Monday, August 26, 2019

Among the Swells in Santa Fe

As many know, Santa Fe is home to a lot of rich people, mostly older people who made their money elsewhere and have retired to this tail end of the Rocky Mountains to live and love among their own kind but with "Santa Fe Style".

While we are older, we are far from rich. We don't live in Santa Fe, and truthfully I wouldn't want to -- though Ms. Ché occasionally casts longing glances there or toward Taos -- but in the little town where we do live our income makes us pretty well off. I sometimes think that we could afford to live in Santa Fe (it's a very expensive city) but barely. Half or more of our income would go for housing; we'd have little or no discretionary income for doing the things we do, whether it's travel, education, health care, or purchasing art. We are only able to donate a substantial portion of our income to various causes in part because we don't live in Santa Fe!

And because we are able to buy art and donate to museums and educational institutions, we are sometimes invited to mix and mingle among the swells of Santa Fe, which in fact we did a while ago at a get together of museum donors, art collectors and fancy people at the home of one of Santa Fe's big collectors in Las Campanas, a very tony newer large homes-on-acreage development on the outskirts of the city.

We'd never been to Las Campanas before. We'd heard about it and about the kinds of people who live there, mostly retired rich people who want to live in something newer that they've had built themselves rather than the often rattletrap money pits on the tiny lots of the Historic Eastside where some of Santa Fe's highest dollar movers and shakers have lived for generations. It's freedom to be out in the country on acreage, with views to die for, and little of the hub bub of the city. In town living is not for faint of heart. Despite the fact that Santa Fe is a small city, traffic can be horrendous, and it can be difficult to get around at the best of times let alone when one or another market or festival is under way. Which is pretty much always.

So, out to Las Campanas we went, taking the trusty red van because the car is in the shop, tooling along seemingly forever on the "Relief Road" to get to the entrance road to Las Campanas, Camino La Tierra, then to thread out way along twisty-turny one lane, one way roads up hill and down dale, making only one wrong turn until we got to the gate that blocked access to the house where we were to have a tour and eat some grub. Handily, a security guard was on duty and opened the gate for us with a great big smile, and we found some place to park on the narrow street out front of the house. There were already a lot of cars, and we weren't even particularly late. My. It seemed like there would be many more than the 40 guests maximum, but no, when we got inside and made a quick count, there were barely thirty, and as the evening progressed no more than an additional five or so arrived.

We knew some of them, but many more were strangers to us, and I'm afraid I was somewhat standoffish with people I didn't know. The hosts were new to us, but very charming, and we felt warm and welcome in their company. We did not initially make a thorough inspection of their collection, but my goodness, just the things within the walled outdoor area were breathtaking.

The house was not as large as I expected, but it was on a three acre lot on the brow of a ridge, and from the back patios, the view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was spectacular. Thunder storms were gathering, but we paid the weather little mind as we munched on brie and prawns and homegrown grapes and chatted with various guests, most of whom were our age or older, much richer, and -- perhaps sadly -- mostly lone females. Oh, how many were widows?

The hosts were an interesting couple. He considerably younger than she. She was from Germany, and she reminded me very much of a charming German woman I'd met in Albuquerque some years ago at the Peace and Justice Center where we attended a PBS film about Native children in New England who had been taken from their parents and raised in the equivalent of old-line boarding schools or farmed out to foster care and how they were coping with the experience as adults.

Most Americans have little idea there are present day Native tribes in New York, New England and on much of the east coast as far south as Virginia and beyond. The stories of removal of the Cherokees and others from the Southeast are so strong, there is little inkling that a few Natives still populate many areas of the east. The stories told of the horrors many have endured and still do, however, are heartbreaking.

I chatted with this German lady (whose name I don't recall) after the film presentation because she wanted to talk about how she became interested in Native Americans. How did she, a middle class girl in Germany, become so fascinated with Native Americans that she eventually moved to the Southwest and immersed herself in American Indian culture, lore and legend? She asked me if I'd ever heard of Karl May.

Oh yes, my yes.

I had recently studied some of his works for reason I don't recall (memory not being my strong suit any more). Karl May was a prolific German writer in the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th Century. He wrote novels, essays, magazine articles and so on, hundreds and hundreds of major works, and probably thousands of minor works and sold hundreds of millions of volumes, many dealing with the American Wild West -- where he'd never been.

His stories of Winnotou the Apache chief, and Old Shatterhand, the white adventurer, were wildly popular in German speaking lands, a popularity that continues to this day, somewhat like the works of Mark Twain in the USA.

The German woman I met and chatted with at the Peace and Justice Center in Albuquerque had grown up reading Karl May novels of the Old West, and as soon as she had the opportunity, she had traveled to the Southwest US to see the lands and people May had described in his books for herself.

She said what she found was even more wonderful than Karl May's invented world, and she vowed one day to live here. And so she did. The story of how she came to live in the Southwest US was as much of an adventure story as anything Karl May wrote. I won't go into the details -- partly because I don't remember them all -- but as we toured the home of our hosts and heard their stories, I was strongly reminded of the stories I'd heard from a lovely German woman years ago. Could I be hearing from the same woman at her home now? I was hearing about Karl May, about her determination, about adventure that continues today, and about a deep and abiding respect for American Indians, a view and respect of the Native Peoples she had learned from popular novels in Germany.

I don't know whether the women were the same one or doppelgangers of one another. I didn't have the opportunity to ask our hostess whether we had met years ago in Albuquerque, and knowing how nervous Santa Fe residents are regarding Albuquerque ("I wouldn't go there for any reason, except to pick someone up from the airport -- and then only if I had to" we've heard more than one Santa Fean say) it might not have been appropriate for me to raise the subject among so many Santa Fe swells. But I continue to think she might be the lady I'd talked to about Karl May years before in Albuquerque.

The art collection we'd gone to view was certainly extensive, and according to our hosts, they'd had the house built specifically to showcase their collection. It did that very well indeed. Many -- perhaps most  -- of the collection had come from their home in Virginia after being transported there from Santa Fe over many years of back-and-forth. Now they had returned to Santa Fe.

Most of the collection focused on Native American art and artists, but there were some remarkable "other" things, including a Kandinsky, a Warhol, several Red Grooms works, a Janis Joplin drawing, and so on. The non-Native works were mostly confined to hallways, offices, and other less public areas of the home.

Among the Native American artists featured were three or four we knew well, and their works were all over the house, so many of them we felt like this couple were their primary patrons. Could be.

Our own collection cannot compare in terms of monetary value. I would estimate the value of the couple's collection at several million dollars, possibly as much as $10 million. Conceivably more.

That's not all that unusual in Santa Fe, but we were chatting with some gallery owners/operators a couple of weeks ago who said that the art market is doing poorly these days, despite the fact that some people are doing very well financially. There's plenty of money sloshing around. The problem seemed to be that older people with money were disposing of their collections -- which put downward pressure on prices -- while younger people with money weren't interested in purchasing art. They wanted to travel, buy fine cars, eat well, and they kept their residences small and simple with little or no room for art. It was a dilemma. There was so much art on the market but too few buyers.

One of the galleries had really high-end historic regional art for sale, paintings from the early 1900s to the 1970s, breathtaking prices --$100,000 +, and yet they were actually 30% to 50% lower than they might have been 10 years ago. I've seen the same phenomenon happen with (some) classic cars, antique furniture, and other collectibles. Despite obscene levels of wealth among the high rollers, what they buy these days is not what once appealed to them. They aren't even buying expensive jewelry at anywhere near the amount they once did when they weren't as rich. What gives?

I have a theory which I can't document, it's just a sense. These people know quite well the peril the planet is in due to the consequences of climate change. They've been preparing for years, and part of the preparation is finding locations that will be relatively safe from sea level rise and temperature extremes -- Santa Fe and environs is one of those locations.

I've written about Jeffrey Epstein's Zorro Ranch up the road from our place and 20 miles or so south of Santa Fe. Well, it's just one of many similar retreats should everything go to shit.  He bought and built it 20 years ago, and ever since the tendency to establish such retreats from catastrophe has only accelerated. They're expensive.

To have one that is both accessible and defensible (as Zorro Ranch is/was) is difficult and costs a fortune. To keep it supplied, patrolled and defended even more so. To the extent the money of the rich is going anywhere, I suspect that's where it's going. Priorities...

(Just a quick note on Zorro Ranch activities lately. We pass by it every time we go to Santa Fe and return, so we can keep tabs on visible activity there. There are parts of the ranch we can't see from the road, but we can see the gigantic hacienda, the worker-village, the gate to the property, the microwave and cell-phone towers, the cattle, etc. New No Trespassing signs have gone up on the fences by the road. There's a prominent one beside the gate. Exterior lights are on at the hacienda, but there don't appear to be interior lights on in the house much any more. Lights are on in the workers' village. We have not seen patrol vehicles since that one time I mentioned weeks ago. There have been attempts to enter the ranch by people unknown. For example, one day there were two white SUVs stopped at the gate, both apparently filled with passengers. A young-ish slim brunette woman was standing beside the first SUV talking to the driver. I'm pretty sure she was part of the party trying to get in.. I suspect they were media. There have been previous unsuccessful attempts by media to get through the gate. Once a British accented woman answered the gate buzzer and was quite curt with media trying to get in. Staff in pickups comes and goes periodically. The exotic cattle still graze. In other words, the ranch appears to continue in operation, but except for that one time we saw the hacienda lit up as if for a party, the main house appears to be unused. But who knows? And yes, there is supposed to be a secure bunker of some sort under the hacienda. Speculate as you will...)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Lights Were On at Zorro Ranch Last Night

Hm. As we were coming back from Santa Fe last night around midnight, we passed by Jeffrey Epstein's  Zorro Ranch as we often do, and sure enough the "hacienda" on the mesa-edge was blazing with lights as if someone were there.

Epstein has been dead for a week or more not quite a week,  so they say, and as far as we know he hasn't been at the ranch for years, but that's really hard to confirm because there is a secluded airstrip on the ranch that can't be seen from the road or anywhere the public might have access to. If he'd flown in, who would know? That's always a question with people like this. Who would actually know except his closest inner circle?

Despite reports of his death in custody in New York, there has been speculation that he's alive and all of the news reports are a distraction and a ruse. Supposedly -- if he is alive -- he's been spirited to Israel or Europe or somewhere. Maybe. I'm not buying it, but it's a thought. And why wouldn't he be spirited to the ranch for that matter? It might make more sense in some ways.

But we don't know, and we're not likely to know, the truth of what's going on here, in part because it doesn't concern us. Our Betters will take care of it as they always do. We should just let the show proceed, no?

[Not only that. Yesterday we saw a car patrolling the perimeter of the ranch, something I don't think we've ever seen before. It looked a lot like an unmarked police car, not the usual ranch vehicles we've seen quite often. Interesting...]

Friday, August 9, 2019

Seeing Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood [with updated notes]

Before all the recent massacres, we went with friends to see a movie, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," after consuming way too many plates at the Albuquerque sushi joint we like to patronize. It's on Tramway just below the  rise of the Sandia Mountains, and like many areas of 'Burque, it reminds me a lot of parts of LA a long time ago. V. B. Price calls Albuquerque "City at the End of the World" partly because of those mountains rising heavenward on the edge of forever. Los Angeles, where he and I both had shallow roots, has many similar mountains, and when I was a kid in far eastern LA County, the mountains I saw out my living room picture window were the San Gabriels, with Mount San Antonio ("Old Baldy") gleaming with snow all year long as the anchor to the mountain range. This is a Google street view of the mountains from the vantage point of the street where I lived from 1954 to 1959. The yellow house on the left is where I lived.

Imagine the scene without the trees and you have a good approximation of what I could see out my living room window.

Well, when I could see the mountains at all. It was a smoggy era, and more often than not, the mountains and everything else were obscured with a thick, choking yellow-brown haze. The smog defined what you could and couldn't see and more often than not, you had a very limited view no matter where you turned. The smog was worst on the still summer days when it built up so thick and heavy, you could feel it pressing down on you and you hesitated to take a breath.

I left LA in 1959 and didn't go back until 1969 when on a whim one June or July late summer day, Ms Ché and I drove down the coast on Highway 1 from San Jose in the 1951 Buick I'd purchased a few weeks before. * We were headed for who knew where. Somewhere south, places I'd known as a kid, maybe to a mission or two. I didn't know.

We wound up sitting in front of the house where I'd lived from 1954 to 1959. How I was able to find it with hardly a wrong turn on the road after ten years away and never having driven in LA before, I can barely imagine now. But there we were. The house had been painted yellow and looked much shabbier than I remembered. The whole neighborhood was shabby it seemed to me, and it seemed almost as if the life had left it. The smog was as thick as ever. It was a little before noon. I asked Ms. whether she wanted to see Hollywood and Beverly Hills and all that. She said "Sure."

This was Ms. Ché's first trip to LA and she seemed to like it. It was my first trip back but my umpteenth time in the City of Angels. And I didn't like it much.Which surprised me, because I'd long felt that LA was my home, and I had faced extreme culture shock leaving for Northern California when I was 10. Yet coming back when I was 20, more of a hippie rebel and wanderer than not, I felt it was a phony and dismal place, ugly at heart, and as we toured the sights in Hollywood, cruising Sunset, I got this notion that's never left me: LA is a killer culture. I was lucky to be out of there. I doubted I would have lived had I stayed.

I didn't tell her at the time, though. I'm not sure I ever have.

The Tate-LaBianca murders hadn't happened yet [*See below, yes they had], but there was definitely something in the air -- besides the smog -- that presaged a coming bad thing, something spiritually, psychically foreboding.. I attributed it at the time to my own personal sense of that killer culture I'd never quite grasped before. [As I've thought back on it, the murders may have been an underlying reason why I wanted to go back a few weeks after they happened, even if I wasn't consciously motivated at the time. Maybe I wanted to see for myself...]

I showed her places I recalled in Hollywood and up into the hills [was I looking for Cielo Dr.? Could be...], but mostly we just drove around at random and finally wound up at the ocean at Santa Monica Pier. A brief stop there, and then it was back up the coast, headed north, spending the night in Santa Maria, then in the morning driving nonstop up 101 to San Jose again then across the Valley to our home. An almost three day adventure.

So when we went to see the movie, before all the recent massacres, it was with a sense of anticipation and not a little dread. We knew what it was about --or thought we did. We were not Tarantino fans, but at least I had an open mind about what the picture might have to offer.

It didn't disappoint.

Though its climax shocked and appalled and horrified, it was a cartoon, and because it was a cartoon, the horror of the climax ultimately evaporated almost like a dream. This didn't happen. You imagined it. Or rather, Tarantino imagined it for you.

The climax is very bloody and worse, but... it wasn't real. That's not what happened.

The Tate-LaBianca murders really did happen. They were a pivotal event and not only in Hollywood. They began to bring the curtain down on an era. The Counterculture had run amok. Woodstock was yet to come and the dreadful Altamont. We continued to protest and march against the Vietnam War. Nixon was a lightning rod for youthful anger.

But after the murders, something changed --again, not to forget all the psychic changes after the assassinations and insurrections of 1968 -- and there was no going back.

Tarantino is too young to remember much of the '60s, and yet he recreated a version of Hollywood c.1969 that mostly felt right. I'd put it this way: we didn't know what was to come, and because we didn't know, we put on a brave face and continued with our lives regardless. That's the case for the characters in the movie as well..They could feel that things were changing, particularly the main characters, but they didn't know what or how. My guess:50 years on, and they still don't know. They're in the business of creating illusion after all, an illusion which reality rarely penetrates.

After the movie, I said to our friends (all much younger than us and with no memories of the '60s or Hollywood as it was or... well, you get the idea ... that what really bothered me about the picture was the license plates on the cars. (They were the right color/style for the era -- black with yellow letters and numbers, though they would start changing to blue and yellow in 1969) -- but Tarantino was fucking with our memories by jumbling the letters and numbers, instead of having plates with three letters followed by three numbers the way they were in California back then. He was fucking with us.

Yes. Yes he was. Quite deliberately too.

Things really did change in 1969. Nothing would be quite the same again. LA and Hollywood wouldn't be the same again.

Having someone too young to remember tell us old farts what happened -- as he sees it -- is really more valuable than not. No, his history is skewed, but what if...?

What if...?
* Ms. Ché and I were talking about it the other day, and she remembered something that was going on at Cal Expo the day we left, so she said we could probably figure out the date from that. Sure enough, it was September 4, going into the weekend after Labor Day. This struck me as odd at first because I thought we were still taking classes and would have to be at college. She said, "don't you remember?" I graduated that June and she'd graduated the year before. We were done with our educations for the time being. Oh. No. I didn't remember. Later that month I would take a job in Stockton and we would move there.

September 4 was several weeks after the Tate murders, so obviously, they were on our minds. No one knew who had done it, though the caretaker had been arrested. At that time, the Tate murders were not officially connected with the La Bianca murders nor with a string of other murders the Manson followers would be accused of. Arrests of Manson Family suspects for the Tate murders would not come until October.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere in LA, heavy with smog as it was, let you feel the burden of death. How much of it was on our minds, I don't know. But Ms. Ché confirmed that we went out to Santa Monica before leaving, and it was a relief to be by the ocean and feel the ozone wash over us, almost cleansing.