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My Nine Cents on Desert Life

The Saguaro Desert, Arizona
The Saguaro Desert, Arizona

Christmas Eve we scored a nice table at the SaltRock Southwest Kitchen at the Amara Resort in Sedona. It wasn’t easy to get—not many restaurants were serving on Christmas Eve as it was. (I would have been happy staying in the hotel room in front of the fireplace watching dumb old movies on TV, but the leftovers in the tiny bar fridge didn’t look very appetizing. The hotel wasn’t serving, except for breakfast.) The Sedona Monthly wrote about the SaltRock Southwest Kitchen that it “has a modern-meets-Mid-Century-meets-Southwest feel, from the adorned cow skull above the bar to the potted succulents to the wall of 214 painted spoons.”

Photo of the SaltRock Southwest Kitchen in Sedona Arizona

Colorful spoons on the wall at The SaltRock Southwest Kitchen

My daughter, Erica, and I sat side-by-side facing the decorative wall of spoons to take in the sophisticated vibe while we licked our lips over Baby Kale Salad with Shrimp, Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Butternut Squash Steak. It didn’t feel much like a Christmas Eve—but it was, none the less—and the end to our stay in Sedona. On Christmas Day we drove to Scottsdale where one of my nieces was kind enough to host us for two nights.

It is traditional in my family to spend Christmas Day having Chinese or Asian food and a movie. It was easy enough to order the Thai food for take out, but instead of a movie, we opted on taking a drive to see the sights in Scottsdale before the sun set. The sights can be tough to see as everything is so perfectly obscured by the landscape. No matter what, the mountain ranges that surround the city are a stunning and dramatic backdrop. The city planners have done a very good job of controlling the architectural landscape in a way that camouflages the retail and office spaces. Even the homes are hidden away among the cacti and shrubbery. It’s spotlessly clean. The wealth is cleverly disguised behind the gated communities, but according to, the average income in Scottsdale is almost double the U.S. average. The job growth rate over the next ten years is predicted to be 51.2%, which is higher than the U.S. average of 33.5%. There’s a lot of housing construction going on and a lot of land on which to build it.

The Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale Arizona

The Desert Botanical Garden is at the top of the list of must-see attractions in nearby Phoenix. Saturday afternoon was the perfect moment for my nieces, my daughter, and I to spend time together, yet outside in the fresh air, even while wearing masks on the garden grounds. The garden is definitely worth a detour if you’re in the vicinity. The variety of cacti in the garden is overwhelming and magnificent. One of them in particular, a Saguaro, will boggle your mind as it seems deformed in the most intricate and beautiful way, with a fan of flesh arising out of the tall trunk. The Saguaro (pronounced suh·waa·row) is what dominates the landscape all over Scottsdale and Phoenix. These cacti can grow to be over 40 feet tall and live hundreds of years. The first arm won’t appear till it’s 75 to 100 years of age…if it ever does grow one. The tallest recorded Saguaro fell over in December of 2007, estimated to be about 50 feet tall. Most of the oldest Saguaro cacti on record, up to 300 years old, are found in Arizona.

A wonderfully deformed cactus at the Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale

The wonderfully deformed cactus

Various types of cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale Arizona

The world's biggest Saguaro Cactus

The world’s biggest Saguaro Cactus

I can see why so many people find Arizona to be very appealing. The weather is beautiful, the scenery dramatic, the landscape immaculate, the outdoor activities abundant and the lifestyle easy. There’s the spiritual and politically leftist side of Arizona and then there’s the more conservative gun-enthusiast side. Joe Biden won the state in the last elections, but not by much—only about 10,500 votes.

Graphic of the Arizona presidential election results

Rather than drive back to L.A. in one day direct from Phoenix through the endless desert, we chose to stay overnight in Palm Springs in order to do an architectural tour this morning. It is the last hurrah before settling back into my daughter’s home near the beach in Marina Del Rey later today. Armed with a map by Palm Springs Life and the Palm Springs Modern Committee, we hope to see some of the city’s best examples of mid-century modern architecture.

Palms trees line a street om Palm Springs California

Palm trees in Palm Springs

This American design movement was popular between 1945 and 1969—the post-WWII era. Palm Springs is particularly noteworthy for its many examples of mid-century modern architecture and home to so many celebrities: Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen and Bob Hope to name just a few of the homes on the tour. Just driving around, even without a map, can be an architectural wonderland.

Steve McQueen's mid-century modern home in Palm Springs California

Steve McQueen’s mid-century modern home in Palm Springs

Wish me luck for tomorrow…the few days before I left France, I had three Covid-19 tests which are easy to acquire in France, free of charge. The pharmacies all over town have set up antigenic testing stations outside on the street and results are achieved in 15 minutes. Labs all over the city of Paris and Nice are doing PCR tests. You can make an appointment or wait in line. It’s all fast, easy and readily available…and free with your “Carte Vitale.” I tested negative all three times…otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten on the plane, even though the test wasn’t required for flying into the U.S.! (What’s that about?)

Getting tested in the U.S. is a whole different story. It was near to impossible to get a test this time of year due to increased holiday travel, certainly not one for free. Thanks to my daughter’s connections in Los Angeles, I was able to get a test from a private individual who works for the film industry. The problem was timing. The test must be taken within 72 hours of flying. The labs were to be closed the 31st and 1st. The flight back to Paris was on the 3rd. That made it quite a challenge. I had no choice but to accept an appointment on the 29th, then change my Air France tickets to leave two days earlier to satisfy the 72-hour test requirement. Air France made the change with an additional cost of nine cents!

“Nice cents,” I asked? “Seriously? Yes, please proceed!”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds Bliss in Sedona ArizonaAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®


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  1. Kris Maita on December 28, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    If your still in the Palm Springs area and restaurants are open be sure to have breakfast at Keedys! Order the pancakes…you won’t be disappointed. An old diner, funky….great food!

  2. Marla Heller on December 28, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    Welcome to Palm Springs! Sorry for the rain today.

  3. Mary Ewen on December 28, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Loved hearing about your travels!
    Arizona (Sedona, Phoenix, Scottsdale) is beautiful but i have never wanted to live there… summers are blistering hot and much of the landscape is too flat for me.
    We lived in Los Angeles for over 40 years and raised our daughter there. She went to England for college students the same year we moved to Texas. Then she transferred to the Sorbonne for the next four years and we purchased the Rue Cujas apartment.
    Love your blog!
    Mary and Richard

  4. Linda Wanless on December 28, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    And when the Scottsdale area increases population around 50%, where is the water coming from? The underground water table continues to fall and the Colorado is down to a trickle as it is in order to water the golf courses and grow produce and furnish water for the residents.

  5. Walter Rosengarten on December 28, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Enjoyed your trip , Happy New Year and safe travels, Walter

  6. Shelley Takeuchi on December 28, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    The saguaro cactus is only found in the state of Arizona, no where else in the US! Amazing home to many desert animals. I am in New Mexico which has High Desert flora and fauna. I love the dry desert with its wide open spaces. Does France have any national parks or open land?

    Shelley T

  7. Donald E Hacker on December 29, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Adrian, because I, too, spent the past few days in the Phoenix area with my adult sons, I loved reading your commentary. I hope to return to Paris in 2021, post vaccine, and join at least one of your return-to- live cafe midi sessions in the marais.

  8. thalamy philippe on December 30, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    Bien dit bien décrit et que la peur reste à la porte d’une très bonne année 2021.

  9. Phyllis Mazzocchi on December 30, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Very nice blog to end 2020. The desert, with its stark, simplistic landscape has a way of gifting clarity.

  10. Cindi Shelby on December 30, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    Oh my gosh, I don’t have the words to convey how much I loved this email regarding fear and overcoming that with positivity. Brilliant and hopeful! Merci beaucoup, Adrian! And Happy New Year!!!🥳🥂🎉

  11. Leigh Milleur. Napa Valley Ca. on December 31, 2020 at 1:06 am

    What can I say about you Adrian, you are a breath of fresh air. Your attitude and outlook on life is just the pill we need to stay on track and not go into the negative that is being pounded into our heads every day. I am happy and positive most of the time, but sometimes, this negative environment just gets too much. This nouvellettre I will keep on my computer so as not to forget all the wonderful comments you brought forth. Have a Happy New Year to you and your gorgeous daughter, and stay well and happy.

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