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Part V, and the conclusion of a five part series.
It was a short plane ride, take off, cruising altitude for something like a minute, then get ready for final descent into Las Vegas.
Las Vegas. My kind of town. Vegas and I go way back. Now you know my not so secret secret, I wasn’t actually born in New Mexico, I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada.
My dad was working out at the Nevada Test Site and one thing led to another and…
Growing up some of my friends liked to tease me that my parents took a gamble and lost. Oh! Hey! Good looking crowd. We’re here all night. Tip your waitress.
My folks loved living in Las Vegas, but for various reasons moved back to Albuquerque when I was very small. Really too small to remember much of life in Las Vegas. All I’ve ever known is New Mexico, so I still rightfully call myself a native.
I scrambled off that Southwest Airlines jet, through the jetway, and hit the carpet in McCarran Airport. I walked without hesitation to a bank of slot machines that were unoccupied and pulled up a seat.
My family likes to gamble. A trip to Vegas was my present for my twenty-first birthday. My folks used to get out there at least once, maybe twice a year and we kids often went along. I didn’t grow up in Vegas but I grew up an awful lot on the many casino floors through the course of my life.
The Vegas I know is an old school Vegas, from the 1970’s, and it always feels a little right to be there.
With twenty dollars in the slot machine, I managed to make it play for a little over a half hour. I’d get down to the last dollar then the machine would pay off again. I was on a nice hot streak. Not hot enough to cash out, but hot enough to have some fun.
When that was gone, I picked another machine and chased another twenty dollars around for about fifteen minutes.
When that was gone, I got up from the seat with a sigh. I felt hungry and went in search of something not airport-awful to eat. Over a really disappointing slice of Sbarro’s pizza, I stopped chewing for a minute and smiled.
A thought occurred to me. In that same day, I had been in New Mexico, I was in Las Vegas, and I’d soon be in California. Those are all of the places I have ever lived. Those are all of the places I know.
Those are all of the places I belong.
Kind of cool, really. Kind of a nice way to end my journey. A full circle kind of a thing.
My trip to New Mexico was, all in, pretty good. I was so glad I made the trip, so glad to see my best friend and my goddaughters, so glad to go home and immerse myself in memories (and make new ones too).
My trip to New Mexico was also a little difficult. You see, my dad died in 2005 and he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. There was no way I could live with myself if I was in Santa Fe and didn’t go to the cemetery. And yet I really, really didn’t want to go to the cemetery. It’s not a joyful thing.
The last time I had visited was in 2009 and I was without a job and had lost my mind a little bit. I was scrambling to find a way to get back on my feet. That year I took a trip home to New Mexico to see if going back to my roots could help me find my compass needle.
I had cried a bit when my dad had died, but I was also a little stoic. My mom had asked me to be strong so that she didn’t have to be, and I agreed. I was as strong as I knew how to be back then, and a few years later there may have been some pent up stuff that needed to come out.
In 2009 when I found the stone that marks the place where my dad’s ashes are stored, it was a surreal experience. Gray skies opened up with rain and I stood there with my hand tracing the letters in stone and I cried, I keened, I howled. I scared the grounds crew. I honestly did, I freaked out this nice man taking care of the row of headstones nearby.
I guess back then I had some things I had to work out. On that recent spring day in March 2014, I was afraid that monster was still inside of me. I was terrified I’d find myself keening again at my father’s graveside. When considering going to the cemetery, I balked, I stalled, and finally I borrowed the keys to my friend’s new Suburban and set up Apple maps on my phone and took off on the highway, dreading it all the way.
Apple maps led me on quite a merry chase through the streets of downtown Santa Fe. That is a very old city, built by the Spanish Conquistadors so the roads are narrow and the sidewalks are high to accommodate horse drawn carriages.
With a little bit of axel grease and a shoehorn, I was able to navigate a huge Suburban through the streets, getting more lost by the moment.
Eventually, Siri found her head and I found my way, and there I was again, at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, both ready and not quite ready for what lay ahead.
That cemetery is always a difficult place for me. Rows upon rows of headstones mark all of my fellow New Mexicans who served in the military and who passed on, either in service of their country or later, as my dad had done. It is quite a humbling place for me, and that is even before I get to the place where I have to face my personal sorrow.
I had a bit of a false start, stopping at the wrong row of stones and realizing I was off by a bit. It didn’t take me a long time to find the right row and my father’s stone.
His ashes are in what is called a columbarium and it’s covered with a lovely piece of what I think is marble and secured to the wall with these connectors that look, to me anyway, like conchos.
They are so beautiful and so New Mexico appropriate.
Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth
For personal reasons, I will decline to post the entire stone, but I wanted to share a nice photo of that fastener. It stands on its own as a useful reminder.
On this visit I didn’t keen and I didn’t wail, but I sure did cry an awful lot. I put my hands on the now weathered stone and I traced his name and the word “Korea,” the war in which he participated. I felt the cold marble and I noted the sand blasted wear and tear and laughed at the unyielding New Mexico elements that caused the letters to already become faded. It’s only been nine years.
“Well, dad, I guess I’m doing a lot better than I was the last time I was here,” I said aloud. And I was.
Seeing my father’s name carved into stone never fails to break me on some level. After pacing a bit and having a pretty hard cry, I walked up the row and sat on one of the benches. It looks out over the valley and has a gorgeous view.
Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth
The mountains at my back and the dried grass and valley in front of me. The New Mexico unrelenting wind dried my tears the moment they slipped from my eyes. I laughed as the wind whipped at my hair. “Goddamn springtime wind,” I said to no one as I sat there alone.
Tumbleweeds of thoughts bounced in my mind. Through tears of sorrow, I smiled, because of that view, that place, that moment.
I had spent the past three days wondering I was even a New Mexican anymore. Sitting there, letting the climate steal my moisture and feeling grounded, I remembered that I always was and will always be.
I can never not be a New Mexican. Just as I can never not be born in Las Vegas. And I can never not be a damn near twenty-year veteran of California.
I am all of that. I am none of that. I am more than that.
I am greater than the sum of all my parts.
My version of New Mexico may not exist anymore but it’s mine. My particular brand of Las Vegas may not exist anymore, but I own it. My California is still telling me its story.
There is a lot left to learn about all of those places and as I gaze forward to the celebration of another revolution around the sun, I humbly admit there is an awful lot yet to learn about me.
What started as a fun trip to see my best friend in the entire world and my gorgeous godkids turned out to be something of a journey. A grounding moment in time that changed me, humbled me, reminded me and helped me grow.
I had no idea that was going to happen. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know. To paraphrase one of my oldest goddaughter’s favorite songs (that dates back to my college years), I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss that dance.
And there is no way I’d ever miss out on a good dance with some of my most favorite people in the world, back home where I belong.
Both photos Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. The fastener photo was further edited in Instagram.
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Part IV in a series.
There are a lot of times during my days, walking through this world, where I have small flashbacks or quick images that come into my brain. Not a hallucination, just a snapshot of a moment or a place or person.
A lot of the time the photostream of my brain shows me something about New Mexico. Some little atom or quark that is a building block of who I am. Meant to ground me, I think.
One image that seems to show up on rotation is being in either Old Town Albuquerque or at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe and buying beautiful handmade jewelry from the Native American artisans who display their wares on beautiful blankets.
Heck, in the early days (like the 1970’s) you would also find Native American artisans selling beautiful jewelry at the airport in Albuquerque. This was well before anyone called it a Sunport.
On this trip I made to Santa Fe at the end of last month, one thing I definitely wanted to do was see the Palace of the Governors and visit the row of Native American artisans with hand woven blankets laid out, selling handcrafted jewelry. I can remember being a fairly young kid and negotiating for beautiful pieces of silver, turquoise and coral.
The one moment I remember most was being something like nine or ten and using my allowance money to buy a really pretty green malachite ring set in silver.
I remember that the artisan was dressed in traditional Navajo clothing with her hair wrapped in leather and a huge and gorgeous turquoise bracelet on her arm. She either didn’t speak much English or chose not to. She was quite stoic, I recall, but I had watched my mom buy jewelry so I emulated her way, right down to the speech pattern.
I found the ring, tried it on, and liked it very much. I caught the artisan’s eye, held up the ring and asked, “How much?” I think she said ten dollars. I replied, “Would you take eight?” and she nodded. Thus, I now owned a beautiful handmade silver ring.
I wore it for many, many years.
In fact, I still have it.
This is it:
The ring is so tiny, it barely fits on my pinky finger. As you can see, the stone has a small nick. I really did wear this ring everyday for a long time. I loved it. I still love it.
So on that sunny Spring day on the Plaza a few weeks ago, after stuffing ourselves to the gills at the India Palace buffet, I was ready to walk around and my best friend and her girls were ready to sit.
They found a bench in the bustling center of the Plaza and I walked with purpose to the line of artisans with their creations on blankets.
My heart raced a little because I was excited. I mentally calculated how much cash I had on hand and what budget I would allow. I love beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry.
I had heard a few years back that there was some controversy about people who were not of Native American heritage selling jewelry on the Plaza, so I wasn’t sure what I expected.
I was pleased to see that indeed, the majority of the artisans seemed to be Native American. They wore modern dress, but the look, the speech pattern, the very vibe of the artisans let me know these were my New Mexico Native people, and I was happy.
As I walked down the row, I became less happy.
The quality of the jewelry I saw was not what I had hoped. The beautiful hand crafted chunky silver and turquoise, coral, jade and malachite jewelry had given way to items that were cheap looking, manufactured not handcrafted, meager and not bold and beautiful.
In some cases, I half expected to pick up a piece and see a stamp showing me it was manufactured in another country.
To be honest, not even the blankets seemed to be handmade. The image, the memory, it all looked the same as I crossed the street, but under the adobe and vigas of the Palace, everything really had changed.
On the plus side, I noticed that the artisans were very friendly with all of the tourists, inviting them to pick up pieces and try them on. Asking where they were from and how they liked New Mexico. The stoic artisan seems to be a thing of the past as I’m sure being a bit friendly sells more items. Even as I type that it feels a little like selling out.
So there was a plus and a minus to the experience. I ended up buying a pair of earrings from a vendor across the street on the plaza. They are small inexpensive dragonflies and I hold no illusions that they are genuine Native handcrafted.
I walked away a bit depressed and I remembered that I get a catalog from Southwest Indian Foundation, and they call the style of jewelry that I love “pawn style.”
Pawn style. There were some people that I knew who got really amazing deals on Native American crafted jewelry from the rows and rows of pawn shops in Gallup and other New Mexico towns. I never did that. I shopped a few times, but couldn’t get over the sad feeling in my gut. These pieces of jewelry were given up because someone needed fast money.
As I made a loop around the Santa Fe Plaza, I saw a shop that claimed to have old pawn jewelry, so I went inside.
They weren’t kidding. Inside the huge retail space half of the store was quite literally filled with pawn jewelry. The shop buys dead items (meaning the time has expired and no one was able to come back and claim the pieces) and resells them.
Resells them at a gigantic markup.
I found a case full of earrings and at a quick glance found three pairs that I either own the exact pair or something very, very similar.
Earrings that I know I paid somewhere between fifteen and forty dollars for were now marked anywhere from $125 to over $200.
I felt a little sick to my stomach. On the one hand I thought, “Hell, I should get out all of my old jewelry and sell it!” and of course I knew I’d never part with it. On the other hand my heart broke as progress has to come to all things, even Native American jewelry.
In my personal collection is my mother’s stunning New Mexico Native American handcrafted squash blossom necklace. Would I ever sell this? Hell no.
This is a really profound piece of jewelry. My mother often wore it and she was always beautiful wearing it, too. The turquoise is quite rough and each individual squash blossom is different, to match the stone.
But I wish I could have strolled the Palace of the Governors and seen pieces more like that chunky squash blossom for sale. The product of training, silversmithing, craftsmanship, and a deep Native American tradition.
Alas no, like that hammered tin clock that used to hang over the Albuquerque Airport, my memories are only nostalgia. Museum pieces. They no longer represent what is meaningful for today’s children growing up in New Mexico.
I guess I understand now. Sometimes as a kid I used to jokingly say that New Mexico was forgotten, wasn’t important, backward. Now I know it really was something good. I got to grow up in a beautiful culture and a beautiful state that is like nowhere else in the world.
I am hardly the only person who has ever come to realize this about the time and place that they were born and raised. It’s a common lesson. You really can never go back. I can be in New Mexico again, and I can love it, but it’s never going to be what I hold in my memories.
That hurts inside. I yearn for something that doesn’t really exist anymore, except in my mind and have to find a way to be okay with that. As of today, right this moment, I’m not okay. Not yet.
I suppose the answer is that I need to spend more time back home in New Mexico. I have to learn to know what she was once and love her as she is now.
It’s my failure that it’s been so long since I was back home. I hope to improve a lot over the coming years.
There is so much I know about New Mexico, and so much I have left to learn.
Up next, the conclusion: Part V, The Roots of My Raising Run Deep
Images Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app.
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Part II in a series.
Today I continue my New Mexico storytelling with Part II. I guess my short trip to New Mexico last week takes more than one post to discuss.
At four days, it was a quick trip, too quick if you ask me, and even though time elapsed fast, there was an indelible impression left upon me. New Mexico kind of does that to a person, right?
The last time I had been north of Las Cruces was in 2009, so it wasn’t that long ago, but certainly long enough ago to change my worldview.
Back then I was newly married (yay!), had endured one of the worst years of my professional life (boo!). I found myself without a job, without any leads, and a little dislocated as I learned how to be both unemployed and married. Both being something I had never before experienced.
I returned to the homeland last week on a warm Spring Saturday with almost six years of marriage tucked under my belt and a really good job that I love very much. Time really does heal wounds.
To be honest, sometimes I still feel very dislocated. Caught somewhere in between. I am a New Mexican, through and through, but it has now been almost seventeen years that I have lived in California. My god. Seventeen. Where the hell did all those years go?
So I am not really a New Mexican anymore, but I’m seriously not a Californian either. What, exactly, am I? I don’t know and that’s the problem.
(Apparently this is a long running theme for me, here’s something from the archives.)
My best friend and goddaughters were on their Spring Break and wanted to make a trip to Santa Fe. As near as I can recall, the last time I was in Santa Fe I was somewhere in my twenties. Well, that’s not entirely true. I went to the outskirts of Santa Fe in 2009 because my father is buried there, at the National Cemetery.
But that last time I had been on the Plaza? Yeeks. I was of drinking age, but not old enough to know better, certainly.
Let’s just say, it’s been a while.
Santa Fe was, well, Santa Fe. She has changed in many ways. She has not changed at all in other ways.
Of course, one of the first places I had to visit was the Loretto Chapel. I have always loved that place, from the time I was a small child to now.
I had wanted so much to get married there, I mean, I really wanted that, but logistics being what they are, it just couldn’t happen.
(I am more than thrilled with where and how we did get married in California, by the by.)
In my mind, my child’s mind, the Loretto chapel was teeny tiny and the stairs were at the very back wall of the chapel. I was pleasantly surprised to see the chapel is actually larger than I remembered, with several rows of pews behind the very famous staircase.
So of course I took an unremarkable photo of the remarkable treasure. A photo from the same vantage point where everyone snaps the shutter, from behind the worn velvet ropes. It’s a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s been done. To death. It’s hard to do it any differently than the thousands who came before.
But that’s ok. I took the photo for me. A memory. An image that I don’t have to expend a calorie trying to conjure up in my mind. I can ease my brain and rest my eyes and smile fondly to see this photo.
Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth
While in Santa Fe, we also went to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis. Where Loretto is small, the Basilica is gigantic. Overwhelming in its proportions.
I took a lot of photos and absorbed all of my surroundings.
A bird at the base of a statue of Saint Francis and the Basilica’s rose window in the background.
Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth
Of course, I have a lot of mixed feelings about being raised Catholic, but that is not something to discuss here. I do try to stay away from religion and politics on the blog, though I don’t always succeed.
That said, I have always loved the iconography of the Catholic church and being raised in the Hispanic culture means all of those images hold a lot of power for me. The images are not just religious but part of our culture and folk art. It has shown up in a lot of my own work.
I have been obsessed for a long time with the image of a flaming heart and also a heart with a crown over it. Of course this is the Sagrado Corazón, found on paintings and statues and sculptures.
Being in such a beautiful space and being in Santa Fe and seeing all of these reminders of my childhood made me need to sit down. Just sit and be quiet. And think. And absorb.
My two godkids had a lot of questions for me about the Catholic Church and what some of the images mean. The Stations of the Cross proved to be a place of fear for my younger godkid, and I tried to explain that it was telling a story, certainly a sad story, but that it had a happy ending.
Meanwhile my thoughts raged with questions like, “Who am I?” and “Why don’t I know?” and “Why have I had this lost feeling for such a long time?”
Questions as unanswerable as some of the challenges posed by my beautiful girls.
I love New Mexico and inside of me something is able to rest when I am there, but to be honest there is another part of me (that has been there all of my life) that cannot rest, and needs more than New Mexico can give.
The only place that I truly know is home is anywhere The Good Man happens to be. That, I think, was my best comfort while the thoughts and feelings swirled like an eastern New Mexico tornado through my brain.
Part III: ¡Comida! There is Indian and then there is Indian
Images Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. The Loretto staircase was taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. The little bird was taken with a Canon G10 and some crawling around on the ground.
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It’s been far too long since I was here on the ol’ blog. I started writing on Tuesday and found, well, I was going to need several pages to write what was on my mind. So here is part one of what I think will be a three or four part series.
Since this blog is called Oh Fair New Mexico and I have been a little neglectful of writing content about my home state, I am going to do it up right by talking A LOT about New Mexico over the next week or so.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Holy guacamole, here I find myself at Tuesday, rushing through the work day, trying to keep my head above water (literally, it’s a frog strangling rain out there) and doing my best to be a decent grown up and contributing member of society.
It’s been over a week since I sat down and had a good blog style cuss and discuss.
Well hell, let’s fix that.
Here we go!
Last week I had the great joy of being back in the motherland of New Mexico. It was a very fast whirlwind tour and it seemed like I had only one blink and it was over. One minute I was enjoying a Navajo taco and then whoop, suddenly I was back on a plane heading home.
Yeeks! I need more time. I need time to slow down a little too, if I can take this time to ask for favors.
The main point of my trip was to see my best friend in the entire world. We were last together a year ago and that is entirely too long to wait. We had some things to discuss and we did. We had some other things to discuss that we just didn’t get to, and that hurts my heart.
I also got to be with my two goddaughters who have decided to go ahead and grow up without my consent. I did not authorize this! To me they are still cute little biscuits and Nina Karen can make it all better simply with a hug.
Nah, now they are in that teen area and I am watching them grow and learn and push against the edges and evolve.
It’s both satisfying and heartbreaking to watch. I want to fix all the mean things and make the world easy for them, but goodness knows that is not what they need.
So I will just keep loving them and worrying about them and hoping they still want to know their Nina as the years go by.
The four day journey was a fun one. The lovely ladies of Las Cruces picked me up at the Albuquerque airport and we were off in a flash of a bright white Suburban with Nina Karen wheezing from the asthma. My allergies remember New Mexico. Oh how they remember.
May I just pause here for a moment to share my soul saddening moment from the Albuquerque airport?
It has been since 2009 that I flew into ABQ International, and they have certainly done a lot of work on the place. Fair enough, it needed the touch up and the changes look great.
I came off my plane and looked around and saw mostly familiar sites and knew I was home. As I made my way to baggage claim, I came out of the security area and there I saw a sight I had a hard time believing.
On a wood pedestal, like some kind of damn museum piece, was the beautiful hammered tin clock that used to hang high and proudly from the vaulted ceiling of the main terminal before it was a Sunport and was just a regular old airport.
That timepiece goes back to my childhood. I have stared up at that clock to measure time for as long as I have been alive. It’s been there even longer than I have been alive.
Once majestic, beautiful, useful. Something with meaning.
Now, it’s something like a museum relic.
This, this is the beautiful clock that makes my tummy tense when I see it because it *means* something:
And this is where it lives now (and I do it no justice with terrible photo quality):
I wasn’t sure how to handle the feelings this brought up. I was happy to finally be able to see this beautiful clock at such close range. I could admire the details. I was also saddened that this useful object not longer hangs proudly over the airport.
It’s an aged relic. Um. Like me?
Turns out that the idea of “something I once knew well is now something quite different” would become a theme for my trip.
It began with my precious hammered tin clock. It extended to my gorgeous god kids who aren’t kids anymore.
This was kind of a tough trip for the little girl from New Mexico.
Coming up: Part II, Somewhere In Between
Photos Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons in the far right column of this page.
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Here I have been railing about pumpkin flavored dog days of summer and it turns out My Fair New Mexico had a gut punch to deliver.
Oh Fair, how I adore you, but is it *really* time to burn Zozobra again? I guess it is.
I always really enjoy watching Old Man Gloom burn away my troubles, but to be honest it’s 70 degrees and today I sat out on the patio at lunchtime and drank lemonade while a strappy sandal dangled from a toe.
How can I have gloom in this gorgeous summer weather?
Argh! Not ready, not ready, not ready, : covers ears : lalalalalalalalala I can’t heeeear you!
To assuage my sadness, I sought out my coworker, a fellow New Mexican (not a native but lived in Santa Fe for many years) and said “dude, did you know they burn Zozobra tonight?”
He had wide eyes like me, then said “That must mean mariachis are currently wandering through the streets of Santa Fe.”
Then we both got wistful.
After a few moments I said, “Man, I sure remember those days of being wobbling drunk on the plaza and shouting ‘burn, burn, burn!”
The effect of chanting while Old Man Gloom burned and groaned and flapped his arms was always very visceral.
I could tell my coworker was remembering too. He nodded solemnly in agreement. Then we sighed in unison.
Yeah. Days like these make me miss my home state. A lot.
Oh Fair New Mexico, I love, I love you so.
Side note: Lest anyone learn about Zozobra and think it’s a knock off of Burning Man, I should note that the purely New Mexico tradition of burning Zozobra started in 1926. Burning Man started in 1986. And the Celtic tradition of burning the wicker man is even older than that.
Fun fact: Zozobra’s hair color changes every year. It was yellow last year and photos on Mr Z’s Facebook page would make it seem this year his hair is gray. (Edit: I was fooled, it is green this year) Details for tonight’s event are here.
Image from the ABQJournal and first published in 2010.