A quick getaway to Santa Fe
The airport is no bigger than the one in Waterloo, Iowa that we always refer to as the middle of nowhere. With about roughly the same population size ~80,000 there are some similarities – small, peaceful with wide open spaces. But it would be an injustice to compare. The city is far more eclectic and romantic. With a thousand art galleries, hot springs, meditation centers, and healing arts it is touted as a mecca for the arts, a place to detox, a true haven for the weary.
Arid brown earthy tones speckled with yellow aspens adorn the city. Adobe style homes no higher than two floors at most allowing the cathedrals and churches to stand tall. The city welcomes us with a grounding peacefulness that’s hard to describe.
It reminds me of Morocco, the browns and desert, the mountains, the peace and its crisp, clean air. We get into a van and our driver is an old thin man, polite and friendly. The air is chilly at 38 degrees & the first freeze is coming on tonight at a bone-chilling 20 but the city’s warmth is instantly palpable without being overbearing.
There’s a somber, matter of fact air but with an elegance and wisdom just like Juan our taxi driver and our co-passenger who just came back home from a trip to Brazil after paying her respects to a deceased relative. They ask us why we’re here and we tell them it is our anniversary. They both congratulate us and lament the loss of their spouses, one the past year, the other 3 years ago. They state it is hard but it is what it is, in the same somber, a matter of fact way.
Juan has 4 daughters. Only one daughter lives here and the rest live in California. He reminisces about the town he grew up in. We’re in the older historic part of the city. He remembers the buildings always being short and in earth tones, as mandated by the city. It is peaceful and grounding and when the aspens are in bloom and there’s a wind it’s like it’s carrying gold dust he says.
After checking in and having a quick bite to eat we head over to the plaza where local artists are selling their jewelry. Our concierge informed us that these sellers are certified and authentic. There’s varying styles and sizes with stones mined mostly from Colorado and Arizona. New Mexico, they said is mined out. The craftspeople use sterling silver and designs that use bright turquoise, coral, red and green stones – amethyst, amber, jades etc The jewelry and craftsmanship is tied to a particular tribe – the azuni was one in particular that I seemed to be drawn to. The wares are not cheap or for the faint of heart. In one of the jewelry stores, the owner explained to me how some of these date back to the 50’s and 60’s. The vintage pieces are exquisite and their value typically goes up, in particular, if it’s an esteemed artist. The Azuni piece I liked was a beautiful blue with what they called channel work, very rare she said. The chain of the necklace was made of shapes like melon pellets, a piece you don’t see much nowadays. I did not know much about southwestern jewelry. Ask me about gold, precious stones like rubies and pearls of course because I’m from Hyderabad and I’ll at the very least understand the value (mostly! I’m not exactly known for my knowledge on jewelry). I was intrigued however as to how jewelry is viewed in different parts of the world, how it is valued and how it appreciates. I found it all quite fascinating.
Besides jewelry, there was the art. Thousands of art galleries all over the city. We walked a nice long brisk hike toward Canyon Rd. On the way we came across a few friendly old folks, hanging out by a big old yellow aspen still in bloom. They obliged us by taking a picture and then alerted us not to miss the sculptures en route. I wasn’t that taken until I realized the sculptures by the road were all trees that were going to be axed had this innovative artist not come up with his genius idea to reclaim and revive the dead wood into beautiful pieces of art, right there, stump and all! And so it began. I’ve never been passionately into visual art of any kind. I’ve always admired your famous statues, sculptures, and paintings as much as the other everyday person. But that started changing in the last few years. After one particular visit to Vail, I started getting hooked.
And so there was an artist here in Santa Fe from the Longworth arts center that I particularly fell in love with. As we meandered on casually we happened upon a gallery with an inviting entrance, beautiful music and a sign by its trellised arch saying ‘mystical realism, come experience the magic’. Convinced it was going to be a joke and having nothing to lose we went in prepared to be amused. We were so wrong.
I stepped in and my eyes fell on two canvases casually perched on the floor leaning on the wall. Whirling wine dervishes in red transcending into space. I was blown away. I couldn’t stop looking and the curator noticing how my heart stopped went on to tell me it was created by a young lady from turkey named Rahileh. The more she spoke about her work and the interpretation which coincidentally was of Rumi’s Sufi poems who I love, correction, everyone loves, the more I connected with her work and those paintings! I was in love. My husband was equally entranced though not as taken by the meaning, he was definitely visually mesmerized. We spent more than an hour talking to and admiring every piece at the gallery. The artist was equally fascinating. Another artist at the same gallery also won us over. Vladimir Kush’s paintings were evocative, imaginative and ethereal. There was so much beautiful art to take in and the city offered it in spades.
Our best guides happened to be our Uber drivers. Some transplants who never left, others locals since birth. One was from Ghana and just completed his Ph.D., another a car salesman by day and neighbor to a James Beard awarded restaurant chef praised the cuisine & the restaurant and urged us to go there the next time. And then there was the young fella who gave us insight into his generation. He said he was trying to leave but it’s always going to be home. There were innumerable festivals, it was peaceful and a great retirement place. He loves the Zozarba festival where they burned a humungous paper-mache man. It started off in someone’s backyard and has now grown into a big citywide tradition. The Meow Wolf, which we weren’t too impressed with, he said was a fun music venue. It made sense how it could be a fun place to listen to some cool bands. Another uber drive explained how the city relied on the ski season and the tourism due to the arts. The art gallery curator went into a diatribe about the state of the country and how the laws are impacting her inability to bring promising and prominent artist from some parts of the world. Santa Fe is as blue as can be, we do not tolerate, we just accept she stated passionately.
Though we had our fill with the art scene we are big foodies but I think our timing was off. What we ate was by no means bad. It was good but nothing spectacular! The cuisine was not terribly different from what we were used to in Texas but the green hatch chilies seemed to stand out as a very New Mexican food. To be fair most of the places we wanted to try were unavailable even though it was the off-season, mid-November. We missed the Cacao cafe which serves a multitude of chocolate drinks and the Teahouse but we were able to enjoy some of the other local attractions. We visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum, the miraculous stairway at Loretta Chapel, the Cathedral, Meow Wolf (more fun with kiddos in our opinion). We also got to attend the recycle art festival that had every conceivable piece of art from every conceivable item we may consider waste or single-utility only. Jewelry was made out of buttons, microfilm, tin boxes and yes they were all lovely. I even bought a bracelet. There was a fascinating array of books fashioned into its namesake, think Queen Elizabeth or the skull face sculpted out of the book of the dead book. There were high chairs and tables made from tires and bicycle parts. This town sure loves art! And last but not the least we visited the Ten thousand waves.
A few miles away from downtown is this expansive Ichiban style hot springs spa and retreat. Santa Fe is heavily influenced by two very spiritual cultures, the Indians and the Tibetans which probably lends it its peaceful ambiance. We went there after dark for a couples massage. Our uber driver said he couldn’t drive up to the spa so we had to walk up the beautifully lit 99 steps in the biting cold to get to the spa. Hot springs, saunas, private baths with soaking tubs and meditation spaces, community hot tubs, you can soak your feet in steaming hot water while enjoying the cold outside. Lodging is on location and highly recommended as folks can, I’ve heard go to the delectable dining experience in their robes. I also saw a lot of kids pottering about in their robes. It’s quite a hit during ski season as it is barely 8 miles away from the slopes. Sipping sakes and unlimited relaxation sounds like something we’re definitely going to sign up for in the future!
So there it is our short and sweet Santa Fe getaway. I can’t wait to come back again someday soon!