Thursday, January 05, 2012

Santa Fe Light

Santa Fe, New Mexico is not the same as any other place on earth. It even calls itself “The City Different”. Some say it is the altitude – 7,000 feet. Others say the attitude – sometimes called Santa Fe Style. I say it’s the light.

The sun really doesn’t shine all of the time in Santa Fe. But it sure does seem that way. This is, of course, because the source of this city’s natural light – a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions – is in fact unlike that of the rest of the world.
This icon is a sacred image to the Zia Indians of New Mexico and is one of the official state symbols appearing on its flag and its newly designed license plate.

Like so much of southwestern iconography the Zia Sun is rich in both Christian and Native American beliefs – the result of the attempted “forced conversion” of these indigenous peoples to Catholicism by the Spanish in the 17th century. And the adaptation of these Catholic credos into beliefs and practices which allowed this new externally imposed ideology to exist alongside but not replace their existing worldview. Today they say that they still practice both religions.

The shape of the Zia Sun is that of a Christian cross. Yet the four arms refer to: the points of the compass (north, south, east, and west); the seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter); the periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night); the seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age); and, the sacred obligations one must develop (a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of others) – the pillars of Zia culture and religion.

The landscape of “The City Different” is imbued with the same all-encompassing luminescence. The thick walls of a traditional adobe house absorb the sun’s four-pronged radiation and transfer it gradually (like a time release capsule) to the interior. And the coldest day in Santa Fe still contains a sense of warmth – like the heat of the outdoor hot tub at Ten Thousands Waves Mountain Spa still permeating our bodies as we walked back to the changing rooms in wet bathing suits and thin cotton kimonos on a twenty degree, starlit night.

Similar to the Zia Sun, Santa Fe itself is a blending of contradictions which just don’t seem that way unless you think about them – like the commonplace appearance of “The Virgin of Guadalupe” in seriously secular settings, such as serving breakfast coffee on hand-printed hot pads.
And the subjects of every day life, and their silhouettes, which present themselves as objects of art to even the most amateur of photographers. (In fairness it should be pointed out that to a stranger the “objects of every day life” in Santa Fe sometimes can be as atypical as the light that illuminates them.)

It has seemed this way to Marsha and me since our first visit to New Mexico in 1992, and it has continued thus through our most recent trip over this past Christmas holiday.

We look forward to some day being permanently different

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