Friday, July 9, 2021

For Whom the Rooster Crows

A joy of travel is that it is a constantly refreshing source for stories. Travel enough, and you become adept at recognizing when you are in the middle of a story in progress.  And that is thrilling.  

We spent the recent July 4 holiday weekend in the whimsically random story mecca of...  Ketchum, Idaho.  And the "Once upon a time..." began.

When we landed in Boise*, we made the rookie mistake of deciding to wait until we got to Ketchum to have lunch. Fast forward three hours - we’re the hangry couple on the patio of a pizza place, not speaking to each other.

Rather than engage with the spawn of Satan I married (whose Hero status was restored once I had eaten), I gazed around the intersection and spied an antique shop down the block. It was one of those “antique shops” that had lots of stuff displayed out on the sidewalk - I’m sure there were some antiques out there, but it was mostly wonderful, kitschy junk.

In the midst of all that clutter a block away, I spotted - and fixated on - a tin rooster. A rooster that I HAD TO HAVE. Because fixating on this rooster during the fragile hangry phase seemed like the lowest-risk use of my attention span.

But by the time we had finished lunch, the antique store was closed. And it wasn’t going to open again until about two hours after we were planning to leave (cue sad trombone).

This trip was loosely structured around a Hemingway theme. Which makes us seem erudite and cool, but as per our usual vacation planning process, here’s how it unfolded:
  1. Kelly runs across a tweet about the “coolest small towns in America” 
  2. Kelly cross-references these towns with Alaska Air routes 
  3. Kelly impulsively books trip 
  4. Kelly researches Ketchum to figure out how to sell Brian on the trip, discovers that Hemingway died there 
  5. Brian indulges Kelly with his usual eyeroll and weary affection because he is not really the spawn of Satan 
  6. Brian researches Ketchum for himself, watches Ken Burns' documentary series on Hemingway, begins to look forward to the trip 

So on Day 2 (one day past the missed connection with the tin rooster), we stayed on pretty good terms by having a wonderful breakfast, then visited the Hemingway grave and memorial and talked about the Hemingway code and mythos in general.

Hemingway is buried in the Ketchum Cemetery, alongside his wife, Mary;
his son, Jack; and Jack's daughter, actress Margaux.
The Hemingway Memorial overlooks a golf course near the Sun Valley Lodge.

Day 3 (two days past rooster fixation, one day before we leave), we poked around downtown Ketchum, including visiting a cool art gallery with an amazing ceramics exhibition. Turns out the gallery was one block away from the antiques store (but to be fair, everything in Ketchum is essentially one block away from everything else), so we went to look more closely at the rooster, hoping to soothe the heartbreak by discovering that up close, the rooster wasn’t all that impressive.

Instead -- 1) my fixation on the rooster deepened, and 2) the store was open!! The rooster was acquired!! 

Sunny the Rooster

A few observations about the store:
  • The name of the store is Antique Alley, which made sense given its location. And the owner of the store is named ... Alley. 
  • Alley received a call on her cell phone while we were talking to her. Her ring tone is the theme from Sanford and Son.
That night - our last night in Ketchum - we had dinner at the very restaurant (Michel’s Christiania), at the very table, where Hemingway had dinner with fourth wife Mary before going home and killing himself. 

In several places in the restaurant d├ęcor... roosters. 

A few closing thoughts on the restaurant:
  • Excellent food; Brian serendipitously had Hemingway’s last meal. 
  • After we were seated, an elderly gentleman with a thick French accent introduced himself as Michel and asked if we knew the significance of the table.
  • He told us that back in Hemingway’s day, Ketchum got mail delivery once a week - and Hemingway would sit at that table -- our table -- to go through his mail. 
  • Michel offered to help with wine selection. Since Brian was having beef and I was having chicken, we opted to go by the glass instead of a bottle; Michel went through the list of wines by the glass, but didn’t find the one he was looking for, so he wrote it down and told us to give the note to the server.
  • We did end up getting the bottle - it was a lovely French Bourgogne pinot noir.
  • There appeared to be some confusion among the wait staff around the cost of the wine - on the tab, it was billed as four glasses of “Michel’s red”. 

This is why I travel.

* Yes, I know Alaska flies into a regional airport that is much closer to Ketchum (SUN).  Rather... I know that now 

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