Sunday, January 28, 2007

And Who Are You Wearing?

Apparently the gypsies in Italy are wearing Prada - at least according to an acquaintance who is going to that country in May and has therefore been studying up on the subject. Granted it is probably last years' or maybe even the year before that - but still, I hope it isn't true.

I went to the Internet to verify. Other than two general Wikipedia articles all I could find was the debunking of a bogus "FBI Alert: Gypsy Testicle-Snatching Ring ...Any male traveling alone in the southeast is at risk. Do not attempt to take unknown women of Turkish descent to your room. Do not attempt to engage any type of sexual behavior with unknown Turkish women....These women are responsible for over 70 testicle mutilation cases."

I also Googled "gypsies Prada" and got nothing other than online stores that sold that brand's pret-a-porter, as well as gypsy styled blouses by other manufacturers.

That's good. In a post-9/11 world of alleged clear and present dangers, most of which are apparently hidden, we need something blatantly obvious about which to worry. And pretty much all through history, whether justified or not, these professed and visible villainous vagabonds (often portrayed as the agents of Satan) have played that role.

My most recent experience with the gypsies was on our October 2006 visit to Florence. Prior to that it was in Barcelona in 2002. In both of those places I actually saw them. Before that my only acquaintance with these outcast wanderers was in the pictures painted in my childhood mind by my family - frightening descriptions of kid-snatching, bath-avoiding vagabonds swooping down on unsuspecting innocents and stealing them away for sale to unscrupulous slavers or, even worse, to be kept as unwilling participants in the crude criminality of the nefarious nomads

Suffice it to say that I made it to adulthood with no such untoward confrontations but with a indelibly strong image etched in my mind and emotions.

For Barcelona we had been warned by our advance information materials, by our onsite Elderhostel handlers, and by relatives who had previously made the trip to be aware of the gypsies and their various scams. Groups of children would suddenly gather around a person grabbing at their possessions like a flock of pigeons pecking at a newly dumped pile of bird food. Beggars would distract someone while their partner picked their purse or pocket. Cutpurses would jostle against you while you waited to cross an intersection. And, my favorite, one gypsy would squirt mustard on the clothing of an unwary tourist. Their confederate would then convince the victim that they had been soiled by birds, offer to clean them up, and lure them into an alley or other non-public space in order to rob them. (The last grift actually did happen to two of our fellow travelers but they recognized it and escaped in time.)

Mars and I were therefore on guard for all of these potential pitfalls: maintaining empty space around our bodies with extended elbows when we stood in crowds, carefully watching over the other when one of us was photographing, and trying to be aware of any other suspicious persons - whatever that meant.

What I wasn't prepared for however was the fact that at least some of the gypsies actually looked and dressed like gypsies - long, loosely flowing multilayered skirts, patterned (usually horizontally striped) tights, black ballet-like shoes, head bandannas and untailored "peasant blouses" - sometimes with brightly clashing colors, but normally in black and white.

And when they came into an area the non-Romany population parted and scattered like a pile of metal shavings being repelled by an like poled magnet.

We received similar warnings about the gypsies in Florence Italy. And we saw similarly garbed representatives of the Roma in the various outdoor gathering places, and observed the same conditioned response from the touring public that we had seen in Barcelona.

For a group of alleged clandestine thieves they hardly seem to be dressed for success. And yet these purported purloiners have survived for centuries. And now apparently a portion of the tribe is even wearing the latest fashions. Since the gypsy lifestyle is a shared communal one, at least some of the tribe is doing well.

Based upon the crowd reaction and my personal response, "Gypsy" is clearly one of the strongest and most enduring labels in the world. Perhaps, like Prada and other fashion houses, the costumed gypsies are the Haute Couture part of the business - establishing the image and identity of the organization - while the "off the rack" guys do all of the day-to-day work and bring in most of the money.

Maybe, in fact, the big name designers stole that whole idea from the gypsies to begin with. And the Romany finally got fed up with being both bad-mouthed and "borrowed" from so they decided to bring some of their more prominent plagiarizers with them into their own more public circle of infamy.

"Hey! If we are supposed to be..." they said to themselves, "...the devil, where's Prada?"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

99 Minutes

Date = 12/30
Time = 5:53 A M (MT)
Phone = 800-***-****
Call Destination = 800 SVC
Minutes Used = 99
Total Charges = $0.00

My longest mobile phone call ever, delineated in all of its colorless basics on our monthly cell phone bill. Possibly my lengthiest conversation of any type. A personal best.

And the day I officially lost my cell phone virginity

"12/30" was the day of our second attempt to return home from New Mexico after our Christmas visit with Monica and Bram.

The day before that we had arrived at the Albuquerque airport around 10:00 A M for a 2:30 PM Dallas flight - during the eighth or so hour of what would prove to be a twenty or so hour snowstorm. The air terminal was busily checking in potential passengers but not receiving or sending out any aircraft. A combination of the rapidly accumulating snow and a pretty intense fog made landings and takeoffs impossible. Planes that should have arrived the night before or earlier that morning hadn't. Still our airline, American, had not cancelled any flights, including the 9:00 A M Dallas flight which didn't have a plane to get on, even if the continually deteriorating weather had permitted it to leave. This very same aircraft was supposed to return later from Dallas and become our 2:30 flight. The 11:00 flight to "The Big D" was also nowhere to be seen.

Mars and I settled into a soft couch in an upper level lounge with a really great view of the lack of activity on the outdoor airport and waited patiently for some official word of what was (or was not) to happen. And we quickly realized that while our catbird seats provided a great view, and a near perfect circle of quiet from the hustle and bustle of the airport - it also was totally immune to the sound of the various public address announcements, some of which we very much wanted to hear. So, restless as always, I volunteered to go downstairs to the boarding gate area and listen for "the word".

Shortly thereafter the agent at our American Airlines boarding gate announced that he would be passing out pieces of paper with the 1-800 phone number that could be used by "those of you who wish to rebook your flight at this time."

"Should we?" several people asked.

"If I were you I would be doing it." He answered. Meanwhile none of the flights were listed as cancelled, or even late for that matter, on the electronic arrival/departure boards. I grabbed a piece of paper and resumed my pacing.

Fifteen minutes later he announced again that he was handing out the phone number. Since there was no one queued up to talk to him I went up and asked specifically about out 2:30 flight. "Oh, it's cancelled." He said. And he quickly spun around with perhaps the realization that he had forgotten to do something, grabbed the microphone, and announced that the 2:30 flight to Dallas was officially not going to happen.

I went upstairs to tell Mars and to call the number on the piece of paper. Stunningly I was immediately connected to a rebooking agent who said we had already been placed on an 8:30 flight the next morning. We went to the kiosk at the airport's Tourist Service desk, found a nearby hotel with a shuttle and a restaurant, phoned, and booked a room. It was my first "emergency" use of our cell phone and I was as impressed as hell - all our problems resolved with less than five minutes of phone time. I, perhaps falsely, attributed our apparent good fortune to the rapidity with which we were able to contact the appropriate authorities - something that we would not have been able to do as easily in our pre-cellular lives. I love technology when it actually does what it's supposed to do.

We got the phone about a year and a half ago. We, actually I, talked about getting one after 9/11 but that urgent need dissipated quickly along with most of the other immediate anxiety occasioned by that event. Eventually we decided it would be an okay idea to have one in case of emergency. I checked out a couple of plans at dealerships and settled on a "Sprint Fair and Flexible Plan" that was offered by an attractive young Hispanic female representative at our local mall. It was the lowest priced of any that I had looked at. Her presentation skills had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The plan included a free phone, which they were out of - but she gave me:

(1) A better model, still gratis, (she must have liked me),

(2) A free one month trial and no start-up fees (additional things she threw in herself because she felt bad that the phone wasn't available and because she no doubt thought me charming - or as Mars suspects she mistook me for Dr. Wilmer, our town's pretty much official pediatrician (and probably hers), whose endomorphic body type, height and Lincolnesque beard are identical to mine),

And (3) an easy to remember phone number (either because she was totally smitten by my animal magnetism or she figured it was shear luck that someone of my age even knew my own name and probably couldn't handle anything much more complicated than all zeros).

So, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, we tiptoed into the communication world of the previous one hundred years. Then, unable to come up with any circumstances when we needed to use it, we turned it off and carried it around with us in that inert state for several months. Every month I perused the bill looking to see if there were any financial penalties for not using the phone and discovering none we continued on with our newly embraced practice of voluntary cell-ibacy.

We took it with us on last year's Christmas visit to New Mexico but I forgot to pack the charger so it died quickly and never was missed. We also brought it and the charger on our May 2006 visit and actually used it a few times - although truthfully never in any situation where it was needed or even where a terrestrial line wasn't available.

And so, armed with our cellular communicator and buoyed by the previous day's telephonic triumphs, we arrived at the airport the next day for our re-booked 8:30 flight. This time our airline wasn't even pretending that anything at all was going to happen that day. We were immediately handed another paper with the 1-800 number and told to call it right now.

So I did.

After I "pressed 1" to talk to a rebooking agent and heard that it was a twenty minute wait until one would become free we settled onto the first available couch and waited.

You really don't realize how totally mediocre a piece of music can be until you listen to it pretty much uninterrupted for close to one hundred minutes and have absolutely no recollection of it all - as soon as it stops.

My right arm cramped so I switched to my left. And then back to the right. Mars held the phone for a while. I worried that I had answered the "Press 1 for..." prompt incorrectly and would end up holding for several hours only to speak to a sales rep for an American Airline VISA card. I pondered the idea of asking Mars to call the same number on a pay phone in case I had accidentally been spun off into some digital state of limbo - doomed to endlessly travel the telephonic universe in search of someone who cared enough to answer.

And I looked around the airport and bonded with my brothers and sisters in arms - tens and twenties of them at a time - all walking or sitting with their cell phone held firmly against their ear - and not saying a single word. Once they were a talking head, now they were more like the walking dead.

Then, while engaged in conversation with another couple, similarly stuck, whom we had met at the hotel that morning, I heard a voice shouting in my ear "Hello, is someone there?"

"Yes! Yes I am here."

Within five minutes we were rebooked onto another airline three days hence. And shortly thereafter we reserved ourselves another hotel room on our still-warm-to-the-touch mobile phone.

An hour thirty-nine of my life that I will never get back - and I didn't even use up my free minutes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

One (and perhaps more) of Our Fifty Is Missing

Mars and I subscribe to "New Mexico" magazine. It's a little bit like our home state's "Connecticut" periodical but with turquoise and denim instead of pearls and polo shirts - and a regular feature called "One of Our Fifty is Missing." This column sardonically relates real-life stories wherein some non New Mexican behaves in a manner that indicates they have no idea of what or where "the Land of Enchantment" is, or even that it is a part of the United States of America.

Most of these situations involve a bureaucrat or service representative informing a New Mexican that their state is actually a foreign country and therefore special postage or a passport is required - or even worse that the thing they want to do just can't be done.

We've mailed things to New Mexico, and flown there, but have never experienced any of these confusions. I have however gotten that "dog watching television look" from people whom I've talked to about the weather that we experienced or things that we did while we were out there like hiking in the mountains. I even get this expression of incomprehension from people to whom I have said "this is NEW Mexico, the state next to Arizona - not the country of Mexico. Right?"

Clearly there is a lot more to this bewilderment than simple geographic ignorance or even a failure to carefully listen. Something imbedded in the collective unconsciousness of even the most learned and world-savvy among us that, whenever we hear the word "Mexico" (in whatever context), makes us automatically think "perpetually sunny, incredibly arid, and hotter than hell" - Montezuma's misinformation revenge.

Today for example at my health club I was telling someone how we had our Christmas stay out there extended several days due to the worst snowstorm in the history of Albuquerque. Now this is someone to whom I have talked for at least a couple of years about our annual (or more) visits to the state, who has seen Mars' and my blog entries about New Mexico, and who himself has expressed a desire to get out to the southwest part of the country to do some of his own photography.

"Just what you went there to get away from", he said - in a tone that implied to me that what we should have experienced was totally antithetic to what we got. I'm sure it was a total unconscious reaction on his part - something that rose up spontaneously from the primitive, reptilian part of the brain and just completely overrode all the rational and second-hand empirical knowledge that he had acquired about New Mexico. Intellectually he definitely knew better - which of course just goes to prove my point. It's a lot like what I believed before I actually went out there.

If you had asked me fifteen years ago what picture came to my mind when I heard the words "New Mexico" I would have said a Georgia O'Keeffe landscape of a bleached cow-skull bathed in intense sunlight on a background of pale dry sand and deep blue sky. I'm not sure this painting actually exists, but even today it is crystal clear in my mind - an artistic rendering that screams from its every pore "hot sun, parched land!" Just the place to go and get nice and warm during the dank, bitter New England winters.

We had seen a retrospective on Ms. O'Keeffe in New York City earlier that spring, and shortly thereafter, while discussing where to go for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mars and I pretty much concurrently said "how about New Mexico?" Among other things we both wanted to see what prompted her stark almost abstract paintings and nonrepresentational colorings - images that drew both of us to that locale event though we were certain that they didn't really exist. So we decided to give it a go early that September.

"Where's the desert?" we asked incredulously as we drove north along I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe through, what turned out to be, the desert - just not the sandy one (that's apparently in the Middle East).

It also is not the one with those big Saguaro Cacti, perhaps THE symbol of the desert southwest. Those gawky green guys are found at a lower altitude in the adjacent state of Arizona - Albuquerque has an altitude of about 5,300 feet while Santa Fe checks in at a lung-choking 7,000. In the climatological world "altitude equals latitude" meaning basically that the higher a place is the colder it is, and the more hostile to any flamboyant types of plant life. Combine that with an average precipitation of about fourteen inches and the fact that every part of New Mexico receives no less than 70% sunshine year-round and you've pretty much got the parched sunny part of my (perhaps imaginary) O'Keeffe landscape. But factor back in the cold-producing elevation that generates Santa Fe winter temperatures in the teens and thirties and makes a good portion of New Mexico's precipitation of the "frozen white stuff" variety, and you can see that not all of the cow skulls are sun drenched and dry.

In truth, most of the geology and atmospheric ambience that we experienced on that first trip - other than dry dirt instead of sand - pretty much matched my preconceptions. (Mars, who tends not to make such prejudgments, probably didn't make any such comparisons.) Except that the nights and mornings were much cooler than I expected. After several more visits at various times of the year I finally caught on to the wide variations in temperature, broadened my expectations and eventually learned to dress appropriately.

We also discovered during a sunrise in Taos at the Rio Grande River Gorge that the imaginary colors which adorned Ms. O'Keeffe's canvases (as well as those of other New Mexican artists) were actually quite realistic and surprisingly commonplace. And that her semi-abstract shapes were equally visible if you just focused carefully and closely on some very small aspect of an otherwise ordinary object - like a kitchen door - and the shapes and shades created by the intense sunlight playing on the geometry of everyday life.

But desert disinformation doesn't seem to be the only nonsense that is imbedded in the misperception portion of our psyches. Inaccuracy abounds at also the other end of the climate spectrum.

A few years ago a former co-worker took a spring cruise to Alaska. While there she got involved in a conversation with one of that state's native-born residents who asked her where she was from.

"Connecticut" Sue responded.

"Oh I could never live there," replied the Alaskan "way too much snow all the time."

Maybe that resident of the forty-ninth state simply confused our state university's name (UConn) with the homophonic territory in northwestern Canada (which WE New Englanders probably think has "too much snow all the time") and figured that we Nutmeggers live in a land that is overrun by dogsleds and snowmobiles rather than Volvos and BMWs.

Or more likely he just has that snow-covered image stuck in his mind - the polar opposite of the perpetually sunny, incredibly arid, and hotter than hell preconception that I had. And like me he needs to get beyond that one-dimensional view by stepping inside the borders of the artwork, walking around the landscape, and experiencing the real picture.

Until then I'm afraid that at least two of our fifty will remain missing.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

(farolito, first light, fireplace & food fotos by Mars) Before we went to New Mexico we joked about the irony of having to go to the desert southwest in order to have a white Christmas. It had snowed in Santa Fe (our destination) a week or so before the holiday and partially because of that city's "let the sun take care of it" shoveling policy there was still a fair amount of the white stuff when we arrived on December 21st and all through our visit. Then, just as we were about to leave for home a week and a day later, it began again - twenty-five additional inches in Santa Fe and fifteen to twenty in previously pristine Albuquerque (into and out of which we flew) - the worst snowstorm in their history.

So we stayed a few days longer.

We went to spend the Christmas holidays with Monica and Bram (daughter-in-law and son). And to do a little of what Bram calls SKIing - Spending Kid's Inheritance - in the markets of Santa Fe.

We began some of the latter before we started the former when we arrived in New Mexico's capitol on the morning after we had landed in New Mexico. After moving into the Casita that we were renting in the Guadalupe district of town (about two miles from Monica and Bram), and checking in with them to see when we could hook up, we carefully treaded down the packed snow clad streets, through the plaza area, and onto Keshi - purveyors of hand-carved Zuni fetishes. Both M & B and we have small collections of these totemic stone animals and our intent was to increase the size of both assortments.

Every animal has its own medicine to offer. This time we picked snakes for both of us. "Snake sheds its skin. This is a powerful symbol of our need to discard old ways, patterns, and perspectives. Snake medicine is that of alchemy, i.e. that which is negative may be transformed into something positive." (according to the Keshi website.)

That done we moved on to another favorite directly on the Plaza, the shop of Aga and her Amber jewelry creations, where Mars discovered and purchased some "White Buffalo" turquoise - a white stone with thin strings of black running randomly through it.

After a little more urban hiking, including the requisite pass through the Native American artisans selling their works a the Palace of the Governors, we drove over to M & B's apartment where we hung out, visited, hydrated, began our seemingly continuous consumption of Christmas cookies, and deliciously fondued (fon-did?). Then we had a few more cookies, made plans to meet the next morning to go on a short winter hike in the hills surrounding Santa Fe, and headed "home".

Like so many of the New Mexican hikes the Dorothy Stewart Trail begins at a small, informally marked parking spot that, if you hadn't known it you wouldn't realize was a trail head. The path is a three mile long out-and-back including two loops at the farthest point in. The snow on the trail was packed down by previous hikers - somewhat dicey footing but all in all still easier to negotiate than the sidewalks and streets of Santa Fe. Alongside it was six to eight inches deep - enough to partially bury the small number of cactus and chamisa that decorated the landscape. The air temperature was probably about thirty but the unclouded sun made us decide to remove our winter Penobscot Parkas and go with vests and unlined shells. Even so, throughout the walk we unzipped, r--zipped, removed and put back on as we wandered in and out of the alternating sections of sunlit and pine-shaded trail.

Santa Fe's elevation is about seven thousand five hundred feet at this point and Mars and I live at sea level. For folks like us distances out here are measured in "NMex miles", similar in concept to dog years. The calculation formula is pretty abstruse but suffice it to say, at this altitude each NMex mile is equivalent to somewhere between five point eight and six point two sea level miles. Remarkably we covered the approximately eighteen NMiles in about an hour and a half. Not however as fast as one couple walking their two dogs and definitely much slower than another pair who were running the trail with Nolan, their Golden Retriever - who, the second time they passed us made a playful effort to steal the almond and raisin snacks that each of us was eating.

We returned to M & B's after the trek for water, tea and (of course) cookies - more visiting - and then dinner at The Whole Hog Cafe, a new local barbecue ribs spot. Back to the apartment for - you guessed it - and then onto our temporary casita home.

The next morning, Christmas Eve, we rendezvoused around ten at the Palace of Governors Museum to meet James the Printer (friend and producer of M & B's personally designed Christmas cards) and to view "Lasting Impressions: Private Presses of New Mexico - A walk through New Mexico literary history into the world of the private press, where art meets technology and personal expression reigns supreme." - featuring works by Gustave Bahman and other luminaries of the printing and graphics world. The museum actually has its own letter press printing shop that produces its posters, brochures, etc. with a pretty complete, operational collection "old fashioned" presses. James does the printing.

After a light (on both the quantity and the chili) lunch at the Blue Corn Cafe we each went back to our respective residences, rested and reunited for an early dinner at the SantaCafe - according to the New York Times (and now us also) "a restaurant to love, offering perhaps the best combination of inspired food and attractive surrounding in the city."

After a surprisingly leisurely meal (especially considering the rapidly gathering crowd in the lobby), and warmed up by the same sparkling wine served at M & B's wedding, we bundled up and trudged across town to Canyon Road - site of the annual Faralito Walk.

Every sidewalk, wall, alleyway and rooftop of this mile and a half, art-gallery-laden thoroughfare was lit by row upon row of votive candles set into a small, decorative paper bags weighted down with sand. Small bonfires (called luminarios) were scattered along the route and attracted small groups of carolers and others simply seeking warmth against the fifteen degree, crystal clear night.

On Christmas Morning Mars and I strolled down to the largely deserted Santa Fe Plaza for a Starbuck's Eggnog Latte and our (second annual) traditional photo of "Christmas Morning at Eight a.m. in Santa Fe."

At around ten thirty we were off to M & B's for pre-breakfast cookies, dried fruits, hot chocolate, and presents. Followed by Monica's delicious homemade buns and (yep!) just a few more cookies. All of this was warmed by the glowing embers of the downloaded New York television Channel 11 fireplace.

Then we all headed to Cochiti Pueblo for their traditional Christmas dances. The temp was in the low forties on the sun-warmed reservation.
Pueblo dances are religious ceremonies, not performances, to which the public is invited a few times each year. There is no photography, no applause and "no conducting business or loud socializing".

There is no explanation provided nor has any of my Googling shed much light on the meaning of the goings on.

The dances are performed in a rudimentary amphitheatre of bleachers imbedded into a hillside on a dirt field surrounded on the three other sides by Cochiti pueblo houses. Two groups (clans?) alternate. Each session lasts about twenty minutes and continues from mid morning throughout the afternoon.

Within each group there are five (or four) main dancers: two men with dark brown body paint, bare-chested with buffalo skins on their backs and heads, two (or one) women wearing dresses with their right shoulder bare and holding vegetation, and another man carrying a small pine tree with an arrow and quiver on his back - and fifteen or so boys wearing white full body clothing with either antelope or ram horns on their heads and using two short sticks to walk as if they had four legs. Occasionally the boys formed two lines and the buffalos and/or girls danced between them while seemingly directing them to kneel or stand. But mostly they stood around forming a distant semi-circle around the primary quintet who danced pretty much in place while facing the main audience.

The dancers were accompanied by a chorus of male chanters and drummers some adorned with animal pelts on their heads and several with red Santa Claus toques. Periodically Cochiti women would walk slowly onto the field and pin some money to the clothes of one of the dancers or give them a wrapped object.

If you position yourself properly (as M & B's friend Joa and Monica did, sitting on the ground with your back against the first row of bleachers) the drumbeat which vibrates down into the clay colored soil and travels across the arena floor will reverberate up through the earth, ascend your spinal cord and rattle your brain - apparently in a good way. Something to do the next time that we attend.

Back to M & B's for more hydrating, talking and cookies followed by another second annual tradition - Monica's homemade Pesole with pan-baked cornbread. In deference to Mars' and my wimpish taste buds M limited the recipe to one lonely chili pepper. Maybe next time, as part of our slow preparation for migration to New Mexico we'll ask her to double the dose. Or maybe not. We probably had a few more cookies before we headed back to the casita for the night.

Boxing Day and another hike, this one on the Aspen Meadow Trail off of the road to the Santa Fe Ski Basin at an altitude of about eleven thousand feet and a NMex Mile ratio of around twelve to one.

Mars and I thought that the "meadow" was what we hiked out into (like last May's Caldera trek) - instead it was the starting point of a perpetual uphill walk through the thick aspen forest. Nordic skiers schussed down the hill (they must have walked up - too steep to herringbone) and a few others wearing snowshoes passed us on their way back down. Air temp thirties - bright sun. Important to keep hydrating our here in the desert and to stop frequently and pretend to take pictures while you try to gasp quietly for some oxygen.

New Mexico is a lot about light and shadows, both in its manmade structures that create their own abstract design through their interaction with the natural illumination, and in its natural world where the shade drawn geometry plays itself out on the pure whiteboard of never-to-be-trod-upon snow. In places the frozen precipitation gave off diamond-like sparkles as the sunlight refracted just so off of the dry desert snow.

We paused for photo-ops even when we didn't need to catch our breath.

Back again to M & B's for more leftover cookies, conversation and posole.

The next a.m. (Wednesday) we met at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture on Museum Hill to take in the "Spider Woman's Gift Navajo Textiles" and "Secrets of Case Grande" exhibits followed by a light lunch at the on sight Cafe. We separated for the afternoon. Mars and I went SKIing, and we all reunited to drive off together at dinnertime to Harry's Roadhouse (a local favorite) for some dry rub barbecue. Then back for more cookies and what we thought would be the final farewell of this trip.

The weather forecast was for a quick moving snowstorm to pass through Santa Fe and Albuquerque on Thursday so being somewhat concerned about the trip south we headed towards the "Duke City" in mid morning where we previously made plans to spend the night before flying out early Friday afternoon. We arrived at around ten thirty (no snow), went to the Rio Grande Nature Center and hiked (no snow), lunched at the Aquarium (no snow) and went into the Old Town area to The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (no snow), checked into our hotel (no snow), dined there (no snow) went to bed (no snow) and awoke the next morning. It was snowing.

Even though our flight wasn't until two thirty we decided around ten a.m. to head to the airport (snow). We checked in and found a nice seat in an upper level observation area near our departure gate and quickly noticed that no planes were arriving or leaving (snow). Shortly thereafter the airline began handing out 1-800 number instructions for those who wanted to re-book (snow and fog). Then our flight was officially cancelled and we cell phoned and were told that we had already been rebooked onto an early morning flight the next day.

We found a nearby hotel with a shuttle and restaurant and spent the night there (snow). At 5:30 the next morning, in the snow, we went back to the airport where we were told that our flight was cancelled. More cell phoning resulted in a January 2nd flight (three days hence). So we rented a car and drove back to our original hotel. On our way out of the airport we spotted a coyote gingerly high stepping through the haunch-high, still falling, snow.

"Coyote is called "the trickster" in numerous cultures. Life, however, is the real trickster and Coyote understands this. By accepting situations as they are and dealing with the unexpected willingly and eagerly, Coyote survives. Coyotes shows us that life is unpredictable and uncontrollable and that unexpected occurrences can be viewed as opportunities, not misfortunes. Coyote's wisdom teaches us to live in the moment and wonder at it all."
Every guest in the hotel seemed to be stranded in some way (air or land), and the inn was understaffed with help not being able to get in - or out. But we had our books, food, a warm place to sleep, and no reason at all to need to be home - life was good.

The snow finally stopped on Sunday, the next day so in late afternoon we drove out of our unplowed lot into Old Town to another unplowed parking area and onto the un-shoveled sidewalks for lunch and a return visit to The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. After more lounging and reading at the hotel we celebrated New Year's Eve with an appetizer taco pizza and chocolate volcano desserts at the nearby Applebees.

New Year's Day we drove back up to Santa Fe for a previously unplanned brunch with M & B and a slippery walk around Santa Fe. Then one more final farewell and back to Albuquerque to prepare for what we hoped would actually be our trip back home.

And, uneventfully, it was.

The snake fetish is right - "that which is negative may be transformed into something positive". Especially if you have a credit card, a cell phone, lots of books and the right traveling companion.

- One planned trip to Santa Fe ($$$$$$$$)
- Additional unplanned days in New Mexico ($$$)
- Time with the people you love in your favorite place (priceless)