By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
In his Leisure and Urbanism in Nineteenth-Century Nice, Haug describes the famous resort: a formerly sleepy little town that experienced a boom because of tourism; an energetic local newspaper that encouraged "visitors, more visitors, and still more visitors"; a population of conservative locals; and a yearly influx of more cosmopolitan visitors, called "hivernants," roughly translatable to "snowbirds." To make things nice for the winter visitors, the city fathers of Nice built a lovely boulevard along the Mediterranean, named it the Promenade des Anglais as a nod to their English visitors and lined it with palm trees.
"They began casting around for devices to make the city seem exotic," says Haug. "The Promenade des Anglais consciously creates the idea of a tropical setting. You're leaving the cold behind and coming to a location that's different from anyplace you've been before."
Bill Myers was hoping to evoke something similar to what the businessmen of Nice were trying to evoke, albeit on a less ambitious scale, when he planted 185 palm trees at his trailer park in Tonopah. "I've always liked palm trees," he says. "I came here from the Midwest. Palm trees create a landmark people remember."
Another Midwesterner who became fascinated by palm trees is Jim Jacob, an artist and an associate dean at the University of New Mexico. He was very disappointed when he arrived in Albuquerque to find no palm trees, so he rushed off to Los Angeles to have a look at some. That led to the incorporation of palm trees in his paintings for a number of years, and to his collecting hundreds of palm-tree tchotchkes, mostly tacky postcards and items made of ceramic. "Phoenix is a baffling place," he says, recalling a visit here. "The city has no relationship to the landscape. I remember seeing green lawns with palm trees. With the lawn, people were keeping one foot where they came from, but they'd have palm trees, too, so they'd have paradise."
@body:In 1949, a religious group in Canada had a revelation. They were to sell their belongings, live communally and follow heavenly advice concerning diet and apparel. They were to move to a new location.
"We were shown the name 'Agua Caliente' in letters of fire," says Elect Star, a gray-haired woman who appears to be in her early 60s. She is wearing the white dress with a yellow band, the red vest, and, because she's working, the blue apron that is the uniform for female members of the Children of the Light.
After a number of years of looking at a variety of Agua Calientes, the group came upon the one located not far from Dateland on the north side of the Gila River. There's an old tourist hotel there, where people used to come to take the waters, and the Children of the Light stayed there for a while.
Then they moved into the buildings they occupy today a short distance away. The Children number only ten now, and most are in advanced years. Still, a casual visitor knocking on the door will be greeted warmly, asked to sign the guest book and invited for the afternoon snack.
And presented with a gift of dates upon departure.
Another part of the Children's revelation had to do with palm trees.
"We were definitely shown palm trees," says Elect Star. The group harvests eight different kinds of dates from 136 trees.
"Palm trees are very significant and very important," Elect Star says. She grabs a Bible and looks for the passage. "It talks about their being long-lived and upright."
@body:If you're driving back to Phoenix from a long weekend in the White Mountains, the first palm trees you see--somewhere along Shea Boulevard--do not evoke thoughts of heaven. Heaven? Phoenix is the largest desert city in the world. It is the state capital. It has a university, and professional football and basketball teams. It has freeways with traffic jams clogging them. It has two million people, many of whom have to work for a living.
So if it's summertime, and it's Sunday night, and you have just driven the Salt River Canyon and then the Beeline, and you have to go to work in the morning, the palm trees lining the streets of Phoenix don't evoke thoughts of heaven. Actually, they look more like landscaping around the entrance to the inferno, the promenade to the gates of hell.