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For the week of November 15 through 21, 2000

Fact or Fancy? Idaho is Nowhere

Idaho’s Image to Outsiders

Express Staff Writer

A recent story in The New York Times alerted me to the funny but somewhat disturbing inclination of people outside the state of Idaho to wrongly hypothesize about our locale’s attributes.

The story in question was about a newly wed couple. She was from the New York City area, and he a snow-plow drivin’, Bellevue livin’ guy--according to the Times, a bit of a potato-head. They met at a wedding in Hailey. But the story implied wonder at how those people could ever have got together. After all Bellevue is the middle of nowhere.

Say what?

As I recall, Bellevue is at the southern end of a valley that includes the resort of Sun Valley--a sophisticated area populated by world travelers, business magnates, Hollywood moguls and various celebrities, not to mention blue-blooded old-money and lots of new Californian money.

Even if Bellevue is several miles south, there is a certain trickle-down effect. It’s not, after all, Wieser or Dietrich or even Yale.

Recently on A&E (a cable TV station), there was a special show about another resort community—Palm Beach. A woman being interviewed said: "This town must be something--you [the film crew] wouldn’t be filming in Idaho on some farm."

Our locale, apparently, is the epitome of nowhere-ness.

Many people only know Idaho for one of a few reasons: It’s where the Aryan nation skinheads congregate and potatoes grow, and there is a song and a movie called My Own Private Idaho. The film, however, actually took place in Portland, Ore., and Italy. Go figure.

The lack of understanding can sometimes seem monumental. Some examples:

  • We live in the Midwest and it’s flatland. I was told once that my child’s asthma would be better when we moved to the cornfields of Idaho.

  • A woman I know was asked if Idaho had indoor plumbing.

  • A friend said he’d stop in on his way to Denver from the East Coast.

  • A colleague receives frequent e-mail from friends asking him "to have a spud for me!"

When local people mention Idaho to the uninitiated, smirky references to the television show Northern Exposure are not uncommon.

In fact, the reality of the Wood River Valley and other areas of Idaho, like the evolving city of Boise, whose nickname is the City of Trees (yes, there are a number of tall, woody plants in Boise), is that it’s a happenin’ place after all.

In a different story than the one first mentioned, The New York Times recently called Ketchum an "outdoor jock mecca."

Baldy has repeatedly been rated as one of the top ski mountains in the country, with the best snowmaking available.

Events that occur around these parts besides world-class skiing, fishing, whitewater rafting, climbing and golf, are the Sun Valley Film Festival and the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, both well respected events within the industries they represent.

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival, with grand new digs on the Boise River, produces premium theatrical works. Boise’s ballet, opera, philharmonic and other theatrical companies are well regarded, and Sun Valley hosts a Swing ‘n’ Dixie Jazz Jamboree that draws fans from all over the world.

There’s a darn good folk festival in Hailey and a documentary film festival in the spring. Movies are regularly debuted in the Wood River Valley. Boise has a Celtic music festival and lots of rock ’n’ roll concerts featuring such current acts as Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Arrowsmith, Matchbox 20, Ben Harper and Moby.

There are numerous galleries and one very fine museum (Boise Art Museum, established 1938). Idaho is home to nationally known artists and writers—best-selling Ridley Pearson, non-fiction writer John Sack, screenwriter Denne Bart Petitclerc, and the late Ernest Hemingway.

Doesn’t sound exactly like nowhere, does it?

So, in many ways it remains good to be misunderstood if that maintains our auspicious isolation, and extreme fortune.

So mum’s the word, while we gloat in our own private Idaho.


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