Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Merry Christmas from Santa Fe

On Christmas morning at eight the main plaza in Santa Fe New Mexico was empty. Marsha took a picture that proves it.

Moments before that a young couple with a brown chihuahua in a bright red sweater had trotted along one end of the area. But now they were gone.

At the other end two craft-selling indians were setting up their blankets under the portico at the Palace of the Governors. We were surprised to see them. But then again Santa Fe is a tourist town and tourists do like to shop.

Twelve hours earlier the plaza and the surrounding area were much more crowded as upwards of twenty-six thousand people (thankfully not all at once) wandered through on their way to annual Christmas Eve Farolito walk on Canyon Road.

The first mile or so of that street is packed with art galleries and a few restaurants. Most of the art shops are right on the street but many are located in the various narrow allies that run off of it. Large and small pieces of sculpture decorate the outside areas. And on Christmas Eve the farolitos come out — in full force.

El farol is Spanish in Santa Fe for "the light." So, farolitos are "little lights" — paper bags with sand in them for weight, and a lit candle set into the sand. Also called luminarios in other areas, these small decorations are placed on virtually every possible spot along Canyon Road — sidewalks, walls, fences and trees. There were also "flying farolitos," although we didn't see them.

After dark, the tourists and the locals (even though they won't admit it) shuffle along shoulder-to-shoulder taking in the sights of the lights. And the sounds of makeshift carol-singing choruses gathered around strategically placed heat-giving fires, and professionally engaged ensembles blowing and bowing classical airs. This particular evening the fires were not that necessary — the temperature was around twenty-five degrees, down from a sunny high of about fifty-five that afternoon. (But it's a dry cold.)

Farolitos also decorated most other parts of the downtown area, including the plaza, along with a more modern version called "electro-litos" that lit up the roofs of some hotels and stores. It's hard to tell which the Santa Fean purists hold in more disdain — the concept of electric farolitos or the (to them) misnamed luminarios.

Marsha and I were in "the city different" to spend the Christmas holiday with our daughter-in-law (Monica) and our son (Bram) who had moved out here this past May from the Washington D.C. area.

We ourselves have been coming pretty much annually to the Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque area for the past thirteen years, having decided for our twenty-fifth anniversary to see what it was about northern New Mexico that made Georgia O'Keefe paint those "abstract" pictures.

Monica and Bram introduced themselves to the desert southwest with trips to West Texas (another favorite of ours) and then southern and northern New Mexico. We all felt immediately at home and wanted to live in this part of the country. They just did it first.

About one and one half hours later we were at their apartment huddled around trays of dried fruit and German sweets (courtesy of the "kids'" grandparents) and opening Christmas presents - one of which turned out to be the very web site on which you perhaps are reading this.

This was followed by a breakfast of English Muffins and more fruit and German goodies, continuing the subtext of our visit — "eat your way across Santa Fe." (To summarize briefly: Zia Diner Shepard's pie, M & B's apartment fondue, Cowgirl Hall of Fame Ribs, chili quiche brunch with Kathy, a friend of M & B, Filet Mignon or Rack of Lamb at Ristras, Monica's Pesole, more quiche with other M & B friends (Janie & Joa), tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches (we needed a break) and gigunto pancakes at The Shed — all interspersed with more dried fruit and Teutonic sweets.)

Having celebrated Christmas in our own secular way we then headed to the Cochiti Pueblo to watch their traditional Buffalo and Elk dances. The weather which at eight a.m. had Marsha and I wearing our down coats in the plaza now called for shirtsleeves, baseball caps and sunscreen in the near sixty degree sunshine.

The dances are held annually on Christmas Day, along with other dances on other days, and are open to the public. No photos are allowed. There was no explanation of the dances which involved performers costumed with buffalo heads or antlers as well as one or two women (depending) and an indian with a small fir tree. All dances were accompanied by a chorus of chanting and drum playing Cochiti men.

During the ceremony members of the tribe distributed gifts, mostly pre-packaged snacks, to the dancers, the chorus and then to the audience. In addition to a good amount of junk food we also got two washcloths and an orange.

We always told Bram that when he left home he had to live in a place that was fun and interesting for his parents to visit. I always hoped that, should he get married, it would be to someone who was as good for him as Marsha is for me, and at their wedding we toasted them with that thought.

Since their marriage I've been noticing couples more closely, particularly our friends and ourselves, and lately I've been appreciating even more the fact that being half of the right couple is a major part of making you into the right individual.

Being in the right place with the right person is just about as good as it gets.

Merry Christmas from Santa Fe.

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