Sunday, February 20, 2011

from Atlanta, but it should have been Minneapolis

The winter of travel discontent. Except, truthfully, I am not harmed nor even frustrated by all the flight disruptions that continue to plague me this season. I am merely taking it in. And this latest pickle – a snowstorm, or wintry mix storm, or some kind of meteorological chaos now in the Midwest – was already in the works many days back. When the inevitable email came in Saturday midnight, just as we were winding down one last talk around the kitchen table and I read the announcement that both Minneapolis and Madison had canceled flights for the next day, I was not surprised.

I was also not surprised that I could not reach Delta right away, that it took many many tries and that I was put on hold for 1.5 hours – taking me now to 3 a.m. and still without a seat to the Midwest for the next day.

But, luck was surely with me and the beleaguered night agent finally found a seat on a terribly early flight out (in just a few hours!) -- to Atlanta. And from there to Chicago. Maybe. And from there we’ll see.

I am in that state of contentedness that comes when you thought you’d have yourself a tortuous journey and instead you’re put in a comfortable seat on a smooth flight -- all this, on the tail end of a most wonderful Saturday in Santa Fe.

Lovely Santa Fe. Even as, I have to admit this – the town is different than I had imagined it. Which only tells me that I shouldn’t wait until I’m good and old before I visit places because when I finally do go, I have to wipe out all past images and work hard to start with a clean slate. You rarely travel with a clean slate once you get older.

What I find now is a sprawling town, high up in the hills, but quite flat actually. As if someone had carved out space for it up there where the sky seems very very close and, at times, very very blue.

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We start with a look at the Farmers’ Market (which is quite near the Flea Market and so we cover both).


I am in the southwest. Yes, there are apples and heirloom tomatoes and quite a number of vendors sell goat cheeses and honeys – even the south has its winter season. But the colors are different here (even the fresh eggs have a palate of soft hues I hadn’t seen before, except maybe in an Easter basket).


And some foods just shout New Mexico. The chilis, the posole, the lavender. Woolen goods, yes, maybe I could find those in Madison (though one vendor says this about her products: I sheer them, dye them and knit them myself). But not prune flatcakes and certainly not the beads and buckles and boots that I see here.

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There is a strong tribal presence among the vendors. And an even greater number of American Indian sellers up on the Square. The Plaza. A nod to Mexico, I'm told,  in the layout and the style of housing along the perimeter.


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Do I buy anything? Well yes. A tiny turquoise bead, lavender soap, chipotle chocolate fudge. We are a frugal bunch, but when we are together, something within me loosens up and it’s all that I can do not to buy another carpet, for example.

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I say another, because on two of the previous reunions I came home with carpets. And now, in Santa Fe, we meet a most affable fellow from Morocco, and I begin to think that there is something about carpets and these friends of mine that fits too well, as if I’m looking not at carpets at all but at warm patterns woven in places that are distant and dangerous – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kuba on the Caspian Sea ... On and on, we listen to our man talk about the places where he can find the most fantastic carpets and I can almost see him, dark with a long and lovely pony tail, placing silver coins into the hands of tribal men whose rugs flank the backs of mules or maybe even llamas.

Santa Fe has, of course, less exotic but no less beautiful art too. Lots of it. Gallery upon gallery. Lovely places and so terribly expensive that really, I feel sad for the artist and the gallery owner because surely a sale does not happen frequently here.


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We have a southwestern lunch – posole stew for me, and somewhere in the late afternoon we stop for an espresso and it is sublime to sip this outside and to eat raw chocolate even as I never recall having had raw chocolate before.

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It’s a blustery day. The wind kicks up the dust and blows balls of brittle brush across the highway. We talk about how dusty New Mexico can be – all gray and brown now – nothing’s green yet, if indeed it ever is green. When rain drops come for a brief second, I hear from all corners – we’re grateful for every bit we get. (Albuquerque’s annual rainfall is 6 inches; how about that, Seattle!)


We have dinner back down in the valley, not far from the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s a lovely restaurant. Our hosts ask us if we have had enough of the spices of the southwest and I think – no, not all. Only can you please refill my glass of water? And lots of ice?

And then it all ends – this very brief week-end far from the blizzards and snow piles and icy walks home from the grocery store. We grow older, my friends and I, at the same pace – how remarkable is that – we’re all the same number of minutes closer to our various looming retirements and pensions and all other things you hear mentioned by people who would not be your parents but grandparents. And it is quite satisfying to know that we can fret about access to health care for all and then move on to a review of who dabbled in what art or travel in the year that just ended.

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So, now, let me face the Midwest and the blizzards. Surely there is a way to get back to town in time for classes tomorrow. Surely there is.