(Filed from San Diego, California at 10:32 a.m. on July 29, 1999)
The Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona is often referred to as "the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel." And it sure does look, and feel, like Wright -- a certain linear quality prevails which evokes the back-to-the-elements master. Truth be told, though, the architect for the property was one Albert Chase McArthur, a disciple of Wright's. Apparently Wright was out of favor with the in crowd during the 1920s so he didn't get the commission. Thankfully, Mr. McArthur saw fit to enlist his mentor as a consulting architect on the project. Thus, Wright's influence is felt all around, especially in the "Biltmore block," a hunk of stone with a scalloped palm frond peeking through which is peeking out all over the place.
* * * * *
Our mission while in Arizona is to chill out. A little spa time would be good, too, since Fen and I are mighty fine with the idea of sensual pleasures. For this reason, we've chosen to split our stay between two destination resorts, the Biltmore and the Loews Ventana Canyon (farther south, in Tucson). Our friends Lucia and Kent stop by the Biltmore to visit with us since they live in Phoenix. We all have a leisurely lunch by the Paradise Pool, ordering everything from margaritas to spa cuisine. I have a burger. After lunch we head off to the croquet green, forgoing the spa till later in the day.
Fen and I haven't played croquet since we were kids but suddenly Fen has an urge to play that won't quit. Everyone obliges. There are mallets and large, hard balls of various colors in a tidy stand. Nearby is a diagram with the rules.
"This doesn't look like the croquet I used to play," Lucia pipes up. None of us seems to understand the Biltmore rules.
"Calvin and Hobbs rules!" Fen proclaims. "With Calvin rules, you pretty much make up your own." Nobody objects, so the game begins.
I quickly start to remember the drill. You use your mallet to get the ball through small wickets, metal archways which are much smaller than they look. A whap here and a thwap there sends your ball whizzing down the green but not necessarily where you want it. And then there's the challenge of staying in bounds. Since we're all on round three drinks-wise, we seem to be out of bounds a lot. It's not long before Lucia is creating more rules.
"Okay, here's what we'll do," Lucia says. "We each get to make up one rule. My rule is that whoever hits the stake first becomes Poison. Then they get to go after the rest of us and if they hit us, we're out of the game."
I've never heard of Poison but since no one objects to this gonzo form of croquet I keep my mouth shut. Kent becomes Poison first and quickly dispatches Lucia. I decide to go after Kent but not before creating a rule of my own.
"Okay, I've got a rule," I declare. "Whoever hits Poison gets three shots. That's the Sosa Rule."
To my surprise, I manage to hit Kent and become Poison myself -- Poison plus three strokes, that is. I start going after Fen. Unfortunately, Fen is the craftier gamesman and does me in, emerging the victor.
"This is great!" Fen says. "Anyone want to play another game?"
"I want another drink," Lucia replies.
* * * * *
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is built amid the rocks and cacti of the Tucson desert. Not a single Saguaro was uprooted during the construction of this freeform property in the mid 80s. Prickly pear cactus. Organ pipe cactus. The resort publishes a book which identifies the flora and fauna of the region, especially the flora. I have a field day trying to identify cacti here. When I'm not playing naturalist, I eat.
Dinner at the Ventana Room is an elegant affair. Tucson's city lights twinkle in the distance and add sparkle to Chef Jeff Russell's eclectic American menu. This is definitely American food with a French influence, evidenced in every sauce and saute that the CIA-trained chef creates. (In this case, the CIA is the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York).
I start with the duck confit spring roll and love its full flavors yet I let Fen eat half. Both Fen and I order game dishes as an entree, he the buffalo while I choose the venison. The venison is heartier than I expected and the buffalo is so unique I find it hard to describe. Both plates are a dream. Dessert is a flaky apple pie-let with homemade vanilla ice cream. I go to bed with a smile on my face and a belly full of bliss.
We have dinner at the Flying V Grill at the Loews the following night. The highlight of our meal is guacamole prepared tableside, a performance usually reserved for the haughtier Caesar's salad. Polly, our waitperson, does the honors.
"I'll use two avocadoes," Polly begins. "Then I'll add in chopped tomato, juice from a limone, a Mexican lemon, red onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, kosher salt and pepper. Is there anything you want more or less of?"
"More garlic," Fen says.
"How about less jalapeno?" I ask Fen.
"No, no," Fen replies. "It'll be just fine."
Polly slices and scoops the avocadoes into a bowl so quickly I almost miss it. She then adds in the rest of the ingredients in one swift, fluid motion. Our guacamole is mixed and mashed in no time flat. I conclude that Polly has the quickest hands in the West.
The verdict? Excelente!
* * * * *
There's a water slide at the Paradise Pool at the Arizona Biltmore. It's hidden behind a Wright-esque tower with tiki torches at either side. It took me two days to figure out that a slide was hidden in there. Fen talks me into trying it, right after I admit that I've never slid down one of these things.
I slide sitting down and find myself yelping the whole way, probably because the ride is much faster than I'd expected. Fen insists I go down on my back the next time because it's much more aerodynamic. I find it scarier. I resist Fen's entreaty to slide down on my belly.
I conclude at the age of, well, whatever that water slides are a blast.
* * * * *
My aromatherapy massage at the Loews Ventana Canyon has a wrinkle to it I didn't expect. In addition to scenting your body with essential oils, the masseuse has a foot-activated dispenser which disperses aroma throughout the room. It reminds me of the pedal on a piano. I block this technological advancement from my mind and zone in on the realignment of my body. Fifty minutes later I feel reborn.
On second thought, spa time is a blast.
© 1999 Elaine Sosa
San Francisco, California
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