? A feast festival for the eyes, somehow flamenco, and yet, somehow, somehow Carmen and yet, a masterpiece of simplicity, alive in the way of impossibility.

I'm upside down, inside out, completely turned around. Here's a Thomas Moran, somewhere, bearings off, bearing up bearing witness, Whistler, Mary Seurat.

I guess I passed from early 20th century into late 20th century, “She's a 20th Century Fox —”

He's the 20th century's best. A Jackson Pollock, aboriginal, raw, “Reclining Woman"? Thiebaud, “Supine Woman.” Don't much care for my hometown boy but this is some awe.

Lichtenstein. Do I have to describe? Warhol. Do I? Lofted gallery as long as a warehouse.

In a sidebar gallery, Orca Bates by Jamie Wyeth — Billy Budd's kid brother. That's so much. That's so much more than enough. I hope I've built, at least, a pontoon bridge to all of it.

It has walking trails. I'll try one. But first, a seat in the airline terminal restaurant. They've got beans and cornbread on the short menu. I'm tempted but uncomfortable in here in the cafeteria coldness.

One more stop. A long curve of a walkway, clean as a silicon lab, to the Grand Hall, shaped like a bullfrog under an armadillo shell. Empty for now.

Full to my brim, beautiful redhead at the south entrance desk, shifted from first sight at the front desk. All of the art in the flesh. Across from her a familiar stick horse sculpture holding its own court.

Queen Alice Walton's Court. Oh, Norman Rockwell and the Hudson River school. Just two of the more than a few I've left out.

Outside. Hot, glaring hot. The trails trail off into the woods. Nope, too hot, and loud enough for one day.

American me Crystal Bridges and Pea Ridge. Expect to push on to West Virginia and DC. Maybe.

Hot. Need another day here to decompress it all. Museum closed on a Tuesday. But Walton's original is open, downtown at a Mayberry town square, red and white awning, Walton's 5¢ and 10¢. The mom and pop that swallowed all the mom and pops of the world.

There's a cafe next door with red and white checkered oilcloth tablecloths. Country comfortable, kind of crummy in a comfortable way, my road atlas spread out across the tabletop.

I won't be going on. Gas prices and it's a long way, not forward, back.

Walton's original is candy store cute, a shrunken Toys R Us souvenir stuff, Walton's museum attached in the back. No need for that. Some 5¢ candy to bring back.

I'm directed to a Native American museum just down the block, stopping at the local newspaper HQ for today's Arkansas Gazette. When in the uplands of Arkansas. Something I've learned of the state. Upland, no slaves, lowlands, slaves, 39-35 initially to stay in the Union, then Fort Sumter, 69-1 to leave the union. “Souee pig!”

Guess I'll drive down to Fayetteville for a University of Razorbacks. “Souee pig!”

The Native American museum was no big deal, somewhat lame and somewhat real, the usual gear always somewhat odd, like how did all this religious stuff wind up in here? A very odd building for such a museum, looking like a former suburban church. I guess that works.

Nice drive down to Fayetteville, green, no Native Americans in sight.

University of is somewhat disappointing. It's like when I went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the Alabama-Arkansas football game. Too sterile, to Stanford like. No sense of the deep South which I guess was a good thing. Everybody was very well off. I guess I wanted bib overalls, pickups and stills, hound dogs and rebel yells.

“Souee pig!” Driving around past the semi-mammoth football stadium. American futbol.

Local coffee shop in the local village square. Squares they ain't, the owners and me discussing legalizing Arkansas weed, which now is real — first in the South. Is there hope? Uh, nope?

They put me on to Prairie Grove. More Civil War.

Martin Luther King Jr. Road. How much doin' did that take? It's awful, gas stations and all the other garbage, then approaching Prairie Grove State Park it begins to thin out as those split rail fences start to run along the edge of the green fields.

Fields of more fire. Nine months after Pea Ridge and the Rebs are back tryin' again to get Missouri back in. It's winter again, Korea of their conflict.

There is the requisite orchard, farmhouse, cornfield, hayfield, mass murder, retreats, attacks, flank and frontal, Union's sort of winning the day, only about 2700 dead and wounded between them this time.

An excellent film of the unknown affair, the whole business a little less so than a national park but when in Ar-Kansas it's worth being there.

There. Almost done, up, down, over, in here. A walking Crystal Bridge trail.

Hot. Take a short trail. It's too damned hot and the Art Trail doesn't immediately appear; its art and the building hasn't gained any appeal.

A Chick-Fil-A (is that its proper name?) appeals to me. All that recent commotion because of its heartless owner.

It's junk, tasteless, dull and dead.

Bentonville at night? Dead I guess.

Hot. Heading home, north to get to 60 across a lot of northern Oklahoma. Long day of mostly nothin', thunderstorms out there along the horizon.

Flat, rolling, flat out at 70 mph.

What do you know, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where I once did Frank Lloyd and is Price Tower (oil pipeline, folks). You can see it from the highway, not exactly Manhattan.

Stopping, remembering, a guest key now required for the Wright tight elevators. Oh well, I've been up in “the tree that escaped the crowded forest.” It was, is.

It's been a long way across, the land that buildings forgot.

The car is silent except for the Obama hatred, all encompassing. Makes me laugh, cringing.

Just rolling, lolling along, tiny towns, the Mild West, tornado's alley. Flat miles to go before I sleep. Want to get Oklahoma behind me before night falls.

60 becomes 64 at Cherokee. 64 out past Alva and Buffalo. Flat, overcast, casting a comfort over the blazing flatlands.

Guymon, Oklahoma will complete the day. You all know Guymon, don't you? Texas below, New Mexico up ahead. The four corners beckon.

Guymon is gritty, moon colonies on the ranch land. A Day's Inn with a Pakistan/India head man. Only in our land. Meet many Americans running motels in Pakistan/India? Good for us and good for anybody who gets here. Here in our land you always find it. It's obvious, continuous, good.

A lightning and thunderstorm, crashing rain against the windows as if it was going to break in. Afraid of it, going outside to revel in it.

It's cooled off, for now, dirty/hazy sun. Now, where to go? Over and down to Santa Fe? Sure.

Back across the border, “Escape from Oklahoma,” starring Val Kilmer who lives in New Mexico. Ahh, Rodeo Cattle Drive, the stars falling on Montana and the good parts known.

Hot. Across to Springer, New Mexico, desert painted in rock pastels. On 25 cruising down to Los Vegas, New Mexico. Got to stop.

It's Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders of all things. He wanted cowboys and came here to get 'em. You just never know. Viva Las Vegas, New Mexico, a good feeling of Espanol and conquistadors, the Santa Fe Trail, manifested manifest of colonials control.

Santa Fe for the O'Keefe Museum. I've been on her trail, her home in Abiqui and her Ghost Ranch, so famously/practically alone.

Santa Fe's a mess. Traffic and outskirts crap totally out of control. I don't remember it being so. Motel 6 up next to a body shop, selling its false adobe soul.

Body and soul, all O'Keefe, envy, admiration, like Hemingway. This place that she came to own. She's so familiar but in person, up close, she's revealed again as the master/mistress of those flowers, those skies, those hills.

Everywhere I've been has been busy, save for the Civil War, the O'Keefe full up with elegant retired ladies, some of O'Keefe's clothes and her camping gear, brand-new exposure, courtesy of the well-known Juan Hamilton; makes the envy that much stronger.

Hot. Not much to do so I did that.

Hot, sun just up. 55o two-lane north to get to the Four Corners; Navajo, Navajo, blankets, the land around and those shapes start to appear, individual, spires, chimney blocks, ship shapes, platforms, pedestals, towers, red rocks, black rocks, in another world now.

Don't know exactly where I am now. I think I'm on 60 now headed into Arizona, Utah just above. Have no idea where Monument Valley might be. It's indicated on a visitor's map from Santa Fe, but where exactly? I guess I've missed it, heading west anyway, passing by a turnoff for Canyon deChelly but it's too far off.

Wait, there is a small sign on a fence, Monument Valley, right this way.

It starts to appear. It's the color of Mars or Mars is the color of this, the first form almost as if the winds had carved a conquistador cross, solemn, solitary, gateway.

Behold, cathedral of the gods, familiar forms of course because of John Ford. That's somewhat unfortunate, standing here beside the road you are forever with it without prior knowledge, sacred, atop the planet, sanctuary, not of humans, colossal, silent, immortal, vermillion red, peace paint, separate collection, inland empire.

Navajo. Their wares for sale in an established market place. Touring cars like safari cruisers.

It's busy with visitors. To me it all goes unnoticed, the scene, the setting so wholly holy.

Postcards and a $3 bracelet for a young lady back home.

Now, how to go home? North into Utah and then across? Or west and south down to Flagstaff and backtrack up to Vegas once more?

Flagstaff it is, the scene in the rearview like leaving your birthplace for another home.

Feeling the distances in my muscles, in my bones, roadkill, destroyed natives along the roadside.

Ease on down the road, the Valley like discovering before anyone sailed across.

Speaking of that I've left these out. Fort Union and the Coronado monument.

Fort Union north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. A roadside national Historic Site sign for it just by chance. Only a few miles in from the main road.

It appears like a lost city along a once thriving caravan road, skeletal adobe remains of a Morocco, absolutely out there on its own, deserted after civilization moved on.

It was, defender and traders of the Santa Fe Trail, at one time thousands strong, now like sandstone remains after the tides have gone and the railroads have come along.

The Apache knew its strength as did the Civil War, the Rebs up from Texas tryin' to get at the silver of Colorado and on to that California gold, drivin back in battles nobody knows. Battle of Glorietta pass. Told ya.

Walking around is eerie, graveyard of history.

Coronado. We all know him, that conquistador helmet and breastplate armor, even up into present-day Kansas. Here it's just north of Albuquerque.

1540. Coronado and his gold diggers show up here at this partially re-created adobe village of Kawibuh. Things go along okay for awhile, then true to conquistador style all the Tiwah get a large dose of Christian ammunition.

They're patching some of the adobe as I walk the grounds. There is a re-created kiva. Next door there is a golf course and Indian casino. Odd, somehow appropriate.

In the visitor center a wonderful room with the remains of native murals. Feels like Aztec and the Temples of Montezuma. No Cortez for Coronado except for his beyond belief of the ocean of bison up in Kansas.

Flagstaff, Arizona. Motel 6, a lighthouse in the darkness. It's a Friday night. Everybody is pullin' over for the night. Las Vegas appears in my dreams.

Hot, asphalt Flagstaff. Up and gone, Las Vegas II to come.

Ho-hum, routine, the car so silent it doesn't even hum, college football from all four corners, America alive, Saturday, rituals, Arizona now most familiar.

Need gas, now inside alkali Nevada. There's a sign “Fire a real machine gun.”

It's a last stop before Vegas, all done up in flags and funky murals, a military/carnival encampment, advertising for trips to the Grand Canyon. “Fire a real machine gun.” I'm actually tempted, just for the nuttiness of it.

Pay for gas inside, a carnival fun house of doll-like military dioramas. A biker's paradise cafe, murals and memorabilia, almost daring you to come in. I don't.

Get yer Ford Fusion running — straight on to Las Vegas, stickin' up out of the desert, its own metropolis in the barrenness. Again, holy shit!

Motel 6, Tropicana Avenue. It has room service. Keeping up with the neighbors.

Where is everybody? It's Saturday after all and Tropicana Avenue is practically empty.

Oh, right — the strip is a few blocks over.

There you all are, semi-mobbed. Hot. I'm not getting out of the car. Parking lot, Bellagio's.

Straight to the Monets. What a Las Vegas thing to say. Upon my return a friend asked, “Real Monets?” as if Vegas wouldn't have it any other way.

They are for real but after the Crystal Bridges blast they seem less so, small, too familiar, haybales, countryside, less powerful than they once appeared.

Got to make an appearance at Caesar's Palace, one of the masters, Evil Knievel, togas, boxing, gigantic of course, fleshy/glitzy, $15 minimum blackjack table. I'm up to it, a woman dealer at an empty table.

I'm wearing a BAMA T-shirt. Lots of comments, good and LSU.

The woman dealer and me, getting $20 worth of chips. She doesn't blink, chatting and aiding the obvious rube.

I'm all in with my $15. A minor miracle. I've got a five-card 21. Rube rules. She has to point it out to me. I'm on a roll, up to maybe $30.

Another player takes a seat and lays down two $100 bills. I'll show him. I'm in for $50 worth.

Believe it or not, I'm up $100 bucks. I know when to quit, the table is filling up.

Cashing in when along comes Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Funny, unimaginable.

Give New York New York another chance. Promised my friend I'd do a buffet.

No New York, try the MGM Grand, and New York's $5 table, once again jammed. Losers.

Takes a few miles to get across the Grand's marble lobby, statute lions roaring.

Their buffet is $38. I hesitate. I don't do it, cheapskate, living in the days of $19 buffet. Right, what universe? What planet?

Egypt. The Luxor. Ridiculous, Cleopatra, the Liz Taylor atomic bomb.

Night comes on and the place starts to throb. The City Center Mall draws me in once more. There are two towering slabs of buildings there, sheer, tilted away from each other; a daunting structural achievement among all the play toy structures.

Speaking of play toys — Hooters has its own. Great, it's a shabby honky-tonk dump compared to the other ice castles. Its restaurant is packed so I don't get up close to you know Who-Who.

Search out Jack-in-the-Box for prepared fast food, two Mormon missionaries at the gas station next door. I fuel up and ask them how is it workin' Vegas. “Fine,” from both. I want to ask them about Romney. They asked me if I am a “brother.” Oh, brother.

Hot, headed to California morning. Last chance casinos, Lawrence of Barstow, a West Bank colony if there ever was one.

Two-lane dust, up to Bakersfield and 99 north of Sacramento. Ugly, but not horrible.

My America, beautiful.

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