An Aspen Airways in-flight magazine lists "99 reasons to visit Aspen in the summertime"--among them white-water rafting, gliding, biking, ballooning, horseback riding, llama trekking, backpacking and buying 22,009 different souvenir T-shirts.
We were in Aspen a week and about the only recommended activity we tried was buying T-shirts. But we only bought five--one each for our grandchildren. Most of Aspen's retail stores are located in the central mall. I'm not sure whether there are more T-shirt stores or restaurants. But there is no dearth of either.
In theory, we had come to Aspen to catch the final week of its famous summer music festival, and on the first day we attended a "chamber music master class" in the Wheeler Opera House, at $10 each.
The opera house, in the mall, is 100 years old, and gloriously restored. The program was curious. First, a young string quartet played pieces by Handel and Debussy (quite adequately, I thought); but then the four members of the American String Quartet, who had been playing together for 17 years, marched up on the stage and began picking the novices apart like so many predatory birds picking at insects.
They would let the group play a few bars, and then descend on them, the first violinist picking on the first violinist, the cellist picking on the cellist, and so on. "No, no! Not that way!. Like this! Tum te dum te dum !," making the motions of playing the violin, cello or viola, as appropriate. Some of the younger players seemed in shock, or laughed nervously, but kept on. "Of course we've all been through this ourselves," said the veteran first violinist to ease the hurt.
I felt for the younger group, but I didn't doubt that they would profit from their painful lesson.
That evening, we dined early in the Charlemagne, a French restaurant in a Victorian house (the prevailing style in Aspen), and went to a chamber music concert in the tent ($20), which is the principal theater of the festival. It is exactly that--a tent.
A pianist played a Beethoven concerto, and three young violinists played difficult concertos accompanied by the student orchestra. Their skills seemed well advanced to me. Then, much to our gratification, the American String Quartet itself came out to play two extremely demanding pieces that gave them a chance to demonstrate their virtuosity and justify their exacting criticisms of the younger group that morning. Everything is relative.
Besides buying T-shirts, we did another of the 99 things that were given as reasons for visiting Aspen in the summertime. We ate. Mealtime kept rushing up on us, whether we were hungry or not. After two days of breakfasting on bacon and eggs in restaurants, we bought some milk, cereal, bananas and muffins at the 24-hour market, and ate breakfast in after that.
We subsided into a shameful lethargy. I don't think we went to another concert, although there was always something going on. We merely lay about our condominium, reading the erotic novels that had been fortuitously left there, and waiting for mealtime to come around again. Our biggest problem was where to eat.
Our condominium was right next to the tennis courts, and my sense of lassitude was accented by the daylong plunk of tennis balls struck by those more energetic than me.
I watched from our balcony one morning while the pro was giving lessons to a girl of about 8. He would pat a ball to her forehand, and she would bat it over the fence into the flower beds. "That's all right," he would assure her, and pat another ball to her backhand. Probably the way Chris Evert started, I thought.
Two hours before lunch time we would walk to the mall to work up an appetite. I usually sat on a bench while my wife went shopping. I doubt that there is anything you can't buy in the Aspen mall--from skis and leather pants to artworks and Oriental rugs.
I was content to sit and read. I went into a bookstore and paid $17.95 for Robert B. Parker's "Playmates," only to discover three minutes later, out on the bench, that I had already read it. I went back and exchanged it for "Polar Star" by Martin Cruz Smith, which cost $2.15 cents more.