Instead, he casts a coolly appraising eye on his own consumption, seeing his habit of driving through the desert to the strains of Neil Young‘s ”Cortez the Killer“ as both ”a framing device for an otherwise insurmountable landscape . . . enhancing and individualizing a view“ and as revealing ”a nostalgia for TV and motion-picture Westerns, and a revisionist historical tableau of Spanish conquest translated through the sentimental musings of a Canadian rock icon from the buckskin-jacket hippie days.“ As a Neil Young fan myself, I both wince at the description and admire his honesty.
Ultimately, Neumann identifies the tourist as Everyman and the Grand Canyon as a place that, in its gigantic unconformity, reminds us of those discontinuities of desire and actuality we are usually content to gloss over. As he watches successive carloads of visitors ”walk into the canyon’s depths, make their campsites and adjust themselves for photographs,“ he sees these private quests as ”a contemporary cycle of modern mystery plays“ (not, he notes, completely dissimilar to the ceremonies of the neighboring Hopi), ”a story of brief emergences of lives from an underworld, one beneath the orders of daily life.“
Improbably enough -- or maybe not, in that grand setting -- the story becomes almost heroic in his telling. Going away, we remember home; facing geologic proof of human insignificance, we group the family closer together and insist everybody smile; suspecting that ”We live in exile from the best part of ourselves“ (Neumann is quoting Paul Zweig), we mind the gap, then enter it, water bottle in hand.#