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Oct. 12th, 2013 | 03:31 am
location: Missoula, Montana
mood: Appreciative
music: Mark Takata

I have found absolutely nothing of the preconceptions that Missoula would be the middle of no where.  On my way up here, many mildly cringed when I told them of my long standing interest in visiting this city.  Their suspicion that it was too far removed from the rest of the country to offer anything sophisticated has only partly shown itself to be true.  It is indeed removed.  Mountains surround the city in all directions, but the amount of interesting cultural activities I have found here has been endless.

I awoke the first morning after a late night arrival to the home of my gracious Couch Surfing host to see an amazing sight around me.  Mountains in all directions in the not so distant view welcomed me and again spurred that awe striking feeling that I only know how to handle by taking out my camera.  Some covered in evergreen, some in low brush, the bowl like effect of the mountains around this valley creates a steadiness.  It's even in the air's low winds.  The energy holds here, and it makes being here feel stable, easy to identify with.  This became clearer the first evening when I went to a public reading by Sherman Alexie, famous Montana Indian author.  His provocative, comical, intelligent act was introduced by a mayor who not only had all the characteristics of a top notch stand up comedian (as in piss-your-pants funny), but also spoke to people like he knew them.  I suspected this was just a politician's charm, but everyone that I've discussed this with confirmed that, yes, they did in fact know the mayor, and had had numerous casual and formal personal interactions with him.  Moreover, they seemed to talk a similar language, based on the common experience of sharing this enclosed town.  The mayor joked that he loved festivals, to which everyone applauded in agreement to the many festivals hosted by Missoula.  He then had everyone crying with laughter yet again with his description of the backlash he received for not offering municipal support for the festival of... testicles.  Something along the lines of bloggers saying he might be more open if he started wearing woman's clothing and weren't so fat.

Today, I had the pleasure of spending the entire day at various lectures and readings during Missoula's literature festival.  Each event had a nice theme, and many of the writers were from the town, if not the state.  When Q&A sessions came, the mediators were actually able to acknowledge people in the crowd by their first name.  Forget that ever happening in New York.  I know, it's inappropriate to compare, but the vast contrast in subjective experience is unavoidably shocking.  This is a small town environment.  The first I've ever experienced, and I like it.  It's familiar and friendly.  And with such great activities, there are substantive things to share and collectively contemplate, giving less space for small town obsession with nosiness.  Even the evening's poetry slam crammed the large room with several hundred people of literally all ages.  And the poetry was gooood.  Well presented, with passion, and with impressive content too.  They seemed to have a running theme of being independently minded, spiritually in touch, and warm.  It wasn't political, it wasn't angry, but it did have the purpose of making a point.  The MC's, one no older than 18 years old, were also impressive when put on the spot to freestyle hip hop.

There also seems to be a growing awareness of Native American issues.  Growing because I'd be surprised if many people cared 30 years ago.  I could be wrong, but I've heard that Montana is notorious for its racism against the Indians.  Alexie's act did everything it could to highlight the problems with unapologetic humor, slamming white people for sometimes romanticizing Natives and having a kind of culture lust, while other times flaunting signs of colonization, and also sharply criticizing Natives for being sad drunks.  The audience?  White Montana residents.  And it was the same crowd who packed the movie theatre tonight to see a film about the alcoholism and search for ancestral ties of the youth in the Black Foot tribe.  This all gives the impression that people here are open enough to educate themselves of what is really going on in their section of society.  Not everyone was laughing during Alexie's bit, but they didn't leave either.  Perhaps this is to be expected of a university town, but given this is taking place in conservative Montana, it holds significance.

Missoula has a special feel to it overall.  Old mountain townish, with some buildings still clearly waiting for renovation since 1960, progressive, socially aware culture, cowboy culture, familiarity with neighbors, and a humbleness that keeps most people interacting with each other in a down to earth manner.  On top of this, the endless amount of activities available here offer a fully entertained life style.  My stop in to the visitor's center was supposed to be a quick five minutes with someone that wouldn't be that helpful.  I left 45 minutes later, equipped with upcoming bluegrass schedules, festival schedules, Buddhist lecture schedules, herbalism class schedules, a full list of descriptions of lectures in this festival, and free maps of Montana and Oregon.  The mountains surrounding serve to encourage people's familiarity and cooperation, further defining Missoula and the character it has to offer.  Oh, and parking tickets come with a friendly waiver note if it's your first one.

More is always to be learned, but from what I see so far, this is a town I'd be happy to raise children.

Missoula from the M

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