Monday, June 17, 2013

Tapas, Tea and Tempos

My last 24 hours in Santa Fe were filled with lots of my favorite things.  Since writing about the many hours I spent lazily watching House Hunters International in my rented guesthouse isn't very exciting (I never get to do that when I'm home!), I'll focus on the dancing and eating.

Flamenco dancing was the second dance I ever truly loved.  My first love was square dancing, due to my grandfather's regular performances when I was growing up.  He and his girlfriend would spend hours spinning around other couples at both inside and outside dances, and for most of my life when I thought of dance, it was the rhythmic swirl of multi-colored skirts and twirling couples that immediately came to mind.  While I'm sure dance aficionados will cringe when I say this, I see many similarities between square dance and flamenco.  The full, layered skirts designed to flare just the right amount. The stomping feet, the varied tempos.  Now that I've seen more of the world I definitely prefer flamenco, though I will always love those memories of Grandpa.  I love flamenco because of its solitude.  The dancer relies heavily on the musician(s), but really good flamenco dancers seem able to shut out absolutely everything except the music, the pounding of their feet, the movements that seem to be almost out of their control.

There are some chances to watch flamenco dancing in Phoenix but I don't pursue them often enough, so I was delighted to learn that I was in Santa Fe for the one night a month that El Mesón hosts a flamenco show.    With $10 for the entrance fee and some lucky timing, I managed to get a reservation at the "non-bar bar," a counter that ran along one wall near the stage.  The angle posed significant danger to my neck, which was twisted throughout the entire evening to watch the show, but it was definitely better than taking up one of the few tables while dining alone.  I have no problem dining alone - most of the time I really enjoy it.  It's a confidence-building exercise that sometimes leads to new friends and always causes deeper appreciation of the food in front of me.  But I'd never eaten tapas alone, an activity that suddenly felt like an extreme sport when I opened the menu and saw this introduction.

I laughed, then promptly ordered enough food for me, myself and I.  And we ate every bit of it.

The only thing better than the patatas dos salsas was the dancing.  Three dancers, one singer, one guitarist - all wonderful.  I learned that I much prefer flamenco without the singing - the drama of a diva clashed with the simple passion of the dancers - but it was easy to tune out the voice when the walls echoed with the pounding of feet and clapping of hands as the dancers cheered each other on.

Since Saturday included such memorable Spanish food, it seemed only natural that Sunday begin with a sinfully good French breakfast.  I braced myself for an inevitable touristy experience and entered The French Pastry Shop inside La Fonda hotel.  The aura was disappointing and not at all French.  Sleepy-eyed tourists were crowded around small tables served by waitresses who offered the bare minimum of care for the diners.  A radio station played Spanish music quietly between lengthy advertisements.  A pleasant bell rang whenever someone entered the shop, which I enjoyed until I realized it just meant more people crammed into the space around my table.  But while the shop didn't exude the relaxed yet fervent feeling I love about Parisian dining, the food was delightful.  I didn't even pretend to aim for health or balance, and enjoyed every bite of the overpriced whipped cream and raspberry crêpe.

I'm glad I gave the pastry shop a chance, but I much preferred the breakfasts I got at The Station.  A coffee shop located (obviously) in an old train station next to the still-operational train tracks, The Station became my favorite place in Santa Fe as soon as I stepped inside.  It's one of those perfect places that has a spot for everything: on a windy day I enjoyed a corner surrounded by windows and comfy seats, on a sunny morning I read a paper on the patio and eavesdropped on the baristas enthusiastically welcoming the locals who stopped by every morning.  There's a comforting familiarity in the sudden whoosh of a milk steamer and the clunk of an espresso machine, especially when joined with an aptly-timed soundtrack of "Hopeless Wanderer" by Mumford and Sons.
I loved the details of my last day in Santa Fe.  The cold wind that whipped around but allowed me to wear one of my treasured scarves that must remain hidden in the closet during Phoenix's blistering summers.  The solitude of being the only passenger of a quiet shuttle driver on the way back to the airport.  The admirable attempt at a Cinco de Mayo celebration with old cars (five  of them, appropriately) cruising the streets of the Plaza bedecked in paper flowers and overflowing with Mexican beats and enthusiastic shouts from passengers.  And the knowledge that even a short airplane ride still excites my sense of travel and adventure.

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