When I visited Hong Kong, my guide explained that his city, seated between water and mountain, is, in Feng Shui terms, ideally suited for good Xi (energy). If that’s so, Salt Lake City has good Xi in spades.
In the bowl of a canyon, surrounded by spectacular mountains (which offer some of the best powder skiing in North America), there’s water in the nearby Great Salt Lake as well as several smaller fresh water lakes. This has to be Feng Shui nirvana.
Indeed, when Brigham Young arrived here with his band of pilgrims, searching for a new home, he is said to have set his staff firmly down and announced, “This is the place.” His followers were surprised, because there was only one tree in the whole valley.
Nonetheless, Young, who is revered as a prophet by Mormons, proceeded to lay out a city that would be dedicated to God, but one which would welcome all faiths. The remarkably wide streets which now easily accommodate both traffic and Trax, the city tram lines, were designed by Young to be wide enough to allow a horse and buggy to make a U-turn.
The result is a very liveable city, spacious, attractive, and dotted with beautiful buildings. Temple Square at its centre, is a large complex which includes Mormon administrative buildings, visitor centres, Brigham Young’s home, and of course, the magnificent Temple which he conceived but never lived to see completed.
We couldn’t see it either, at least not inside. The young woman who offered us a guided tour, showed us a replica of the interior, which was not what I expected at all. Subdivided into different levels with grand sitting rooms and meeting rooms, the Temple is not used as a place of worship and only accessible to the chosen at special times.
Unlike typical places of prayer, where one might go to consider one’s sins and repent, to enter this Temple, she explained, one must already be worthy.
Young’s home was also surprising. I was expecting a simply furnished, pioneer home, but the opulence of this residence is worthy of a duke. Elegant Regency furnishings, elaborate bric-a-brac and china, hand painted walls and beautifully carved wood are testimony to Young’s belief that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well. It was indeed well done.
Next door, the Lion House Pantry, part of the complex and once the home of young Mormon women, offers hearty, generously portioned plain cooking meals at very reasonable prices. My roast beef came with a honey onion gravy, mashed potatoes and large wedges of baked squash for $11.
But if all this religion is not to your taste, there’s always science. In fact, museums and galleries abound, but my favourite stop was the Leonardo. A hands-on science museum for all ages, the centre hall is hung with what looks like tattered cobwebs, cloth and feathery fronds. This is a Hylozoic Veil, explained the docent; it draws energy from visitors, lighting up the dozens of tiny bulbs scattered among the tatters, and even making the fronds wave. “You should see it when there’s a whole lot of little children running around,” she smiled at my surprise when I managed to create a reaction by flapping my hands. “It really starts waving and lighting up.”
At the Gallery of Fear I discovered that humans have a good many phobias. For example, I stepped inside a coffin and shut the door to see if I suffer from taphophobia. I don’t, though I wouldn’t like to actually be buried alive to test it. In a dark little chamber, thunder and lightning crashed, giving me a chance to see if I suffer from astraphobia. Nope. But my dog, who used to cower under the bed during storms, patently did.
Whether you approach Salt Lake City scientifically, or with religious zeal or Feng Shui principles, you can’t help but be impressed with the remarkable beauty of the surrounding mountains. Waking each morning to see these must be a balm for the soul. It’s small wonder this city has been named one of the best cities in America in which to live.
Mormonism started in New York state, in an area that became known as the “Burnt Out District” because of the religious fervour of the time.