Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Mexico: Architecture 4: The Appalling

What is it they say? I don't know much about art, but .... I know what I [don't] like.

I've noticed that communities in New Mexico have been enamored with these stone buttresses that jut out from the core. I've seen a number of public schools with this bit. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But even when it works, it's like the PT Cruiser - the first three times I saw one, I thought, oh, cute! but then I was done with them.

In Cloudcroft, it kind of works. To be fair, the building looks prettier in person than in the photo below. 

The high school in Bloomfield, New Mexico. My God, when I first drove past the building, I didn't know if it was a fancy factory? Office building? Oh, what'd you say - a high school? Strangely, I can find very few photos of the school.  Unlike the Cloudcroft situation, the photo below makes the school look better than it does in person. 

Bloomfield High School. Credit: Greer-Stafford

And then there's the Public Safety Complex in Artesia. Again, difficult to find photos, partly because the complex is so large. If you were to take parts of the complex, it would be fine, but the overall project is a manic jumble of different styles and media.

Artesia Public Safety Complex. Credit: whjarch

But even though I find the busyness and clunkiness of the above designs not to my taste, none hold a candle to my yardstick of horrible design, that which is a white box for warehousing humans, found in my own hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri:

Howerton Building, Jefferson City, Missouri

No, it is not a prison per se. It is a place of employment for people responsible for improving the quality of lives of others. You can imagine how this environment supports them in this task.

So now with that perspective, I can embrace the jumble of the above New Mexico designs with a little more warmth.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Mexico Lit: Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima

This will be a short review.

Bless Me, Ultima, written by Rudolfo Anaya, is a New Mexican classic, even though it was only written in 1972. But it was about New Mexico in the 1940s, specifically as it pertained to some rural New Mexicans of Mexican descent.

I want to stress its specificity because the diversity of New Mexico is such that there are so many stories to tell. Imagine the myriad combinations one can create with these variables: 
  • Industry (agriculture, mining, arts, military, science)
  • Culture (Anglo, Mexican, Apache, Navajo, Pueblo, Zuñi, Spanish, Chinese ... )
  • Religion (how many flavors of just Catholicism alone are in New Mexico?)
  • Geography and climate (desert, plains, mountains)
  • Era (thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago, decades ago, current)
  • Gender
  • History (personal, group)
  • Rural, urban
  • Socio-economic strata

New Mexico's heterogeneity is part of what makes it extraordinary.

But to return to Bless Me, Ultima: The story's mix of elements - magical realism, religion, desert, rural, Mexican, American, searching, a spiritual guide - I found myself unable to avoid comparisons with the images of Carlos Castaneda, whose books had a major impact on my adolescent imagination. (Never mind that Mr. Castaneda was most likely a charlatan and cult-like leader.) This comparison was unfair to Bless Me, Ultima, but there I was, regardless.

However, Marc Velasquez, a contributor to Chamber Four, loves the book, and so I offer you his review, in which he shares how the book affects him personally.


Monday, July 29, 2013

The Spell of New Mexico, Chapter 3: Oliver La Farge

White Sands, Alamogordo, New Mexico

An essay on New Mexico, written by Oliver La Farge, comprises Chapter 3 of the book, The Spell of New Mexico. Written before 1952, almost everything Mr. La Farge writes about New Mexico still holds true. Some excerpts from his detailed, loving description of New Mexico: 

A New Mexican native never ceases to be surprised to hear visitors .... ask the tariff on a purchase they are contemplating "when we take it back to the States." 

Indeed, a former colleague of mine on the east coast sent me a card, upon which she had affixed postage for international mailing. 

Sunset at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

...You can be camping up in the northern mountains, and in the morning break up your camp under blue spruce and fir ... By noon you can take your break under cottonwoods in an irrigated section of orchards and corn and chili fields, and camp that night in desert where you are lucky, and distinctly relieved, when you find a water hole. 

Upper Karr Canyon Recreation Area, New Mexico
Being based in Alamogordo, I never get tired of living in the high desert but being able to reach 9000 feet of cool green forest in less than an hour, and to smell the pine. It is a wonder. 

An amiable sort of running feud goes on between the people of [Texas] and [New Mexico], keeping both on their toes. When a Texan told me one time that he was a real old timer, and that he personally had dug out the bed of the Pecos River, he Lord gave it to me to answer that, while he was doing that, I was up in the Sangre de Cristo [Mountains] melting snow to run in his ditch. 

Rio Grande, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

... on the Fourth of July, .... it is worth going to the [Mescalero Apache] celebration to see their renowned Crown Dance, a masked dance unlike any other, portraying the mountain spirits. 

Ga'an dancers. Credit: SFMOMA

Having gone to this very event, I can attest to its magic more than 50 years after Mr. La Farge wrote the above. 

... on a Sunday a Pueblo Indian, having spent the preceding week cultivating his red, blue, and yellow corn in his ancestral field, will put on his Indian clothes to sing in the chorus of a dance in which his daughter, who during the week works at Los Alamos, will take the part of the Buffalo Maiden, that during the performance Spanish-American neighbors will kneel in the bower at one side of the pueblo's plaza to sing alabados before the image of its patron saint, while artists, scientists (both anthropologists and nuclear physicists), tourists, and plain businessmen, watch the performance with appreciation and respect. 

Our Lady of Guadelupe Fiesta, Tortugas, New Mexico

[New Mexico] is ..... a land that draws and holds men and women with ties that cannot be explained or submitted to reason. 

Dilia, New Mexico

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Little Girl Who Rides the Train

In the Mescalero parade, I saw this banner: 

.... followed by this train float:

... and I was very curious.

The Little Girl Who Rides the Train

In Apache, Besh Binun gu deh' za yén roughly translates to "the little girl who rides the train." Besh is the Apache word for iron. In the Apache language, there was no word for train, so the closest approximation is "moving iron."

The Little Girl Who Rides the Train's personal story is an important part of Chiricahua Apache history. As a child, she was one of about 500 people who were domestic prisoners of war for 27 years, loaded onto cattle cars of a train and taken from Arizona to Florida (to start), as punishment for Geronimo's protracted resistance against what he believed to be the annihilation of his people. 

The Little Girl Who Rides the Train got her name because she was born in captivity (1906) and spent so much of her young life on trains, going from one prison hold to another.
She was also known as Edna Teenah Comanche. Ms. Comanche contributed her story to those of others in the telling of the Chiricahua imprisonment. Chiricahua Apache Enduring Power, by Trudy Griffin-Pierce, is one book that resulted from the oral histories. From Fort Marion [Florida] to Fort Sill [Oklahoma], by Alicia Delgadillo and Miriam A. Perrett, is another. Both of these are online in their entirety.

Geronimo and the Apache Resistance, presented by the PBS series, American Experience, tells the story of what happened before, during, and after the long political imprisonment.

The "little girl who rides the train" sounds like a light nursery tale, but it's really about a time of dislocation and uncertainty.

The Little Girl Who Rides the Train, Edna Teenah Comanche, died in 1999. Imagine. A woman who died less than 15 years ago had been a domestic prisoner of war in the United States for the first seven years of her life.

Because of a float on a parade, I learned all of this.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Alamogordo: Curly bean plant

I don't know what this is, but I like it.

Curly pod plant, Desert Foothills Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Update: May be a honey mesquite.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Slowest Parade in America

Mescalero Celebration Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013. Credit: Mzuriana.
Mescalero Celebration Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013. Credit: Mzuriana.

You know you're in a slow parade when:
  • It stops in front of you and the first unit's occupants get out so they can take pictures of the units following
  • You can walk up to the front of a unit and take photos, then to the side, then the other side, and then the front again, all at a leisurely pace
  • The classic-car section of the parade appears to have had enough (maybe ran low on gas?) and it leaves the parade early via a highway exit
  • There's so much of a gap between one unit and another that people think the parade is over and leave

The Mescalero Apache Celebration Parade in Mescalero, New Mexico, is that parade. The parade celebrates the Mescalero maiden puberty rites, and also coincides with Independence Day festivities.

Advance planning

This is what I saw when I thought I found the perfect spot for parade watching. It was kind of a hot day, and the breeze blowing through the shaded underpass looked like the perfect spot. My hunch was reinforced by the sight of all of those who had come before me to stake their territory.

My homestead is marked by the green chair in the foreground. 

Mescalero Celebration Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013. Credit: Mzuriana.
Mescalero Celebration Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013. Credit: Mzuriana.

By the time the parade started, it looked like this: 

Mescalero Celebration Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013. Credit: Mzuriana.
Mescalero Celebration Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013. Credit: Mzuriana.


Arriving early at a parade route makes it easy to find the best parade-watching spot and also the best parking spots. Arriving early at a parade that is scheduled to run about two hours means you'll likely have something to drink and maybe to eat, also. The yang to these yin is that it will be necessary to relieve yourself.

I was lucky. The first time I had to go - before the parade started - I walked up to the Senior Center, entered, walked down the hall, and used the restroom.  When I emerged, I discovered that the building was about to be closed up, and I was politely shooed out.

Later, during a lull in the parade, I walked up to the police station, entered the vestibule, then through another door, down the hall and to the restroom. When I emerged, a police woman who had been outside was now in the vestibule and she told me I wasn't really supposed to be there, that the door between the vestibule and corridor was usually locked.


The medicine woman

One of my parade neighbors was a medicine woman, based in El Paso. She and her relatives have attended the Mescalero rites for eight years.

A congenial woman, she told me about two large women's gatherings, one already having occurred in El Paso this year, related to the sun; the next would be in Mexico, related to the moon. Both sounded exciting.

But do not get between this woman and pencils thrown out to the parade attendees. Someone could get hurt. 

The wax and gold

In Ethiopia, there is often more than one level of interpretation for what someone says or writes. The wax (sem) is the superficial message.  The gold (werk) is the true meaning of what was said or written. In its poetic form, this is called qene.

My first processing of the Mescalero parade was that it was just a parade, albeit with Apache notes.

But one of the floats had a sign referring to Edna Teenah Comanche, "the little girl who rides the train." Tracking down this reference a few days later took me down a path that gave me a greater appreciation of symbols that rolled by me in the parade, but which didn't make much of an impact at the time.

So there's more to come about this parade

In the meantime, a slide show:

Mescalero Ceremonial Parade July 2013


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Spell of New Mexico, Chapter I: Tony Hillerman

Tularosa Basin and Valley of Fires view from Highway 380, New Mexico

Awhile back, Josh, a thoughtful reader, recommended The Spell of New Mexico to me. Edited by Tony Hillerman, and published in 1976, it is a collection of essays by famous creatives who lived in or visited New Mexico.

My local library had the book, but it was missing until now. 

From Mr. Hillerman's introduction in Chapter 1: 
[Oliver] La Farge treasured New Mexico because it offered - probably more than any place in America - a rich variety of human cultures, religions, and value systems, and because it attracted and held an interesting variety of immigrants. ...

'The breadth and height of the land, its huge self and its huge sky, strike you like a blow,' [poet Winfield Townley] Scott wrote ...

To the above, I say check and check.

Angel Peak, New Mexico

Mr Hillerman described one of his special places in New Mexico:

...Those places that stir me have features in common. All are empty and lonely. They invoke a sense of both space and strangeness, and all have about them a sort of fierce inhospitality.
One such place is east of U.S. 54 near the old Three Rivers service station north of Tularosa. The road jolts across the Southern Pacific tracks toward the foothills of the Sierra Blanca and passes a high, grassy ridge. On a July afternoon, the view from there suggests a hostile planet. The ragged stone ridgeline of the Sierra Oscura rises fifty miles to the west, and the Tularaso Basin below is lost in a haze of heat. If you climb high enough and the light is right, you can see to the southwest the glittering line formed by the gypsum dunes of White Sands and below the Oscuras the Black smudge of the lava-bed badlands. 

For me, this is one of many of New Mexico's magic places. 

This place Mr. Hillerman describes is within a Bureau of Land Management site, the Three Rivers Petroglyphs. The old service station is an art gallery, gift and coffee shop.

I have stood exactly where Mr. Hillerman describes, and looked out toward that "glittering line" that is White Sands. This place that Mr. Hillerman found magical is less than an hour from where I live in Alamogordo.

Every time I see that line of White Sands - or the distinctive Organ Mountains between Alamogordo and Las Cruces - I imagine people of centuries ago returning from a long trip, and when they see that glittering line, think, "we're almost home."

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Alamogordo: Rushing Waters

When I moved to Alamogordo last September, I took these photos of dry canals near my residence.

Canal, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Canal, Alamogordo, New Mexico

I looked forward to the day when I would see this:

That day was today.

Canal, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Flooded street, Alamogordo, New Mexico 

It was fun to watch this rushing water today.

An hour later, the street above was wet, but not flooded, and the water in the canal had already lowered in depth and in intensity.

In 2006, though, this same neighborhood suffered greatly from a flash flood, leaving some houses with four feet of water. Since 2006, a spillway was built to capture water cascading from the mountain slope,  and the water you see above was the overflow from that tank.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Only 10 More Weeks

Highway 380 near Valley of Fires, New Mexico

Only 10 weekends left in New Mexico.

I am so excited about where my rootless self is going next, but simultaneously already sad at how much I will miss New Mexico.

Overall, I think that's a good place to be.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Las Cruces: West Picacho Boulevard, Part 3: The Big Red Chile With a Surprise Twist

World's largest chile, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

How big is that chile? It's so big, it's difficult to get a full-body picture of it, though this is mostly because the chile is in a protective courtyard, so getting the necessary distance from it is awkward.

World's largest chile, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Before actually visiting the chile, I'd driven by a number of times and kind of felt a little ho-hum about it, especially because from the road, you only see the chile's head and shoulders, so to speak.

World's largest chile, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

But for my West Picacho Boulevard foray, accompanied by a friend, the chile was almost at the westernmost edge of the street's interesting stuff, so it was a good place for us to start.

World's largest chile, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

The world's biggest chile pepper is at an America's Best Value franchise motel, the Big Chile Inn

World's largest chile, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

I was slightly more impressed by the chile when I got up close. The courtyard that is its home is very pretty with flowers and bright chairs, along with a series of informational signs about chiles.

But it wasn't til I walked into the motel lobby that my interest was piqued. My experience with America's Best motels (in the Midwest) hasn't been that great, and I expected to walk into a dingy, down-in-the-mouth lobby. On the contrary, in a large open space there were three discrete spaces with fresh, clean designs.

Red Chile Inn, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Red Chile Inn, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Red Chile Inn, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

And then my friend and I encountered co-owner, Elina. She's one of those risk-taking visionaries with huge supplies of energy. When my friend and I met her in the lobby, she invited us to accompany her on a visit to her koi, all of which have names.

Elina also showed us her herb and vegetable plantings, along with fruit trees, in the pretty motel courtyard.

Red Chile Inn, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Asian peaches, Red Chile Inn, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Vegetables, Red Chile Inn, W. Picacho Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico

On this summer day, Elina's two kids were in the courtyard gazebo for art lessons from a local artist. Later in the day, an instructor would come to give them swimming lessons in the motel pool.

Elina is originally from Indonesia; her husband, David, from Australia. Elena's professional background is in public relations and David is an engineer.

Here is the exuberant story of how the biggest chile came to be.

Elina and David's investment in this motel on W. Picacho Boulevard is the kind of project that can be the catalyst for more rehabilitation in the area.

However, I don't know how to reconcile my enthusiasm for Elina and David's work on Picacho Boulevard with their criminal conviction here. Jeez.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Red Paint Powwow Revisited: Tygel Pinto

Tygel Pinto. Credit: Tygel Pinto

At the January 2013 Red Paint Powwow in Silver City, a young Navajo flutist, Tygel Pinto, got my attention.

When I thanked him for the pleasure his music gave me, he gave me his card and I looked online for examples of his music, but found none.

But now I have, and I'm happy to be able to share his work with you.

First, here's his story, which he told on a web-radio show a few months ago.

I like his blend of the traditional and contemporary.

Tygel comes across as a person with a warm personality, very engaging, so it's no surprise for me to read this

Good luck to Tygel.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Change in Plans!

The plan was to relocate to Mexico for 2014.

New plan, as of a few days ago.

Stay tuned.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mesquite District: A Grandfather

Mesquite Historic District, Las Cruces, New Mexico

A friend and I explored some Las Cruces neighborhoods one day, and we passed into the historic Mesquite District.

The shrine above drew my eye, and we pulled over so I could get a better look.

It was on a corner lot with two houses, and to get a decent picture I'd have to go into the yard, which meant the polite thing to do was to knock on the door and ask permission. Glad I did, because a young guy - Patrick -  not only gave me permission to take pictures, but told me a little about his grandfather, now deceased.

Patrick's grandfather built one of the houses on the lot, and Patrick thinks he commissioned the shrine in the photo above. It appears to be a representation of the second St. Genevieve Catholic Church, which was demolished in the 1960s.

St. Genevieve Catholic Church, Las Cruces, New Mexico. Credit: Family Old Photos

The outbuilding below originally did service as a cistern or pumphouse - there was an irrigation system that fed his grandfather's pecan grove, which adjoined the current property.

Mesquite Historic District, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Patrick's grandfather had a grocery wagon that he drove up and down the streets in the Mesquite district, selling produce. 

Mesquite Historic District, Las Cruces, New Mexico

There was another shrine on the property, but Patrick didn't know its history. Inside was evidence of many prayers being sent up via burning candles.

Patrick lives in the family homestead with his father and brothers.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Little Stretch of Road

State Road 325, near Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

State Road 325 isn't very long, but it's awful pretty.

State Road 325, near Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

A couple of structures have personality.

State Road 325, near Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

State Road 325, near Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

But let's see that house one more time ...

State Road 325, near Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

And some flowers.

State Road 325, near Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico