Best Of :: People & Places
Portland artists made their own personalized deck of playing cards. Austin has a cupcake truck. In Los Angeles, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an art installation. And Phoenix? We're just home to that grumpy cat. Around these parts, we have a tradition of spending way too much time complaining about what other cities have instead of making cool things happen for ourselves. That's changing, and Tania Katan's at the forefront. With a background as a playwright, actor, and book author (among her many credits), Katan has brought verve (and nerve) to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art with several programs, most notably Lit Lounge. She mixes local and imported writers, gives them a theme, and puts them onstage at SMoCA each month, backed by live music and fronted by none other than the very entertaining Katan herself. The fact that she packed the almost 1,000-seat house across the breezeway at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in May, in honor of Lit Lounge's one-year anniversary, is a testament to the fact that Lit Lounge is high-quality stuff — and that Phoenicians are soaking it up. Here's to another great year.
Climate change will mean routine, human-killing temperatures of 130 and higher during the summer. All water sources will dry up, sparking extreme conservation efforts. Farming will become impossible. Wildfires will transform the state's forests and highlands into the ashen landscape depicted in The Road. Welcome to the vision of worrywarts like Will deBuys, author of a March piece on slate.com titled "Phoenix May Not Survive Climate Change," and Andrew Ross, who wrote the 2011 book Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City.
But allow us to retort: Truth is, reports of Phoenix's impending demise are premature. State officials expect the population of the Phoenix area to nearly double by 2050 — to about 6 million. And no one should die of thirst: Phoenix and its suburbs have a multifaceted water supply more robust than any other major Southwest city. Sure, we'll have problems in the future. But it's the height of pessimism to claim that everyone will flee to perceived greener pastures rather than cope with the challenges. Don't you believe it.
We never turn down the opportunity to catch a rooftop view of the city, so when the chance to see Phoenix from the top of the Icehouse came up during an impromptu trip to the historic building now known for its contemporary art exhibitions, we bit. Little did we know it was going to take more than just a quick trip in an elevator to get to the roof.
Fair warning: This isn't a trip for the faint of heart — and by the time we publish this award, it might be a trip that's no longer an option for those who haven't signed some sort of waiver. Our guide took us up the stairs to the Icehouse's third floor. We climbed up the creaky ladder resting against the building's open elevator shaft (that's been out of commission for years), balanced on a metal beam that separates the open air about 10 feet off the third floor and 30 feet down the shaft, and jumped onto a platform that can best be described as unreliable.
From there, we navigated the building's attic, making sure to walk on supported ceiling beams, found a rusty chair under a manmade hold, and took another leap of faith up and onto the building's roof. A very untraditional view of Phoenix — warehouse tops, train tracks, high rises, and the quickly developing construction zone that will one day host Sheriff Joe Arpaio's fancy new offices — is the backdrop to this view. And, man, is it worth it — once you figure out how to get back down to tell the story.
We've had a culture crush on Alberto Rios for as long as we can remember, so we were delighted to see the ASU English professor and celebrated author honored with the position as the state's first poet laureate. Rios is a sweet, soft-spoken (both in person and in print) man with roots in Nogales. If anyone "gets" Arizona, it's him. But don't let us tell you that. We'll let Rios' words — from the conclusion of a poem called "In Us This Day" that he wrote on the occasion of former Governor Janet Napolitano's 2003 inauguration — show why he's the best:
We are in a border time,
The border between countries, between centuries,
The border between yesterday and tomorrow,
What we have been and what we are going to be.
We are a state of many languages, many cultures.
We must translate this into a state with many ideas.
Let us choose the best from this treasury of dreams.
Let us create a future
We would want to speak in any language.
We should not try to predict the future —
Instead, let us make it, and let us make it our own.
Thanks to Aidy Bryant, we'll never think of acupuncture or Mrs. Claus the same way again. Not since David Spade took his place as a cast member of Saturday Night Live have we had a hometown kid to wait up for (albeit only till 10:30). To be honest, our SNL viewing habits had waned. Then came Aidy — a Xavier High School graduate raised in Phoenix, fresh from a stint at Chicago's Second City, and Lorne Michaels' newest hire. This past year, we watched for her in every episode. We loved her in "Girlfriends' Talk Show" and teared up a bit when — as Candy Crowley — she got to yell, "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" Yes, we are officially Aidy Bryant groupies. She's back on SNL for another season. Come Saturday night, you'll know where to find us: the couch.
We tried to see Grumpy Cat in person once. It was awful. And we say this only because the famous frowny feline of Internet fame wound up canceling. "Good," as we're sure she would say. The viewing was supposed to happen during an appearance by Tardar Sauce at last year's Great Southwest Scooter Fiesta in Gilbert before owner Tabatha Bundesen, who resides in the Valley, nixed the "interview" due to an overwhelming amount of media appearances at the time. And things haven't slowed down since. For the three of you not familiar with Tardar Sauce's backstory, the renowned sourpuss suffers from feline dwarfism, which causes her famous frown. Bundesen's brother posted a photo of Tardar to Reddit a year ago on a whim, and overnight fame ensued. The Internet found its newest hero, and Grumpy Cat's frown became the face that launched millions of memes. And make no mistake: Grumpy Cat was the biggest meme of 2012. (Sorry, Bad Luck Brian.) And this year looks to be even bigger. She's everywhere — on TV, in commercials, even in her own book. A movie reportedly is in the works, as is "Grumppucino" iced coffee beverages with her now-iconic mug on the label. And now a Best of Phoenix plaque to go along with it. Wonder what she'll say? Oh, yeah, that's right.