Sunday, May 5, 2013

Curmudgeon Meets Santa Fe --- Day 2/119

Walk: Trader Joe's, AMC Van Ness (Mud)
Distance: 4 miles

I'm a little reluctant to comment on Santa Fe as I know it is near the top of many people's Favorite Places list.  And I can understand this for the peace, tranquility, skies and desert hills  (if you can see them; another story), low, earthy and simple architecture, past/present feeling, art.  And at certain times of the year there are large cultural events - Opera Season, Indian Market and Native Dances - that are highly regarded in their fields and annually attract throngs.

But my soul did not resonate with Santa Fe.  To me Santa Fe had the presence of a glorified retirement community.  There was no sense of adventure or surprise.  Nothing caused me to be curious about the history because it was right there in my face with signage, guided tours, brochures - all albeit good.  And that history had a sameness in the telling; a sameness that didn't ring true or seemed tailor made for tourists.  In essence, first there were Indians, then the Spanish came and imposed their culture, then the Spanish were driven out (or something) but somehow the place didn't quite entirely return to the Indians and there were other white people, missionaries, East Coast entrepreneurs.  It is all glossed over and treated as if, oh well, everything is just fine today. 

But we all know things aren't 'just fine' with Indians anywhere, including the Southwest.  And looking around town the Indians I saw were doing things like driving buses, sitting around parks, cleaning rooms, sitting on blankets selling wares.  Doubtful they shop at the endless high end boutiques filled with silver belt buckles, fine leather boots, Edward Curtis and other five to six figure collectible photographers.  They man the front desks of the museums but I doubt they participate in the museum culture.

This odd secrecy, or vanishing history, echoes the way the Atomic Bomb was built (and exploded) near Santa Fe in an environment of bogus job offers, false store fronts and aliases so complete wives arrived and missed their rides at the airport because they hadn't been told they would be living under assumed names.  Many families had no idea what their husbands/fathers did when they were gone all day - or more -  for work.  Of course this is understandable considering the undertaking, but what is odd is the way it is presented/talked about today as if Los Alamos is a sort of local celebrity taken at face value. As if it is sort of darling the way scientists, spies and whoever slipped in and out of town and minds and souls were subsumed to the cause.  Hard to explain, just feels odd going down - along with the WW II internment camps.

 (Nothing political intended; these are just some of the things I happened to notice).

I never saw a grocery store, drugstore, gas station, deli, dry cleaner, or even liquor store so I don't know where people shop.  Real life was simply absent.  As are people under the age of, say, 45.  I can't remember seeing one child.

I also didn't see much of the truly gorgeous sky.  This goes to the 'adobe' architecture which is dim in the interior and omnipresent.  'Adobe' in quotes because much of what you see is built with 'regular materials' (cinder blocks, lumber, brick, etc) and then covered with stucco and painted a (prescribed) adobe tone.  The irregularity of architecture that is common in all naturally evolving towns and cities was consciously 'erased' beginning in earnest around the early 20th century specifically to attract tourists to an 'authentic' Indian/Southwestern environment.  Older buildings were torn down and all new construction - residential, legislative or commercial - must be strictly according to the 'adobe' code and colors.

Although less expensive than San Francisco and many other places, Santa Fe is out of reach for many.  Certainly for younger couples looking to raise families.  Where would their children go to school?  Who would their friends be when everyone else is over 45?  Where would they shop for real necessities?    Unless things change, it seems to me Santa Fe is entirely dependent on tourists and retirees with enough disposable income to stay in hotels and spas, recreate, buy art, silver, meals out, museum, music and opera tickets. 

All this begs the question: Why not cut Santa Fe some slack?  It's certainly worth a couple of days. I learned much more about the history of the American Southwest, Santa Fe and the arts and culture of the Indian tribes around Santa Fe.  I got to see first hand and form my own opinion.  So, what's the rub?  Maybe answers to that will bubble to the surface and be another ciwt.

Anyway, for now,  I ended up with a nosebleed which I don't think was from just the altitude and dry air. 

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