Edie Jarolim is a legend among travel writers in the Southwest with a file of articles published in nearly every important magazine in the field. Following an already impressive career in Manhattan as an editor and translator, she ended up in Tucson. In an excerpt from her book Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All (available now), she describes how she connected to our corner of Arizona:

 

Crested Saguaro Header Photo Heather Wuelpern

Why I moved to Tucson from New York City

[I came to] a terrifying conclusion: To be a writer, I needed to leave New York.

And not just the city, and all it represented, but my friends. They were part of the problem—or I was, in relation to them. No matter how large and sophisticated your hometown is, it locks you in the vise of other people’s sense of your identity. It was hard for me to admit my literary ambitions to myself, much less to anybody else. If I was going to reinvent myself as a writer, I needed to find an inexpensive place to live, and one where no one knew me....

It also needed to be warm and sunny. Seasonal Affective Disorder wasn’t often diagnosed at the time, but I knew I wasn’t imagining the deep funk I plunged into every winter when the gray weather arrived. Another thing I knew: There is nothing romantic about depression. It robs you of the confidence and focus that are essential to good writing, traits that are fleeting at even the best of times.

I already had a general idea of where I might go to take the sunshine cure: the Southwest. To say you are moving to the Sunbelt is embarrassing, but add the word “west” to any destination and it sounds adventurous.

In the 1980s, I’d visited the Four Corners area, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico converge. It wasn’t an ideal vacation. I didn’t drive, so I was at the mercy of Lenore, my more automotively-abled companion. She was the type of person who needed to change restaurant tables at least four times before we could order: The sun was in her eyes, the table wobbled, she could smell cigarettes from the smoking section, the people next to us were too noisy. But over the static of Lenore’s neuroses, I heard the landscape speaking to me.

I know, that sounds woo-woo, and it felt that way. But it was the same visceral recognition I’d experienced in the Middle East, only with English-speaking shopkeepers and without the camels and crowds.

So I had a region to start with. I just needed to narrow down my search to a city.

When people ask me why I moved to Tucson, I have many canned answers, some more tongue-in-cheek than others. “Sheer whim,” I often laugh. But it’s more accurate to say, “I was editing Fodor’s Arizona and had a really good writer for the Tucson chapter.”

The mercury topped 100 degrees F the entire week in August that I scoped out the city, and it was humid; during the summer monsoon season, the dry heat flees town along with the snowbirds and the University of Arizona students. Limited public transportation meant I had to depend on tour operators to get around. In Saguaro National Park, a piece of jumping cholla cactus embedded itself in my leg on a nature path right behind the visitors center. I required first aid for a plant attack within sight of the parking lot.

But, oh, those craggy mountains ringing the city, the tail ends of the Sierra Madres and the Rockies having a throwdown. The serene, pristine spread of the Sonoran Desert, with its strange, often irate, flora and fauna. The kaleidoscopic, cinematic sunsets. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and it felt like home.

“This,” I thought. “This is the place.”

But, oh, those craggy mountains ringing the city, the tail ends of the Sierra Madres and the Rockies having a throwdown. The serene, pristine spread of the Sonoran Desert, with its strange, often irate, flora and fauna. The kaleidoscopic, cinematic sunsets. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and it felt like home.

Finding there’s no place like my adopted home

I revised Frommer’s San Antonio and Austin every two years for another decade, until 2004. I fell hard for both cities. It became routine for me to consider relocating to one or the other every time I went—San Antonio for its diversity and culture, Austin for its university-town hipness.

Then one year I found myself feeling claustrophobic in Austin. I couldn’t see the sky; all those trees were blocking the view. Around the same time, I started noticing how flat both Austin and San Antonio were. Their gently rolling hills couldn’t hold a candle to the craggy mountains ringing Tucson.

It occurred to me, too, that I was already living in a hip, multicultural university town.

No, I decided, I wasn’t going anywhere.

 

On rediscovering Tucson after getting my first dog

Frankie’s need for daily walks turned out to be a boon too, and not just because they provided exercise. The sounds of traffic made neighborhood strolls uncomfortable for my nervous charge, so I started taking Frankie to a car-free zone near my house.

Over the years, without knowing it, I’d largely forgotten why I’d moved to Tucson. That magical city in the desert that drew me from New York had become a way station between trips, a sunny, inexpensive place to hole up and work. Now I joined the bicyclists, strollers, and occasional horseback riders on the Rillito River Park Trail, a twelve-mile path that snakes through the north-central part of the city. Gazing up from the small creature tethered to me, I saw it all again: the Santa Catalina mountains soaring against the vast swath of sky, cactus wrens building nests in saguaros, scrubby gray-green creosote shrubs that smell like desert rain when you pour water on a sprig…

I formed new impressions too. Although I rose early, I never used to go outside right away. Now, on summer days, when it grew too hot to walk after 6:30 a.m., Frankie and I watched the sun streaking purple-pink as it peeked up over the horizon.

My circle of friends began to expand as I met a new, canine-oriented cohort—one that had its own rules of engagement. It was bad form to inquire about the names of the people you met, for example, though you were expected to ask what their four-legged friends were called. Especially at first, an unspoken rule said that conversation was to be limited to dog-related topics—or the weather.

That’s not to suggest that our chats were free of controversy. Far from it. We tut-tutted over the woman who let her large, muscular dogs run wild to terrorize other people and pooches, and I didn’t always hold my tongue when the topics of electric fences and harsh training methods came up. Mostly, though, we engaged in friendly information exchanges: a javelina up ahead, a recall on treats from China, the least expensive place to go for a doggie dental.

I began to look forward to seeing certain people, especially members of Frankie’s small but loyal fan club. Frankie became a favorite with many who didn’t try to overwhelm him or get upset when he didn’t respond to their overenthusiastic greetings. By all indications, he savored our excursions too. When, on certain coyote-safe stretches of the trail, I let him off leash, he would follow behind me with a happy, prancing gait—or so I’m told; he always stopped when I turned around to check on his progress. I walk briskly, so I’m picturing us, my tiny Lipizzaner stallion and I, striding together in a rousing two-person parade.

Edie Jarolim's book, Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals Allis available at Tucson bookstores as well as on Amazon. Edie can be found online at EdieJarolim.com. This excerpt is provided courtesy of the author.

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