Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So, what's your sign?

Even though Mars, Sandy and I began every day in New Mexico with a check of our horoscopes in the Santa Fe newspaper I really don't believe in the science of astrology. I do however think that other signs are important.

New Mexico state highway signs for example. Other than a few side streets in Santa Fe and Albuquerque virtually every road in the Land of Enchantment, regardless of length or surface condition, seems to be identified by black numerals in a red-on-white Zia sun symbols. State Road 414 in Ojo Caliente, the site of the mineral spring spa at which we stayed, is a one-quarter mile, tar-covered turnoff connecting downtown Ojo (two restaurants and an herbal store) to the eponymously named resort. We walked the complete length of it several times - past its two retail shops into town for lunch and again for a photo shoot. A publicly enumerated five minute stroll seems strangely antithetical in a part of the country where a hiker can trek for miles on a barely discernable trail and see absolutely no signs of humanity other than the faint print of a lug sole in the dry dirt.

Pretty much a right-turn in place from the SR 414 sign is the Ojo Caliente cemetery. Like other small town New Mexico graveyards most interments seem to be near or on the surface of the dry, high desert hardpan and are marked mostly by single crosses (normally wood or metal) and decorated with artificial flowers and what appear to be personal items that were important to the departed person.

This somewhat lumpy bodily placement gives me, a New Englander used to burial places that ensure the deceased is totally out of sight, a slight feeling of incompleteness, a signal that the dead ones are not totally gone - which of course is the belief behind Day of the Dead ceremonies and the subject matter of many Magical Realism novels. To further confuse my sense of non-separation between these two planes of existence some of the gravesites are reserved in advance by name allowing people to visit themselves in their future home.

One of the merchants on SR 414 was talking to me about the new ownership of the Ojo Caliente Spa. "They brought in an outside manager to fire all the locals." He, a self-professed local himself, told me. "Someone tried to run her off the road one night. She quit shortly after that. That's just the way people are out here."

Two days later we took a trip to the nearby town of El Rito.

1: Start out going NORTHEAST toward US-285. 0.1 miles
2: Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto US-285. 1.5 miles
3: Turn LEFT onto NM-111. 3.0 miles
4: Turn LEFT onto NM-554. 9.1 miles
5: End at El Rito, NM US

We went there ostensibly to try and create our own "El Rito Art Tour" which was scheduled for the weekend after we left for home. Mars and I really went for the New Mexican small town ambiance. And I personally wanted to photograph the local signs which I figured would be mostly homemade since "That's the way people are out here."

The three of us walked through the town; lunched at its one restaurant; bought ice cream sandwiches at its one grocery store; and photographed its one Catholic Church. I was about to take pictures of a sign-laden pickup truck that seemed to be telling, at great length, of the overstepping of authority by the state's Child Welfare Agency in regard a family member of the vehicle owner when he arrived on the scene and began to amplify, with great emotion, on the story. After a few minutes a friend of his drove up to negotiate the delivery of a mattress and distracted his attention - which I took as a sign (and an opportunity) for us to leave.

In other parts of northern New Mexico I found some additional notices that seemed to speak for themselves - which actually is what all good signs should do.

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