When I hold Dakota on his back, he closes his eyes immediately, his head falls back, long ears drop like honey–this is the Spa for him. You would think that ten days hanging out in Santa Fe would leave me as structurally limp. But this trip was more about peeking under the covers; taking a big inhale and blowing off the dust.
Since May, I have been traveling from Portland OR to the high desert of Santa Fe NM. I stay in the gorgeous home of old friends from Ca. who have settled in nicely. This time I was on my own, as they hiked Yosemite with some friends, mules and their children. I walked their dogs in the Arroyo on their land and made sure the plants and humming birds were nourished.
With each trip to Santa Fe I’ve become more intrigued not only by the beauty of the place (which is abundant and clear), but by what isn’t part of what is marketed as Santa Fe Style. We know about the amazing skies, the light for the painter’s palette, the easy airstrip for UFO’s, the burgeoning film industry, and that there are more chakra mechanics per square foot than probably in all of the U.S. And yet this place contains atmosphere and texture that doesn’t easily reach our day to day ‘news’ trained ears.
So enjoy the napkin notes below and I highly recommend a visit to this Shelter in the Sky. It takes no prisoners and generously gives us culture, tradition, color and history.
Lounge Lizards and Cowboy Poets
While at the Santa Fe Bakery and Cafe. I had heard that writers hung out here. I came up to the counter to get my cappuccino, and as I watched a man sipping it before I could get there, another man flew in the door to demand the management boot some people in the front. “Why?” said the employee. “Because they are rude, and abusive”. As that scene was flailing about, the man cheered me with my cappuccino that I paid for but never really got. He drank it happily. The man behind the counter was alert. He offered to make me another. As he filled the cup with foam, it overflowed. He said to me, “wait about 10 minutes (Manana time) and it will die down.” “That’s okay,” I said and I walked towards the door forgetting to get my money back. I was too curious about the cafe cowboy scuttle outside.
I guess the writers keep their brain sharpened and creative wit animated with this kind of live daytime television. Instead of men pulling out guns on other men and taking drinks that aren’t theirs on the bar, they are asking cafe managers to kick out belligerent teens smoking pot on the patio and taking red haired girls’ cappuccino. A more civilized West.
The Spanish Market
I met a wonderful man there trying to sell me a painting (printed) from an old Mexican Painter. The painting was of a figure in fetal position in despair. It was red and dripping sad.
I said, “I can’t, it’s too sad, and I feel sad things have happened on this land. Like a lot of blood has been shed here.” He gave me a long look. “A lot of blood. We are standing on a defeated land, right over there on that block is a Pueblo Graveyard. You should go there and take that in.” “I’ll probably pass on that for today, if you don’t mind.” He laughed. We talked for a long time. When he discovered that I’m the 3x’s Great Niece of Chief Gall, his conversation enlivened. Then he picked up the art and said to me “You need to take this home.” He handed the art to the Mexican artist (what a sweet, sweet man that artist was too) and said to him, “This is Niya Christine, and I can’t say enough about her, please sign the art for her.”
And so I found myself walking away with a 15.00 piece of art that puts me smack into the middle of something red that is both Spanish and Pueblo Indian and a new friend who works with the Institute of American Indian Arts.
The Land and People
Just like our artists mirror our culture, the winds, bulbous clouds, light show in the sky and the thunder and lightening is mirrored in the emotional atmosphere of this place. But there’s more to it.
Shelter is a strong theme in NM. The thick Adobe, and eco-currents of sustainable earth structures like the Earthship houses. Looking back from what Santa Fe is today from what it became—had to come from Spanish influence and conquer. NM was an empty outpost of something forgotten, to be claimed and civilized by the Spanish. The wars, the cold, the empty space of desert was assured of something cozy and protective by use of the earth itself. Geez, this sounds like a term paper.
I guess it makes sense to me, how this land with it’s warring history and rise to the rhythm of a sophisticated town is filled with houses that look like lumps growing out of the earth itself. And ironically, the visual comfort of the soft earth in the form of shelter can feel rather empty inside given all the hard surfaces; the tile, the copper, the iron. But in Santa Fe the people fill these houses with wool blankets, and clay pots, farllitos candles blanket the town and often the outside of peoples houses in the winter. These luminarias are put there to give the wayward traveler or cow the way home.
When I asked the fifteen hundredth New Yorker I met there (and this was my massage therapist), Why so many New Yorkers here? he said, “Because they’re savvy. They know a good thing when they see it.” I think about O’Keefe’s statement about Lake George NY. “It’s so green, what does one paint?” Her colors were so pure and shapes often repeated that I would think NM gave her a whole new playground.
The people of S. Fe fascinate me. A hundred opinions a minute. Madonna in my ear, “This is who I am, like it or not, you can love me or leave me ’cause I’m never gonna stop,” as I grazed and encountered these themes in the locals: rebellious, passionate about politics, individual—not borrowed thoughts, sometimes frightful isolation, religious/spiritual enthusiasm and purpose.
By the time I left I felt as though I needed the Spiritual ICU ward that the town provided. My heart, head, body and soul had a wee bit of a workout.
I wanted to hitch the next UFO out of there and have a strong Vodka and Tonic with little androgynous looking people peering at me like a specimen. Because that’s exactly how I felt. Small, in wild winds and the eery predictability of the thunder and lightening. Small in my comprehension of such political and cultural complexity and earth bearing gifts.
But, ah how good it is to feel knocked sideways by things you don’t understand–a force with stories in wings that give you their tethered weight and then pick you up and carry you into a sky—it makes your whole body weep.
• • •
Dakota, well he ignored me by dramatically cleaning his ears as I yammered on about the lizards, jack rabbits, coyotes, crickets, huge ants, hummingbirds, sunflowers, chili rasberry jam…
first written, 2006