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

No comments:

Post a Comment