Santa Fe Trail Mix

Madrid, N.M.


A shopkeeper tells me that a gorgeous blonde came in not long ago. Only later did he learn it was Cameron Diaz.

It must take a sounder understanding of economics than I have to answer the question, “How in the world can so many art galleries survive in Santa Fe?” There must be one art gallery for every 2.5 people.

Spotting a street called Cristo Rey, I think, “Does the ACLU know about this?” Shocking.

Walking through the snowy woods, I crash and crunch — really loud. I am no Indian, I’m afraid. I’m as silent as an artillery company. Birds fly away in horror.

Must work on this, somehow . . .

I have a newsflash for you: When you step on or brush up against a cactus, with the soft part of your tennis shoe? Hurts.

A particular restaurant in town comes highly recommended — highly. By more than one person. Quintessential New Mexican fare, is the word.

After eating there, I’m forced to admit: Not better, really, than any Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood. I have an even worse thought: Was it really better than a meal in a well-managed Chi-Chi’s?

The next day, someone says, “Oh, that place? It’s a pale imitation of New Mexican food.” We do better at Maria’s — where the carne adovada is serious.

You can get red or green chile, or you can get both — which is “Christmas.”

I see a little homage to Pete Domenici, the longtime senator. I always liked him. Every four years, it seemed, he was on the Republican shortlist for vice president, so every four years he quit smoking, just for a bit.

At least that’s the way I remember it . . .

I see some Hispanic and Indian kids in uniform. Never seen anything more American in my life.

Actually, the most American sight you’ll ever see is the Roundhouse during the legislative session. The Roundhouse is what they call the state capitol. (Guess what shape it is?) Ordinary citizens have descended on the building, making a pageant of democracy.

There are men in cowboy hats and bolo ties. There are people whose hygiene is imperfect. There are young people with multiple piercings. There are lots of handicapped young people, used as props, I’m sure, in the advocacy of some bill. There are hippie-ish women, who must have Joan Baez records at home. There are conservative-seeming businessman types. There’s pretty much everybody.

All of a sudden, I have a most unjaded feeling, about American democracy. Cynicism kind of melts off.

I go up to the fourth floor, to interview the governor, Susana Martinez. There’s no security in the Roundhouse, as far as I can see. You just waltz in, as we all did, everywhere, in the old days.

Martinez first meets with a group of schoolchildren, who will have their picture taken with her. She shakes the hand of each one, asking the child’s name. On hearing it, she then repeats the name. When it comes time to take the picture, a teacher says, “Say cheese! Say New Mexico!”

The kids can hardly get enough of Susana, they’re all over her. She is the first female Hispanic governor in America, by the way. And a conservative Republican. Would Justice Sotomayor call her “a wise Latina”? I have my doubts . . .

Anyway, as the children leave, the governor calls out to them, “Be good!” A teacher turns around and says, “You too!” The governor says, “Oh, I’m trying my best, every day.”

Which she is.

Speaking of America — I have kind of an American day. I’m in the Albuquerque airport, the Atlanta airport, and finally LaGuardia. I deal with Americans of distinctive types in those places — and each dealing, on this day, is a pleasure.

So let me quit while I’m ahead . . .