Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 19: Santa Fe, Part 2

***This is the continuation of part one which I posted quite a while ago. It makes more sense if you read the two in sequence. I have been sporadically chronicling the trip a friend and I took to Colorado/New Mexico back in October of last year. I hope you enjoy my reminiscences.*** ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- On to Chama! This is the town we made a pit stop in, filling up the gas tank and poking our heads into the visitor’s center for some more enlightenment about what to expect in Santa Fe. I snapped a couple photos of a tourist trap across the street from the gas station called “Curtis and Kathryn Green’s Blacksmithing and Chain Saw Art”. Close to Santa Fe, the scenery changed again. Small houses and buildings were dotted about, surrounded by low trees and scrubby bushes. Some areas were shabby. I wondered what it would be like to try to make a life in the area. Was poverty a generational blight? Despite those sober thoughts, I couldn’t help the anticipation of seeing Santa Fe, and passing through places with names like Tierra Amarilla, Abiquiu (pronounced by locals as “aa-bik-ay”), and Santa Cruz set the mood. I wish I had taken pictures of the outskirts of New Mexico. We took a highway, on each side of which there was a density of trees carpeting low hills, with buildings nestled among them. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Santa Fe – tan, orange, butter, azure, white wisps, green, red, turquoise, silver, silver, silver, silver! Santa Fe was unforgettable. It was a little hard to navigate for us newbies. Reminded me of a town near where I grew up, filled with tourists and one-way streets. I’m sure the locals navigate with ease, but I was overwhelmed. We pulled into a gravel lot and were greeted at once by a security guard with a thick accent. We thought perhaps New York mixed with New Orleans. He was very cordial and concerned for our correct navigation. He and Mary conversed for at least ten minutes. At one point he commented to her, “You look tired, ma-dahm.” I kept teasing Mary about her gregariousness because she can strike up a conversation with anyone (according to her, they do some of the striking, and she merely offers conversation in return). Imagine a burly Jordanian shop owner leaning over a glass case filled with silver jewelry as he tells you about the culture and customs of his family. Get the idea? At any rate, the courteous security guard gave us directions to where we should park, and warned us about the high level of spiritual activity that is visible in Santa Fe. People who had seen human sacrifices had walked through this town in the old days, he told us. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- After a minor pit stop to change drivers (I like to be in the driver’s seat in some situations…Mary was a trooper to put up with me when I turned bossy) we finally landed a parking spot and set off on foot. We were in a tourist Mecca – the old town of Santa Fe. The buildings were adobe with thick wooden beams, some with vines creeping up. There were chapels and missions, restaurants, and stores everywhere. And people – EVERYWHERE! Outdoor vendors were underfoot in every place we went, and stores and restaurants lined the streets. We were hemmed in, with an endless ceiling of bright blue sky. We browsed until everything started looking alike. Silver and turquoise were star and prominent in every glance we took. Mary must have worn her millionaire’s outfit that day because one shop employee was all set to haggle with her over a multi-thousand dollar turquoise vase. We made several purchases at a market in a small park. Sellers had tables and racks loaded with sterling, turquoise, wood, and beadwork. We lingered especially long at one silver-seller. The man was friendly and helpful, and ended up giving us directions to the San Miguel. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We got off the streets and paid $3 each to visit the “Miraculous Staircase” at the Loretto Chapel. The story is that a group of nuns needed a staircase to get to the choir loft (chapels at that time didn’t need the stairs because monks, who could navigate ladders up to the loft, were the primary occupants). A German carpenter showed up one day and with only a few tools he constructs a beautiful spiral staircase – sans a center support column! It was used and revered, and now stands with a plaque before it and ribbons cutting off access. Speakers were rigged so that visitors crowding through the sanctuary could listen to the history of the chapel told between selections of solemn music. For me that cheapened the whole effect; was this a church or a side show? No one was allowed out they way they came in. The only way to get out was to walk through a gift shop. A gift shop. At last we emptied out onto a cobble sidewalk and there, under the shelter of a beamed overhang, were Native American jewelry-sellers. A blanket spread across the cobble was covered with rows of beautiful jewelry. Behind the blanket was an old woman and two middle aged ladies. The old woman communicated more by smiles and nods than speaking, and the group seemed genuinely pleased to be there. I did not resent them as I did the Loretto gift shop. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Later we got to see the San Miguel Mission, the oldest mission in the United States. Now that was something like! I don’t know if they don’t allow organized tourism at all, or if we were just after hours, but no one was lining up to pay 3 bucks to get into that place. No one was paying much attention to it at all, actually, which made me like it all the more. It was on a corner lot at least 3 feet higher than the sidewalk, with a small courtyard in front and a semi-circle of benches. The mission was swathed in red clay. A sparse white cross rose from the modest bell tower into the azure sky. A lone woman sat on one of the benches, ignoring us, paging through a notebook and looking delightfully mundane. It was nearing the end of the day, and the sky was strikingly blue. Mary got some gorgeous shots there. We ventured down and shady walkway between the San Miguel and an impressive two-story modern building, wandering into a parking area. We were searching for the “oldest house” by following an ambiguous sign propped against the San Miguel’s fence, but did not find it. Behind the parking lot we did find a large butter-yellow building that reminded me of the yellow, vine-clad building from the Madeleine Stories. It was out of place to me, but I accepted it in stride; this was Santa Fe after all, and I was learning that in Santa Fe being unconventional is not a crime. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We tried to do Santa Fe in 6 or 7 hours, when we should have given it a full couple of days to really get into the nooks and crannies. When the day wrapped up and the sun began subtly to drop into the distant mountains, we ate dinner in a little hometown pizza joint called the Upper Crust (which happened to be next door to the San Miguel Mission). This was the real deal – you could tell the locals loved the place, and the employees were real guys. We sat on the gray wood front porch, and I could hear the kitchen guys talking about hockey through the open kitchen door. I peered across the street down a perfect little side street lined with modest homes and green plants, looking as though it basked in the calm of the evening. It was the kind of street I live on in my dreams. The sun dipped lower and we got a little chilly, and I was anxious to get going back to Pagosa before full-on dark set in. It was beautiful. This was no Rodeo Drive; I can’t put my finger on it, but people just seemed more easy-going, more ready to accept you no matter your walk of life, appearance, or beliefs. As I left I carried more than just a street map and a bag of sterling silver; I took with me the riches of an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

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