USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
After my fun and games with a pair of dormant security guards in los Alamos, it was about 8.30 pm when I finally arrived in Santa Fe. First thing I needed to do was to try to find a room. This led to an impromptu unguided tour of the city as I must have driven around the city three times going to motel after motel. But "no vacancy" except for one, that wanted $89 for the night.
"But it is Santa Fe, sir"
Well, yes maybe it is but I only want to rent a room, I don't want to buy the motel. I'll sleep in the car at that price!
Nevertheless I'd read so much about Santa Fe that I was determined to stay here and visit it properly, so I was determined that I would find a room somehow. My intuition had never failed me yet. So casting my net wider and going out of the city, even the usual "back onto the Interstate and off at each exit" failed to produce a motel.
I'd driven past the same places two or three times out here too, before some unaccountable wrong turning led me to the back of a small commercial lot with a Motel 6 and a "vacancy" sign. And I was lucky too, because by the time I got to the front of the queue (yes, there was a queue, and quite a queue at that), there weren't many rooms left to choose from.
"Is that $59, Eric?!?"
"But it is Santa Fe!".
And the wonderful sightseeing tour I'd just had (Santa Fe looks absolutely brilliant by night) of course meant that by the time I'd got the hotel sorted, it was 10.00 and all the restaurants in this quarter were closed. Except one, a "Denny's". Well, I wasn't going back into the city as I'd probably get lost and never ever find the hotel again, so Denny's it was.
Now for those of you who don't know what a Denny's is, well it's a sort of Lunch Garden / Flunchy / Little Chef, but way downmarket.
So why mention it, then .
No, don't knock "Denny's". I've eaten far worse food than this, for much more money too. There are many worse places than this to eat, except at 10.30 in the evening when there's nowhere else to eat at all.
So first thing I did next morning was to take a wrong turning again! I foung plenty of motels I'd missed the night before, and ended up stuck up the wrong end of an impasse.
Of course, I am never lost. I merely take the scenic route to anywhere. When I used to drive coachloads of tourists all over Europe and occasionally take an alternative route, if anyone ever said anything about it I would always reply "Don't worry. I'm not going to charge you extra for the sightseeing tour".
In this case, I had an unexpected view of the I25 looking across the city in the distance
I also took a shot in the opposite direction, across the new housing on the edge of the town.
So then, I was obliged to retrace my steps back down the hill, and back into the city centre. There was nowhere to park, so I found a mall on the edge of the centre which was about 15/20 minutes walk away. The walk would do me good.
The City Centre
One trader back in the 19th Century took one look at the Spanish-style adobe buildings and described it contempuously as "a prairie dog town", which just goes to show that current American attitudes to beauty, art and culture are nothing new.
The building on the left just here is, I reckon, a modern building but built in the traditional style. It looks like some sort of official building.
If I hadn't dictated over my notes in error, I could tell you what it is.
A little way further down the street, is a more traditional late 19th century building which (if I remember correctly) is the local theatre.
The "art-deco" scrollwork on the roof was particularly interesting, as you can see. Liz reckons that they are seahorses. I've no idea why anyone would want to pick a nautical theme for out here.
This building on the left that resembles a church or whatever is in fact the Museum of Fine Arts, and has a large display of paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, who allegedly did most to make Santa Fe the place it is today. I'm not sure that I would like that as my epitaph though.
I took the photo from the edge of a car park in which were, not cars, but dozens of stalls selling paintings and drawings of all sorts of subjects, presumably in her honour. The quality of work on offer however did not tempt me to spend my money here though, I have to say.
This is the front of the Palace of the Governors. Here you can see a great number of native Americans who use the shelter of the front overhang to display their home-made local artifacts such as hand-made rugs and blankets.
I took the opportunity to have a close look at a couple of these hand-made rugs and blankets. Being formerly married to a woman who could talk for days non-stop about the technical capabilities of each individual who had contributed to the making of the Bayeux Tapestry nearly 1000 years ago, I'd learnt a thing or two.
Thanks to Nerina, I can tell at a glance the difference between hand-woven, manual machine-made, and electric mass-production machine-made. So I reckon that each of these native American homes must have a hundred modern electric weaving machines in the front parlour to do the "hand-made" bit. Furthermore, the phrase "made in the Philippines" sewn on a label tucked deep inside the hem obviously refers to the Philippines that is about 5 miles south-west of Kayenta and not a chain of islands in the Pacific.
But the plaque on this memorial intrigued me. The memorial itself is to people who died in the various fighting that took place around this part of New Mexico in the mid 19th Century, and it uses such terms as "savages", "rebels" and so on.
Then, someone else has inserted a plaque on the memorial, to "explain" the use of these "intemperate" terms.
Political correctness gone totally crazy, if you want my opinion. And in the same country too that has just killed over 5,000 innocent civilians this last year or so in some foreign land that no American had ever heard of before, because they have the same colour skin as some others who allegedly flew two aircraft into some buildings yet who (according to United Airlines and American Airlines' passenger lists) weren't even on the planes at all.
On the left is a photgraph of the Cathedral of St. Francis. It's not the original church of 1610, but a more modern replacement of 1869-1886.
Curiously, in an area governed by the USA with a considerable amount of Spanish and Mexican historical influence, the cathedral was designed by a Frenchman - Jean-Baptiste Lamy.
This building is the Institute of American Indian Art Museum.
On the edge of the city centre is the "Scottish Rite Temple" - whatever that is all about. I imagined that it was something to do with historical Scotland, considering that there was a guy outside playing the bagpipes.
"If you let it go, it will probably stop squealing".
The tune that he was playing was that fine old traditional Scottish air called ... er ... "Amazing Grace". For the non-technically initiated reader, this is a typically American tradition called "truncated memory span". Under this condition, something is deemed to be historical, traditional and ancient if it is more than 6 months old.
Now I thought it was something to do with Scotland, but when I saw part of the membership roll, I noticed such fine old traditional Scottish names such as "Kleinknecht", "Helberg", "Gans" and "Friedman". Quite!
They could be Freemasons who (quite rightly, in my opinion) are too ashamed to admit it, or they could be remnants of the Old Order of Templars who (so legend had it) took refuge in Scotland after they were thrown out of France.
On the other hand, they could be men who just like to wear skirts.
Now when I got to Santa Fe centre, there was a festival going on, the Festival of the Chili. As you can see, there were bunches of drying chili everywhere so for me, this was paradise!
So I decided on a nice plate of fried beans and chili - after all, this is the nearest I'm going to get to a real Tex-Mex, and there were loads of little stalls all around here, all selling Grandma's Home Cooking with chili!
But would you believe it - anything with chili and beans in it also had meat in it too! This was sad. My watering mouth just couldn't take this in.
Eventually I found a stall advertising vegetarian chili and beans, but, wouldn't you know it - they'd left it all at home.
By this time my mouth was watering out of control. This inevitably led to a frantic search of the neighbourhood, and I eventually found a restaurant advertising fried beans and chili.
I checked to make sure there was no meat in it, and this was confirmed - so eyes down for a delicious plate of fried beans and chili.
No meat, but when it came, there was cheese on it (GRRRRR!!!!!). By now, though there was no stopping me and I couldn't care less. It was only 11.00 in the morning too, but what the hell! Only one place that all of this was heading, even if I was going to be ill for a week.
So when all that was over, back out onto the main square.
The Car Show to Start All Car Shows
Well, a sort-of car show as there were three cars in total. I can have a car show bigger than that on my own. I was pretty disappointed with this turn-out.
Someone had obviously gone to a good deal of time and money to prepare this one, but I didn't really see the point. I mean, it's not as if you can actually use this car for anything that a car is supposed to be used for, is it?
If someone took this car along for an MoT test, an examiner would make short work of this lot. And not only that, the steering ... er ... wheel would never pass the Construction and Use regulations.
I think that it's a nice idea to use a mirror to let people see how much time, effort and money you've spent on the underneath of the car. It's all for no purpose, though. I mean, you don't really intend that your car is going to spend a large proportion of its time upside down in a ditch now, do you?
This Cadillac (it is a Cadillac, isn't it? I seem to remember that it is but I've dictated over my notes) is better because at least it looks like a car, and you can actually do car-sort of things with it. Like drive it.
But even so, I wouldn't really like to take it down to the shops or leave it outside a bar or a night club. Certainly not anywhere in the United Kingdom, anyway.
I actually took so many photographs of this car so that I could please my friend Marianne with whom I went to Rome for Christmas and New Year 2000/2001.
She's an practising Christian and devout Catholic and went on a pilgrimage for the Holy Year, but couldn't persuade any of her practising and devout Christian friends to go with her As she didn't want to go alone, yours truly (an atheist) accompanied her.
She'd be pleased to see someone making such a public and manifest display of his faith.
But after all that, all said and done, this is the car for me. Even if there had been more than three cars in this display it still would have scored high marks.
It's a De Soto saloon of (I reckon) the late 40s or early 50s - fairly straight, fairly clean, fairly tidy, totally practical and eminently useable. Yes, I'd have one or two of these.
Santa Fe was formerly part of Spanish America, and when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, the city and surrounding area became part of Mexico. However in 1846 the Americans captured the area from Mexico following in a naked act of oppression against its Mexican rulers, ostensibly to "protect the American settlers" in the area.
Of course, the question of what the American settlers were doing in New Mexico in the first place if it wasn't to steal the land anyway, is rather overlooked by most American historians.
In fact, the area was so rich in silver and other minerals, and so cut off from Mexico proper that a group of traders from Franklin, Missouri, led by William Becknell, decided that they could exploit all this by sending wagons full of merchandise to Santa Fe, and bringing back the silver for their own profit. The route they carved out of a more-or-less uncharted wilderness became known as the "Santa Fe Trail", which continued in use until the coming of the railway in 1880.
This plaque which is on the corner of the main square, commemorates the trail,
The city square was the place where all the dealing took place, and it was certainly profitable. One wagon left Franklin with goods for sale valued at $35,000, and returned with bullion that sold at $180,000. Not surprising that the profits to be made attracted hordes of the more ... er ... unscrupulous members of American society, and even less surprisingly that a nearby national government would eye up all the vast profits being made from this kind of trade, note the distance and difficulty of travel for this area's own national government, and decide to take the profits for itself.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
Strangely enough, when Mexico decided in 1917 to use the same tactics to retake this area that the Americans had used to capture it in the first place, this led to America's intervention in the First World War.
Walking back from the town centre to the mall where I'd parked the car, I took a different route through the old residential centre.
On the left there is a photograph of a modern adobe residence that has been built in the traditional style.
This bungalow here is a brick-built dwelling. If I had to guess, I would say that its possibly late 19th or very early 20th century style. But then I don't have a clue anyway.
This house on the left, though, was extremely interesting. It has the air of being just a normal unpretentious suburban dwelling of nothing special at all, yet if you look closely you can see all kinds of weird wooden sculptures on the front lawn.
This is in fact the home of Gaspar Naranjo, a celebrated sculptor of wood. His carvings, made mostly from aspen or sugar pine, are intended to declare his cultural heritage and his religious faith.
Although his works are typically "santero" in their basic style, Naranjo is adept enough to insert his own unique touches to give them a great deal of individualism and to cut loose from the mainstream of santero art. Presumably cutting loose with a chain saw, I mused.
Now one book I once read had criticised Santa Fe quite severely, poking fun at it for its "modern, fake-adobe styling". Well, fair enough, the modern stuff may well be fake adobe, but it's the effort that counts and from what I've seen they've made a real effort to get modern construction to blend in with the existing surroundings.
This building here might be new and it might be fake adobe, but it's certainly not modern. It sits quite well with all the traditional buildings as you can see.
I suppose that modern writers and architects would like it to be made out of concrete glass and steel, so that it would look like the Broadgate Shopping Precinct in Coventry or the new St. Pancras Station in London.
Now imagine how glass and concrete would look here. There'd be an outcry, and rightly so. This is the first place in the States where I've seen the inhabitants and City Hall actually so proud of their heritage that they've continued the tradition. They shouldn't be knocked for that and as far as I'm concerned the rest of the United States can learn an important lesson from here.
Just to show that not all Americans are big loud-mouthed bullies who want nothing better than to kick a few dark-skinned peasants around a bit and steal all their oil, here's a pleasant sight.
If you were to listen to most of the American media, you would get the impression that no-one in the States is opposed to the War to Steal Iraq's Oil I wrote this in 2002, remember. Here you can see that there IS some opposition to the bushbaby and his bully-boys who want to steal Iraq's oil because they've used up all of theirs, and this opposition isn't afraid to publicise itself, nor to leave its car in a supermarket car park.
But the really sad and depressing thing to bear in mind was that this was where I turned for home. Only one way out of Santa Fe and that was northwards, in the general direction of Denver Airport. All good things have to come to an end, and this moment was the beginning of the end of my journey.
Pity. I was having such a great time. I was really sad to leave. I contented myself with the thought that as one door closes, another one opens. I was sure that there were still many more exciting things waiting for me.