Sunday, May 15, 2005

Santa Fe For the First Time

For years people have been telling me I need to go to Santa Fe - that it's my kind of place, I'll love it, it's spiritual, it's wonderful, it's a place I'll adore.

Well, I have finally made the trek. There were things I enjoyed but, frankly, I found it to be little more than an overgrown tourist trap. How much silver and turquoise jewelry does one person really need?

I went to the folk art museum and the Native American museum the first afternoon I arrived, which was Mother's Day Sunday. Part of the reason for my timing was to be away from home over Mother's Day, which is a difficult time for me every year because of my mother's death.

I drove around the city a bit, got a feel of the lay of the land, but didn't do anything other than those two museums. I had planned to have a nice dinner, but I called a few places and could not find any place that was available that evening. I realize it was Mother's Day, but supposedly Santa Fe has enough restaurants that everyone can be eating out at once. Apparently not. At least not at nice places.

I also went to the tourist information center to get more information but it's closed other than 8-5, Monday through Friday. This is something I wish tourism places all over the country would realize - pleasure does not work on business hours. If you really want to serve tourists, being open during "tourist hours" as opposed to business hours would be helpful. At the end of the day, I had a burger at Sonic, and packed it in early.

But, on the upside, I got out of the traffic, which was horrendous. I think part of this was that it was Mother's Day because it wasn't so bad the following day. I found a KOA campground outside of Santa Fe, overpriced at $30, but very pleasant, helpful people and very safe. I settled in for the night to have a fresh outlook for the next day.

I started Monday at the St. Francis Cathedral, right on the plaza. It's famous, of course, for being built by Jean Baptiste Lamy, the first archbishop of Santa Fe, who is the star of Willa Cather's book, "Death Comes for the Archbishop."

This was on my list of things to see because of the Lamy connection. One of the wonderful things is that it opens very early in the morning, so I was able to get there early and park nearby. Parking, of course, is an issue in Santa Fe on the plaza.

I had a few other targets in Santa Fe, although some of them were closed because it was a Monday. I've never figured out why museums assume people do not want to visit them on Mondays. It's like tourist information places being closed on weekends, when most tourism occurs. It's idiotic. Anyway, I could not see the Georgia O'Keefe museum without staying another day and I wasn't going to do that. But, I had plenty to amuse myself with.

One of my favorite stores in Santa Fe was JL Brass at La Fonda, even though I didn't get to go inside. But, it was my kind of place. To begin with it was a beautiful blue trimmed door, with color coordinating plant life, and seemed to be brimming with fun art.

There was a temporary note on the door that said, "Closed Monday May 9 - Mental Health Day." The small print noted they were also tearing up the street that day - which they were busy doing when I was there - but I just loved the attitude.Further investigation revealed this would not have been a surprise to anyone who knew the proprietor.

Another sign that was a more permanent fixture said, "Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are my tennis mornings. I am often 1/2 hour late. One must keep one's priorities straight." You just have to love that attitude. Oh, by the way, the hours were listed as "10-6 daily, subject to weather and/or whim."

I wandered on toward Loretto Chapel. This is the chapel with the miraculous staircase, built by a stranger who seemed to appear in response to the nuns' novena. Modern engineers cannot figure out how the staircase supports itself.

One of the things I've never had a sufficient explanation for about this is why the staircase wasn't built in the first place. Well, finally, I have an answer. Apparently it was not uncommon for choir lofts to not have staircases because choirs were generally men. They climbed up by ladder. This wasn't practical for the nuns. So, there's the answer to that quandry.

I had a lovely lunch at the French Pastry Shop. It was wonderful to hear French being spoken, as well as Spanish. I loved the signs, posted prominently, that said, "All pastries are made with real butter." It was so beautiful in its unapologetic directness.

After feeding the parking meter some more money, I went to visit the Mission of San Miguel. It's open every day from 9-4, except the day I was there when next to the "open" sign was a post it note saying, "will return at 1."

Not to worry, the "Oldest House in the USA" is right across the street. I went to visit it. Its most interesting features are outside, one of which is the sign. I wish it weren't backlit in this photo so you could get the full effect, but the top panel says, "Oldest House in the USA" and the bottom one says "ATM."

The oldest house part is only two rooms but it's very neat to see the old wood. The rest of the building is a gallery. And, there's a resident kitty cat who will wander up and make you his by rubbing your ankles.

The outside of the building is fascinating. You can see the uneven texture and those two old doorways. I took some time to sit down in front of the church and do a quick watercolor because the color was so nice. I pretty much just used it right out of the tube - it was the perfect rich color. I grew very fond of the blue and adobe combination seen so many places.

The San Miguel Mission was my last stop of the day. It's one of the oldest churches in the US, operating since the 1600s. It has some really unusual art, including a painting on deer hide. It's worth a visit and happens to be right next door to a well known pizza place.

I didn't have the time or inclination to eat there. My slight case of altitude sickness kept me from fully enjoying the cuisine, I'm afraid. Next time I'll allow myself a little extra time to acclimate.

By mid afternoon I was headed out of Santa Fe, toward Taos.

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