Politics & Policy

Santa Fe Trail Mix

First of all, my apologies for the cutesy title. What I mean is, I’m going to offer a mixture of notes on a trip to Santa Fe. Here goes . . .

‐The trip starts in Albuquerque, about which I’ve always heard one thing: Unbeautiful city, beautiful surrounding mountains. I don’t know whether the former claim is true, because I don’t go into the city: I land at the airport, then leave for Santa Fe. But the latter claim, about the mountains, is certainly true.

‐Of all the accents in English, I think the Mexican is one of the nicest — musical, pleasant.

The accents of native Spanish speakers in English vary wildly: the Cuban, the Ecuadoran, etc. You can hear them all in New York.

‐Is not the New Mexican flag one of our most striking? That yellow-and-red western job? As a result, the license plates are very nice too. In addition to the regular, there is a special plate this year: honoring the state’s centennial.

‐And you can’t praise New Mexico without saying — what a nickname! (The Land of Enchantment.)

‐No doubt, articles on the state’s woes are entitled “Land of Disenchantment.”

‐Everywhere you go in the West, you see things named after Cesar Chavez (or César Chávez, if you like). I’m not a big fan, although I could stand to know more about him. Yet I also suppose that people have the right to name things after people they admire.

Too bad (sometimes).

‐I pass a sign for National American University. Don’t you hear a redundancy in that, or is it just me?

‐I drive up the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe — a passage that’s supposed to be quite scenic. It’s okay, yeah. (I’m being ungenerous, I’m afraid.)

‐I get a kick out of Madrid, N.M. — such a big name, in a way, for such a dinky town. (I think of Berlin, N.H. Also of Paris, Texas. We could go on . . .) (Have not been to Rome, Ga. Would like to. The first Mrs. Wilson, Ellen, was from there.)

‐The thought occurs to me, “I’d like to live in one of these little Turquoise Trail towns for a couple of years, then write some stories, à la Faulkner.” But that takes a particular kind of talent, you see. Bummer.

‐One store has a charming, surprising name: Gifts That Are Just Too Cute.

‐I see a Lone Mountain Ranch, which, confusingly, is set amidst several mountains. At least it appears that way to me.

‐Every now and then, you’re invited to use a Scenic Pullout. I’m thinking — more ungenerosity — “Really?” I mean, a Scenic Pullout should be reserved for something that makes you go, “Whoa.”

But maybe whoa is in the eye of the beholder.

‐Sandoval County reminds me of something: It used to be, when I heard “Sandoval,” I thought of the trumpeter. Now I’m likely to think of the governor of Nevada.

‐Everyone says that the light in Santa Fe is extraordinary — Santa Fe is famous for light. I believe it. But, on the days of my stay, the skies are overcast.

‐A sign for the Indian school reminds me: I have the impression that Indians say “Indian” and white people “Native American.” Just an impression, mind you . . .

‐Funny to see St. John’s College, with Annapolis Harbor nowhere in sight. And the mere thought of the school makes me think I should be speaking Latin or something.

‐Santa Fe reminds me, in some respects, of my hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. The hemp shop. “War Is Not the Answer.” “My Other Car Is a Bicycle.” A branch of Project Tibet.

Let me give you an idle question: Is Tibet the only anti-Communist cause the Left, generally speaking, has ever embraced?

I see an older lady, probably early 80s, with one of those big, old-fashioned buttons that say “Keep Abortion Legal.” She is wearing a most self-satisfied smile, too. Makes me kind of homesick: The streets of Ann Arbor are, or were, paved with such ladies.

A lot of the women in Santa Fe have a weathered look — they’ve been out in the sun and other elements for many years. I like that look.

And the people are friendly, very much including the slackers, the hacky sackers. The “Hey, dude” culture can be sniffy or friendly, in my experience. Friendly is better, of course.

Wouldn’t you like to take a trip with Bill and Ted?

‐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 . . .




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