Maybe They Oughta Listen to My Mom

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During the some 27 years I lived in New Mexico, I had many occasions to encounter the Rio Grande. How might I best describe my impressions? Muddy, dangerous, cold, forceful undertow. Oh yeah, and flotsam and jetsam of the highest order. Things that make you go ewww as they drift by in the swirling eddies of the mud colored water.

My mom always insisted that my siblings and I not swim in “that dirty water”. Her main worry, of course, was that in the dry seasons, trees and weeds grow in abundance in the empty riverbed. During runoff, water covers that tangled underbrush and it’s real easy to get a foot caught and that’s that in a wicked undertow. The river flows fast when it’s flowing.

I’d heard stories through the years too about if you swim don’t gulp any of the water. Hepatitis. E coli. Other exotic things with exotic names I can’t remember.

I can honestly say, I’ve never swum in the water of the Rio Grande. Now I took on the muddy waters of Ute Lake with a pink air mattress and a smile during summers in my childhood, but I never had occasion to swim in the river. Occasions presented themselves, but I never went in. I’ve sat on the muddy banks a lot, pondering life, raising hell, drinking beer. Once after losing my college love, I sat by the banks of the river in Las Cruces for days on end and raised the water level with the volume of tears I cried. But swim? No.

In each person’s life, they have a collection of images in their head that are indelible. They stick for a variety of reasons. The first time you saw the love of your life. A terrible car crash you once witnessed. What it was like to see the ocean for the first time. One of those images from the mélange in my own brain is from my college days. There were lots of spots in the greater Las Cruces area with good access to the Rio Grande. As such, we college kids made it a point to have many a celebration by the banks of the Rio Grande. Many of these “river parties” took place at night, after a dance or the bar closed. But sometimes it would start as a barbeque down by the water and last into the night.

One afternoon on a warm day, a gang of girls piled in to the car and headed to the river for a barbeque day. It was a crowded party and there were some boys swimming in the river. I always give the river a beady eye of skepticism mainly because my mom drummed it into me. So I watched these nineteen-year-old guys swimming around in that gross water with fascination. I remember one guy, I can’t honestly remember his name, but he was in the water and he was swimming with all his might against the current and he was losing ground. This was a strong guy, in good shape and a strong swimmer and he was putting everything into it, and the river was pushing him back.

Ok, I know for any “mighty” river this probably isn’t all that amazing. But to me, it crystallized everything my mom had said about the dangers of swimming in that water.

Along with the wonder of seeing him swim for all he’s worth and not get any forward progress was seeing bits of yuck floating past him in the water. Not only was I horrified at the danger he put himself in swimming into the current, but my god, what danger did all that crap pose to his health?!?!

By the time that water makes it to the southern end of the state, it’s been subjected to some pretty heinous stuff. Insecticides, manure, runoff, and the occasional dear departed dog. Yes, horrible to say but true, many a person has tossed their deceased animal into that water. Hell, a few human bodies too, but that’s almost too much to consider.

In October this year I took my partner to see the span of river near my folks place in Los Chaves on the Bosque. It’s beautiful there. As we stood on the banks I recall him saying to me, “What’s that foamy stuff floating by?” God knows. I sure didn’t.

So this is a long way of saying there is no way in hell I’d drink that water. So imagine the ewww face I made when I read the article in the Albuquerque Tribune with the story title: “Taste testers find Rio Grande water earthy, approachable”.

Say it with me now….EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

The story says that in Albuquerque they are building a treatment plant to make the water, and I quote “drinkable and deliverable to area sinks, toilets and showers.”

They’d do best not to tell folks where the water came from. Cuz I know I’m not the only one who’d be real opposed to having that in my water glass.

I know beggars can’t be choosers when water is tight. But gad…that’s just…gross.

I do love the quote, though, from a local winemaker John Calvin. “He detected some ‘overtones of granite,’ he said, a hint of ‘Russian olive in the nose,’ and something else that might have been ‘evergreen trees after a rain.'”

Wow. Bet that’s not all he tasted……

(actual photo of the actual river in Los Chavez)


Photo by Karen Fayeth

Los Turistas

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On Thursday, March 22, Polly Summar wrote an article in the ABQjournal entitled “Rules of Tourist Etiquette”.

It is to laugh.

I know Ms. Summar is well intended. She even makes some good points. I especially agreed with number five, “Do not stand in the middle of the sidewalk during busy times on the Plaza…” Then she says later in the same point, “Would you do this in New York City? No? Well, don’t do it here.”

The thing of it is, they *would* do the same in New York City. I saw it. Hell, I probably did it. They would do the same in Boston, and San Antonio and Dubuque. That’s what tourists do. If you live in a place that is popular with tourists, you have to accept a certain bit of foolish behavior.

And trying to impose Tourist Rules is like shouting at a hurricane. You’re going to strain yourself. It’s not going to hear you. And it’s still gonna blast past you anyway (though hurricanes are not in an all fire rush to buy jewelry from a “real Indian”, but that’s another post for another day).

In fact, articles like this one can be perceived as being a bit hostile to tourists. For a state like ours that depends on the tourist dollar….I’m not saying cater to their every bad behavior, but you gotta accept some of the cost that comes with the plentiful tourist dollar.

Maybe Ms. Summar should take some ’round the way roads to get where she’s going if tourists jamming the Plaza are going to ruin her good day.

The lure of the Plaza is too great. It’s beautiful, and Santa Fe is a vacation destination. The Southwest Airlines in flight magazine told me so.

While I’ve been known to rail against a tourist or two in my life, I’ve also learned a certain symbiotic relationship with them. We both have a place in the world. We get something out of each other. Heck, when I visited New York for the first time just last year, I was completely the tourist, mouth agape at the skyscrapers. I even scared a cab driver by shouting “holy sh-t!” when he rounded a corner onto Broadway and I laid eyes on Times Square for the first time in my life.

To his credit, that cab driver didn’t complain at me or tell me I’d behaved wrong. He asked, “Are you okay?” then said, “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

I like to think his kindness was payback for all the tolerance I’ve shown tourists in my life.

Here’s my qualifications:

Grew up in Albuquerque. Endured many a balloon fiesta as a child where grownups trampled me to get a better look.

My parents lived in Carlsbad for several years. You want to talk tourists? Try working a fast food joint in Carlsbad on a hot August day! I did it.

I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area. My partner lived on Fisherman’s Wharf in the early days of our dating. He loved the area and I was skeptical when he first moved in. He was blocks away from Pier 39. Let me tell you, I’ve been in both Santa Fe and Pier 39 in various tourist heavy times of the year. Ms. Summar, you know nothing of tourists. Pier 39 can best be described as pandemonium. The locals here know better. You *avoid* those areas. You take a more circuitous route because you know those damn turistas are gong to make you crazy. And you know you can’t expend the calories letting turistas make you crazy because there is still traffic, your boss and that wiener who stole your parking spot left in the day to drive you bonkers.

And you know that no matter how many rules you try to impose, how many ways you ask nicely for them to respect the locals, how many times you gently request they move off of the sidewalk for that family portrait session, they are not going to change. Tourists enjoy a certain sense of entitlement wherever they go. It’s why many other countries don’t enjoy American tourists.

For a while there, post 9/11, we all felt a distinct lack of tourists. San Francisco suffered financially because people weren’t traveling. Hotels, restaurants, cab drivers, the common man suffered the loss. Funny how your perspective on tourists changes when you don’t have them…….

So just know, we can’t change ’em. We can only change how we react to ’em. So Ms. Summar, next time you see that guy flossing on the plaza (point four on her list), don’t see the uncouth, unaware, buffoon, see instead the dollar bills that fall out of his pocket and help make your historic town and our beautiful state keep percolating along.

Well I’ll Be Darned

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You know…sometimes I don’t give New Mexico enough credit. One of the things I enjoyed growing up was the sort of slow quiet desert way about New Mexico. I was firmly entrenched in the small backward ways of my home while also silently making plans to grow up and live somewhere else. I always thought living in a big city would be better. Then, towards the end of my college career at NMSU, I thought I wanted nothing better than to live in New Mexico the rest of my life.

As fate would have it, my job situation worked out to move me to the Bay Area. I was now as an adult living in a major metropolitan area. And as much as I enjoy living here, I long for the slower, easier ways of New Mexico.

But again, I often don’t give New Mexico enough credit for it’s deep cultural roots, not just Hispanic and Native American, the culture of America.

I was humbled, again, today as I hit the New Mexico Magazine website. On the front page they have a poll. You are asked to vote for the song that will go down as the best by a New Mexican. Ok, so I expected to see some hokiness. A couple Nelson Martinez songs or maybe Jim Glaser and his “Lights of Albuquerque” (a song which, honestly, makes me cringe a little).

But I have to apologize to my fellow artistic New Mexicans because there are a couple of my all time favorites on this list. Then again…some of these folks can *barely* be called a New Mexican. I tend to get pretty strict on that score…I prefer natives over movers in, but I guess I can’t get too fine on this point. I’m going to just feel proud that our fair state is somehow associated with these fine musical works.

Here’s the list:

“The Bare Necessities” by Terry Gilkyson

This is a great sing along song. Gotta love Baloo in the Jungle Book, deep voiced (Phil Harris lent his voice to the character) and crazy dancing along. A simple happy upbeat tune. Written by Terry Gilkyson, a very well known musician from the 1950’s as a member of the Easy Riders. Mr. Gilkyson retired in the later part of his life to Santa Fe. So while not a native, we’ll gladly claim him as our own.

Now when I jig around the house singing this one, I’ll have peace in my heart that it’s a part of my New Mexican heritage.

____

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glenn Campbell

Ok, this one blew me away. Glenn Campbell is one of my all time favorite musicians. I love everything he’s ever written. “Still Within the Sound of my Voice” is a song that breaks me up every time. Ol’ Glenn can only tangentially be called a New Mexican. From a brief web search I found that while about age 16 (in 1953) he played with an uncle’s band in Albuquerque, so I am not sure we can claim him. But it’s a fun tidbit to know that part of his career passed through our fair state. My mom lived in NM in the 50’s as a young woman…it’s cool to ponder maybe she saw him play at some bar in downtown Albuquerque while having drinks with friends. She wouldn’t remember, but I can dream, right?

___

“A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives

What!?!?!? Burl is quintessentially Christmas to me! He voiced Sam The Snowman in that stop action animation “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” in which he also sang “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. The Wikipedia about him says he used to sing “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” at every concert. That is a TOTAL childhood favorite. Was singing it not five days ago…

Man oh man. Burl. An American treasure. As for the New Mexico connection, I found an interview with his widow that made mention of them living in our great state. Ok, fair enough. Burl, you’re in!

___

“King of the Road” by Roger Miller

Almost wept with joy to see this one on the list. Hands down, Roger Miller and his music holds a deep, special place in my heart. Most of his tunes evoke a particular memory for me, and usually a good one.

His wacky lyrics sometimes overshadowed the fact that he was an absolutely incredible musician. I adore me some Roger Miller. I sing all his stuff in as loud a voice as possible. Loudly and badly. Oh yeah. I couldn’t really find the link between Mr. Miller and New Mexico, but far be it from me to argue with New Mexico Magazine.

___

“Singin’ in the Rain” by Nacio Herb Brown

An all time great movie moment from a top ten fave movie. Watched it again maybe three or four months ago. Gene Kelly moving effortlessly through the rain. Debbie Reynolds was never better. Donald O’Connor in my opinion steals the movie from both Debbie and Gene. Adore the movie. Adore the song.

And of all on the list, he’s a true New Mexican. Born Ignacio Herb Brown in Deming, his family moved to LA when he was five. But he’s one of ours, no two ways about it.

Another fact I never knew. “Singing in the Rain” written by a native son.

And because of that, Nacio got my vote…..(and when I voted I got the see the results so far. Nacio is leading the pack. Go New Mexico!!)

And we care about this why again?

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Shame on you ABQjournal for making a non-story, a less than b list celeb story, into top of web page linkatude….for several days in a row now.

ABQjournal reporter Leslie Linthicum reports today on the latest in the story regarding Don Imus, called by the ABQjournal “a sometime New Mexican”, and his radio numbers would suggest the answer is a big fat round NO.

Imus has his knickers in a knot because he thought Richardson was stalling on granting financing to turn the old Ribera (pop. 2,326…no I didn’t leave a digit off) school house to a community center. What? Where?

C’mon!?! You think the oh I don’t know, GOVERNOR of a whole state, with Legislature in session, *might* maybe have some OTHER more pressing items to deal with?!?!?

Imus is a media whore. He’s riding on Bill Richardson’s coattails. And the ABQjournal bought into it posting no less than two blog entries about it then writing a full article.

Who. Cares.

I realize that this playing out on the national scene seems enticing. A shiny object to glom onto. Unfortunately, the ABQjournal is keeping our fair state firmly wallowing in podunkery if they think *anyone* who has an opinion that matters gives a rip about ANY opinion Imus has to offer. The once popular and influential radioman has sunk to near anonymity. C’mon! Let’s pay attention to things that give momentum to the growing recognition of our state! Leave the celebrity rabble behind and make our great state a nationally recognized great state!

I yearn for the day when New Mexico Magazine can cancel their long running section “One of our Fifty is Missing” because not just the US but the world knows who and what New Mexico is about.

Then again….maybe it’s better for all of us…the natives, to have no one know. Let’s let it be our little secret. An even better reason to ignore that waste of radio waves….

My head hurts…I need a margarita…..

Only somewhat on topic…

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So today’s thoughts aren’t specifically New Mexico related…and yet, in a way they are. Today we’re going to have to *gasp* include our Texan neighbors to the south, in El Paso, in the conversation. It’s ok, we like them, mostly.

So in looking for ideas for this blog, I went to the bastion of internet knowledge, Wikipedia to look at what they had to say about our fair state.

In the history portion of the Wiki, it talked about the early Conquistadores, Coronado coming along first looking for the cities of gold, then fleeing back to Mexico. Then next, Don Juan de Oñate some 50 years later (1598), founding the first European settlement on the Rio Grande. Oñate was then made the first governor of the Province of New Mexico.

This Wikipedia entry is all very factual, but it got me thinking….

Oñate has a bit of a colorful history. The Wikipedia entry for the man uses the light language that “Oñate soon gained a reputation as a stern ruler of both the Spanish colonists and the indigenous people”. Stern is a nice way of saying he was a bit of a sonovabitch.

And some four hundred years later, there are still some folks a bit, shall we say, uptight about his history.

In 1998 a statue of Oñate at the Oñate Monument Visitors Center outside of Epañola, NM was vandalized. Our friends in Española aren’t often known for their senses of humor…they cut off his foot, leaving a note saying “fair is fair”.

And the latest in the debate…this is where El Paso comes into play. In 1997 work began on a statue of the well-known conquistador. Billed as the largest equestrian statue in the world by the artist, John Sherrill Houser, it was completed in 2006. It’s due for a ceremony and unveiling in April 2007. I saw it when in El Paso this past December. I have to say, it’s a visually stunning statue (photo at the end of this post), huge, oddly placed at the entrance to the El Paso Airport.

I asked my best friend “What the hell is that?” She went on to tell me about the debate in the city over the statue (a quick search of the El Paso Times shows a debate raging in the letters to the editor as recent as a couple weeks ago). It was clear to me from first glance that it was a statue of Oñate. But there are still bad feelings about his “stern” rule to such an extent, that instead, it’s been decided to call the statue “The Equestrian”.

Really?

Here’s a quote from the El Paso Times regarding the Lipizzaner Stallions on a visit to El Paso, “Artist John Houser’s bronze Equestrian statue in front of El Paso International Airport was modeled after the kind of Andalusian horse that Juan de Oñate rode during his conquistador days in the Southwest.”

Modeled after? Really? No, it’s a statue glorifying Oñate.

The guy is part of the history of the Southwest (and especially New Mexico). We can’t deny it. But we also don’t have to like what he did to the indigenous people.

I have the same issues with the variety of missionaries who founded a string of missions along the edge of California. I know we owe these guys some debt of gratitude for settling the lands upon which we now live. Then again, they did this at considerable cost to the proud people who lived here first.

A few years back I visited the Mission in San Luis Obispo. At one part in the tour they even pointed out a tree in front of the place where the natives were hung if they refused to be converted. It sort of lent a pall to the day for me. I’ve steadfastly refused to visit any of the Missions since.

I don’t know what the right answer is. But I do hate the sort of politically correct “cover” that happens when people speak their truth. They say, “We shouldn’t glorify a man who tortured and killed our people”. So in response we get real cute and call it “The Equestrian” to make all those upset brown people feel better?

Now *that* makes me hostile.

Photo by Karen Fayeth

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