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GP6Oct04: New Mexico: Asi Es Nuevo Mexico

The Metaphysical State.  New Mexico, the 47th state to come into the Union, is our metaphysical state.  It’s no accident that the state sports the Sun symbol of the Zia Pueblo Indians, whose pantheism whispered about the harmony of all things in the universe.  At its best, this land soars above and beyond the cares of men, bringing us in touch with lightning forces (see Other Global Sites #101), mystery caves in every direction (see www.desertusa.
com/mag99/feb/stories/caves.html), the Anasazi chards of John Fowles’ Daniel Martin, as well as the stars and planets.  In this regard, it’s worth a trip through Cloudcroft to Sunspot, where you can get a grand view of the Tularosa Basin and learn about the wonderful views of the universe obtained at the National Solar Laboratory (nsosp.nso.edu) and at Apache Point Observatory down the road. 

The Ghosts of the Seventh Street Studio.  Of course, everyone has heard that New Mexico is the place where the UFOs came to visit in 1947.  But strange happenings have ranged well beyond Roswell, New Mexico. 

Ten years later, in 1957, Buddy Holly recorded Peggy Sue at Norman Petty Studios in Clovis, New Mexico, first located in an abandoned Texaco station on 7th Street and later re-situated in the old Mesa Theater. 

A musician who made sounds there tells us that on several occasions tapes would come up blank in a recording session, nothing on them.  The musicians would have to re-record the whole sequence.  Billy Stull, the owner after Petty had passed away, swore “that Norm’s spirit watches over the studio, and helps out on occasion.”  In other words, the ghost of Petty hangs around to make sure the musicians get it right, erasing bad tracks. (See www.chatterwaul.com/odd/ghosts.html).  

Any visitor to New Mexico should pursue its ghostly happenings.  If, for instance, the buzz and hype of Santa Fe become too overwhelming of a morning, one should trundle over to Lamy, a ghost town where the train stops, usually late, very much to the amusement of those practiced hands who travel the rails (See www.trainweb.com/slides/ss03/ss03a_20.htm).  One of the commissioners on Santa Fe’s planning  body, reputed to be an eccentric fellow, lives on the other side of the tracks in a serene and pleasing house, since he knows that he has to get away from it all.  It’s in the vacant spaces where you meet the wonders of New Mexico, “Land of the Montezuma, with fiery hearts aglow.” 

Re-awakening Santa Fe.  New Mexico’s third capital, Santa Fe, needs to be spiritually refurbished, just to get itself in tune with the rest of the state.  Successor to San Juan de los Caballeros and San Gabriel, it harbors the capitol and a parade of gift shops. 

Ever pretty, it is the embodiment of  “Professional Southwesternism.”  That’s defined, we learn, as “the preservation of the history of the Southwest by Anglos, Hispanics, and Indians for the purpose of making money.”  The trouble is that this formula is very tired, and a new mentality will have to take root to re-animate the place.  Things have gotten much too expensive, many of the shops aren’t doing too well, and you often run into so much traffic you feel you are simply at the edge of another shopping mall.  What’s needed, however, is a mental, not a physical, makeover, whereupon  the soul of the place is devoted more to invention than preservation.  And there are some signs, beneath the surface, that this is happening. 

To remove the plaque from its arteries, the town needs to eject the state government—to the outskirts, so as to unplug the parking lots and to free itself of the taint of government, which is all too present in New Mexico, an encrustation that needs to be peeled away.  The federal government, incidentally, provides one-fourth of the state’s employment, not counting welfare and the other incidentals also provided by the Feds. 

This expulsion would free up mental space for different sorts of things to happen.  More international wares and global culture must creep into the shops and museums to give us something to feast on besides the Southwest fare.  This week, on Best of Class, you can find Four Winds Antiques and Shibui, both of which fit the bill.  In the same part of the Global Province, we have included Bumble Bee and Bobcat Bite, two mid-priced eateries that are very satisfactory replacements for the multitude of high-priced restaurants where quality is declining. 

Culture Out of Sight.  Well beneath the surface, especially in outlying areas, a homegrown culture not promoted by gallery owners, grows apace.  It may take the form of a passion for colorful low riders such as is found in Espanola (Wit and Wisdom #305).  Do look at New Mexico Culture Net (www.nmcn.org) to see what’s afoot around the state.  We are quite taken with the Drunken Boat (www.thedrunkenboat.com), a very active international, online poetry journal, cultivated and owned by Ms. Rebecca Seiferle of Farmington, New Mexico.  Its title taken from Rimbaud, this poetic odyssey has a universal, cosmopolitan appeal that could set an example for the whole of New Mexico. 

Spiritual Journey.  Shopping aside, it’s clear that since the days of the missions New Mexico has offered a spiritual journey unparalleled, for believers and disbelievers, in these United States.  It’s seen in the photographs of an offbeat MIT scientist named Phillip Greenspun who even suggests routings for the traveler.  Or in the hot springs located by a visiting graduate student named Dallas Masters at Los Alamos (see “Walking out in New Mexico,” Global Sites #107).  Or you can behold it on a llama expedition in Northern New Mexico.  We have already said that New Mexico is inhabited by ghosts.  Even more, it offers refreshment to pilgrims in search of the ethereal. 

Power Beyond Its Numbers.  Metaphysical New Mexico has had an impact on the mind of this nation that’s not clearly understood.  Equally the state is having an impact on national politics way out of proportion to its numbers.  With two million or so inhabitants and a handful of electoral votes, it still makes a big splash that’s even felt in Washington. 

Almost half of its citizens are Hispanic (43% according to the last census), and perhaps one-tenth are Indian.  Governor Bill Richardson, a transplanted Bostonian with a touch of California and one of Tuft University’s most celebrated graduates, rode his Hispanic background into New Mexico’s highest office.  A genial fellow of modest accomplishments, he is, nonetheless, a likely vice presidential candidate if Hilary Clinton gets the nod of the Democratic Party in 2008, mostly due to his heritage. 

More importantly, traditional Democratic New Mexico is regarded as a swing state that could occasionally be nabbed by the Republicans.  It’s growing, unsettled in spirit, peopled by a citizenry whose needs are ignored by both parties.  A politician or two appeals to New Mexicans’ pocketbooks, but nobody is stirring their hearts, speaking the language of their ancestors or their ghosts, understanding all the important things unspoken.  Perhaps the yawning gulf between the Rio Grande terroir of New Mexico and the national pinnacles of politics is a bit more obvious than the gap between the Beltway and Main Street in other regions.  Al Gore took New Mexico by only 306 votes: it is equally split in favor of almost nobody.   

To understand the unique nature of New Mexico politics, see The Economist’s “Not Like Anywhere Else” (June 17, 2004).  It only confirms what we have said elsewhere: at its best, New Mexico is very different, for modernity has not totally eroded its essential being. 

P.S.  By the way, a splinter of out of New Mexico—Arizona—was the last of the lower 48 to become a state.

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