So, I arrived in Utah safe and sound. Haven't really looked around much, except on the taxi drive from the airport. The driver pointed out the Mormon office building, a huge gray rectangle in the heart of downtown; he said there's an unwritten rule that no other building should be taller, and said that one new building actually had several levels underground as a result. The temple was near it, a rather fairy tale-ish confection of soaring spires. I mentioned that I thought it looked rather medieval, and the somewhat gruff driver snorted that it looked like something from Disneyland. Not a whole lot of respect there...
I'm trying to be respectful. I find this whole place rather bewildering, to be honest. Just the idea that a solid half the population of a major city is a single religion boggles the mind. Oh, when I was growing up, I'm sure New Britain, Connecticut was more than 50% Catholic. Probably more like 90%. But it's a small city, and the Catholicism was fairly quiet -- a on-Sunday kind of thing. Maybe that's more what the strangeness is here -- though I couldn't put my finger on exaclty why yet, Mormonism somehow feels much more pervasive here. It would be impossible for non-Mormons to ignore, I think.
I still don't know very much about Mormonism. The 'facts' I've picked up so far include:
- Mormons are a type of Christians
- They call themselves Latter Day Saints, which strikes me as rather arrogant
- Their young people go out for two years to prosletyze before coming home to marry and raise children in the church
- Those youngsters, I'm told, are selected somewhat based on attractiveness -- this may be a myth. They're certainly very well groomed and neatly dressed and exceedingly polite.
- They wear special underwear. People have sworn to this one.
- Their religion allows for men to have multiple wives (as do other religions, but they're a little more assiduous in practice than most). Salon has recently run several (somewhat one-sided but generally accurate, IMO) articles on the subject, primarily from a shocked feminist view
- They believe that you won't really be saved and go to heaven unless you're written down in their big genealogy book as a Mormon. As a result, they consider it okay to baptize people into the Mormon faith even after they're dead. I thought that only descendants got to do that, but Kevin thinks that anyone can. I would really like to discuss the theology of this one with a Mormon, as it makes absolutely no sense to me.
- There was a big fuss when they started baptizing in absentia many Jews who were killed during the Holocaust -- supposed as a sign of respect, but the Jewish descendants were highly offended -- and understandable so, again, IMO.
- They're awfully friendly, and come up to talk to you on the street. But maybe that's more a Midwest thing. I *am* in the Midwest now, yes?
- I need more information. That's all for now.
I also finished Seth's _The Golden Gate_. I'm still amazingly impressed. Oh, not every stanza is perfect, but there are some that are quite lovely (one on the quietness of night sticks with me), and he managed to create sympathetic characters (sympathetic, complex characters) in poetry, which I think is quite an achievement. I'll remember them, I think, which is one of the acid tests for good literature. (See LeGuin essay on Mrs. Brown).
I started Nalo Hopkinson's _Brown Girl in the Ring_ as well, and am about half-way through. This is an interesting book in many ways. Nalo (who I know casually online from the MLA SF and Utopian fiction discussion list) is a brand-new novelist, and one of the few black sf writers. Up til now, there were perhaps four major ones -- Delany, Butler, Barnes, and one other, a woman, whose name I'm forgetting. Nalo makes a comment on the back cover about how part of the reason she had for writing this book is because it doesn't seem right to her that a field that concentrates so much on issues of alienation has so little literature written by alienated peoples. I understand what she means, and agree to some extent, although I also think that most of us probably feel like the Other for a good chunk of our lives... but that's a whole 'nother subject, and if I started talking about that, I'd probably start feeling like I needed to go revise my Bachelor's thesis on the subject, and that is more work that I can afford to take on right now, so I'm going to just stop. My only other note on Nalo's novel, which I'm enjoying, especially the language of it, is that all the quotes from the children's song are fun but distracting because the song starts running through my head every time I encounter one and then it becomes slightly difficult reading the story. Not a real complaint, though -- I wouldn't want her to leave them out.
Tired. The air is thinner here, and when you walk even slightly uphill for any distance, you really start to feel it. Or maybe you don't, but I certainly do. My heart starts pounding and my throat and upper chest hurt a little. Kevin says I should adjust within a week -- but then I'll be heading home. I hope I don't have to readjust every time I come to visit!
Okay, this is probably a long-enough entry, even though there's more I could say. Today is a focused-work day. I'll try to write again tomorrow, my darlings. Talk to you soon!