Santa Fe, the holy faith. The city of vision, spirit, and romantic yearnings of the creative soul. The thought of visiting Santa Fe filled me with the expectancy of a seeker on pilgrimage for whom the journey is the ritual, the arrival the discovery and the consecration.
We arrived in Santa Fe at a good hour when the daylight, though overcast, still had some hours left in it. Our first stop was Trader Joe’s because, well, where else would we start our visit in Santa Fe?
As Caroline shopped for things like salads, fruits, and whole wheat wraps, I looked after Solomon and checked out the shoppers to see what sampling of Santa Fe I might find. Lots of funky, earthy-dressed people wearing what looked like thrift store stuff to wool panchos to yoga-wear. I liked it. The dress reflected the influence of the Southwest mingled with artistic and spiritual sensibilities. I can never tell how much of what I see is in the bones, but I don’t stop to think about it. I only want to observe and take it in. Besides, Solomon doesn’t care, so why should I.
At the checkout I tell the girl about our move to California and ask what is there to do in Santa Fe.
”Eat,” she says flatly, as if bored with Santa Fe. Her reply dimmed my pilgrim’s candle a bit. I was expecting to hear more, like maybe effusive praise for the city’s artistic and metaphysical offerings, like where to go to contact the ghost of Georgia O’ Keefe or something. Nope.
Her reply and my internal reaction to it reminded me of my first Craigslist transaction. I had posted an unused, unwanted Lexmark printer for sale. A CL user expressed interest and we arranged to meet in Manhattan at a corner in midtown.
I arrived first, filled with the excitement of participating in what I believed to be a community-building event. She appeared out of the busy, shuffling crowd. I handed over the box, still factory-sealed, and she handed over the money. I really thought we would have, at that moment of consummation, an exchange of words expressing our glee over this. I thought we’d share our hopes and possibilities of building a new world of openness and beneficence over tea and a salad wrap, or that we’d promise to stay in touch, or play Yahtzee or something. Nope.
Didn’t happen. She took the box, made an abrupt 180 degree turn, and disappeared into the crowd from which she emerged. I stood there with the same look that was on Scarlett’s face after being dissed by Rhett at the end of Gone with the Wind. I guess I gave a damn and got nothing for it.
I stood looking at the checkout girl, without any of Scarlett’s pain, and understood that the world is not a cozy moment under a fuzzy blanket by the warming fire. Nope. The heart is, or can be, but not this modern world. So I just said, ‘Ok’, and left it at that.
We checked into the first motel we found. A Motel 6. After spending the night in a soft, cruddy bed I can tell you with confidence, don’t stay in a Motel 6.
After settling into our room we had time to walk around Santa Fe’s hub, the Downtown Plaza. There’s the Historic Square, the nucleus of the Plaza and surrounding it are main streets and off streets of boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Lots of them.
Night had just settled in and there was quite a chill in the air, enough to put on layers and a scarf and walk briskly. Though it was only around 6pm quite a few of the shops and galleries had closed, but enough were open for us to check out. One gallery, Galerie Zuger, featured beautiful African sculptures in its windows. Some were life-size and draped in beaded robes. Gorgeous, really.
We entered this one. The African works were by an artist, Woodrow Nash, from Akron, OH. Check out his work. I’ve seen his pieces online and in person and viewing them online does nothing to convey the life carved and breathed into these pieces.
Continuing through Galerie Zuger we stopped to admire their collection of bronze sculptures by Gib Singleton, arguably the only artist ever to be represented simultaneously in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Vatican Museum and the State of Israel (whose collection of his art was a bequest of Prime Minister Golda Maier) — quoted from http://galeriezuger.homestead.com/Biographies/Singleton.html
Most of his pieces bear a religious theme and they are awesome. There was one piece, Moses, that stood about 8 or 9 feet tall, depicting Moses carrying the stone tablets. The 2 details which attracted me most about this piece, in addition to its height, were the elegantly curving lean and the wind-blown hair. The suggestion of movement, of life, transcended the lifeless metal out of which it was carved.
There were also some abstract works on display by a priest, Father Bill Moore, which I wish we had more time to see but Solomon’s curiosity and restlessness were too much for the gallery to safely contain.
We continued walking throughout the Downtown Plaza and an uncertain gloom came over me, dark and heavy. As we continued walking any interest and curiosity I had in Santa Fe left me like the end of summer leaves a child.
Whenever this sort of cloud comes over me I choose to sit under its shadow, refusing to blow it away with the breeze of a sunny thought. My experience has shown me there is much learning and wisdom to be cultivated from dark, waterless clouds. I welcome the pain’s offerings, if not the pain itself.
It wasn’t long before I knew what it was. Santa Fe had plenty of spirit, lively and pleasant enough, but it lacked soul. Plenty of shine, no substance.
Maybe it was the glut of shops with their inventory of crass, cartoonish depictions of the Indigenous peoples whose slaughter and marginalization still haunt Santa Fe today or the mere fact that the Downtown Plaza is, at its heart, nothing more than a shopping mall for consumers content with the veneer of spirituality and artistry.
Full awareness now beat within my feeling nature – where were the children of Indigeny? Why were they not walking about, amidst the throngs of smiling, excited children of modernity bouncing from shop to shop and in and out of restaurants? And why was my soul leaning toward these sobering thoughts in the midst of such revelry?
We kept walking down one street and bumped into the curator of Galerie Zunger, Mary. She was a sweet soul and generous with her energy and time, both in and out of the gallery.
As the 3 of us, plus Solomon, talked, an Indigenous son, in age about mid-30’s to mid 40’s, walked up to our gathering on the narrow sidewalk on his way to somewhere. Having no way around our cluster he kindly put his hand to his heart and with the same hand cut a slightly arcing path through the air while politely asking to be let through. I moved to make room for him while thanking him. He continued on his way through the night as my eyes followed him lovingly, awestruck by his way of communicating. I don’t know his name, don’t know his story, but I will never forget him. He and that moment of sublime communication and thoughtfulness live in me now, guiding me in the ways of humility and dignity. I pray I can fulfill his grace in my living.
The next day, Sunday, we visited the Georgia O’ Keefe Museum housing a number of her works produced during her prolific career. I am not an art buff and I don’t pretend to be. I’m quite ignorant of art and of many things that mark the cultured of our society. However, I am sensitive to the creative spirit as expressed through me, artists, and Nature and willingly followed Caroline’s desire and insistence that we visit the museum.
Unfortunately, well not so unfortunate actually, Solomon kept me busy chasing him as his mother enjoyed her moments in peace and solitude gazing at the works of one of the influences of her art. Solomon was quite busy and loud, especially when he saw some other children in the museum. I was distressed at the thought of the visitors’ meditative time in the museum being disrupted by my son and comforted by the understanding and kindness shown to me and Solomon by the museum security staff. Life on Earth is never one way or one thing but a continually delicate dance of opposites and contradictions. That’s something to be thankful for.
Leaving the museum we headed for our car. The sky was still gray and cold winds blew about in the autumn sky. It now began to snow. The adobe architecture stood out better in daylight, the earthen clay a reminder of what really gave life to this place, that is the spirit and works of the Indigenous fathers and mothers of Santa Fe and of this continent.
As we passed through the Historic Plaza I found the Indigenous sons and daughters I had been wondering about. They were lined against an entire stretch of wall underneath an overhang, sheltered from the on-again, off-again rain but not from the cold. They were all wrapped in wool blankets and dressed in wool hats and in front of each one, about 40 or 50 of them, was a blanket spread out. On each blanket was an array of jewelry, trinkets, and other artifacts they were selling. Small crowds of people proceeded slowly in a buyer’s parade, reviewing each station for its offerings.
I now began to hate Santa Fe.
Standing in front of an establishment, where our car was parked in front, was a son of Indigeny (an awesome word, by the way, coined by Ukumbwa Sauti, a Shaman trained in the Dagara tradition and college professor in New England). He was admiring Solomon and said something directed at Solomon which I could not quite make out, but I could tell by the smile on his face that it was a blessing. We got in the car and I got it started to warm it up.
I looked to my right and my eyes met his which were red with the stain of alcohol. His long hair, dark, slightly grayed, was lofted in the incessant winds. He was wearing only a hooded sweatshirt on such a cold day. It covered his paunch. I truly wished I had my one super-warm winter coat to give to him. I got out of the car and approached him.
”Hey, my Brother, how are you?”
Sounding slightly drunk, very slightly, he answered, “I’m blessed, my Brother. Hey, can you help me out? Can you spare a little something?”
I handed him a single then placed my hand firmly on his shoulder. I felt no pity for him, only love and tender compassion. In his eyes I saw and felt my brother, Dicky, who passed away in 1995. I saw and felt the spirit of my people, downcast but always warm, gracious, and ever-connected to the core of life in spite of whatever adversity pounds against it. I saw and felt my Self, my Creator.
We talked a bit. His smile conveyed an innocent enjoyment of this moment of fellowship that masked the pain which I knew hid within. His eyes were the eyes of a brother or a grandfather whom you haven’t seen for a long time and so look forward to being with again to share stories and laughs over a warm meal. His eyes looked like friendship in its purest expression.
“What’s your name, my Brother?”
“Anastacio,” he said. I wanted to ask what his Indigenous name was but didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t ask at the time.
“I’m Sariyd. It’s cold out here, Bro. How are you gonna keep warm?”
He put his right hand to his heart and waved it to the sky, his eyes following reverentially. I got it.
“I feel you, Bro.”
For a moment we stood looking into each other’s eyes in silence. We smiled at one another in kinship and brotherhood. I live for these moments when silence speaks with such eloquence and eternity records the words and echoes their meaning.
“Alright, Anastacio, I’m gonna go now. Stay warm, stay blessed, and blessings to you always.”
“Thank you, Sariyd. God bless you, my Brother.”
I got into the car and drove off as Anastacio began walking somewhere. I sent him another silent blessing.
Later on I looked up the meaning of the name, Anastacio, as I so often do when I come across names that intrigue me for any reason or none at all. Each name bears an energetic imprint according to its meaning, and I believe our names have some bearing on the unfolding of our lives and personalities.
Sariyd, for instance, means alive. Mindful of this, I never say my name is Sariyd. I say, I am Sariyd.
Anastacio. It means resurrection. Yes!
In our brief encounter, Anastacio redeemed my soul from the pit of disgust and contempt I had developed toward Santa Fe that I had fallen into.
In Anastacio – as in Gib and Woodrow and Georgia and Mary and the unknown son of Indigeny I encountered on the street – I found the soul of Santa Fe I was looking for.
In Anastacio I found myself.