Saturday, January 06, 2018

Culture Wars

Marsha and I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the same reasons that we vacationed there – its unique combination of art, architecture, outdoor activities, museums, food, people and overall cultural/open-air ambience. 
But “The City Different” is not just a tourist Shangri-la.  It is also a real city dealing with real city issues – albeit ones that never came up on our radar back in quiet New England.   For example there is this pending clash between the fine arts and a less rarified leisure activity.  The Teseque Indian Pueblo is planning on building a Casino-Hotel Resort on land that it owns adjacent to the Santa Fe Opera.   And it brings to the surface an underlying tension in “The City Different” between those residents who basically just want their hometown to be a place with good paying jobs, decent schools, and affordable housing – and what I will call the Townie-Tourists (double Ts) who just want to settle down among all those things that attracted us here as visitors.
(BTW – one in six houses within the city limits of Santa Fe are owned by out-of-staters.  I suspect that just about all of these owners of second or perhaps third homes are members of the double-T group.  And may have even more of a tourist-centric viewpoint than the rest of us.)
Now, The Santa Fe Opera is a world-renowned venue for classical musical theater that plays host to a variety of operas each summer.  Situated on a mesa with panoramic views of the surrounding high desert of New Mexico, the audience faces west toward an ever-changing horizon of sunsets and thunderstorms, which are frequently visible throughout many productions when no backdrops are used.  Sixteen percent of the jobs in Santa Fe, about 9,800, come directly or indirectly from tourism.  And the opera is one of the town’s major visitor attractions whose impact on New Mexico's economy has been calculated at more than $200 million each year according to the Americans for the Arts web site.

Marsha and I attended our first SF Opera performance this past summer – “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.”  It was her initial opera experience and my second.  My introduction was arguably more extravaganza than musical art – a presentation of “Turandot” at the Hartford Connecticut Civic Center featuring a menagerie of animals (including several camels) marching across the dirt-covered basketball court which sat atop the hockey rink. Steve Jobs was the perfect opera for us – or me anyway – ninety minutes, one act, entirely in English.  And the desert sunset was more impressive than the long-legged desert animals.
The potential casino site is wholly owned and controlled by the Tesque Pueblo, which has the total legal right to build whatever they wish on the land with no outside oversight.  So it is definitely going to happen.
However, as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Unknown is what effect - if any - traffic, noise and light from the development will have on the open-air, summertime opera, where the night sky seen from the hilltop theater is as much a part of the experience as the arias.”
The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce says the new casino will bring jobs and visitors to the city and that the Tesuque Pueblo and The Santa Fe Opera will be able to work together to address the opera’s concerns. “I think they can respect each other as neighbors.”
But, as one likely double T letter writer opined, “It is impossible to imagine how any design could solve the problem of lights and traffic noise that inevitably would effect the opera…Has [the developer] ever attended our opera, and does he understand what conditions a required for a successful performance?”
And a non-opera lover observed sarcastically that he was certain “[the casino] will be overrun by all these expensively dressed, elites driving their Range Rovers and Porsches before and after every opera.”  (For the record – we drive a bright red Jeep Renegade.)
Meanwhile at the south end of town – ours actually – The Flying J Corporation is attempting to build a new Truck Stop (what they call a “Travel Center”) at the north end of the scenic Turquoise Trail and within a few miles of several semi-rural communities (including Rancho Viejo) – at the entry point for most first time drivers into Santa Fe.
Accusations of “ruining the character of our city” and “ambient light destroying the black star-lit heavens above us” versus charges of “looking down on hard-working truck drivers who deliver the food you eat” and “trying to preserve your precious, imaginary little town” fly in the editorial pages and at town meetings.  The developer and their supporters argue that the truck stop will bring more jobs to the city.  Jobs are a good thing.  In fact Marsha and I would not be in a position to oppose this project if we had not had interesting, well-paying ones.  Unlike the casino issue – the outcome of the truck stop looks to be in doubt.  For one thing a Truck Stop already exists about twenty minutes south of this site at the San Felipe Travel Center and Casino.
Also there are other squabbles.  In a bitterly debated referendum, last May the voters turned down a proposal by Mayor Javier Gonzales to establish a sugar tax on soda in order to fund a Pre-Kindergarten program in the schools.    

And certain members of the Catholic Spanish Community once again enraged the local Indian population with their annual public celebration of the “Entrada” wherein they reenact what they say was the friendly welcome that the Spaniards, under the guidance of the Virgin Mary, received from the Pueblo Indians when the Conquistadors arrived in Santa Fe.  The Native Americans remember the event as being considerably more coercive, violent, bloody and deadly.  This quarrel has festered for many years, even resulting in the placement of police sharpshooters on the rooftops around the town Plaza in order to prevent violence last year.  Eight demonstrators were arrested this time.  The charges were later dismissed.
 It seems that fervently felt internal disagreements are as much a part of the character of the City Different as are the art, architecture, outdoor activities, museums, food, people and overall cultural/open-air ambience that attracted us and many others. 
But, at the end of the day, Marsha and I still have the sunset: either descending behind the nearby Jemez Mountains as seen from our back yard patio; or spreading across the endless sky on our drive home from the independent contemporary arts cinematheque on Old Pecos Trail; or abstractly portrayed on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe; or turning the adobe walls on Canyon Road a subtle shade of pink. 
Or – we can only hope  – radiating through the open backdrop at the Santa Fe Opera. 

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