17 October 1999: Santa Fe

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Santa Fe.

City of the Holy Fiath. The City Different. Santa Fe.

This year, Rocky Mountain Modern Languages Association met in Santa Fe. Last year it was in Salt Lake, which everyone who went said was scary. (Female Mormons who could witness only close to home swarmed the obvious tourists at the major landmarks.) The year before that, in Denver, I didn't go. I went this time.

I have wanted to go to Santa Fe since CLH visited there with friends while she lived in Aspen. She loved it. On Tuesday in staff meeting as we listed our current projects, I said, "This, that, and looking forward to going to Santa Fe tomorrow." Everyone cooed: I had asked for the days off but not mentioned my destination, and they all love it.

This was my first time south of Colorado Springs on I-25. We saw the sun set over the Sangre de Christo mountains, and after that, darkness. Darkness and stars and the Dave Matthews Band. I had come home on the bus and we all three left from there south for the vet and then ever more southward. We had left out supper. At a service station, I looked at a personal supposed pizza but came to my senses, RDC picked up a package of Lunchables, and I got an idea. I found crackers and cheese and turkey all separate, cheaper, fresher, with less total packaging. And M&Ms. Three hundred and eighty-seven miles south, we pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn on Cerillos; half an hour later we were asleep.

On Thursday we breakfasted in our room with a surprisingly strong breeze whipping in the balcony door. RDC rehearsed his paper and I listened and sketched. Is there a word I'm not thinking of that means "to sketch with words"? More cohesive thoughts than notes or jottings. I was in a Holiday Inn on the strip, but nevertheless I felt the pull of the city. I was on vacation, which probably freed my mind more than the city.

We found the Courtyard Marriott nearby and saw friends arriving and perused books until the later morning session ended. I was sitting on a couch looking through brochures with my DayRunner open on my lap when I looked up and smiled at a random passerby. I smiled, recognizing her, but she looked puzzled as she approached me: "You look so familiar...?" She left DU a year ago last May with a creative dissertation and took a job at the U of Texas (I think), but we hadn't seen each other for probably two years and not often before that. There were a lot of DU folk to meet. I haven't attended the welcoming party for the past three years, which is the one best time to meet everyone. Two years ago, I was in Connecticut; last year, in San Francisco; this year RDC was sick and since I'm merely a hanger-on, I really couldn't go without the link of my student-spouse. So this was the first time I met another DU student I want to spend more time with, a preference based initially on how easily and early and often she laughed her infectious giggle.

As sessions let out, we found SPM and RPG, who now teaches at the Air Force Academy. The four of us had lunch in the unimaginative Marriott restaurant, but an enjoyable meal nonetheless, the first of the next two days' meals at which I would be the only woman in an increasingly favorable ratio. JMJ and Wendy were teaching; RPG's girlfriend lives in Philadelphia; and someone else flew in only late Friday night. A bunch of people made the six-hour drive only to present and leave again almost immediately.

RDC presented first during his session, academic and provocative, and the next two presenters made my teeth itch. One presenter used a dozen overhead transparencies, two of which had spellcheckable typos in them. There's a pot calling a kettle cast iron, but I'm not presenting at a literary academic conference here either. The other complained about students not being prepared with either homework or reading, but his handouts and transparencies were thrown together at an obviously tardy minute. Excuse me.

In the evening, we had our first taste of historic Santa Fe. I drove the four of us toward the Plaza and we found parking quite near the Capitol (which I had to seeŅI took a photograph from the zooming car on the interstate in Salt Lake City of the Utah state capitol as well) and entered the older bit of city. SPM had been to Santa Fe before, travels boldly, and loves to cook, to eat, and to eat out. I recommend him as a travel companion. We walked up down cobbled sidewalks and peeped into shop windows and sniffed big appreciative snuffs outside likely restaurants.

SPM pointed out the Plaza Diner and praised its food. Through its plate-glass window, I saw an article extolling its meatloaf on the wall. I scampered in to snag a business card--†berboss tours the world searching for the perfect meatloaf. Through another window I wanted to break, I saw a crimson coat. "It looks like fur," RDC observed. I didn't think so. It looked like shearling Persian lamb to me, and wool or wool with lambskin I have no ethical problem with. My mother recently offered me a coat belonging to LML, my great-grandmother, a "very nice red wool coat..." and I thought it would be nice to wear something my great-grandmother once wore, "with a mink collar" and I declined. This is the edge of the ethical razor I walk.

We wound up at a restaurant called Pasqual's on the corner of Don Gaspar and Water Streets (I think) which I recommend wholeheartedly, full-stomachly. It had Mexican and Indian decor, paper-cuttings strung from the ceiling that reminded me of HEBD, a large table in the middle of the cheek-by-jowl floor with a huge bowl of apples on it. Our server was excellent (an important point for me) and the food was exquisite. My belly was already tense from lunch and I stuck with the unspiced: alderwood smoked salmon with capers and frybread. RDC and RPG both had what we called the Mexican pu-pu platter, whose real name I now forget, that had everything. SPM had chicken satay with a delicious peanut sauce. Everything was excellent, subtly and artfully flavored.

After some more walking around, we had a drink in the Hotel St. Francis. This is where we're all going to stay next time: it was only slightly more expensive than our hotels and motels on the strip, but it had character and style and, as someone said, a pedophile's dream of mantelpiece (lots of cherubs), plus a patio that looked straight out of New Orleans. That's another thing about Santa Fe, how much it reminded me of New Orleans. In my limited experience, these two cities have more than any other in the U.S. resisted McDonaldization. Not even Miami with its strong Cuban influence seem as individual as these places.

On Friday, RDC and I walked and toured. First we found breakfast, late enough that we were about to snap the other's head off. There was ugliness with the diner (but I gave the †berboss the card anyway), telling us at 11:05 that they were done with breakfast and wouldn't begin lunch for 25 minutes and then at 11:30 denying any such promise. The hostess was so rude we wouldn't've patronized the place in any event, but now without our tour guide we wanted good Santa Fe food but couldn't remember where we saw last night's crepe place. We found one, though, and a sight for sore eyes it was. In La Fonda (the inn), a French bakery and creperie. First, breakfast. Ham and cheese for RDC and cheese and mushroom for me. We had sat for several minutes despairing of being waited on, but our crepes arrived so rapidly and deliciously that all was immediately forgiven. Then, dessert. Fresh fruit crepes. Blueberries had been erased from the board, so I had blackberries, and RDC had raspberries. Superb.

Now that the other's skull didn't look so tempting, either as a snack or because ripping into it might shut the other up, we could have fun. While waiting 25 minutes to be denied a diner breakfast, we had looked at the work of the Indian merchants who vend on the portals of the Palace of the Governors and all around the plaza. I was looking for a new bracelet. The first cuff my father gave me (in 1988) broke in 1991 (after a summer of working on the other side of a metal detector), and the knotted one I've worn since bites RDC in his sleep. I talked with one silversmith whose work I liked but resisted buying the first piece I liked. I disappointed him, I know, walking away.

I had read the address in a Santa Fe brochure, but it was RDC who noticed it as we walked up Washington with me oblivious. "There's the library." It's a good one. I checked the children's room as RDC checked the email. The children's room has a fireplace and penguindust.com was ours.

We went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My beloved Jack-in-the-Pulpits IV and V were there! What a wonderful surprise! They were on loan from the National Gallery of Art where I first saw them. And is it The Lawrence Tree, of the venerable oak depicted as if the painter (or viewer) lay on the ground at its base and gazed up the trunk through the branches to a thickly starred sky? The only picture I didn't like was of the horse skull with roses. Certainly I love her flowers most, but she detailed leaves and fruit with as much passion and attention as the flowers. I know people see human genitalia in her flowers, but I say. Flowers and animals all reproduce sexually and it's nothing so remarkable if their shapes bear a mutual resemblance.

Then we went to the Museum of Fine Arts, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. There was an exhibit of New Mexican artists' newest work. I looked at one wall and thought it was stained glass, walked over to examine it and saw that it was a wall of slides of the 4000 submitted pieces, with red tape marking the currently displayed 150 or so. The effect was remarkable.

I bought my bracelet. I had seen nothing else I liked there, I have seen nothing else I like in the several years and places I've been looking, and the fact that it was a third more than I thought it was worth paled against the fact of its existence at all, that I could buy it from the artisan, and that I could buy it in Santa Fe. The artisan, Rick Werito (if you're ever in Santa Fe yourself), nodded when I came back. He gestured to the empty place on the sidewalk beside him. "My friend said this morning you'd be back." (He's have the money and missing piece as proof of my return, even if the friend missed me.) He looked at the torn red skin of my wrist. "You've been trying on a lot of bracelets." He took my arm and slipped the cuff with its three-quarter inch aperture painlessly around my wrist. I grinned. I was glad I'd waited through five whole hours of museum-ing and browsing to be sure, but more I'm glad that no one else bought the piece.

It's thicker than either of other bracelets I wear, a quarter-inch across, and instead of being spherical in the cross section, it's flat on the wrist side and gently curved on the outside. The ends are flattened and flare slightly. I have officially retired the knotted cuff.

Friday night we'd made the mistake of buying tickets to the conference banquet, which served food similar to Taco Bell's in interest and quality. Afterward, we headed back to central Santa Fe. We found a restaurant someone had recommended and made reservations for eight for Saturday night. SPM and Lance did that while RPG and I admired a huge tree in the courtyard. It was strung with white Christmas lights and looked, given its size, our angle, and the blue-black night pierced with stars and little bitty artificial lights, like O'Keeffe's Lawrence Tree. Then we had a drink in La Fonda, where we were the only people under 45--five 30-somethings really stood out. Watching the older folks two-stepping was pretty fun, though. Watching the woman who we thought too old to be a working girl was less fun, and when someone said, "Let's go find the lesbian waitresses," everyone was on their feet immediately.

I don't know how that rumor started, but considering I was the designated driver I was getting maybe a little too giggly to be considered completely sober.

What everyone else really wanted was an excellent margarita, and this drink was run to earth in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (a bar). For me, this place was notable for three reasons: One, as we wove through it, I was conscious of a lot of male attention (and don't think I didn't suck it up), much of it from men in cowboy hats. (I was wearing my new purple dress.) Two, Lyle Lovett's guitar mentor was playing there that night, and when I saw the shrunken old body and nearly blind eyes that had been producing a Roy Orbison-like voice and innovative guitar, I did a double-take. Three, I had the most fun peeing I've ever had in my life.

I walked into the corner where there was but one door and grinned at the two people who were waiting in line. "Hi!" (I can be social in the strangest contexts.) One, Julie, was the hostess that night: it was her wedding rehearsal dinner. The other was Marshall. Julie pointed out her husband-to-be across the room. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt instead of the western garb everyone else was in. Finally, someone emerged slowly from the bathroom, a very old and gnarled man with a cane. Marshall went in. Julie continued telling me about her wedding. Marshall came out. I gestured toward the door. "Oh no," Julie demurred, "I'm just standing here."
"The bathroom hostess!" I exclaimed. "Santa Fe is the greatest town!" I went in. The seat was up. I wasn't about to put it down but once again made use of the experience of several years' worth of peeing in the woods. I came out. "Be glad you're not marrying Marshall," I told Julie. "He's got poor bathroom habits."
"It wasn't me!" he protested. "I touched nothing!"
Well, I wasn't going to impugn the old man.

Maybe you had to be there.

We didn't turn the room fan on before we went to bed and at 2:30 I woke up with nose stuffed solid. Saturday I woke up sick. I dragged myself to the panel Blair was moderating and heard four excellent papers: on translation as art, on how Joyce and Carver punctuate dialogue and the methods' effect on reading, on Argentinian Jewish literature and memory, and Lance's on William D. Howells's and Nietzsche's views of memory and history. Speaking of memory (an unplanned common thread through all four papers), I might actually remember what anyone said if my head hadn't been pounding.

I couldn't bear to spend our last afternoon in bed. The Holiday Inn recommended--I raised my eyebrows as well--Maricosa del Playa, featuring Mexican seafood. While my soup was actually sliding down my throat, it made me healthy. The bottom half inch of broth, whither all the flakes of whatever had settled, cleared my sinuses right up. I was skeptical of anywhere a Holiday Inn would recommend, but oof, this was great stuff. RDC had octopus country style. Who'd have thought there was such a thing. Anyway, this is another fantastic place.

Unfortunately this fit of wellness didn't last long into our visit to the Museum of Indian Art and Culture. I staggered through a part of it, and then we went home to nap. Except I couldn't sleep. I fretted in that way unique to sick people who can't sleep--didn't Rush Melendy thrash around in such a bed? The Four-Story Mistake, chapter V: Rock-A-Bye Rush. No, that bed was just lumpy. Someone has a bed full of pins, crumbs, and other bits that make sleeping impossible. Maybe the Never-Clean-Up-Your-Room Cure in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Anyway, I couldn't sleep. RDC was snoring, too, which really annoyed me: he wasn't sick, but he was sleeping, and furthermore, he never snores when I want him to sound reminiscently like a Labrador Retriever.... Rationality was my strong suit here, clearly.

That evening eight of us set off for La Casa Sena: RDC and me, SPM, Lance, RPG, Blair and Jen, and Blair's friend Peter. Of the latter I hadn't thought much when I met him briefly Friday evening, and though he spoke just as little Saturday night, when he did speak he was unexpectedly witty. Supper was good, but considering we spent the grocery money on it, it wasn't as good as Pasqual's. I was the only one who had dessert (which was okay, billwise, since I don't drink, and explains why I'm Boys Husky (Leonard's size in Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars). Jen's from Aberdeen, or her father is, and we discussed what a freak show that town is. She calls the Nordic Inn the No Dick Inn because that's what the Monkees called it. I forget how she met the Monkees. It was also over this dinner that Jen admitted to eating guinea pig (Shelley, tell Wilbur to watch his back) in Honduras or Costa Rica or somewhere. We were a batch of carnivores that evening and discussed rattlesnake, alligator, bear, turtle (the only reptile I've eaten), etc., and then our favorite meals whether meat or not. It's great fun to go out to eat with people who like to eat. And who appreciate wine with their meals. Sigh. I'm such a reject.

And Sunday we came home.

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Last modified 23 October 1999

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