Friday, August 16, 2013

"Yeah, but will I ever ride a horse again?"

Full day, full week, more than full. August is a whirlwind of things to do or get done. And then there's September.

We've been on the road a lot lately, always within New Mexico, Northern New Mexico at that, but still, much driving, yesterday especially.

There was a stop in ABQ to start the day, then it was out to Cochiti Pueblo for some chili and potato salad and oven bread at the Virgil Ortiz open house, the first time he'd opened his studio to the public. Interesting. Well, his studio had been turned into a showroom for his own works and those of family members.

I mentioned in a post last year that we attended the gallery opening for Virgil's Venutian Soldiers works -- photos, costumes, pottery -- in Santa Fe; yesterday was the debut of his "Evolution" series, which includes some of the Venutian Soldiers material and carries the story further.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 is the source point for the whole series and has served as the focus of Virgil's considerable output since he returned to the Pueblo from his whirlwinds among the rich and famous as a Big Time New York Designer, etc. Now the Pueblos have another one, Patricia Michaels, who was also having an event yesterday at Pojoaque, but she doesn't get so much into the Revolt as Virgil has.

There are many things I like about Virgil's stuff, and among them is that Anglos (who are the bulk of his customers and supporters) may have little or no conception of what he is doing or how ultimately subversive it is. Dude is on a mission.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 changed New Mexico forever. It may not have shaken the foundations of the earth, but among Indians, it came close, for it was the only time in North America that Native Peoples were able to free themselves from the domination of European Peoples -- post contact.

The Pueblos did so by rising up in concert, overwhelming the sparse Spanish missions and settlements (putting any number of the intruders to sword, spear, and arrow in the process) and giving the survivors an ultimatum -- leave or die.

The Spanish chose to leave. Even some of the Indians chose to leave at the same time. Even though the Pueblos had been under Spanish domination for less than 100 years, and this was by no means the first revolt against Spanish exploitation and domination, large numbers of Indians had become Hispanicised and nearly assimilated into Spanish culture if not society. They saw little future for themselves and their posterity by joining the Revolt, so they left with the Spaniards, trekking down the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso, where the descendants of some Indians who left with the Spaniards still are to this day.

The rebels took over Santa Fe, burned the churches and turned the plaza and what's now called the Palace of the Governors into a functioning Pueblo which endured for the next 12 years, free from the Spanish and the brutalities of their priests, but whether this freedom led to happiness is an open question.

Po'pay, the leader of the Revolt, was a Hispanicised Indian (from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, called by the Spanish "San Juan") who was accused of sorcery and witchcraft by the Spanish and was whipped in the Plaza at Santa Fe along with a number of other Indians, several of whom, apparently, were subsequently executed on the same charge of sorcery. Po'pay took mighty offense, as well he should, and organized a revolt by the Pueblos which occurred in August of 1680, a few days earlier than planned due to the fact that the Spanish had tortured the date of the uprising out of one of their captives.

As leader of the Revolt and organizer of the liberation of the Pueblos, Po'pay was effectively "ruler" in the absence of the Spanish, which made him, at least in some eyes, a worse governor and dictator of life and behavior than the Spanish had been. "Liberation for whom, to do what?"

Indeed. But that's a may be. When the Spanish returned in 1692, it was with a surprising level of humility -- at least for the Spaniards -- and with only limited use of sword and artillery against the continuing rebellion.

The Spanish like to pretend that the Reconquest was "bloodless" but that's simply a fraud, and not all that pious a one, either. At a minimum, hundreds of Indians were killed, probably thousands, but resistance continued for years after the reentrada; in fact, it never ended; it's ongoing in its own way today. Yet the Indians and the Spanish have long made common cause with one another as well. So it's not always been a one-sided affair, of Spanish domination and Indian submission, far from it.

There are many Indians in New Mexico who honor the Pueblo Revolt in their lives and work, for it stands as a singular episode counter to the European conquest of North America, and it caused a fundamental change in the relationship between the Pueblo Peoples and Spanish settlers. No longer were the Spanish able to "take" whatever and whenever they wanted from the Indians, and no longer would they be able to compel Indian labor or Indian service. In addition, so they say at any rate, the practice of Indian religious rituals would no longer be punishable, and the ostensible cause of the Revolt would therefore be mooted.

I don't pretend to know how all of the issues of the Revolt and its aftermath were worked out. There is still some tension and animosity between Indians and Spanish, as there is between the Indians and Spanish on one side and the Anglos on the other.

I was told by one observer years ago that partly because these divisions and animosities endure, New Mexico is one of the "most racist" societies in the country, which I think is laughable, but that's me. Maybe I just have a different view of what constitutes racism. There are distinct Indian, Spanish and Anglo societies in New Mexico, but to suggest that they don't interact, interweave, and intermingle, and that they lack any sense of respect for one another and mutual interest is simply absurd. But that's not really what this essay is about.

Virgil Ortiz has been using the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 as the starting point for an entire contemporary version of the story, a fictional retelling in modern/ancient terms, even a science-fiction-fantasy, filled with images and characters that are recognizable but who live in a completely different world, fighting for dignity, justice, community and peace just the same, heroes and saints and sinners all. A remarkable -- and remarkably complete -- vision that has caused multiple stirs in the worlds of fashion and art and Pueblo societies.

Virgil is out on the edge of what... could be.

So we went out to his studio, met his family, said hello to himself, had some chili and potato salad and oven bread, chatted with some of the others who came out for the adventure, bought a few things, and thought how interesting and important the event was. As part of Indian Market Week, it's not that unusual for local Native artists to make their studios available for tourists to come see what's up and how they work and so forth, but in this case, Virgil and his family were doing something they had never done before. They were inviting the world to come to them, come what may, and offering their creative output -- primarily jewelry and pottery -- as an inducement to come and see and experience.

The Ortiz family's pottery has been hailed for years, quite apart from Virgil's output, as some of the most innovative and unique in Pueblo circles. Virgil, of course, takes the uniqueness many steps further, but it was very easy to see a strong familial connection, what he calls "Evolution," between his works and that of the rest of his family.

We've long collected Acoma pottery, which is not the same -- at all -- as Cochiti -- or any other Pueblo pottery, but we've always enjoyed Virgil's works. Now, though we couldn't possibly afford his more ambitious pieces, nor even those of his siblings, it's time to go farther into his and his family's line of endeavor. We have some things of his -- but not pottery. The time will come. This weekend is Indian Market in Santa Fe. It might happen there.

The drive back home from Cochiti was longer than I anticipated, but it was on a route we haven't really traveled much of late (though we once did when we visited New Mexico years ago), so it was pleasant just the same. 

After taking care of a friend's dogs, we went set out on the road again to Chimayo to attend the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Father Casimiro Roca's ordination to the priesthood. Father Roca is "The Old Guy" at Chimayo I've written about before, a wonderful man of great heart and openness who welcomed us to the Santuario of Chimayo the first time we visited many years ago.  Because he is 95 now and he wasn't around when we visited the shrine recently, we thought we'd better head out to his anniversary celebration and reception, or we might not see him again, ever.

Chimayo is far enough away that it takes a while to get there, but not so far away -- physically -- that it seems to take forever. However from a spiritual standpoint, Chimayo is in another frame of reference altogether. In a sense, it's not of this world. The apparitions and miracles which have been reported there and which form the basis of its reputation as a pilgrimage, site have been going on since long before the Spanish "discovered" it in the early 19th century. The Indians are reputed to have originated pilgrimages to the site many -- many -- generations before the Spanish arrival in the Chimayo Valley, and despite its transformation into a site for Catholic pilgrimage and devotion (as well as for tourists), Indians are still coming and of course are welcome, whether or not they profess the Catholic faith.

Father Roca, in essence, "invented" the modern Shrine, though it had gained its reputation well before his arrival. He had not only the responsibility for the restoration of the Santuario but for establishing or re-establishing churches throughout the region, and reviving the Faith on traditional and "correct" lines. After all, before he came to the region, this was Penitente country, as it still is, and the Penitentes had preserved the Faith even when the Church didn't bother to send a priest. This is New Mexico. People make do with what they have.

Apart from the Santuario, which was falling to pieces, and a handful of privately owned chapels, there was no church in Chimayo; Father Roca saw to it that one was built, a fine new parish church which was inaugurated only a few years after his arrival in 1959. It was in this church that last night's assembly began, with a Thanksgiving Mass for Father Roca's anniversary and in celebration of the Feast of the Assumption, which of course is August 15th as well.

We'd never been in the church of course, only to the Santuario, so it was with some interest that we attended the Mass officiated by Archbishop Sheehan down from Santa Fe. (I'm not at all religious and do not profess Catholicism in any particular way, but I don't object to attending Mass or participating in Catholic ceremonies when the opportunity presents itself or the spirit moves me ;-)

It was truly a delightful ceremony, one that will not soon be forgotten.

The church was nearly full, mostly with local parishoners, as the world at large probably wouldn't be aware of the church or of the ceremony last night. The church sits off the road to the Shrine, and is not really visible to passers-by. We knew of it due to some of the stories about it we'd read, and because we'd passed by enough times to recognize the place. Well, the parking lot at any rate.

We met some people from El Paso who'd come for Father Roca's ceremony, but they learned of it the same way we did, by visiting the Shrine last week and being informed by staff that there would be a reception at the Holy Family Church starting at 7:00pm on the 15th.

As we arrived, Knights of Columbus were arrayed in their finery, and as I saw them assemble outside the church, I thought of my grandfather who was KofC and my father who was supposed to be, but I'm not sure he ever participated -- as he and the priesthood were never on particularly good terms.

The archbishop's arrival was met with a kind of fluttery flurry that seems to accompany all High Church personages. We were outside chatting with some of the parishoners at the time, and we all sort of shook our heads and smiled as he and his entourage swept by on their way to the vestry.

"Oh, it's him." Yes, well.

Father Julio Gonzalez is the parish priest, and quite a remarkable Spanish gentleman at that. His bearing and behavior are very courtly -- at least when he is officiating -- but he is very much a man of the People, at least as much as Father Roca has been for all these years.

Archbishop Sheehan offered the Mass, but it was the others who really made it, and I thought Father Gonzalez's homily was truly a wonderful tribute to Father Roca, as it wove Father Roca's life into the meaning of the Feast of the Assumption, and through them into the lives of the parishoners and all the visitors who came for the celebration. It helped immeasurably that Mariachi Fiesta and Nidia Martinez provided glorious vocal and musical accompaniment throughout the Mass and at the reception afterwards. Nidia's "Ave Maria" was incomparable.

The church and the ceremony were all very simple in their own way, despite the presence of His Excellency -- or maybe because of it. The crucifix and candle holders carried in procession were of charming tinwork, the kind of sacred tinwork still done in New Mexico and highly prized by collectors.

The church itself is a welcoming contemporary building,  consecrated in 1963 (I believe), built on a plan more or less of a two-thirds round, with pews arranged around an open sanctuary where Mass is celebrated in front of an idiosyncratic but appropriate reredos in which traditional-style painted statues of the Virgin and St. Joseph flanked a contemporary but very New Mexican crucifix. You know where you are when you are there.

There were banners hanging, one showing the Virgin of Guadalupe with the face of Father Roca and the Santuario of Chimayo where one would ordinarily see the image of Juan Diego and the crescent moon. The other showed the face of Father Roca as well, in another religious setting I can't quite remember!

There were also painted murals showing saints and the Holy Family in various settings which I wished I'd had the opportunity to inspect more carefully, but at least I know they're there.

During the ceremony, mention was made of the fact that Father Roca's brother Pedro is to be beatified in October along with a dozen other Martyrs to the Church who were captured and executed during the Spanish Civil War. Father Roca himself survived the Civil War by hiding out in the mountains of Catalonia until the fighting was over and he could make his way to Rome (in 1941) where he would be ordained in 1943. This part of his history I had no idea of, but I read part of an interview with him in which he got very emotional about the loss of his brothers during the Civil War (both were priests and both were killed as it happened)  and his survival and subsequent dedication to and ordination by the Church.

Knowing something about it now, I'm more than ever taken with his generosity of spirit and determination on behalf of the Church and the Faith. As I say, I've never met a priest like him, and at this point, I doubt I ever will again.

During the testimonials on behalf of Father Roca, one of the Knights welcomed the presence of "Archbishop Sanchez" which caused quite a chuckle and stir in the church, as Archbishop Sheehan attempted to correct the record to much mirth and merriment. There is no doubt a story there, but I didn't probe.

The Mass was memorable, too, for Father Roca's reading from Scripture. He faltered a bit, to be sure, but despite his 95 years, his voice and bearing were strong and resolute.

The reception in the parish hall was a treat with abundant food and drink, much joy and music, and continual personal tributes to Father Roca, who sat through the meal and music at the table across from us graciously receiving the accolades of those in attendance. Nidia sang him a song in his honor which pleased him greatly, and many people asked him to pose for pictures with them which he was glad to do.

I mentioned to him that it was my 65th birthday, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than celebrating his 70th anniversary as a priest. He laughed and said he'd been a priest so long he could barely remember when he was 65. Later, Ms. Ché said hello to Father Roca, and mentioned something about the first time she had met him. His face lit up, the biggest smile I'd seen from him during the night, and he said something ))private(( to her before he made the sign of the Cross over her forehead.

We left for the long drive home shortly afterwards, but we're sure the party went on long into the night.

It was a special experience.

But then so was the IAIA scholarship dinner and auction the night before at La Fonda in Santa Fe.

That story will have to wait for another post, however.

"But will I ever ride a horse again???"

[Sorry for the lack of links and visuals. Once again, must complete some errands -- or else. UPDATE: links added but no visuals yet!]

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