Monday, June 3, 2013

Wandering Across the Border

Real Life has trimmed my travel wings for too long, but last month I got a weekend for a long-overdue and much-welcomed chance to get back on an airplane.  The adventure was more domestic than I like, but since weekend trips to Thailand just aren't practical I settled for a new destination close to home: Santa Fe.

The weekend began with a trip to the airport on the new Sky Train.  I'll provide more details and amusing observations on my soon-to-be-live blog about life in downtown Phoenix, but here's a quick tip to anyone going to or from the Phoenix airport: do it!  The train was practical, fast and enjoyable and the whole thing made my trip much easier.

A train, plane and shuttle ride later, I began my pursuit of new experiences in a state I'd only seen from an Interstate. I normally over-research my trips but I'm ashamed to admit that I failed to find the airline that provides Phoenix-to-Santa Fe direct flights - my time in New Mexico included hour-long shuttle rides both ways between the Albuquerque airport and downtown Santa Fe.  It was interesting to see so much of northern New Mexico, though - it made me appreciate the amazing diversity Arizona has when you travel north or south of Phoenix.  The area around Albuquerque wasn't too different from Phoenix - I haven't seen that much dusty land since the trip across Namibia.

I started my time in Santa Fe with the top priority on my list: adding to my collection of state Capitol photos.  I got a photo of the lovely building but did not capture the most interesting Capitol sight: an insane man rampaging about his plans to shut down the government with "insider information" he wanted to pass on to the Governor.  The building may look better than Arizona's Capitol, but apparently we all have our share of entertainment. 

The Capitol building is round and the House and Senate are round inside of the round building - I got lost in the intersecting, unfolding spirals within 30 seconds, but enjoyed the walk through the art-filled hallways and abandoned office buildings.  If I spent much time at the New Mexico Capitol building, this is where you would find me every. single. day:

I spent a moment imagining the fast-paced walk-and-talks that must happen in these hallways, thought of the sharp crack of the wood gavel as the legislature came to action...and then I realized my stress level was increasing and I was not escaping from work like I'd planned, so I wandered to sights less directly connected to my day-to-day life.

The enjoyable thing about exploring close to home is the similar tourist touches.  I saw many street markets in Santa Fe, but this first one in the heart of downtown had all the offerings that make east coast guests feel like they're in the Wild West.

As I paused to process all my thoughts on that "homeland security" t-shirt, I realized that it was late afternoon and I hadn't eaten anything except the croissant in the airport.  (A good croissant, however, since Phoenix's Terminal 4 now has outstanding local restaurants rather than the typical Starbucks and Carl's Jr.!)  I avoided the long lines outside the famous/infamous places on the Plaza and went in search of a restaurant with a patio.  When a Phoenix girl finds herself in 77-degree weather, going inside is just not an option.  The quiet sidewalk patio of Palacino Café was the perfect stop (and yes, I also liked it because "palacino" reminded me of Cuba's "paladars" - at least I'm consistent in my obsession).  I didn't know it at the time, but this would be my best dining experience in Santa Fe.  The shy, friendly owner was delightful and the food was yummy.  And yes, I did take a picture.

Armed with an entertainment guide I'd received from the thoughtful concierge at La Fonda hotel, I planned my Friday evening.  I quickly got to know the downtown area as I mapped out where the events were occurring - several were within easy walking distance but before I started my evening entertainment I visited another site at the top of my list: the St. Francis Cathedral.

I've seen grander cathedrals but this one was special and I'd visit it often during my time in Santa Fe.  I developed something of a crush on the fictional Jean Marie Latour when my book club read Death Comes to the Archbishop last year (not as serious as the crush I still have on Tarzan, of course, but the dear Archbishop provided good balance to my literary love life).  Latour's kindness and generosity blended with other fictional characters I loved - in particular, to my imagination he was a southwestern version of Victor Hugo's Bishop Myriel, with perhaps a little more human wit thrown in for survival.  Cather was inspired to write the book while standing under the statue of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, so I delighted in standing in the same spot. 

I didn't feel any lightning bolts of literary inspiration but I really did like the church.  And of course I paid a loving visit to St. Francis and his animals.  This statute is one of my all-time favorites - I love the friendly face and the bare feet,and the wary, watchful look on that wolf's face.

I photographed the evidence that not all animals respect St. Francis as they should - check out the extravagant measures taken to keep pigeons from polluting the stone at the top of the cathedral.

I left the Catholic church and wandered down the street to pay a visit to the Presbyterians.  Their bell choir apparently performs somewhat regularly and the church offers frequent free concerts.  It's a beautiful building and there was no pressure to contribute the voluntary donation...but the acoustics are excellent and there's no way to quietly extricate yourself until the end of the show, so be sure you get a seat if you attend.  My seat was unfortunately not comfortable. The setting sun shone brilliantly through a window just below the elevated roof of the building, resting solidly in my left eye no matter which way I shifted in my seat.  The music was lovely, though I apparently don't know as many hymns as I thought I did.  The bell choir was a fascinating mix of people: men and women, and even a very young man who played the difficult bass notes.  I enjoyed the hour-long concert both for the music and for the freedom it gave me from my long-held desire to be in a bell choir.  Every Christmas I pledge I will buy white gloves and learn to appropriately bang out a designated bell note...but after watching the lengthy concert, I was forever cured.  It's fun to watch but doesn't look like much fun to do, when you consider all the hours of standing around practicing and attempting to keep those gloves perfectly white while the person standing next to you mumbles the musical count under her breath.

I surrendered my earlier intentions of checking out live country music and opted instead for a rare and treasured evening of reading in a quiet home away from home. Thanks to my mom's search I'd moved into a tiny but cozy little guesthouse about a 10-minute walk from the Plaza downtown.  So I escaped the tourists, blended with residents out walking their dogs before settling in for the evening and curled up with one of the five books I'd brought with me.  It was only a weekend but I always overestimate my reading needs on trips.

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