Tuesday, January 18, 2011

santa fé retrospective

So … I’m afraid it’s taken me a couple of months to get my act together and write about our wonderful exploratory foray across to the other end of the American continent.

Santa Fé, New Mexico, to be exact.

We’d heard (and read) that it was a major artistic centre, but weren’t quite prepared for how ‘major’ that turned out to be. Being a lover of extravagant jewellery, for one, I was pretty excited to check out the turquoise silverwork the area’s come to be known for, since there are still remnants of ancient mines, particularly in the Cerrillos Hills, where turquoise was the great bounty.

What took me by surprise, though, was the absolute abundance, no, super-proliferation, of handcrafted turquoise and silver, in all shapes, sizes and forms, whichever way we turned. Every store window, from our hotel to Santa Fé’s central Plaza and back, lured us in to peer at the jewel-box treasures in hues of aquamarine to cerulean to blue-green and beyond. From belt buckles to arm-bands to bracelets, brooches, rings and earrings. Stones that were pitted or smooth, speckled or plain, fissured or pure, angular or round.

It was exhausting.

And then there is the Palace of the Governors on the central Plaza, whose lengthy covered portal has Native American artists of Navajo, Pueblo and Acoma descent (among others) selling more truly beautiful craftwork. It’s all utterly overwhelming and it took me days to settle on a few pieces that weren’t replicas of the traditional styles we saw repeated over and over (nice as they really, really are…).

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.

And, of course, the art galleries and museums (too many to see in our short stay). Naturally we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where the collection of roughly 1100 paintings is rotated a few times a year — with only around 50 on display at any one time. O’Keeffe (more about her in a separate post) is most famous for her giant canvases of flowers, incredibly sensuous with their colourful swirls, folded lines and gentle curves. Sometimes her subject is cropped so tight — the tiny centre of a bud unfurling on a massive canvas — that you lose yourself in the pureness of its graphic lines. Then there are her sweeping abstract paintings of undulating waves of colour, and, after living in the deserts of New Mexico, the exquisite painstaking detail of bleached animal skulls she picked up there, often juxtaposed with a single flower.

We stopped in at the Millicent Rogers Museum outside Taos, where a very impressive collection of Navajo turquoise and silver, Pueblo pottery, basketry and textiles was amassed by the oil heiress and fashion / jewellery designer of the 1940s. We explored the Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of adobe buildings, stacked like earthenware cubes beneath the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

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

Saturday, January 8, 2011

dalí at time warner center

Time stands still as Salvador Dalí visits the Time Warner Center…
Okay, Dalí’s dead but his bronze sculptures (and paintings) live on.
And … uh … his fascination with clocks was in fact the idea that time
 can’t be manipulated or controlled.

But some of his famous melting clocks were there in various incarnations … and the exhibition was free.

Oh, I do love this city.

This also gives me the excuse to write about the Time Warner complex (which I’ve been meaning to do for simply ages), absolutely one of my favourite modern architectural buildings in New York City.
A pair of parallelogram-style towers, sheathed in glass, rises sheer into the sky. Sometimes, depending on your perspective, it’s like two millimetre-thin sheets slicing the air. Designed by architect David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to be a hint at Manhattan’s street grid, the reflective glass mirrors neighbouring buildings and the sky in myriad faceted reflections.

The complex was built between 2000 and 2004. At times, when you gaze up at it, you see reflections. At others, when the light is right, you can see through the glass to the little blue squares that make up the individual apartments or offices, like a giant mosaic of different shades of blue. From a distance, horizontally-hinged open windows look like little magnets locked to the glass.

I simply love it.

And in December, there are beautiful star-shaped lights hanging in the double-volume centre, constantly morphing into different colours.

Did I tell you I love this city?

the great snow blizzard

So … it’s 15 days since our momentous sixth-worst snow blizzard in recorded history. And the garbage stockpiled in hundreds of apartment buildings’ basements over Christmas and New Year is still being offloaded onto Manhattan’s streets, awaiting collection by garbage trucks turned into snow-ploughs. Although the blizzard itself was magical (to one coming from the hot-sun, blue-sky Southern African continent), the aftermath is always going to be ugly.

Salt-strewn sidewalks and the stomping of a million feet turn pristine powder into putty-coloured slush, at street corners the slush becomes wading shallows, and the rest hardens into hazardous slippery ice. Then there are the dirty shovelled banks.

I won’t mention Frank Zappa’s yellow snow where most every one of New York’s dogs loves to go.

(I know, grammar.)

But I’m going to focus on the magic. Broadway became the Great White Way (even after the snow ploughs got stuck in). Literally as well as figuratively. Cars were indistinguishable, buried under their powdery shrouds. Central Park was a mass of wondrous white landscapes, decorated with peaks of snow like fluffy meringues. Picture those snowy Christmas cards where everything is draped in white. Rocks were pinned down by a thick snow mantle and slender bushes looked like they were covered in burst cotton pods. Harlem Meer (such a thoroughly Dutch name) was a dense milky sheet and much of the Central Park boat lake was frozen, the edges carrying mounds of splattered snow where people had hurled snowballs to test the resilience of the ice.

And here are the pics to prove it wasn't a dream.

Broadway Ave from our apartment . . . Great White Way

A snow graphic: buried benches and trash cans

It will take some shovelling to get this car out. . .


Snow-bound hippos - so realistic they've become my favourite playground on my running route

Water fountain, once on a paved way

This, too, was once a path . . . ringing the Central Park reservoir

Only in New York! Kids snowboarding on powdered banks outside the stately Metropolitan Museum

Snowbound benches, Central Park

Snowbound benches, Riverside Park, Hudson River