-By Serena Makofsky
In Journeys, her book of travel essays, Jan Morris describes Santa Fe as:
"the artiest, sculpturest, weaviest, and potteryest town on earth."
The superlatives don't stop there...
Santa Fe is one of the country's oldest cities, with an immaculately preserved town square, known as the Plaza. This scenic National Historic District lends Santa Fe a most unique sense of -place.
None of this happened by accident. Once upon a a time, around 30,000 years ago, before anyone operated a well-appointed bed and breakfast or brewed iced coffees at a corner café, nomadic prehistoric Indians inhabited the region. Their Pueblo Indian descendants constructed villages amongst the cliffs and caves during the second century B.C.
Fast forward to the year 1912. Local lawmakers saw their home's ancient past as a Native American mud city as an opportunity. They wrote a building code restricting all new development to the Pueblo adobe style.
While the more cynical person might call the aesthetic contrived, nearly everyone can agree that the rustic beauty and surrounding southwestern landscape has a poetic effect, a far cry from your average downtown of skyscrapers and fast food logos.
Architecture, natural wonders, and a unique quality of light culminate in a place that attracts artists, visionaries, and cultural tourists.
Whether you come to soak at the clothing-optional healing waters of San Antonio Hot Springs or McCauley Hot Springs, view petroglyphs along the Santa Fe River Canyon, score kickin' cowboy boots on West San Francisco Street, watch open-air productions of the celebrated Santa Fe Opera, collect Native American art at the Santa Fe Indian Market annual show, or partake of the latest new age treatment to open your chakras, this bustling city tucked into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains has you covered.
The main draw for visitors is the Plaza and the streets radiating from it. Recent years have seen chain stores rearing their ugly heads here, somewhat diminishing its character, but a tour of the blue chip galleries along Canyon Road provides a microcosm of local history and diversity, showing work in American Indian, Western, and Hispanic traditions.
Nearby, turquoise mines prompted fine handiwork in jewelry and accessories integrating turquoise with silver, leather, and coral. Underneath the front portal at the 1610 adobe building the Palace of Governors, local American Indians sell these wares as well as sand paintings, pottery, and crafts, all of which is handmade using authentic and natural materials.
In a travel essay on New Mexico, D.H. Lawrence wrote:
"Touch the country, and you will never be the same again."
These words must have resonated with Georgia O'Keeffe, the artist who drew from the Southwest's rugged landscape, robust colors, soaring cliffs, and wide blue skies for inspiration. It's fitting, then, that near the Plaza lies the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, with half the exhibition space devoted to her paintings, photographs, sketches, and sculpture.
Santa Fe loves its past, but does not fear the future.
A mile from the plaza, the Guadalupe District is ground central for hip artistic Santa Fe. Steve Lewis of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau describes the happening scene emerging at the Santa Fe Railyard as an:
"emerging contemporary gallery district,"
"This area has its own gallery art walk on the last Friday of every month."
The Box Gallery sells cutting-edge art, Charlotte Jackson Fine Art specializes in minimalism and modernism, Gebert Contemporary Art shows monumental sculpture, James Kelly Contemporary Gallery and LewAllen Galleries carry post-war art, Jay Etkin Gallery offers ethnographic art, and Tai Gallery represents contemporary Japanese art.
Come for the art and stay for the farmer's market, independent film screenings, flower shows, and folkloric and African dance performances. Two venues anchor the area, Site Santa Fe, a contemporary museum international in scope, and El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, a Hispanic cultural center.
Museum Hill Santa Fe has four of the city's ten major museums. Set aside a day to browse the diverse collections at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the Wheelwright Museum of the America Indian.
Come another day to take in the massive holdings of the Museum of International Folk Art, with notable collections of Latin American art and objects, Spanish Colonial religious imagery, and contemporary Latino work representing diverse media.
A recent addition to the museum scene is the New Mexico History Museum. A series of vintage payphones allow visitors to listen in on conversations about the region's formation and colorful past. Artifacts, interactive displays, and temporary exhibits chronicle indigenous culture, Spanish colonization, the Mexican Period, and the development of the Santa Fe Trail.
Santa Fe's cultural offerings encompass diverse eras and peoples.
Some artists keep ancestral traditions alive and others forge new directions. This openness extends to other areas of daily life, with Santa Fe trailing only San Francisco in having the highest percentage of households comprised of same-sex partners. Many gay residents have opened gay-friendly businesses catering to tourists, such as The Inn of the Turquoise Bear, a southwestern style bed and breakfast six blocks from the Plaza. Owners Ralph Bolton and Robert Frost explain the landmark's history as:
"the center of the social life of Santa Fe for decades, when artists, writers, and activists from around the world partied at the estate."
The "Bear" has seen visits from the likes of Ansel Adams, Igor Stravinsky, Willa Cather, Thornton Wilder, Martha Graham, Christopher Isherwood, Errol Flynn, and Rita Hayworth. The daily wine and cheese hour in the library evokes the inn's storied past.
If this all sounds lovely, but a little too staid, take heed. Tourism expert Lewis points out:
"For GLBT travelers, Santa Fe tends to be more of a romantic destination for couples rather than a party town. Our nightlife is varied and diverse, from dance clubs and bar scenes to theater performance, art events, and opera in the summer. But we're not a Palm Springs type of scene."
It's revealing that one main option is Silver Starlight Cabaret, a clubhouse on the grounds of RainbowVision Properties, a GLBT retirement community. However, it's open to the public and the public has responded enthusiastically.
The Rouge Cat stands out for its swank cocktail lounge and dance floor, where owner DJ Ooa Bender spins trash disco and retro dance favorites. Downtown, the underground bohemian joint The Matador attracts a gay crowd on weekends. The big party in Santa Fe happens Friday evenings during art openings around the Plaza and the Guadalupe district.
As you sip on wine and take in the latest show, you grow to appreciate the recent permutation of this centuries-old place, with its arroyos and surreal land formations, ruins and cliff dwellings, mesas and sheer-walled canyons that prompted Georgia O'Keeffe to reflect:
"I knew from the first time I came and saw the color and heard the wind that this was my place."
© Copy Right Protected Work. All Rights Reserved. 2-15-2011
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