Saturday, January 05, 2013

What was that about hats??

The labyrinth at Museum Hill in Santa Fe was covered by several inches of long-accumulated snow when Mars and I visited it on the projected last day of the world. 
We had hoped to walk this network of bricks to commemorate the winter solstice as we had the past two Decembers – once on our own, and initially as participants in an event conducted and carefully monitored by the local “Labyrinth Resource Group”.  The absence of any signs of life in the form of either shovel marks, or warm bodies could have been either a source of concern or solace – who knew if the L.R.G. had insider Mayan information?
Mars and I chose to believe that the invisibility and inaccessibility of the maze was a propitious omen.  So we walked slowly on to the Museum of International Folk Art and its newly opened exhibit  “New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate and Mate y Más” – the earthy taste of sweetened cacao being more of a source of comfort than mystical meanderings anyway.  Regrettably no samples were included in this display.
 A large part of the draw of Santa Fe (in addition to our daughter-in-law, son and grand-dog – although we discovered it first) is the curious salmagundi of the sacred and the profane that permeates the local art and culture – mostly taking the form of the spiritual being secularized.  This is made even more complicated to me by my continuing inability, even after almost seven decades of earth begun with twenty years of Catholicism, to understand exactly what spirituality actually is – as witnessed by the fact that I turn not to prayer to determine its meaning but rather to Wikipedia:
“Spirituality is the concept of an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the ‘deepest values and meanings by which people live.’  Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life. Spiritual experiences can include being connected to a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; joining with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.”
And to Monty Python:
...Which brings us once again to the urgent realisation of just how much there is still left to own. Item six on the agenda: the meaning of life. Now, uh, Harry, you've had some thoughts on this.
That's right. Yeah, I've had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and, uh, what we've come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts. One: people are not wearing enough hats. Two: matter is energy. In the universe, there are many energy fields, which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source, which act upon a person's soul. However, this soul does not exist ab initio, as orthodox Christianity teaches. It has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved, owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.
What was that about hats, again?”
 …Or was it about chocolate?
Two of the earthly things that distract me in Santa Fe are the Virgin of Guadalupe and “small shots”.
In spite of my religious upbringing I first learned about the Mexican icon of the mother of Jesus on the PBS children’s series “Wishbone”:
“…a live-action television series that brings books to life for kids and their families. In each episode, the star - a friendly Jack Russell Terrier with an overactive imagination - leaps into a new and exciting adventure with his human owner, Joe Talbot and his friends in their hometown of Oakdale. Almost anything sparks Wishbone's imagination - from Joe's school beach party to the family's end of the summer adventure in Jackson Park, and he's reminded of a favorite classic story in which he is the hero!
“[In the episode] ’Viva Wishbone!’ Joe's family friend Julia tells Joe stories from Mexico that help him understand the power of love for his mother. Meanwhile, Wishbone is Juan Diego in the story of ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’.”
(BTW Juan Diego, the character played by the Jack Russell Terrier, was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002.)
Less surprisingly, having lived in the northeastern part of the U.S.A. for all of my life, I never saw a picture of the V.O.G. until Mars and I traveled to New Mexico for our 25th wedding anniversary in 1992.  (I told you we discovered Santa Fe first.)
Images of the Virgen de Guadalupe and other southwestern saints and religious figures are prominently displayed from the back-road churches of Chimayo and other small New Mexican towns to the priciest gift stores on the town squares of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  We discovered the work of one “Santera” (a female “folk” artist who creates religious images) named Lydia Garcia at a small gallery in Taos on one of our early trips and bought several of her pieces over the years – beginning the small collection that has become the southwestern room in our New England casa.  
 The Santero(a) tradition began in the New Mexico Hispanic community toward the end of the 18th century when New Mexican artisans attempted to imitate – to the best of their untrained abilities – the fine-art statues, paintings and prints of Spain and Mexico City.
“In this sense, a santo is holy art because it was fashioned according to a holy prototype and for a holy purpose.
“The theory of icons…was based on the Neoplatonic doctrine of participation, and so it interpreted the icon as a dependent entity that shared the being, holiness, power, intelligibility, beauty, life, and purpose of its model…a folk-Platonic mentality.”  (Santos and Saints: Thomas J. Steele, S.J.)
Apparently even when it becomes a retail object.
One of our first Lydias  (as labeled in her printing on the back) is “Nustra SENORa de Guadlupe [sic]”.  The image is painted on the inside bottom of a Hormel SPAM can with the aluminum sides peeled back and cut into the rays of sun that sometimes surround the Virgin.  It is impossible for me not to feel warm, and fuzzy, and a little sad when I look at this and other similar works that we have (or have not) purchased.

Several years later we had the good fortune to meet Lydia at her small studio space in Taos and her persona was totally in sync with her art and her words.
So every trip to Santa Fe and northern NM becomes for me in part a quest – a medieval romantic expedition rather than an arduous search – for V.O.G.s and similar icons.
Mars and my way of deciding what we will buy is simple – if it hits us both as “I gotta have it” (and the price is okay), then we get it.
This year’s acquisition is (we are both convinced) an abstract representation of the Virgin.  It probably is as technologically opposite from our SPAM can retablo as two works of art (or faith) can be.  This artist is a former architect from a small town in North Carolina.  But the result feels the same to me. 

The “small shots” that I mentioned above are photos that I begin taking – usually after a few days in the “city different”.  They are close ups of architectural features, public sculptures, and signage that create, I hope, an interesting aesthetic image.  And they are either my attempt to participate in the being, holiness, power, intelligibility, beauty, life, and purpose of this part of the world in which we both feel so comfortable – or my unique ability to be distracted by everyday trivia in any environment.

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