Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Exploring my Nuevomexicano roots part II

Day Three

Our attempts to defeat the noise and traffic of Memorial Day was defeated by the early morning noise of hundreds of Harleys passing by the inn. Yes, Taos and the surrounding area hosted a biker rally (I hadn't noticed the "bikers welcome" signs beforehand.) All that could be heard was the rumbling of the most inefficient engine ever built (I am not a big fan of Harley, especially when there are so many other excellent choices. If I had my druthers, I would ride a Triumph or a BMW.)

We ate breakfast at the restaurant at the Inn: poached eggs in red chile sauce. Another wonderful meal that sat on my tongue for the rest of the day.

Bikers were everywhere in Taos. Lots of gray beards, chaps, women who looked as if they had been slumped over a motorcycle for hours, ... . They were nice. I am sure that they were mostly lawyers etc.

We spent the morning in the museums (Taos Museum Association.) First we went to the(Ernest Blumenschein Home. Blumenschein was the son of an Hessian immigrant. He was one of the first to recognize the artistic potential of Taos in the 1890s. He finally moved there decades later, buying a small house where he lived with his family. Over the years he bought adjacent houses and joined them to his, creating a larger complex. The museum is both of his house and of the artists of his circle (which included his wife.) These works had some of the qualities of contemporary European artists: cubism, fauvism, primitivism. What made them unique was the focus on local themes: local Indian and Hispanic culture, the New Mexico landscape.

Next, we went to the Harwood Museum. This was a more ordinary museum that featured a mixture of Taos artists from the twentieth century. We were a little annoyed by the special Jasper Johns exhibit because the museum curators were setting up lighting as we were walking through (furthermore, I am not impressed by his work.) The big treat was the special exhibit of work by Pola Lopez. Hers was the first that I would encounter on the trip that would combing elements of Hispanic folk art with more contemporary political confessionalism. The museum also feature a decent collection of nineteenth century santos.

We walked over to the Kit Carson Home. Boring. If you don't know, Kit Carson was a legendary trapper and tracker who helped Anglos move into the Spanish Southwest via the Santa Fe Trail. There were hundreds of books written about him that praised his acuity as an Indian fighter. To his credit, he never really fought back the Indians. In fact, he appeared to support rights for Indians. The museum is basically a reflection of life in New Mexico during the nineteenth century. Nothing of real interest.

We hopped into our car to go to the Hacienda Martinez. This was another "how they lived" kind of place. The hacienda was a rather wealthy ranch that was run by a Hispano family. This was more interesting than the Kit Carson home only because it gave a broader sense of what it was like to live in Taos. Historian of the Hispanic Southwest David Weber has written a book about the Hacienda.

Thereafter we attempted to find the church of Rancho de Taos (technically separate from the Town of Taos, which is separate from the Taos pueblo.) The Hacienda was located in some remote area. We got lost trying to find our way back to the main highway. We got to look at some of the poverty in the area. Not everyone in Taos, nor in New Mexico, is a rich artisan who sells his wares all over the country. There is some serious rural poverty that especially affects the Hispano population.

When we finally hit the highway we turned south, completely missing the Church that was right before our eyes (actually, the sign was before our eyes ... the Church was hidden by other buildings.) We drove quite far out of town. At least we could stop to take some pictures of the gorge. The Church of San Francisco de Asisi is another beautiful adobe church decorated with wonderful folk art.

We drove north of Taos to the Pueblo. The pueblo is a awesome sight: adobe structures that reached several stories high. (No one ever really explained how the introduction of adobe (an imported technique from Morocco) was different from what the Pueblo Indians already had before contact with Spanish.) The pueblo is divided into two complexes of buildings that are divided by a stream. On the north side is the church. It was built in a similar fashion to other churches, but the worship space has more dolls and figures rather than painted saints. At the center is a doll dressed as Mary, at the side a coffin. We took a tour of the pueblo. The guide explained that this was the second Church. After the 1680 revolt the first Church had been destroyed. The Pueblo Indians compromised with the returning Spanish authorities, returning to Catholicism but combining it with native religious practices (unfortunately, no photos may be taken in the church.) He showed us to the remains of the first church, which now serve as a graveyard. Only impermanent burials are allowed: straight into the earth, without coffin. When the cross falls down, the people move it into a pile of crosses at the side of the graveyard and use the space to bury another body. He also showed us around the buildings themselves. They constitute only part of the pueblo population (many lived in more modern houses just outside the traditional pueblo.) The people who lived here were required to live in a somewhat traditional manner--no modern conveniences, save propane gas (how happy would Hank Hill be?). The tour guide also explained about how the pueblo is governed, how the buildings were maintained, what environmental and natural resource rights the pueblo had and how they were maintained. He was an excellent guide. We walked around for almost an hour. We bought a few things--two necklaces, some bread, music. Everyone on the pueblo was really friendly and talkative. One woman told us about her family--how they lived in the outside world. Her son, whom she described as a "half-breed", lives in Connecticut. We were amused by her stories.

The last touristy thing for the day was to drive north to the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande Gorge. OK, we were scared (or scarred.) We could not walk but one-third of the way across the bridge. The wind was blowing hard, and we could not stand up properly to take pictures because we were so afraid. Oh well.

We ate again at Apple Tree--it was simply too good. This time we forewent the bottle of wine for sangria. We also drank beer at the inn later that night.

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