Thursday, February 25, 2010


Bisbee is a tough, Western town with copper-mining roots, hanging on like a stubborn ghost with eccentric houses and buildings somehow not getting blown off the jagged hills by winds so gritty they blows rocks up your nose. It's a dream perched on an inhospitable landscape. Can it survive as tourist/art town through these troubled times?

We saw a lot of 20% and 50% off sales, and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS signs. Also FOR RENT and FOR SALE signs. Then there were the boarded up, abandoned businesses.

Part of the problem is, the streets are more interesting than the innards of the art galleries: Up a twisting backstreet, green copper angels guard a green copper gate. Jesus in a mural announces that the parking is for employees only. A slick Virgin of Guadalupe has the words, MOTORCYCLE PARKING painted at her feet. A gay-looking statue of a half-naked copper miner minces as his metal skin peels away. The Mining and Historical Museum’s bookshop sold novels by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and an academic paper on Apache witchcraft.

This would be a great place to make a low budget, neo-surrealistic independent movie. Maybe I should write a screenplay, or a story. Urban fantasy, magic realism, the New Wild West, my idea for a Mars colony . . . of course, I’d have to do some research . . .

Driving is difficult -- we witnessed an accident across from the Lavender Pit, and finding a parking place is always an adventure. I fantasized about someone buying old buildings, tearing them down to make parking lots, and becoming a hero to the tourists. Sometimes paradise needs parking lots!

At one point, Em’s mom lost her sunglasses. Later, they mysteriously reappeared in her purse. Em blamed mine gremlins.

In an antique store, I found Black Fury by Joseph Hanzel, a 1976 Holloway House paperback with a killer blurb: “He was a Black cog in Whitey’s grinding, dehumanizing machine -- until he exploded like a tortured animal.” And there was William B. Seabrook’s Jungle Ways -- the book in which he describes what it was like to eat human flesh with an African witch doctor. A clipping about it was in my copy of his Magic Island. More than coincidence? Loas at work? Tezcatlipoca again?

On the Queen Mine Tour, the guide who used to work in the mine reminded me of my grandfather. His knowledge of the minerals in the walls and how to set up dynamite to blast out tunnels was impressive. When we returned to the surface of the Earth, torrential rain fell on us -- it soon turned into snow.

It cleared up by the time we went back to Santiago’s for dinner. There was a long wait because of a big party that got bigger. It was good to see a business doing well. That may be what to hope for in the future.

A bumpersitcker said, KEEP BISBEE BIZARRE. That should be easy. In this town, bizarreness is a survival trait.


  1. Sounds like Bisbee has definitely changed since we used to trek there. More galleries. Is the One Book Store still there? The last I knew, he was up to 2 books.

  2. There was no sign of the One Book Store, sadly . . .

  3. Nice travel writing, Ernest. I'm glad you're enjoying your trip.