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GP29Jun05: Heart Surgery Coming Soon to Santa Fe

In Six Months. On the June 13, 2005, the Santa Fe New Mexican (www.enewmexican.com), a very good newspaper most worthy of your attention, trumpeted that “Heart Surgery” is “Coming Soon to Santa Fe,” right at the top of page one.  “In six months, St. Vincent Regional Medical Center plans to offer heart surgery, a service that has not existed in Northern New Mexico.  …  Dr. Richard Gerety, 55, of Heart Hospital of  New Mexico … will move his practice of 22 years from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and become the sole cardiovascular surgeon for this new program.”  Given the cluster of seniors in Santa Fe, he should be a regular cut-up.  

The belated arrival of the stage coach carrying a heart surgeon signals the good and bad of Santa Fe.  There’s a whole lot that has not happened in New Mexico that holds back the state.  Governor Bill Richardson, a California import, spends so much time elsewhere in his pursuit of the presidency that it’s hard to focus on matters close to the heart.  On the other hand, the ambling pace of things also does credit to the place.  With a mind of its own, this culture at 7,000 feet above sea level sets its own schedule in defiance of a country and a world caught up in a global maelstrom where many of the wrong things happen too darn fast.  So the pool parlor on Water Street does not open to 4:30 in the afternoon, and the most interesting restaurant in town only serves lunch when it feels like it.  After a conversation with the chef/owner, we took away a loaf of bread as a consolation prize, uncertain as to when we would sit down for a real chew.   

A further reading of the New Mexican and other local papers will tell you that some denizens are worried that the town is missing the boat in other ways, late perhaps to broadband Internet connectivity and some of the other gizmos that drive the modern age.  Rest assured, however, that there are plenty of restaurants that are too expensive, real estate is being flipped  at a mad rate, and the usual sum of Hummers, Mercedes, and organic this and thats populate all the neighborhoods.  It is not quite as encrusted with the fat-cat mentality as, say, Nantucket, but it’s getting there.  The vox populi is not exempt from America’s consumptive habits, all very up-to-date indeed.  To paraphrase one Dayton Lummis, a local resident and author of a book about the Southwest called Hawks Belong With Hawks, Santa Fe is fast becoming Californiated.   

Vacilando.  We first learned about vacilando from John Steinbeck in his Travels with Charley.  We are so rapturous about the term that we have even come up with our own spelling: “vacillando.”  Roughly it means that you set out on a journey with a destination in mind but the whole point is never to get there.  Your goal is to have a great trip—with lots of interests and stopovers along the way—and the end of the road is almost something to be feared, rather than something to be achieved.  For more on vacilando, see http://encyclopedia.worldvillage.

That’s the goal in Santa Fe.  To wander around.  So what if there is no heart doctor.  You are there to enjoy yourself, not to seek immortality or even another year of life.  But to do a proper vacilando, you have to fly beneath the radar, avoid all the newbies in town and the endless monuments to affluence, and somehow find a way to get off the beaten path.  As we have said in previous letters about New Mexico and Santa Fe entitled “New Mexico: Asi Es Nuevo Mexico” and “Wayfarers Along the Santa Fe Trail”, this land has  a supernatural dimension you will only encounter if you can walk around things.  Scientists and engineers define a straight line as the shortest distance between two points: that absolutely will get you nowhere in Santa Fe.  To reach the core, you need to take a circular path.

Santa Fe Trail.  First time into Santa Fe, you will be inclined to take either Cerrillos Road, St. Francis Drive, or the Old Pecos Trail into town from Interstate 25, all of which are much traveled, relatively straight thoroughfares which quickly lead you into the heart of town.  A very little effort, however, will put you on the Santa Fe Trail where you will find little traffic, a 35-mph speed limit, vistas of the territory, Museum Row, St. John’s College, and more.  As you get more familiar with Santa Fe, you may even learn about homes such as that of John and Linda of Houston, where the beautiful but not sumptuous garden is designed with restraint, not indiscriminately surfeited with plantings as is the habit in most of this community.  It is such signs of restraint that the pilgrim will hunger for on a visit here. 

Just outside the center city along the Trail, you will find the Pink Adobe restaurant where, twenty years ago, you would find a beautiful blond young lady waitressing at the bar most evenings, but studiously practicing yoga with all her friends by daylight.  She’s long since gone, perhaps back to SoHo, and the crowd is more tarnished.   Next door you will find its newest addition Café Pink, today the best coffee house in town and always an interesting conversation in the morning.  It’s the best replacement by far for what was the place to read your newspaper a few blocks away: Jane’s has gone the way of all flesh, its owner sent back to England by our immigration people and by the high rents Santa Fe landlords now extract.  

Some Hidden Places.  We don’t see much about a lot of the understated, modest places in the national magazines or even local guides.  Amidst some undistinguished shops on Don Gaspar, you will find the photo gallery of Sidney and Sheila Monroe (www.monroegallery.com), two transplanted New Yorkers whose simple space houses the work of a number of the country’s eminent photojournalists and is currently featuring Carl Mydans, who captured everything from migrant workers to the most dramatic scenes of World War II. 

A new gelato parlor on West Marcy, Ecco, not more than a few weeks old, offers a handsome assortment of flavors—from lavender to coconut to hazelnut—all made with organic ingredients.  Down Aqua Fria, well past the restaurants, is the Aqua Fria Nursery, with an marvelous collection of plants in a small space that somehow look fresher than the flora available in the name establishments around town.  We bought many packets of seed not found in our part of the country.  There the conversation runs hip instead of slick.  Well hidden from the road, on San Mateo just off St. Francis, you will find the best hot chocolate in town at the Chocolate Maven Bakery and Café, Callebaut perhaps for those with a French taste or Mayan for the more esoteric.  Also well out of sight on Galisteo is a surprisingly good cigar shop, Santa Fe Cigar Company www.sfcigar.com.  With an introduction you can go next door at 4 p.m. and have a drink with your choice cheroot at The Original Diogenes Club (www.holy-smoke.com/nmexico2.html).

Uplifting Escapes.  As well, in Santa Fe there are a host of contemplative offerings that take you away from the city’s self absorption in Santa Fe style.  Not much remarked upon is the Bataan Museum—soon to be renamed The Military Historical Foundation of New Mexico, Inc.—on the Old Pecos Trail, which nobly commemorates the contribution New Mexico has made to this country’s war efforts, particularly the heroism of Hispanic and Indian New Mexicans.  Even as others forget, old New Mexicans remember.  On June 12, 2005, the New Mexican did a frontpage story, “Speaking Volumes,” and a special section “Roll Call,” all recalling memories of those who served in World War II.  Underneath all the frippery applied to the community by newly minted Southwesterners is a refreshing patriotism that reaches back through the decades.  Memory slips through the brittle face contemporary taste puts on things. 

Right at the edge of town, out Upper Canyon Road, is the Nature Conservancy’s lovely preserve which provides a contemplative walk and a view of a marsh, all just 7 minutes or so away from downtown (http://nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/newmexico/preserves/
).   This is but a small part of the Dale Ball Foothill Trail System, a twenty-mile circuit that reminds you that New Mexico is mostly about the outdoors and very open spaces.  Even if the realtors and developers are chewing up too much land with their subdivisions, there is still a strong conservationist undertow amongst a people that is promoting alternate energy (wind and sun) and the frugal use of scare water resources (www.santafewatercrisis.org). It even garners modestly warm support from the state’s key politicians, especially Senator Bingham.  

Santa Fe, as far as we know, has the only radio station in the United States totally devoted to “chill” music, the very cool, repetitive strains featured in the chichi clubs in Europe.  It is Radio Blu at 102.9 (www.blu1029.com).   It’s odd that this is the one state capital in the United States that can most quickly transport you back to World War II, out to wide open spaces, and over to Europe. 

Clematis.   Off the beaten path, perhaps in a nursery, just outside a bar, on a hidden pillar of somebody’s house, you will discover the clematis plant growing more fully than anywhere else in the United States.  (See www.clematis.org/photos/00035.)  We include a picture here for you, since our prose could never be purple enough to capture the hues of this striking flower.  It’s even possible that this will someday be known as the clematis capital. 

Dinnertime.  Post meandering, where do you eat?  The town is full of very good, overpriced restaurants.  But maybe instead you work your  way up Las Vegas Highway to Bobcat Bite for a lush hamburger and just a lemonade.  It’s just a shack, but it’s plenty, and your company at the other tables will not be full of 4-syllable words and attitude.  On one day there will be a host of children in from Texas on a church-run expedition.  On another, a jolly retiree from Ohio, down from his lonely house way up in the hills, will be here mostly for chat.  The ladies who run the Bite are kindly and efficient.  

Tacking and Weaving Sixteen Times.  Seeing Santa Fe, perhaps seeing a lot of places, is about vacilando, finding things because you get off the obvious course.  We have lately noted that the original leaders we know are often sailors, and you will find a lot of nautical maps up on the walls of their offices.  They are used to tacking and weaving, looking to go around the shoals, figuring out how to deal with the unpredictable wind.  The variables in their business lives and in their sailing are many.  The successful journey calls for purposeful ramble.  Watch out for any executive who can only work in straight lines. 

In Albuquerque we have just encountered a colonel 30-years retired whose centuries-old house was long ago built above ancient Indian dwellings and burial grounds, habitats dating at least back to the 1300s, perhaps longer.  To circumvent and respect the ancient remains, his plumbers had to put no less than 16 turns in their pipes as they brought water to a very discreet, indoor swimming pool he put besides his house.  Well, that’s what it takes to get life’s business done in a harmonious manner.

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