I have a lot of sympathy for Salt Lake City. It’s a city, much like Belfast, which has a bit of a single identity reputation. Most people outside of Utah, know nothing about Salt Lake aside from its high proportion of Mormons. Their assumptions aren’t exactly ill-founded. There are an inordinately large amount of Mormons in Salt Lake. Making your way from one side of Temple Square, (LDS Disneyland), to the other without being stopped by a pair of earnest lady missionaries is a triumph akin to successfully running the gauntlet of Royal Avenue on a Saturday afternoon and not being offered a Titanic bus tour. The downtown area of the city is dominated by Temple Square, which is beautiful in a very clean and slightly Pleasantville-esque kind of way. There are numerous large, temple-type buildings and a statue of cosmic Jesus, open-armed in front of a stars and planets mural. It is kind of glorious, like a cross between Catholicism and the Grateful Dead.
Even though I know it places me in that horrible bracket of insensitive visitors, (the kind of Troubles Tourists who take pictures of the Peace Wall and go to Famine Land for real and not just to take ironic Facebook photos), I always like to go and see the Mormon sites when I’m in Salt Lake. Previously I ranked being thrown out of Brigham Young’s house for asking why there were so many doors into his bedroom, (the answer, of course, being that the poor desolate women he sheltered in his house, often needed to be comforted with prayer during the night), as my favourite moment with the Latter Day Saints. This trip however, I happened to stumble across Comic Con SLC which was taking place just two blocks from Temple Square. It will be a terribly long time before I see anything as weird, or utterly wonderful, as the image of three badged and be-suited Mormons waiting to cross the road outside Nordstrom in the company of a Stormtrooper, Thor and two Game of Thrones extras. What a treat. This is my new favourite Mormon Moment.
However, I have to say Salt Lake City is so much more than Mormonism. Once you dander out of the downtown area, Temple Square, non-alcoholic beer and the bank of Zion, (where my credit card was denied, here’s hoping this wasn’t a sign of God’s displeasure), quickly slip out of mind and you find yourself surrounded by great little book stores, plaid-shirted men on bicycles and coffee shops offering coffee to rival anything offered by the best of Portland’s espresso snobs. It’s a wonderful, friendly and incredibly accessible city. And if you take the time to look up, beyond the cute little porch-fronted houses and turn of the century apartment blocks, you’ll see that Salt Lake nestles snugly in the palm of some of the most stunning mountains you’ll see outside Colorado.
The library is wonderful, (they have floating book sculptures, an indoor fire with armchairs and a whole floor of leather clad men who seem to play World of Warcraft, round the clock, in shifts). The people are earnest and extremely welcoming and it was wonderful to meet a few local writers and gather with some of them for a fire pit reading on my last evening. My host Heather tended my soul with great conversation, endless cups of tea and a patchwork pineapple quilt and I am grateful to have had such a gracious welcome back to America. I had the best scrambled eggs I’ve eaten in years. On the downside the elevation did make my nose run like a garden hose for three days straight and the contemporary art museum is a bit shite, (I think we’re all over video installations of people speaking in breathy French as they pour yogurt over their car), but you can’t have everything you’re own way.
This was my third visit to Salt Lake and each time I leave I inevitably wish I’d stayed longer and think to myself, this is one of the very few US cities I could actually picture myself living in. And, I want to whisper quietly in the ear of all those holidaying friends who like beer and scenery, bikes, coffee, beards and beardy music and therefore seem to think that Portland is Lourdes and Mecca and Disneyland all rolled into one, “you should consider Salt Lake City for your holidays instead. It is less crowded and Jesus is here waiting to meet you under the cosmic stars.”