It is not always that the blue of a sky bewilders me. That hunch of being sky-puzzled. I kept staring at the sky. The uncommon blue in an uncommon city. An intense, impeccable blue, as if that day the gods had scooped an extra handful of cyan to paint it. It was such a pretty blue that I would happily take it to the seamstress for a dress. In Denver, Colorado’s capital, I was attributing that blue sky to god’s big-heartedness. Then, science hit me silly. Mile-high silly. Geographically silly. Denver is exactly a mile (5,280 ft) above sea level. Not god’s extra bucket of blue, it’s the combination of high altitude, relatively less water vapour in the air and loads of sunshine that makes Denver’s skies bluer.
That blue, however, is not the only perk of being so high. The air is drier and the effect of exercise more intense. Do not ignore the warnings. In Denver, where kissing on railway platforms was once illegal and where the cheeseburger was invented, hold on to your legs, head and balls. No innuendos. Think golf balls. Balls fly faster and heads spin quicker here. In the city’s rarefied air, alcohol packs more of a wallop (1.5-3 per cent more potent) and golf balls go about 10 per cent farther than they would at sea level. And the legs? If you run 10 miles elsewhere, run six miles in Denver. The freebies of a mile-high city!
If geographical facts are not enough, there’s the beer and the pot. Denver has a great tipsy factor — the landscape is dotted with microbreweries, and, on any given day, 200 different kinds of beer are brewed in the city (the highest number in the US). In select pharmacies, you could buy a Blackberry Dream or the Bear Dance. Colorado was one of the first states in the US to make recreational marijuana legal. Fussy shops tidily arrange various marijuana strains on the counter and a woman called Kendall Norris organises cannabis-pairing dinners. Imagine wine-pairing but with a puff of the pot.
Denver is quaint and arty-crafty. Art thrives in the Golden Triangle. A beefy sculpted blue bear peeps into the lobby of Colorado Convention Centre. Outside Denver Art Museum is a gigantic Broom and Dust Pan sculpture and on the 16th Street, boxer Muhammad Ali is painted on a brick wall. An hour away is Red Rocks, the world’s only naturally occurring acoustically perfect amphitheatre that is rimmed with sandstone monoliths. Once upon a time, the dinosaurs walked here. Now, singers and performers pack their guitars and sax to perform at what Rolling Stone magazine described as the world’s best concert venue.
But I was caught in the thoughts of Molly Brown, who survived the sinking Titanic in Lifeboat No.6. called Unsinkable. Molly was that lah-di-dah socialite with a rich husband named JJ (James Joseph Brown), a Victorian mansion and a bottomless coffer. Unsinkable Molly’s mansion is now a Museum. Not a stolid structure cluttered with artifacts. Instead, in JJ’s Gentlemen’s Club and Cabaret, roll a cigar, stir a cocktail and shuffle cards. At Great Gatsby-esque evenings, girls wear flappers, men slip into ritzy suits and the 1920s extravagance is brought back opulently. The music is jazz, the mood rakish, the luxe level unbridled.
Denver is one of the fittest cities in the US, with an obesity rate of 19.3 per cent. That’s precise, but walking through the city, the weighing scale forever weighed on my head. The food here is hotter than a Pueblo chilli. At food halls, markets, food courts, countless restaurants and chic cafés, all things organic and artisanal are to be found. And some shockers.
At Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, the menu resembles a zoo list. A $6.50 hot dog comes packed with — wait till you hear this — rattlesnake, pheasant, Alaskan reindeer, duck cilantro or wild boar. If you order Rocky Mountain Oysters in The Buckhorn Exchange, do not expect special breed of seafood raised in alpine lakes — these oysters are actually deep-fried bull, pig or sheep testicles served with cocktail sauce. Yes, testicles. You read that right. Not feeling testy? There’s Pad Thai Pig Ears, served with a tamarind chilli sauce, scallion, peanut, egg, sprouts, mint and cilantro. Fried rattlesnake. In the hoary past, one cowboy made a meal out of a rattlesnake. An enterprising chef then smoked the snake and curled it atop a chipotle cream cheese dip.
That’s not all, though. There’s peach brandy to quaff and bruléed centre-cut beef marrow bones to gnaw on. Christmas here is a blend of red and green chilli and some sandwiches are so gigantic that if you finish them, there is something wrong with you. For politeness sake, do not pucker your nose if you see a fit local eating pizza crust (not pizza, just the crust) slathered in honey. That’s a meal in Denver.
In the Mile High City, you will find your own high.