Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Up in Santa Fe

Or "Fanta Se" as it's sometimes referred to.

Yes, well, it is The City Different, and it is 400 years old, so y'all can just sit your bad selfs down and have some cocoa -- with a twist.

Went up to Santa Fe yesterday to do some visiting and check out some sights. The ruined chapel in the pic above, for example, is on Cerro Gordo. I'd heard it was there, but I've never seen it. No wonder. It's at the top of a hill, and unless you're looking hard, you're not going to see it as you're driving the narrow winding street. You better not be looking hard! Tough enough navigating Santa Fe with your eyes on the road!

I've posted before about how New Mexico is dotted with ruins. They are literally everywhere. One day, I'll have to document all the ruins and abandoned structures right around our house -- which was an abandoned ruin when we bought it.

So yesterday, I wanted to find, and did find, this really exquisite ruined chapel on Cerro Gordo. It's up a flight of stone steps from the road, quite a climb really, but sadly, there is a rough barricade posted with No Tresspassing signs before you can actually get to the chapel itself. And beyond that first rough barricade, there is another one in case you didn't get the message the first time. Nevertheless, there were plenty of signs of use -- at least up to the barricades -- by passers-by and perhaps pilgrims, who knows. There's a little shrine down by the road where people have left their offerings -- some of them very interesting, like a clam shell that looks like it's from the Pacific -- and all along the stone steps up to the chapel, people had placed farolitos/luminarias in paper bags weighted with sand. Up by the first barricade, there were dozens of them, so this is really a sacred place, even if you can't get all the way to the chapel. It was clear that just being on the path was holy.

Isn't that something? We often forget holiness even in the simplest things. In New Mexico, though, you can't do that for long. There is a deep and pervasive spiritual presence and belief here, a deep seated religiosity that even the most rigid atheist will -- eventually -- succumb to.

One of the rooms of our house is labeled "The Jesus Room" because it has a nicho filled with religious totems and objects of all kinds where we sometimes light a candle or two and always keep soft illumination on the portraits of saints and madonnas and Jesus Christos assembled there. We also have a Santo case in another room where there are many ceramic sculptures of saints -- and sinners too. We have candles there as well, but so far haven't lit them. Then there is the shelf where we keep the sacred memories of close companions, Betty's ashes, and many tokens of her and that cat Mao who was with us for so very long.

It's what you do here. We've only been to Santuario de Chimayo one time, and it was a very moving experience. It was not full of tourists or pilgrims that day, just a handful of folks come to worship or to inspect the shrine, so we had some time with the priest, Father Roca, who essentially founded the pilgrimage site. He was a remarkable gentleman, as are so many of the priests and religious figures in this region. One well remembers "Death Comes for the Archbishop," Willa Cather's 1927 novel based on Archbishop Lamy's efforts to correct the local version of Catholic devotions. Bless his heart. Well, of course, his chief legacy -- among so many things -- is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, that very gracious stone church at the head of San Francisco Street that is practically symbolic of the city.

So, I visited the chapel, visited with some folks I haven't seen for a while, and wound up late in the afternoon taking a stroll around the Plaza, the heart of Santa Fe now as it has been for centuries. And centuries. But the Plaza was somewhat sad. It is still the heart of Santa Fe, to be sure, but the surroundings have been kicked hard by the shitty economy. A couple of galleries I looked forward to visiting again were gone altogether. There were too many vacant store-fronts. Those that remained seemed almost dreary and forlorn. The Plaza itself was finely maintained, but around it? Not so much. Even the Plaza Cafe, one of Santa Fe's favorite gustatory destinations for generations, was closed. "For Remodeling" they said. "Remodeling?" Why? I don't know. I don't have an answer. They do what they do. So. I hope it reopens soon, better than ever.

I do like gallery hopping in Santa Fe, but the near absence of them on the Plaza was dispiriting. We have acquired a lot of paintings over the years, and I always love to see what galleries and artists are showing. There are still plenty of galleries in Santa Fe, so it's not like there is any lack of Art, but still... It wasn't the same.

It was as if the heart of the city were gasping for breath.

Or something like that.

Anyway, it was getting late, so I headed back south on that absolutely gorgeous and nearly empty highway to our place, thinking about just how deeply rooted beliefs are here, and how strong the spirit is. It's something very special about New Mexico, something I may have recognized without knowing it when I first encountered this Land of Enchantment decades ago, and part of what has kept me coming back and trying to settle in for so long. I say "trying" because we still haven't broken with California, going back and forth, forth and back.

But I'm perpetually glad to be here.

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