Saturday, July 19, 2014

Of Rodeos, Powwows, and other things...

Rodeo grandstand in background
A couple weeks ago we were looking for something to do that didn't include wandering around the vicinity of the Taos plaza like tourists. A notice in the paper announced the Taos County Sheriff's Posse Rodeo (the word "posse" alone, folks on horseback proceeding swiftly with purpose, got me going, the Wild West still lives I'm told, not always a good thing though) and we were out the door in a flash, headed for the dusty rodeo grounds on the southwest side of town. For a measly ten bucks each we sat in the shaded bleachers and enjoyed an afternoon of skilled calf roping and bronco riding (not real broncs, but tamed horses they tie a tight cinch around that pisses the horse off, and voila! a bucking horse).

You have to admire the rodeo circuit folks. For a fee they enter competitions where the odds are wildly against them and hope to rope a calf or manage to stay on a half mad horse doing his best to throw you airborne; performances are timed and judged, I take it, on style points as well. The thing that impressed me most was the sense of cooperation and the incredible confidence of every participant, from the spangled rodeo queens to the calf ropers, when it came to handling a horse in the arena. I couldn't help think if everyone in the US had their confidence and skill with large animals, we all might be in better shape. The fellas who rope and capture runaway broncs after they throw the rider were the stars of the show; they had that sense I witnessed once on a Wyoming ranch, the basis of which is simply to offer the horse the best possible choice in order to get him to do what you wanted him to do. Much like raising kids.

budding cowgirl
Last weekend we spent two days at the Taos Pueblo's annual Powwow, a gathering of various tribes performing in traditional dance and drumming competitions. The color, sound, rhythms, pack a powerful punch in themselves, and the event is held on tribal land spread beneath the shadow of the big mountain. They have to be one of the very few tribes that ended up with nice land for a rez, it's gorgeous out there, only a couple miles out of town.

opening procession
shawl dancer

At the opening ceremonies each day, tribal elders and folks of note in the tribal community lead a procession followed by all the categories of dancers while about a dozen different drumming groups (six or seven singers in a circle, each with a long padded stick chanting in unison and beating out a rhythm on a giant drum) accompanying them from the sidelines. All I could think was if I was an early settler and heard that insistent chanting and drumming, the thrumming bells and jingles of dancing feet, I'd figure I was a gonner. Standing close to the inaugural procession, its power was something to behold, circling the grounds in a ONE-two, One-two rhythm that mesmerized the audience and dancers alike.  I had my favorites, dancers I hoped would win in their respective categories.
jingle dancer

    I loved the gals with the jingle skirts, made from tin can lids I was told, but she might have been pulling my leg.  I should mention the watermelon iced tea was a big hit with us.    
most awesome
the arena

drum circle chanters

It's monsoon season here, every afternoon serious rain complete with hail, lightening and thunder rolls over the valley, drenching the grateful earth. As a result, wildflowers abound. Hollyhocks, Russian sage, wild white desert poppies, blue hazed fields of chicory, daisies, bachelor buttons, pink thistles in profusion fill the fields. The hillsides seem greener, the sagebrush's grey-green more vibrant. It's the best thing about this place, to my mind. The Farmers' Market is quite good. One tires of the endless exudation of brown houses. I'm sure there are loads of rationales for it, but.. sigh...I sense a wee frisson at the sight of a rare two story house. We haven't ventured very far afield, but plan heading west some, to Farmington, Chama, Abiquiu, eventually.

farmers' market band
The days are hot and the nights fairly cool. Lotsa rain lately. Extreme drought here needs the relief. All the county rescue vehicles are housed only blocks from here, so we hear a fair number of sirens, sort of like you might hear in New York City. But some days it's quieter.

I managed to locate the only real nursery and bought some zinnias for the pots of half dead fleurs on the porch. It's Fiesta weekend this weekend on the Plaza, yesterday we enjoyed an amazingly good Tejano band on the bandstand there.

We appear to have a family of skunks living under the garden shed in the backyard. A mum and five absolutely adorable babies who come out to sun themselves and have a frolic in the afternoon sun, tails aloft as they roll and tumble playfully over each other, I watch from the window. I never thought I'd see the day I found skunks fascinatingly cute.

It's turning out to be a Steinbeck Summer. Can't get enough of him. Glad he wrote so many books.

Still...  I feel quite homesick for a place I can't seem to find on a map.

Nevertheless, I thought this had definite appeal....

peace out

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be a Democrat These Days?

I found this today on, one of the best news sources out there. It's nice to know someone sees the forest for the trees out there.
This post originally appeared at the Campaign for America’s Future.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., center, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, make statements introducing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seated at left, to the committee during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, replacing Clinton, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), center, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, make statements introducing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) seated at left, to the committee during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, replacing Clinton, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Over at The Washington Post, the usually sensible Greg Sargent endorses the notion that divisions among Democrats are “mostly trumped up.” The tension between the Wall Street wing of the party and the Warren (as in Elizabeth) wing is an overblown fiction of a press corps desperate for some action.
It’s true that the prior divisions on social issues have dissipated, as liberals have swept the field. Obama’s halting attempts to wean the US from its foreign wars have garnered widespread support. And on economics, Sargent argues that Democrats “largely agree on the menu of policy responses to the economic problems faced by poor, working and middle class Americans — a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, higher taxes on the wealthy to fund a stronger safety net, job creation and job training — whatever the broader rhetorical umbrella is being used.” Even Hillary says she agrees with Thomas Piketty that extreme inequality is a “threat” to our democracy.
There are differences on how aggressively to go after the big banks or whether to expand Social Security, Sargent admits, and a debate underway about “whether to push the Democratic Party in a more populist direction,” which he declines to define. But generally, he argues, there’s broad agreement that Hillary or any Democratic candidate will run on.
All of this is true except the conclusion. There is a broad agreement on what might be called a “populist lite” agenda — one that has been put forth repeatedly by Obama and frustrated by Republican obstruction. And the reforms — from the minimum wage to universal pre-K — are important and will make a difference.
But it strikes me as bizarre to suggest that there is no serious debate among Democrats when the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country and a key power in Democratic circles, has just called for the resignation of Obama’s education secretary. Democratic House and Senate leaders refuse to allow even a vote on fast-track trade authority sought by the president, and a majority of the Democratic caucus lines up against Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Progressives in both houses demand bold action on jobs, on taxing and investing that the president resists. Democrats revolt against the White House desire to trim Social Security benefits.
In fact, there is a fundamental debate brewing in the party, grounded on very different perspectives that lead in significantly different directions.
On one side are the passive voice populists, which include both Clintons and Obama. They argue that our Gilded Age inequality is the product of technology and globalization, as if these were autonomous forces like the weather. The effects — a declining middle class, stagnant wages, spreading misery — can be ameliorated by sensible policies, like the agenda Sargent ticks off. Most of all, Americans need to make certain the next generation gets better education and training so they can better compete in the global marketplace. Universal preschool is a first step to that. But the largest thrust — driven by the party’s deep pocket donors — is an assault on teacher’s unions and public schools, investment in charters, public and private, and a focus on high-stakes testing to measure teacher and school performance.
Undergirding this is an acceptance that we can’t really afford to do even the minimum in public education or child poverty, so the focus has to be on cheaper ways to make progress. This assumption also fuels the interest in cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits, experimenting with public-private partnerships to raise funds, and so on. All this assumes that we’re close to the limits on taxes, that corporate tax reform should be “revenue neutral,” (that is, companies should not contribute one dime more to our investment or budget needs), and that taxes on the wealthy can’t produce much additional revenue.
The activist-voice populists disagree fundamentally with both the analysis and the prescription. They argue that extreme inequality results from rules that were rigged to benefit the few and not the many. That leads to the demand for structural reforms to change the rules: fair and balanced trade and tax policies to replace those created by and for the multinationals; breaking up big banks and curbing Wall Street’s casino as opposed to accepting banks that are too big to fail and too big to save; progressive tax reforms to create revenue for the public investments that we need in everything from education to infrastructure to an expanded safety net; empowering workers and curbing CEO license to ensure workers share in the profits they help to produce; expanding Social Security and public pensions while moving further towards true universal, affordable health care.
These differences are only now emerging, as the failure of the recovery forces a bigger debate about our economy. The Wall Street wing presses forward with corporate trade deals that are opposed by a growing majority of voters. The bankers bear no accountability for their pervasive frauds and lawlessness, while most Americans are looking for perp walks. Well-heeled lobbies block any sensible tax reform, while polls show Americans strongly want the rich and the corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Obama has already felt the revolt of the Democratic base against his plans to pare Social Security benefits. Clinton and Obama have been essentially AWOL in the war on labor and collective bargaining, essential elements of any strategy to rebuild the middle class.
Obviously, many of these questions pit the wealthy Wall Street and Silicon Valley donor class against the vast bulk of Democratic voters who are struggling in this economy. It’s not surprising that smart politicians have moved to adopt the populist lite agenda to appeal to the latter without offending the former.
But the divisions are likely to grow because most Americans are struggling in this economy. (Most still think it is in recession.) And with the deck still stacked against most Americans, little is likely to change without a new deal (to borrow a phrase).
And in addition to this is Hillary’s apparent intent to run to the right of Obama on foreign policy — to champion more interventionist and hawkish views at a time when Americans want to rebuild at home. If she pursues this course, it will likely spark a new debate around foreign policy that Obama’s relative caution largely avoided.
Democrats have always been a big-tent party. The divisions between Southern segregationists and Northern liberals were apparent. The battles over civil rights, women’s rights, choice, wars and gays and guns were fierce. Many of these debates now have largely dissipated as liberals have won and the party’s base has evolved. The New Dem scorn for traditional liberals and labor drove big primary fights.
But the new debates over economic direction and the likely battle over policing the world are just beginning to take shape. And if the economy continues to reward the few and not the many, the divisions won’t need to be trumped up.
The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.
Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Life At 7,000 Feet Above Sea Level

Taos Pueblo

Well, I've been here a month now, and find Taos a rather mixed bag. Friendly people, and not so friendly people (the latter mostly at the local chichi grocer.)  I vaguely recall a brief visit here in 1980: a quiet village, dirt roads, hollyhocks in profusion against white stucco, not much going on, few people. Laid back so far as to be reclining. I've tried in vain to find that utterly enchanting coffee place from back then, and an art gallery on a dirt road where I once bought a photo print, but the place looks entirely different than I remember it. (This is a common occurrence wherever I go in the Southwest. Still, one expects something to remain the same, despite the passing of three or four decades.)  I might have been in another town altogether for as little the present day Taos resembles my memory of it, a sleepy, silent place no more.  But the hollyhocks, oh joie! still flourish everywhere you look. Gorgeous color, lush, valiant plants in a mercilessly dry climate.

hollyhocks galore
Living in town, just blocks from the Plaza, is a quaint but rather noisy business. The cops here seem overly fond of their sirens; there just can't be as much criminal activity or urgent trips to hospital as screaming sirens seem to indicate. More like Beirut than a country town in the wilds of New Mexico. The houses, all brown "adobe style" are planted cheek by jowl separated by coyote fencing and stucco walls, an illusion of privacy which does little to muffle the sound of, say, your neighbor hacking and clearing his throat at 5 a.m. or engaging her dog in lengthy, inane conversation. Garbage trucks get rolling every day at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and, like the cops, are immune to the annoying beepbeepbeepbeep they emit at every stop. For a small town, there's a lot of traffic. Sound travels.

The town is nestled in the valley of surrounding mountain ranges, the Sangre de Cristos (Blood o' Christ), among them;  nearby Wheeler Peak looms about 12,000 ft. to the East, providing a kind of wall against which billowing clouds arriving daily from the north and west appear to compact and condense, gathering force in preparation for the afternoon monsoon. We sometimes walk a few blocks out of town to witness "walking rain" falling everywhere but here or another spectacular sunset. Gentler peaks south of town curve westward around to Angel Fire peak, further west distant ranges beckon, fading northward. Snow blanketed the peaks near Angel Fire July 4 weekend; one day green, next day white, now green again. From my Flagstaff days back in '72 (an era my kids perceive vaguely as "back in the day") I recall that it takes a few weeks to acclimate to high altitudes – even if you drive there from sea level as we did – to get to the point where, say, walking fifty feet up a twenty degree incline doesn't leave you completely winded. And yet there we were, five miles out of town at the tennis courts, thinking we'd blast through a couple of easy sets our first week here.

Dream on, chile.

The air here is thin and dry as an old bone. Local advisories suggest measures to counter altitude adjustment issues (windedness, dizziness, that feeling of imminent cardiac arrest): drinking several quarts of water a day and "carbing up". In fact they recommend changing your diet to, like, 70% carbs for awhile. Say what now?

Not with this inflated enchilada round my waist!  After struggling to get carbs down to a reasonable 15% of my food consumption carbing up was not on my agenda. We opted instead to take it slow for a few weeks and can now manage a couple hours of tennis, early in the a.m. No alarm needed, as the garbage crew is so dependable.  Heat prostration (otherwise known as "siesta" here) sets in by noon when  the sun beats down so intensely through this thin atmosphere my fair Irish skin can't tolerate poolside for more than a half hour before I throw in the towel and head home to spend the rest of the day reading, enveloped in cool adobe, ceiling fans whirring quietly, time passing.... drip.. drip....   like Xeriscape irrigation, eeking liquid ever so slowly ... sands through the hourglass...  the days of our lives...

Speaking of reading, wandering the nicely stocked fiction isles of the Taos Library a couple of weeks ago, I happened on Steinbeck's "Cannery Row". What a welcome respite from the cynical me-itis of much contemporary literature, not to mention the sheer joy of writing so divinely wrought its purity and utter lack of nonsense just blow you away, his manifest love for his characters. Gorgeous. I was hoping to find "The Pearl" next, but no luck. Instead I've got "The Winter of Our Discontent", his final, disappointed commentary on American life. I'm not expecting all that love in this volume but have no doubt I'll relate.  Then there was Lily Tuck's "Siam",  another wonderful read by a friend's ex-wife whom I once met on Islesboro.  I wish I'd read her work before that meeting as it's really lovely, wickedly so. Am diving into Turgenev's "Faust" now...  Here's a nice quote I came across today. It rather nicely puts the art of writing in perspective.

"Every reader finds himself. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. '-Marcel Proust, novelist (1871-1922) 

High season brings tourists saddled with fanny packs (Really? Still? You'd think given all the photos folks take of themselves those unflattering sacks might stand out as something they'd have eschewed by now), slurping ice cream cones. People sporting cowboy hats, boots, sneakers, those ungodly hiking sandals, aimlessly scuffling along. This scuffling habit, begun, as many bad habits are, with the younger set, has trickled up to the older set, as "you guys" and "awesome" have. It's a pet peeve of mine (yes, one of many), a not so subtle indication of lazy nonchalance gripping the nation, along with grown men who dress like teenagers and folks, women no less,  who insist, despite my obvious anatomy, on calling me a "guy". It strikes me as depressing, somehow. Is it such a chore to pick up your feet? Or just say "you" when addressing me? I don't recall scufflers in my high school days. It's a fairly recent, now multigenerational, bad habit  – this je ne give a shit cavalier posture, one of many defiant fashion (socio-economic?) statements borrowed from the Hood?  To what end?  Given the price of shoes folks seem unreasonably determined to wear them out as fast as possible and fork over more cash to the Chinese. Then there are the ones who don't even bother to put shoes on. Why just yesterday: a man resting in Walgreen's midday shade in his bedroom slippers. In the middle of the afternoon. Was he homeless? If so he might be forgiven this lapse in protocol. I mean, technically, that side wall might be his daily siesta spot, his home away from no home, as it were. Hence the slippers. To his credit, he was not dragging his heels, so props there. His sense of economy prevailed.

carlotta's truck?
There are frequent free concerts in the Plaza for the hoi polloi, other pricier concerts at the well-designed town concert hall. From our front row seats we enjoyed the Borromeo String Quartet performing Britten's String Quartet in C Major. In the brief stunned silence that followed we turned to each other, a la Bill and Ted, with a whispered "Whoa!" Astoundingly good.  But again, as in Maine, surveying the audience, the preponderance of "old heads" saddened me. No young people, just a sea of white hair. At times like that (there are many) my own generation repulses me; perhaps it's a mark of immaturity, but I relate to the twenty plus to thirty plus set far more than my own cohort, who strike me as, by and large (yes, there are exceptions), rather smugly concerned with their own comfort. Too many of us seem to feel entitled to a certain distance from the very socio-economic and  environmental messes we either created or let accumulate in the process of, yes, pursuing our own precious thang.  What price convenience?

the Taos Inn Bar
The Taos Inn, popular with locals and visitors alike, is worth a visit, interesting interior, with free live music every night. A wonderful young duo from Oregon performed last Friday, original electronic music; we sat in front and stayed for the whole thing, for which the guitar player thanked me afterward. I mean, sweet and unassuming or what? Their group name, Forever Growing, expresses their self image nicely, the music was very good, live guitar and drums, everything else programmed LIVE on the spot and very cool, as in refreshing, exciting new music.

reminded me of my old choir mistress
Taos' museums are a treat: The Harwood, an impressive collection included a new show of giant spray painted Buddha's on twenty foot high sheets of tar paper; Hacienda Martinez, my personal fave, the oldest hacienda around, preserved as it was originally, it gives the visitor a real sense of what life was like for early settlers, minimalistic, practical and ingenious in design; the Millicent Rogers museum, her private collection of New mexican art, includes a stunning show of Native American rugs and those little tin altars I find so cunning and can never remember the proper Spanish word for; the Fechin House (haven't seen yet); and we love the Mabel Dodge House, Millicent's rival for the attentions of local artists and writers in the early twentieth century. But most visitors come to see the old Taos Pueblo, centuries old and still inhabited by Native Americans. We are headed there tomorrow for the annual tribal dances competition.

death cart

the story of spider woman
As we're here for the summer we aren't really tourists. As residents, we generate recyclable trash and wondered what to do with it. Here in the land of old hippies and plentiful new money, if the swank gallery prices are any measure, a lively recycling system should be a given, non?  As there's no door to door recycling program, you have to haul your recycles across town to a chaotic lot of screaming machines and absolutely no one to ask for information. Incredibly they do not recycle boxboard. Say what now? The packaging Americans toss more than any other, save plastic bottles? Furthermore, most plastic is not recyclable here! I found this disappointing. This simply confirms what I've always said about the sixties: It was NOT a majority movement, even among my generation, not philosophically anyway; free love, long hair and Levis do not a raised consciousness make.

Still, there is a good farmers' market on Saturdays on the Plaza. If you first sweat the block, don't buy the first thing you see, you can get some nice quality produce at a fair price. Some of the farmers come all the way from Colorado, four hours north. I bought a "paddle" o' cactus – "a bit like okra, mucilaginous" was how the woman described it, explaining in Spanish I should grill it, slice it and make a paste to mix with other veg, as her son translated. I caught the word "hamburguesa" in there, indicating I should slather mine with this goo. It was too intriguing to pass up, but is still lurking in the fridge.  Another vendor, asked if his eggs were free range, stated they were "macrobiotic". I laughed, sure he was joking. I mean, there's no way eggs are 'macrobiotic' in the classic sense. He seemed offended, I instantly adopted a more sincere expression as he explained: he grew their feed, they ranged free sometimes, ergo - 'macrobiotic'. Not sure George Oshawa would agree, but I bought the eggs.....   They were pale yellow, dead giveaway, not so much free range. Another vendor was selling purslane, a product of recent rains, he said. Very exciting as I've never tried purslane, a green touted by the French.  A gardener selling perennials cheerfully educated me re local plants new to me. The yogurt vendor let me take home a wee gluten free strawberry ricotta pie, saying, as I was out of cash, (I pictured Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons),  I could pay next week. Nice. So, you find all kinds at the market.

Much of what the town offers in the way of "entertainment" doesn't excite me. But when I heard there was a Rodeo in town, we boogied on over there.  Next time: The Taos County Sheriff's Posse Rodeo.  Now that was a gas!

sangre de cristos

Happy Birthday to Tee!!

hollyhock madness

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to YOU!
Happy BIRTHday, Dear TEEEEE!!

Happy Birthday to YOU!!  (and many more...)

Wishing you all the joy imaginable in the coming year, to the most beautiful woman I know.

The Hollyhocks grow like weeds out here. Voici des glorious bouquets for your viewing pleasure.

Every one is waving madly, "Hallo! Happy Birthday, Tee! We love you!!"

growing out of the sidewalk

Thursday, July 3, 2014

L'Oueste Sauvage

The day before we left for GojiLand, on a tip from Marci at Princess Nails, we headed down the road apiece to Ranchos de Taos to see the annual "mudding" of St. Francis de Asis church. Every year the church community gets together, men, women and kiddies alike, and "remuds" the degraded adobe of what is the oldest church in the area – construction begun late 18th Century, completed 50 years or so later. Now, we americans, I find, just LUV to go on about 'community this, and community that', but, truth be told, I find precious little real community anywhere I travel in the US, folks out for Number One is more the norm. But THIS church community was bursting with the real thing, everyone pitching in to giterdone.  The work had a serious air about it, even the kids sweeping the entrance were going at it like they aimed to do it right. It was a heartwarming thing to witness, and many thanks to the gal at the nail salon for putting me onto it.

interior st francis de asis

As much as we LUV the Old Taos Guesthouse in the foothills south of town, a week there in our room was enough, and, being from Maine, we had a yen for wide open country and a little personal space and quietude, the likes of which you only get in the boonies. So we booked a cabin (via airbnb) billed as once inhabited by DH Lawrence and headed for the Goji Berry Farm past Arroyo Hondo about ten miles outside of Taos.  It's a good thing we ventured forth a day ahead of time to check it out, we were glad we did as the original cabin we saw online turned out to be not so great in person, we instead decided on Frieda Lawrence's cabin (girls rule), four times the size of our room at the Inn where we could spread out some, unpack the car, thinking we'd manage just fine. It was the space that registered. Details, not so much. When we actually landed there for good, fresh from hotel luxe accommodations, I felt as though suddenly it was 1969, I was back in time, livin on s shoestring, visions of communes, a slower, less fussy time,  tres laissez-faire, so to speak. (P's impression of the Taos locals is that they're "messy".) The cabin was, um, rudimentarily equipped – so I got quite excited upon finding an old Farberware coffee percolator, only to discover, once I emptied out the old water and scrubbed the thing within an inch of its life, its perking ability was un peu fatigué – still, we managed, and, I have to say, once we let go of the sort of expectations one develops living spoiled at home – we quite enjoyed the simplicity of fewer things, finding that what we had was quite enough.

After two weeks of travel and constant decision-making we chilled out big time, slept nearly all of the first day we were there, listening to the breeze. P took wonderful sunset photos while I made it my mission to get the best possible photos of Luke, the baby lamb whose pleadings woke me every morning, who baaa-ed all day until you came over and pet him (happy I was to oblige). Of course dear Clarisse came to mind, and the silence of the lambs took on a whole new meaning.


Peace and quiet abound out there with the lambs and chickens in patched up pens and the fields of goji berry plants. The owner sells them to folks who arrive with a hankering to start a wee farm project of their own. The owners, a Medicare- qualified vintage hippie couple from Hawaii, are nice folks. And for the price of a cabin you get unlimited access to an infinite supply of fresh sweet kale (pick it yerself) and free range eggs, staples of our diet while there. I got a brief introduction to the 
acequia system of water rights from the farmer, a very old water rights program that goes back centuries; it's how much of New Mexico's scarce water is managed, and it seems to work. Although, seriously, there is a major water issue throughout the state that, despite the best efforts of many (not enough) New Mexicans, is only going to get worse. In today's paper, yet again, an article about water rights for golf courses. Seriously? Do we have our priorities in order, people?

Two darling young fresh-outta-college WOOFER (Willing workers on organic farms) fellas were living in a teeny cabin nearby, volunteers,  (one Yale, one Georgetown, something quite jarring about that somehow, an Eastern presence out here in the Wild West) – one staying for the entire summer, the other for only two weeks who departed for back East our third day there. The woofers' two-hole outhouse was built by none other than Aldous Huxley himself, or so the story goes. Weird how that simple fact can leave you dumbly staring at a structure for far longer than its architecture warrants.  (The mind wanders to DH and Aldous occupying their respective 'holes', shooting the shyte, so to speak.)

huxley's twoseater outhouse
I particularly enjoyed the unlimited supply of fresh well water, and spent each day wandering the farm, doing a bit of therapeutic weeding (for me) while Paul wrangled a weed whacker and went to town on tall weeds out front of the cabin. Having thus 'marked' our territory, we settled in for three days, walked the foothills, checked out the local "store", an old trailer run by a well-weathered woman who seemed glad for company when we bought a can of coke for later. We basically did nada but swing desultorily on the swingset, watch the unending drama of the chicken coop (twenty or so hens and one rooster on Viagra), and listened to the quiet.  I breathed a lot, and gazed into distances.

We were actually reluctant to leave when the time came to take possession of the house we'd rented for two months in town. Just goes to show, modern life hasn't really much to offer when you get down to it.  It's too bad we've lost so many US farmers, that they've lost so many farms to agribusiness. Something sane-making about small farm life, despite its hardships.

More pics of my little Lukey, who was nearly kidnapped, by moi.

weird art thing at farm
 Next Up: Town life in Taos, the Borromeo String Quartet plays Britten, The Taos Sheriffs' Rodeo, Copper sunsets, our fave places to eat, and we take up tennis, ride bikes and actually not much of that as Wimbledon isn't over yet...

go roger!

First sunset ....

In case you're wonderin' why I haven't said anything about that Hobby Horseshit with the Supremes yet..... I'm just bidin' my time, cleanin' my weapon, checkin the site. I'll just finish readin those SCOTUS opinions and dissents and see what gets me most fired up. Tell you one thing.... anyone who doesn't see the similarities to this and Bush v. Gore isn't usin the the brains god game em.  "not to be viewed as precedent" indeed. What a crock.  These wicked people will live to regret what they've done.
"Everything touched is by political choice, the life you take is your political voice." And she meant everything.   (Chrissie Hynde)

Vote with your pocketbook. Think.  It's the only weapon left in the arsenal, but it's a good'un.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Trip West, Part Deux

Buyer Beware!  The camera does lie.

headed north from ABQ

So, like CJ said.. you gotta read the signs.  Just because you have an enjoyable stay in a posh, pastoral Inn on the outskirts of a city during a previous visit,

glorious los poblanos inn

doesn't mean the city itself is anything like the tranquil world of that Inn. Or that photos of rentals on Craigslist tell the real story. We had visited ABQ a month earlier for a couple of days, but tourist and resident are two different realities. (See previous post.) We arrived in ABQ in the afternoon of the 4th, already four days into our rental period, expecting to take up summer residency in our new "house", described online as "beautifully Xeriscaped" and "fully equipped." One expects pricey long term rentals to be well-equipped: things like paper goods, spices, soaps, lightbulbs, wine glasses, a few decent knives, cutting boards, bakeware. Tourists eat out; long term rentals eat IN. I should have known better; from the beginning I failed to read the signs.

Like when I attempted to query the landlady in advance via phone and email regarding such things as whether or not the sheets were cotton, details re the fully equipped kitchen, etc., and she was, to put it kindly, suddenly quite fuzzy headed, reluctant to elucidate, offering the excuse that she wasn't sure, so very busy, get back to you, so burdensome, these questions, etc., in a way that made me feel pickayune for asking. In an effort to be cordial, and despite a nagging feeling, I took her at her vague word all was well. But here's the thing: because different people have different standards, and because nowadays everyone knows the slick lingo of successful house rental ads, you gotta ask or be fekked when you get there. The ad also touted a backyard – where one hopes, given the intense heat of an ABQ summer, there is some shade to be found, not to mention "Xeriscaping" – "suitable for children and pets".  She had also mentioned an "adjacent casita" on the property available to rent for a small fee, a possible studio for P to work in.

The Reality:  The backyard was a shock – a tiny cement "patio" island in a sea of brown dirt, crap stored all around, not a slip of growing thing anywhere; what may once have been a cheap gas grill glowered nearby, 'fire hazard' written all over it. The "fully equipped kitchen" had a few beer glasses, two old mugs, a stack of mismatched plates, ancient Cheerios, not one spice, foods of previous tenants stashed in the cupboard, smelled like it had been abandoned for years. The windows were painted shut, the rooms stuffy and dark, two of them virtually unusably warm due to their distance from the noisy "swamp cooler" in the hallway ceiling. And the "adjacent casita" (casita means "little house" – implying "separate") turns out to be a tiny, dark apartment slapped upside the main house, a tight proximity in which the landlord resided, her primary residence, in fact.    We were upset, but told each other we might make the best of it, be cool, maybe just stay the two weeks we had already paid for while we looked for better digs.  Give her time to rent the place to, according to her,  the swarm of "movie people" eager to take up immediate residence.

SO...  We texted the landlady right away: we had 'some concerns' and could she meet with us as soon as possible. Mind you, we had given her a rather large deposit, half a month's rent, $900 bucks.
Within an hour she arrived, obviously loaded for bear, she could barely manage to look us in the eye as she reluctantly shook hands. I tried not to be judgmental about her getup as it was instantly obvious that not all self-professed "New Yorkers" dress to impress. We smiled, determined to be nice about it. But no go. Within minutes she let us know we were the most unreasonable folks she had ever encountered. There was simply no talking to the woman. I would say she was paranoid, but don't want to sound unkind.  Every word out of her mouth implied we were in some way trying to hose her, rather than the other way round. I mean, the backyard dirt pit alone should have given her pause to apologize. P was aghast, trying to control his fury that she was impenetrable to anyone's point of view but her own.

In the end, we agreed to stay the two weeks so she could find other "movie people" tenants.

Next morning (mind you, she is on the other side of the wall all night, and not one word) she knocks on the door, informs us that the police will be there at 11 am and we must be out by then. Seriously? You'd  think we were criminals. Did you think we want to stay? I felt like I was in a Fellini movie written by Tarantino. When pressed she agreed to give P back two thirds of his rental monies (and, quels cojones! she charged us a cleaning fee!), which means our one night there cost us 400 bucks. Not exactly the Four Seasons. Even though we had NO CLUE where to go next (we'd spent most of the evening looking for another place online) we decided to go, things were getting pretty surreal in the Land of Enchantment.

Then there was the deal with the lease! Yet another "condition" of our departure. P suggests just burning the thing, no hard feelings. No go. We must sign a null and void statement. Now anyone knows you never sign anything contractual just off the cuff. When we balked at this, you know, "Listen, Lady, the place is exactly as we found it, you already have a new tenant coming in, give P his money, and we're outta here", she parks her car at the end of the driveway so we can't get out til we sign ze papers!

That's when I called the cops. Cause that's against the law.

Long story shorter, Cops believed whatever tale she told them (we weren't allowed to hear that, though she got to hear every word of our statement), and we had to sign the paper in order to leave.  PSYCHO Nightmare over.  But the vision of that cop, his widespread stance as he glared us off the property, was truly frightening. We had done nothing wrong, and yet were made to feel as though the entire incident was our fault. THAT is scary when you are in a strange place. We backed out of the driveway and headed to the local coffee shop to regroup. As we looked at each other across the table, our hands were shaking as we realized ABQ and its police force is as crazy as the news media say it is. Breaking Bad and all that. Must be a reason.

no room at the inn (sigh)

We thought to seek serenity and succor along the river West of town, but, alas, no rooms at Los Poblanos. High season now. Next best thing we could think of, made a phone call, got on the highway headed north to a place we knew we would be welcomed as friends: Bob and Kady's wonderful Old Taos Guesthouse.  Relieved, once there we spent days unwinding, recovering from the trauma, and trying to figure out exactly what had happened in ABQ, but we never did figure it out. It was inexplicable, a sad, terrifying encounter in a dangerous town with paranoid people who saw us only as "the other", and, as such, dishonest, inhuman, undeserving of empathy, trust or respect.

In the US today everything is someone else's fault.

I hear it said we are a proud nation. As though that's a good thing.

Doth not Pride go before the fall?

peace and quiet at the Old Taos Guesthouse

ciao for now. next time, Taos and our stay at the Goji Berry Farm.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Trip West, Part One

Taos, NM –  two weeks on the road. Optimists headed West (it's what Americans do, non?) in search of something like a raison d'etre. It's a Boomer phenom, sad but true.  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

We left Maine early afternoon, an hour and a half behind schedule, after settling the T and the kitties in the Wendy House Chez Marcel, headed for New Jersey, to Bel and Marry's (our new nickname for that delightful crew). It was smooth sailing down the interstates to arrive Friday night for too brief a visit. Our plan was a good one: having rented a house in a funky, semi-chic (read:”safe”) area of Albuquerque in advance, we figured... four days on the road, then we can chill out; we were absolutely Destination Oriented.  Philly our next stop, a night in the B and B in West Philly I call the Funeral Parlor, an unfair moniker as the two fellas who run it are delightful. The ambience is just, well,  emphatically Victorian, complete with piped organ music. But the large garden is a welcome respite from the city's hot summer bustle; the hospitality first rate. After a brief (too brief, always)  visit with number One Son and friend, the Sunday morning farmers' market at Second and ? and a quart of deeevine strawberries to carry us through, we headed west.

So far so good, but two rather serious accidents just as we got outside the city on the PA Turnpike funneled us off the interstate into a maze of inadequate signage and an hour delay as we headed toward Pottstown and a road that seemed to go nowhere we wanted to be. But, Surprise! An hour off course there was the sign for I 81 south! We were saved, proceeding south into rural Virginia where the eye relaxes on rolling green hills, the Appalachian Range through the sweet Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains to our left, veiled in a blue hue – a result of isoprene gas they release in the atmosphere that hazes them in that unusual color. Black cattle graze lazily across the soft hills, creamy in the afternoon light; the countryside rolls off in the distance through farms as far as the eye can see, freshly rolled hay strewn over fields of wandering horses, their equine splendor graces the richly endowed countryside of Winchester County. 

The Holiday Inn Express in Christiansburg (back in the land of Sweet Tea) is the hands down winner in "Best Bed" category of the four HIs we stayed in along the route West.  But where to eat? 
This is the important decision for me when I travel. If you've followed my blog at all over the last few years, you know this already. We consulted the desk clerk (a useful habit in Europe, but generally a non-starter in the US, I find,  outside New York, as most of them are young and rarely an inhabitant of where the hotel is located). We drove to the "best place in town" according to urbanspoon, yelp, and the like, a supposedly "French" place,  shells  of decrepit toilets greeted us in the parking lot, messy abandoned tables on the 'verandah', and virtually no one inside or out. I scarfed a menu from under the abandoned reception lectern; we voted an emphatic NO. Following other online recommendations, we found a mall restaurant, Mexican, figuring that might work, Nooooo. Noisy and the usual crappy chips and salsa to start, Margarita glasses the size of your head, and chirping, perky wait staff, too perky for tired travelers. In despair poor P got his first taste of Cracker Barrel’s uninspiring menu, it was just across from our hotel; we simply caved. Where anyone ever got the notion floating a massive slab of colby cheese, like you'd serve, say, with apple pie, is appropriate laid across a sea of iceberg lettuce and chipped chicken like a small raft, is anyone's guess. I wondered what I was expected to do with the thing. Do I cut it up, so to fork up bits with my lettuce? Am I expected to pick it up like a slice of toast?  I do like that they serve breakfast all day, and the gift shop is like a quick cheap and fairly harmless acid trip on the way out. 

Our bed was fabulously comfy, the size of a small island. Four stars.

The next morning we carried on South 81. A road sign indicated an upcoming town called Damascus. I couldn't help but wonder, what life changing experience prompted someone to call a town that back in the day? The curvature of land smoothed somewhat, hills powdered with white blossoms I couldn't identify (at 70 mph, I shouldn’t be expected to). Whatever caramel grasses carpeted the fields looked so soft and inviting a brief lie down crossed my mind. Hillsides wild with daisies, tinier than those in Maine, distributed perfectly equidistant from one another, tiny profuse dots everywhere.

We stopped briefly in Wytheville, for LO! a Starbucks sign doth loom! (a rarity on this trip) where we enjoyed a quick latte and a rice crispy treat, just a morning snack doncha know. Carrying on P pointed out that it's often hard to tell the difference between prisons and schools. This comment was made quite innocently, without agenda, and I had to acknowledge his point, based on what we were seeing. 

We just HAD to stop in Blountville, TN, for genealogical reasons. A charming town, but what with the Ten Commandments so prominent at the Courthouse, and really, all over town and all, I'm not sure I'd want to live there.  You gotta learn to read the signs.... If there's one thing I've learned living in Maine it's that if they call a state "Vacationland" you might want to limit your stays there to vacations – living there might not work out all that well – weather-wise, for one. New Mexico, for example, calls itself the "Land of Enchantment".  Would one want to live in a state of perpetual enchantment? A sort of continuous Holly Golightly mental state? Might that become a bit tiresome? (A guy in the bar here warned us it's really Land of Entrenchment, and frankly it DOES feel a bit like that, but more on that later.)

So here we are in the true South: Let The Ma'ams Begin! I can't get enough of it, truly. And another thing: the visitor centers, those places you stop in for maps when you cross into a new state, are some of my favorite places. People are friendly, wanting to put the best face on their respective state, naturally,  and you can pee and get a new up to date map of the state you're blasting through. Noice, as we say in Joisy.

The Tennessee welcome center's ladies room stalls each had a tastefully framed and mounted item on the back of the stall door. The subject matter? A campaign against, of all things, sex trafficking. Go figure. I thought it was a cool thing for them to do, and I had no idea that was an issue in Tennessee, did you?

Bar none, THE coolest town we stopped in was 

Knoxville, TN. Now there is a cool spot. We stopped for lunch, at Bistro Cru (below), and it was top notch.  Well, when you walk in and Nona Hendrix is wailing away on the box, you just know it's gonna be good. They didn't give me any crap about making my delicious tenderloin steak and shroom sandwich into a simple gluten free entree (and btw the gluten free thing is a given on most menus out here except Cracker Barrels and rib joints), and we shared a truly fresh (locally grown) delicious salad. Service perfect, we sat outside drinking endless sweet tea, content to marvel at this nineteenth/early twentieth century downtown that is resurrecting nicely with way cool coffee wifi shops and restos, and some very arty shops and practical things as well. Impressive. I'd live there in a heartbeat, lots going on, lots still to be done, groovy empty spaces screaming potential that are coming to life, to die for architecture and lots of it.  Friendly folks. I luuuuv Knoxville.

Let's just get back on I 40 and blast past Nashville. I can't imagine the effort it might take to go there. It's another of those massive intimidating metropolises that, to my mind, just send the wrong signal if you're traveling cross country. Rolling on, a long cruise through the verdant humid hills winding past Loretta Lynn's kitchen (one has to wonder...),  huge sex shop billboards tantalizing the innocent, and radio holy rollers, virtually the entire radio dial, exclaiming against such like.  We knew it was time to find a wireless thingy for the iPod.

So we stopped for the night in Jackson, TN, just east of Memphis, at another Holiday Inn Express freshly planted near a new mall by the interstate. Such “modern sprawling villages” have no community value or meaning aside from serving the incessantly mobile American and employing a few semi-locals at low wages. But I found some nice sandals (too hot for shoes by now) and Radio Shack saved us from having to traverse Oklahoma and Texas being railed at by irate preachers.  Our Mexican supper at Tulum (the best of a paltry lot) was friendly and good. We briefly cruised the small town of Jackson five miles or so from the hotel and found little to enjoy there but the Courthouse square, dismal and empty as rain threatened. 

sends a message
 Morning: back on the road a billboard of pure poetry caught my eye that read: “Skillets, Jams and Country Hams”. Isn’t that wonderful? Say it a few times. Skillets, jams and country hams. Just rolls of the tongue. Tennessee’s corn crop was already knee-high,  glossy green fields of it wending northward as the Jackson radio preachers go on (no NPR here) admonishing folks to “get out there and vote and get some changes on the Constitution!” – like that’s something, changing that revered document, you want to do, you know, Today and quickly.  And with a paintbrush or some other crude tool.

Pentecostals, Arkansas lovin the Lord
Despite our newly acquired iPod connector, I listened, fascinated, (not to say hypnotized) by the ranting (“pre-recorded”) sermonettes pervading the soundwaves for miles.  (They call it “good news” radio, and it’s sponsored by your local Town and Country realtors.) One particularly vehement fella actually shouted, nonstop, about “how much women put up with” and “how strong” they have to be to endure,  “like the Bible sez”. One of the things they have to put up with, he clarified, is “abortion”. Say what?  I’m waiting for the “good news”.  We pass an exit consisting of nothing more than a motel (The Old South Inn) and an adjacent sex shop.  The exit road goes nowhere else.  So.. it’s folks stopping for a quick frisson, slipping furtively into a room,  and….  Hmmm.. Can we call this a Sexit? Seriously. A brief wave of carsickness ensues.

Time to check out the iPod.

Driving across America one can’t help but note the profusion of small abandoned farms. You imagine the Dust Bowl, though it’s clear many of these farms were far more recently someone’s dream of a good life. Something they worked hard to realize. I find myself wondering why someone would go to the trouble of haying a field, and then just leave the rolls of hay to rot in what could be next year’s field. What great tragedy befell them? What overwhelming case of lethargy or sloth or pure despair would cause a person to let that much hard work go to waste? Sheer survival in these vast expanses might discourage the most hearty soul. We pass a dirt road curving gracefully down and around a low hill to end in the dooryard of an abandoned wooden two room house, its roof rusting adjacent to an overgrown field plowed hopefully years ago.  You can still see the furrows. I wonder: what strange fate befell that person, to stop his plow, abandon his field, his home, his dream, and leave it to time to reclaim? What level of despair does it take to crush a person’s dreams like that? To have them throw up their hands and say “Enough! I quit!”

“Shove me in the shallow waters before I get too deep” sings the iPod.

The Mighty Mississippi
On the Isaac Hayes Memorial Highway to Memphis local NPR reports recent research on the gender naming of hurricanes reveals that folks perceive female named storms as more threatening. Now here’s something I can chew on. My mind considers the subconscious guilt of the patriarchy where women are concerned. Now there’s a juicy idea. But no, apparently folks are prone to underestimate the intensity of storms with feminine names, and so, after the fact, are left with the impression they are “worse” than masculine named storms. Well, that’ll teach ya to underestimate a woman.  Clearly haven’t read their Shakespeare. Hell hath no fury, and all that.

Memphis. Well we were thinking to grab a coffee as it was easy on easy off to downtown.  And I thought, as I had the address, I’d find my grandfather’s 1929 (good timing, gramps) café location.  It’s now a hairweaving shop on Madison. And looks pretty crap, like most of the city we saw.  Plus I paid 4 bucks for an iced tea in a crappy convenience store. When I complained (quietly) the woman said: “Evehbody get ripped off sometime.”  True enough, like now.

The mighty Mississippi River into Arkansas. Endless Arkansas. White clouds whipped to a lather mounting higher and higher as we hear radio reports of baseball size hail and tornadoes just north of us. We boogie on westward, past seriously shocking tornado remains west of Little Rock. I’m imagining a new theme park: Hunger Games.  Actually I think I heard that on the radio,  for real.

We stop for the night in Yukon, OK, just west of Oklahoma City, the Meat Capital of America.  A sad place of stockyards, masses of short-lived, harmless beasts all waiting to die for my grilling pleasure, and the endlessly repulsive homogenous commercial sprawl that is the new American landscape.

Come morning we figure we can make Albuquerque in seven hours. We’re sick of hotels and are looking forward to being in our own place at last. It’s exhausting trying to find road food as good as your own. Folks here are friendly, they always say hello., never just look away just because you’re a stranger. A gorgeous morning, the storms having passed north of us leaving endless blue sky above the flat horizon.  There will be no rain after all. Once more I think of the Dust Bowl and consider how folks decided when to hang in and when to go. It’s always the same question for Americans, it seems.
The futility of trying to capture the color and vastness of Oklahoma and Texas becomes clear and I put my wee Canon away. Instead I simply breathe it in and feel renewed. The American West. It’s something to behold.

Weirdest thing happens all across Texas: the iPod, set on shuffle, only plays Texas themed songs. Example: Sister from Texas, followed by Texas  Flood, and more Texas tunes. We both think, woooooo….

Billboards repeatedly advertising “Big Tex! Free 72 ounce steak!” for miles before it's location im Amarillo.  I try to grasp this. That is a five pound steak, people. Five pounds. Would you really want it, even if it was free? Shouldn't there be some fine print there warning of irreversible meat coma?

Oh, Look! The Happy Trails Horse Motel– a motel for horses. Only in Texas.  The vast windmill farms appear, one elegant (to my mind) answer to our nation’s energy appetite.  Windmills by the thousands cartwheeling infinitely northward as I squint to try and see where they end but can’t.

The land changes, the color of the earth intensifies to red here and there, we climb for miles into high desert as the glorious still snow capped Rockies, the Sangre de Cristos, come into view to the north. And we begin a descent, spiraling down into the flat expanse of Rio Grande valley that is the city of Albuquerque.

Like I said, we shoulda read the signs.... next time 

looking north toward the Rockies waaay far away