Savannah Morning News Sunday column
March 22, 2015
If you can’t be in Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day you can at least live stream Bishop Kevin Boland’s spirited singing, the traditional beginning to the parade. Totally rad, a friend says, hat and all. There’s not much green in Santa Fe but that’s not what this New Mexico town is about. Here it’s all narrow streets, mostly one-story adobe houses (mud, sand and water and hefty price tags) with soft rounded corners, strings of red peppers on the door fronts, handsome wrought iron fences decorated by some crazy dancing figures with their hair on fire, heavy raw lumber timbers, turquoise skies and rose hues (accented by orange and gold), and the intriguing coyote fences in front of most homes, narrow timbers of spruce, fir or cedar tied together vertically leaving a random edge on top. Maybe they’re a fashion statement now but initially they really were designed to keep coyotes away from pets.
Probably a good idea (although I haven’t hear about coyotes in the city) because I’ve never seen more dogs in one town (inside coffee shops, on the walking trails, in front of houses, in cars, in bars, on sidewalks, in patios) or more people talking to dogs, some better behaved than others.
I’ve never seen so many older women with so much gray (really white) hair, either, mostly long and artfully draped. These women are embracing their vintage years.
My landmarks are a “river” bed (a sign says it “flows” to the Rio Grande, except right now I’m seeing a very dry and rocky arroyo or creek) and a distant mountain peak topped with snow.
Laundry dries rapidly on outdoor clotheslines in the dry Santa Fe air. The night skies are bright with stars. I overheard some hiker enjoying a latte in the Better Day Coffee Shop say the elderberries are starting to leaf out. And should you need it, a woman is set up in the Montanita Coop, my closest food source, to read your aura. The Coop is selling tatsoi seedlings for $2.95 and offering five minute massages. A few years ago “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin bought the eclectic Jean Cocteau Cinema, a sweet 128-seat theater that used to be a brewery and now has a 35 mm film projector and a strange line-up of poetry, old movies and once a night a week a marathon showing of, you guessed it, “Game of Thrones.” That man is enjoying himself, too.
The theater is near the joyful Saturday Santa Fe Farmers Market, where I buy tasty sprouts from the sprout lady, Susan Higgins, who moved here from Vermont decades ago, and I talk with the owner of The Shrimp Farm. Really? I say. Shrimp? They’re farm-raised, of course, and pretty tasty. Only $18 a pound. I smiled and moved on to a breakfast burrito of red and green chiles.
Santa Fe has four bookstores, two Whole Foods outlets, one Trader Joe’s, a chain of New Mexico grocery stores called Sprouts, a nifty café called Counter Culture and a yearly Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival (where I overheard one woman say to another, “So tell me, do you know where I can get a frozen gefilte fish?”). All of this for a town of 69,000.
The best road trip so far has been to Bandelier National Monument, home to the ancient Paleoindian hunters some 11,000 years ago, followed by the Pueblo people. Days after visiting the site I ventured into the impressive Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse on the corner of Galisteo and Waters streets near the Plaza. The first book to catch my eye, displayed on the front counter, was Willia Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” I’ve tried and never had much luck with Willa Cather. But this time was different. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the book’s cover, a painting of the canyons I had just visited. The artist was Marsden Hartley, a Maine-born painter who hung around with Georgia O’Keeffe and spent time in the Southwest. He died in 1943, four years before Cather.
I bought the book. It’s riveting. Walking around Santa Fe it I feel like I should be riding my mule, the way Cather’s Father Jean Marie Latour and another Catholic priest did in 1851 as they made their way into the vast and treacherous undiscovered territory of Mexicans and Indians. This is a strange and new country to me. The woo-woo part is fine. I like sprouts. I like burritos. But I have a feeling the best part is out in the red hills under a bank of inky black clouds, ext to a rushing river. Never underestimate the value of a good book cover.