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)

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