Santa Fé, New Mexico, to be exact.
It was exhausting.
So … what did I love about Santa Fé? (Besides the turquoise jewellery, that is?) Let’s see: the wonderful cinnamon colour of the tiered adobe buildings, with their flat-topped roofs and rounded corners and protruding support-beams (or vigas) throwing shadows in the sinking sun. The little lights (like candles in small brown paper bags), called farolitos, lining the flat roofs in the winter months.
The Mexican, Spanish and Native American influences: quirky metalwork signs, desert icons and imagery — cactuses, coyotes, a sickle moon, blood-red chillies, feathers and eagles and dream-catchers.
Superb spicy Southwestern cuisine.
The best margaritas in town.
I have to admit it felt a little show-villagey (which of course it is), even though the Pueblo people live on its fringes and make and sell their crafts from within the adobe complex. But there is no better example of sun-dried earth and straw buildings in New Mexico. (A little more disconcerting is the juxtaposition of rustic clay pueblo with the great lumbering pickup trucks driven by the inhabitants because, of course, the Native Americans run the phalanx of casinos dotted all over their land. Illegal on American territory but perfectly legal on the Indian reservations.)
Influence of the Spanish missionaries! But here the Virgin Mary, to the Native Americans, symbolises Mother Nature and their 'worship' is attuned to the changing of the seasons
We drove into the desert, where I was amazed at how the table-top plateaus and shaved conical hills dotted with hardy bushes resembled our Karoo landscapes back home. We climbed and twisted into mountains covered in pigñon (pine trees), juniper and Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous cottonwood trees, their tightly packed leaves now a brittle-dry tan in the frost-bitten air. From a distance the rough and fissured multi-branching trunks were pitch-black and their dense crowns, diffuse caramel clouds — just as O’Keeffe painted them.
And, finally, the cherry on the top. We just happened to be around on the ONE DAY in the entire year that the Jemez Pueblo, one of the more conservative Native American communities, dance in celebration of a bountiful harvest. The public is invited to visit their pueblo, among brick-red sandstone mesas in the Cañon del San Diego, to watch this day-long event — but no cell phones, photographs or even clapping are allowed as it is an authentic religious ceremony.
Filling a dusty corridor between their simple homes, hundreds of dancers stretched as far as the eye could see: men, women and children separated into banks of long wavy lines, shuffling to the chanting of a group of elders and various individuals beating on drums. Then they’d turn, interweave amongst each other, and form new lines. Many of the men were bare-chested, their skin painted a blueish-grey; they wore fox-like animal pelts as tails, sheaves of pine branches were fastened to their arms and there were feathers in their hair. The women were more colourful, draped in heavy turquoise pendants and necklaces as well as earrings, bangles and rings, with strange geometric-style tiaras as headgear; the outlines apparently represented mountain silhouettes, and some had cutout symbols or simple scenes like a coyote howling at the moon. The men rhythmically shook gourds filled with seeds, the women waved pine branches. The dancing would last for around 15—20 minutes, then they’d disperse and the next posse of villagers would file in and begin the dance again. We felt very honoured to be a part of it.
And so I hope I’ve captured the essential spirit of Santa Fé. The rest plays itself out in pictures …
Amazing art and sculpure galleries along Santa Fé's Canyon Road
Mexico Baroque Revival — the Lensic Performing Arts Center