Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sound Santa Fe

Tourist-less sunrise.
We catch sight of the Spitz Clock.
After we hear it.

It was so quiet in the Santa Fe Plaza on Christmas morning at eight that we could hear the Spitz Clock ticking.

It would be wrong to say that we had never noticed the twelve-foot tall timepiece before. Over the years we probably have checked the accuracy of our own watches against it many times. But it definitely was the first time that we perceived its presence with our ears.

Not that Santa Fe is a noisy city. But, like any large gathering of Homo sapiens, it does have a certain inherent background buzz whose presence settles into your ears - and isn't recognized until it is absent.

The "City Different" does have its spikes in loudness however. There was the pail-banging, sleep-interrupting trash collection that took place outside our rental casita at 3:45 a.m. on Christmas morning. And the chest-pulsating sound wave emanating from the trunk-mounted subwoofers of a slow-passing lowrider - ironically as I sat inside quietly trying to recreate in Haiku the sensation of Cochiti Pueblo Buffalo Dance drumbeats pulsating up my spine from the ground on which I sat and the dancers performed.

But in general the town's decibels are pretty much at the easy listening level - laid back with a soft, quirky rhythm, like the Getz/Gilberto "Girl From Ipanema" that Monica and Bram played for us one evening during our most recent holiday visit. It is the kind of ambience that doesn't require a loud voice in order to be heard - just a clearly articulated thought and interested listeners.

It snowed on our third night in town - four or so inches and all over by the time we awoke around 6:30 a.m. We were out and about and walking up Canyon Road two hours later along with, well, basically nobody else.

There were in fact about as few fellow travelers tramping along the canyon that morning as we came across on our later hike with Monica and Bram through the snowbound pine trees near Valles Caldera. As on that deep woods journey, all that we basically heard were the sounds of ourselves.

Canyon Road normally bills itself as the "art and sole of Santa Fe [with] more than 100 art galleries and studios, unique specialty shops, world class restaurants, and the historic adobe architecture that gives Santa Fe its legendary southwestern charm." On Christmas Eve it is the main thoroughfare for the town's annual Farolito Walk - attended (over a four or five hour period) by about twenty-five thousand people, and at least ten times that many paper bag Christmas lanterns. This year we began our night-before Christmas walk early by attending the Flying Farolitos show and then strolled out against the burgeoning influx of spectators. The four of us then returned to M's and B's for a low'key, high-class snack fest and some quiet conversation.

But that would be two days away. On this morning the farolitos were not yet out, the galleries didn't open until ten a.m., and the restaurants even later (as we discovered during our search that forenoon for a soul-warming cup of coffee or tea). When we arrived the freshly fallen snow was already cleared off of the road as well as some of the sidewalks. In most of the unshoveled areas however Mars and I were the first footprint makers. And the subfreezing morning temperatures, in spite of the bright sunshine, kept the clean snow locked in place on the streetside outdoor sculptures.

We passed a white bearded dog-walker who wished us a "Merry Christmas" - a shock to us New Englanders who at home had heard nothing but "Happy Holidays". As the week progressed we discovered that no one in Santa Fe greeted us with that politically correct form of salutation. (The dates at the area museums however did use the newly invented B.C.E (Before Common Era) nomenclature rather than the more familiar B.C. to designate the "negative numbers" of history.) Mars exchanged Christmas salutations, and compared angles and settings with a fellow female photographer who likewise was prowling the area in search of unspoiled photo-ops. A few gallery keepers likewise greeted us impoliticly as they shoveled or brushed their walkways. And that was about it for human contact.

We walked up the canyon as far as we wanted, surprised at how quickly we seemed to have gotten there, and headed back down just as the beginnings of the trade day were occurring. In most places, our outwardbound tracks were still untrammeled.

On Christmas Mars and I wandered into the town square for what has become our own traditional private ritual - early morning Starbucks Eggnog Lattes and the annual "two shadows on the Plaza" picture. There was a steady stream of caffeine seekers at the coffee emporium but never enough to cause a delay. A few regulars greeted each other quietly and then went to their designated seats to sip in silence. A nervous twenty-something woman left her place in line repeatedly to tend to her Saint Bernard dog that was pacing anxiously but silently next to the outdoor newspaper machine to which it was leashed

After our high-cal drinks were drained, and Mars had taken our customary photo we walked largely without speaking back towards our temporary home, and noticed the previously silent (to us anyway) Plaza timepiece.

Then we went to Monica's and Bram's for a relaxed breakfast and gift exchange, a midday visit to the mesmerizing Cochiti dances, and back to their house for Monica's delicious Posole and panbaked cornbread - a southwest Christmas culinary convention that they have shared with us on our two previous Christmas visits as well.

The late author Madeline L'Engle wrote of the need in her life for a "Circle of Quiet" - "...in order to regain a sense of proportion [where] I move slowly into a kind of peace that is indeed marvelous." As did Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, L'Engle found this place "out--away from all these people I love most in the world."

Others of us are able to find that same Circle of Quiet with the people we love most, in the kind of place that allows the simple tick of a clock to be heard publicly.

(photos by Mars)

No comments: