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Summer in Santa Fe: High Culture in the High Desert


Santa Fe's central plaza is a timeless reminder of the city's colorful history. Copyright: Kathryn Means, 1999.Desert thunderstorms crackling in the distance, a coyote wandering onto the stage add accidental drama to Santa Fe's summer opera season. The world-famous diva doesn't miss a note. The opera orchestra plays on. Who would interrupt, even for a moment, a hot-ticket performance with seats costing up to $250? Pre-opera picnics, tailgate or on the lawn, are often elegant, haute cuisine affairs; tuxedo shirts with blue jeans for the men, broomstick skirts and tons of turquoise jewelry for the ladies.

 

Sizzling summer temperatures send lowlanders like me, a Texas Gulf Coaster, and droves of others from around the world, to the high desert of Northern New Mexico to experience the joys of a Santa Fe summer.

Opera al fresco, the Spanish Market and the Indian Market attract like lodestones in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Farmer's Market is so popular on glorious summer days that locals regard it as a de rigueur social occasion where buying fresh fruits and vegetables is less important than meeting and greeting friends and neighbors. Flea markets, fiestas, and Pueblo fairs are added to the rich matrix of concerts, theater and gallery openings.

This city with its classic adobe buildings, winding pinon- and cedar-lined lanes, historic churches and high desert vistas is unlike anywhere else on Earth. It somehow manages to seem like home the moment you arrive. To romantics like me, the connection is almost organic.

Santa Fe's art galleries feed one of the liveliest art markets in the world. Copyright: Kathryn Means, 1999.My husband and I have found ourselves milling with the crowds around the ancient plaza more times than we can count. We begged for hard-to-get opera tickets back in the days when Santa Fe Opera was unroofed and unrigged for its new Electronic Libretto System. We've observed with silent respect traditional dances in Native American Pueblos, shopped the Canyon Road galleries, feasted on fiesta-style meals and contemporary New Mexican cuisine. On special occasions, we've found ourselves at open-air ranch parties along the Chama River and behind unpretentious old adobe walls viewing private collections of priceless pottery, baskets and kachinas.

"I loved it immediately. From then on I was always on my way back," said artist Georgia O'Keeffe after her first visit to Santa Fe in 1917. We feel the same. The moment we leave Santa Fe, we start planning our next visit.

Some of our lucky friends have managed to move there permanently. In deference to the almost 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) altitude, we call them "friends in high places." They assure us that Santa Fe's lively cultural calendar added to skiing, golfing and hiking the nearby mountains keep them hopping like politicians.

"We can choose from a dozen different places to go every night of the year, but in summer it's absolutely wild," they assure us. "Friends we never knew we had before we moved to Santa Fe show up on our doorstep." Then comes the caveat -- in case we were planning to hit them up for a bed -- "We only offer bed and breakfast to our immediate family."

Always the accidental, last minute tourists, we managed to split our reservations between the upscale Bishop's Lodge resort and the more affordable Holiday Inn.

On my first trip to Santa Fe, I was in search of the bleak and austere landscape made famous by Georgia O'Keeffe, and the haunts of Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy described in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. The only visible connection to O'Keeffe that I could find was a few of her paintings in the city's Fine Arts Museum. All that has finally changed and my quest came full-circle during my latest visit. O'Keeffe's home and studio in Abiquiu, a small village 45 minutes northwest of Santa Fe, is open for guided tours, and a separate museum showcasing her work opened in downtown Santa Fe to worldwide attention two years ago.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is, reportedly, the only museum in the world dedicated to a woman artist. The adjacent café serves food O'Keeffe enjoyed. She was always willowy thin in photos taken by her husband, famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz. When we visited the museum in mid-afternoon, the café was already closed, so we never found out what they served or how she managed to keep her figure. On the tour of her home we learned that she grew most of her fruits, vegetables and herbs and had a passion for a good martini. Apparently, it was a healthy combination. She lived to be 98.

No downtown building may stand taller than the twin towers of St. Francis Cathedral. Copyright: Kathryn Means, 1999.The trip to the O'Keeffe home and studio is almost a full day's excursion. It is worth every minute of it to those who are awed by her art and inspired by the fierce independence not often exhibited by women of her era. She left Stieglitz in New York to spend months at a time pursuing her art at the remote Ghost Ranch and other sites in her beloved New Mexico. After Stieglitz's death in 1946, at the age of 62, she purchased the historic home of a Spanish general in the Rio Chama valley in Abiquiu and made it her winter home and studio.

As for Bishop Lamy, he is the fearless French bishop the Catholic pope sent into Spanish territory to run the northernmost missions on the El Camino Real, the Royal Road from Mexico City. Bishop Lamy started a ranch on acreage now owned by Bishop's Lodge. Guests at the Lodge can make a pilgrimage to his chapel. When I was there in April, some twenty French doctors were happily ensconced during an international medical conference. Obviously, they knew where to find a kindred, albeit dead, soul. Bishop Lamy is buried under the altar at Saint Francis Cathedral, a Romanesque building near the central Plaza, built under his direction and still the heart of Santa Fe.

 

While old Santa Fe retains the aura of a Wild West outpost left over from another century, my husband and I always discover something new to recycle with memories of previous trips. On this visit it was the Neutrogena Collection, housed since last summer in its own wing at Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art. What made it so special for me, and I believe would intrigue any traveler who lugs home pieces of Coptic embroidery, Japanese ceramics, African carvings and such from their journeys, was access to curators.

After viewing the Neutrogena Collection, visitors are invited to take an elevator down to the workrooms to see how such objects are restored and preserved. The day I was there, two textile experts gave freely of their time. I have never seen anything this well thought out and well presented in a folk art museum before, but then this particular museum is a standout on all fronts. It had the world's largest collection of folk art even before the Neutrogena wing was added. Lloyd Cotsen, long-time collector and former CEO of Neutrogena Corporation, gave the collection to the museum and the galleries have a personal, intimate feel of a private collection. The inaugural exhibition, "The Extraordinary in the Ordinary," will be on view until March 2000.

A craftsman plies his trade. Copyright: Kathryn Means, 1999.The Santa Fe Indian Market, held this year Aug. 21-22, is an extravaganza that attracts Native American artists and collectors from all over, but there are various other opportunities to view the work of artists in local Pueblos. The eight Northern Indian Pueblos located between Santa Fe and Taos sponsor an artist and craftsman show every summer, and many pueblos hold an annual fair that is open to tourists. There are special museum and gallery shows during International Art Week, July 8-11.

Somewhat less well known than the Indian Market is the Spanish Market, the oldest and largest exhibition of works by Hispanic artists in the country. The Spanish Market is held the last full weekend of July and again in December on the porch of the Palace of the Governors.

Santa Feans prepare themselves for the gloom and doom of winter - though most winter days are sunny and clear -- with an annual Fiesta, held the second weekend in September. The equivalent of a New Orleans-style street festival, it is a major social event for locals. Celebrating the reconquest of Santa Fe by Spain in 1692, the highlight of the weekend is the Burning of Zozobra at Fort Marcy Park on Friday night. Zozobra, Old Man Gloom, is a 40-foot high papier-mache puppet. His burning symbolizes the end of last year's problems. As a visitor to this luminescent, friendly city, I find it hard to imagine what these problems might be.

Santa Fe is loaded with great restaurants. Among my favorites is the intimate, wildly decorated Café Pasqual's near the Hotel Saint Francis in the heart of the city. Its cookbook has been out for a few years now, and when I crave a taste of Santa Fe at home, I get it out and go to work. "Red or green?" my husband asks. It is a question that comes up almost anywhere you order a meal in Santa Fe. "Christmas style," I reply. That means I'm using both red and green chili peppers.

Like biting into a hot pepper, it's hard to quench the fire once you've had a taste of Santa Fe.

When You Go:

Santa Fe Opera season is July 2-Aug. 28. The five-opera repertoire for 1999 includes Bizet's Carmen and Mozart's Idomeneo. Tickets priced from $20 to $250. Box office, 505-986-5900 or outside SF, 1-800-280-4654. Website: www.santafeopera. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson. 505-995-0785. Website: www.okeeffe-museum.org.

Georgia O'Keeffe Home and Studio in Abuquiu. Tours on a limited basis conducted by the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation. 505-986-3993.

Museum of International Folk Art, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary from the Collections of Lloyd Cotsen & Neutrogena Corporation, until March 2000. 505-827-6350.

Indian Market, Aug. 21-22, sponsored by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. 505-983-5220. Website: www.niti.org/swaia/.

Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Artists and Craftsman Show, July 17-18. 1-800-793-4955, 505-852-4265. Website: www.IndianPueblos.org.

Spanish Market, July 24-25. 505-983-4038.

Fiesta de Santa Fe, Sept. 10-13. Annual citywide folk festival, pageant, arts and crafts show, and major social event for locals. 505-988-7575.

Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1-800-777-2489 or 505-984-6760, Website: www.santafe.org.

The Bishop's Lodge, P.O. Box 2367, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504. 505-983-6377, fax 505-989-8739.

Holiday Inn, 4048 Cerrillos Road. 1-800-Holiday, or 505-473-4646.

As for Bishop Lamy, he is the fearless French bishop the Catholic pope sent into Spanish territory to run the northernmost missions on the El Camino Real, the Royal Road from Mexico City. Bishop Lamy started a ranch on acreage now owned by Bishop's Lodge. Guests at the Lodge can make a pilgrimage to his chapel. When I was there in April, some twenty French doctors were happily ensconced during an international medical conference. Obviously, they knew where to find a kindred, albeit dead, soul. Bishop Lamy is buried under the altar at Saint Francis Cathedral, a Romanesque building near the central Plaza, built under his direction and still the heart of Santa Fe.

While old Santa Fe retains the aura of a Wild West outpost left over from another century, my husband and I always discover something new to recycle with memories of previous trips. On this visit it was the Neutrogena Collection, housed since last summer in its own wing at Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art. What made it so special for me, and I believe would intrigue any traveler who lugs home pieces of Coptic embroidery, Japanese ceramics, African carvings and such from their journeys, was access to curators.

After viewing the Neutrogena Collection, visitors are invited to take an elevator down to the workrooms to see how such objects are restored and preserved. The day I was there, two textile experts gave freely of their time. I have never seen anything this well thought out and well presented in a folk art museum before, but then this particular museum is a standout on all fronts. It had the world's largest collection of folk art even before the Neutrogena wing was added. Lloyd Cotsen, long-time collector and former CEO of Neutrogena Corporation, gave the collection to the museum and the galleries have a personal, intimate feel of a private collection. The inaugural exhibition, "The Extraordinary in the Ordinary," will be on view until March 2000.

A craftsman plies his trade. Copyright: Kathryn Means, 1999.The Santa Fe Indian Market, held this year Aug. 21-22, is an extravaganza that attracts Native American artists and collectors from all over, but there are various other opportunities to view the work of artists in local Pueblos. The eight Northern Indian Pueblos located between Santa Fe and Taos sponsor an artist and craftsman show every summer, and many pueblos hold an annual fair that is open to tourists. There are special museum and gallery shows during International Art Week, July 8-11.

Somewhat less well known than the Indian Market is the Spanish Market, the oldest and largest exhibition of works by Hispanic artists in the country. The Spanish Market is held the last full weekend of July and again in December on the porch of the Palace of the Governors.

Santa Feans prepare themselves for the gloom and doom of winter - though most winter days are sunny and clear -- with an annual Fiesta, held the second weekend in September. The equivalent of a New Orleans-style street festival, it is a major social event for locals. Celebrating the reconquest of Santa Fe by Spain in 1692, the highlight of the weekend is the Burning of Zozobra at Fort Marcy Park on Friday night. Zozobra, Old Man Gloom, is a 40-foot high papier-mache puppet. His burning symbolizes the end of last year's problems. As a visitor to this luminescent, friendly city, I find it hard to imagine what these problems might be.

Santa Fe is loaded with great restaurants. Among my favorites is the intimate, wildly decorated Café Pasqual's near the Hotel Saint Francis in the heart of the city. Its cookbook has been out for a few years now, and when I crave a taste of Santa Fe at home, I get it out and go to work. "Red or green?" my husband asks. It is a question that comes up almost anywhere you order a meal in Santa Fe. "Christmas style," I reply. That means I'm using both red and green chili peppers.

Like biting into a hot pepper, it's hard to quench the fire once you've had a taste of Santa Fe.

When You Go:

Santa Fe Opera season is July 2-Aug. 28. The five-opera repertoire for 1999 includes Bizet's Carmen and Mozart's Idomeneo. Tickets priced from $20 to $250. Box office, 505-986-5900 or outside SF, 1-800-280-4654. Website: www.santafeopera. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson. 505-995-0785. Website: www.okeeffe-museum.org.

Georgia O'Keeffe Home and Studio in Abuquiu. Tours on a limited basis conducted by the Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation. 505-986-3993.

Museum of International Folk Art, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary from the Collections of Lloyd Cotsen & Neutrogena Corporation, until March 2000. 505-827-6350.

Indian Market, Aug. 21-22, sponsored by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. 505-983-5220. Website: www.niti.org/swaia/.

Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Artists and Craftsman Show, July 17-18. 1-800-793-4955, 505-852-4265. Website: www.IndianPueblos.org.

Spanish Market, July 24-25. 505-983-4038.

Fiesta de Santa Fe, Sept. 10-13. Annual citywide folk festival, pageant, arts and crafts show, and major social event for locals. 505-988-7575.

Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1-800-777-2489 or 505-984-6760, Website: www.santafe.org.

The Bishop's Lodge, P.O. Box 2367, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504. 505-983-6377, fax 505-989-8739.

Holiday Inn, 4048 Cerrillos Road. 1-800-Holiday, or 505-473-4646.