Back in Taos, Layers of Memories

Back in Taos, New Mexico, to visit old friends, I keep walking past my favorite hangout of years past, Café Tazza on Kit Carson Road. It closed in 2018, I think and it had been going downhill from its slightly entheogenic-esoteric height. The food offerings diminished, the interior became grubbier, and the baristas bathed less frequently — but the coffee was always good.

The town’s adobe (and pseudo-adobe) architecture owes something to the Pueblo Indians but also to the Middle East; after all, “adobe” is a loanword from Arabic—and maybe from Coptic into Arabic before that. [1]Surprise, al-tob means “the brick.”

Cafe Tazza, like the gracefully aging El Pueblo Motel, was a favorite place reading, and I like to think that sometimes architecture influences your receptivity to certain ideas.

And now off to the Harwood Museum to look at lowriders and santos.

I often meet my own ghost.

Exterior, Cafe Tazza, Kit Carson Road, Taos

Cafe Tazza as it was, maybe around 2015.

The same building in 2021, empty.

Interior doorway, about 2016 — or any time in the previous two decades.

The back pato, where you might hear conversation in New-Age Spanglish: “Vamos a pensar en how to manifest that.”

Notes

Notes
1 Surprise, al-tob means “the brick.”

The Robot God and the Underworld Gate

Robot God

“With Open Arms We Welcomes That Which Would Destroy Us.” Camino de la Placita, Taos, September 2019

Earlier this month, M. and I were in Taos, New Mexico, for what I think was the fifth annual PASEO outdoor art festival. The interesting thing about PASEO is that it happens mostly at night, in a town with a late-medieval street plan that was built for ox carts and is still kind of sparing with streetlights. You spend your time walking in semi-darkness from one pop-up installation to another.

Some installations sound better on the page than they are experienced in person, but here are a couple that worked for me.

At least one year, equinoctial rainstorms lashed the night, but this year the festival was moved earlier in the month, and the weather was good for an Underworld-flavored Pagan-ish art experience.

Above and below:

With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us by Christian Ristow of Taos is a sculpture of a seated robot deity. From a distance, it is beautiful and seductive, yet on closer inspection it reveals its true nature. It is not evil; it’s a robot. It has its own directives. And like any god, we created it and gave it its power.

Walking up Civic Plaza (which is actually more of a street and not the plaza), we passed under this flaming arch.

Numinous Eye Arch, with the Robot God in the distance.

Its creator, Oakland, Calif., artist Ryon Gesink, writes,

The Numinous Eye Arch sculpture is a large steel archway with a looming giant spotlight eye at its apex. It gazes impassively in mysterious stoic surveillance, with a dozen [propane-fueled] torches along its length creating a dome of golden firelight. Some 18 years ago I began to feel a strong urge to create a sort of gateway or portal for people to pass through, beyond which one enters an unfamiliar hallucinatory world and goes on to encounter dangers and challenges emerging from one’s own subconscious. Could be a Gate to Hell or a Gate to Heaven, depending…

Past that and around the corner, more leaping flames, but those were the outdoor fires heating the patio at the Martyrs Steakhouse,[1]There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here. which we passed, only to re-enter PASEO-space when we encountered a troupe of girl dancers, bedecked in rave-ish electroluminescent hoops and bands.

Taos Un/Connected by Amber Vasquez and Taos Youth Ballet in Taosis a roaming dance performance piece exploring the unique and ever-changing qualities of human relationships. From comfortable friendship or the awkwardness of new love to the isolating “connectedness” that social media can create. Dancers will both speak and dance as they travel in a train of movement.

OK, we’re in artspeak-territory here, but you just let it be and drift with the crowd through the semi-lit alleys and plaza, following the dancers until they finish under the glare of the monumental statue of Padre Martinez[2]Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark. in the main plaza.

If I might venture into UPG territory, moments at PASEO, out on the dark streets, do indeed have an Underworld feel to them. Ryon Gesink must have plugged into that energy. I have visited that place in dreams a time or so, checking on recently deceased family members. The crowds shuffle along, and it is so hard to see, except when there is an occasional brightly lit scene, and those are very rare.[3]Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.

I will probably go back. Taos, after all, is where I officially became a Pagan, and it left its mark.

Notes

Notes
1 There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here.
2 Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark.
3 Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.

The Pueblo Revolt and Pagan History

Commemorative poster by Kiowa artist Parker Boyiddle Jr. (1947–2007).

Some time in the early 1980s, M. and I were traveling through northern Arizona on one of our VW Bug-and-cheap tent tours, when we stopped for lunch at the Hopi Cultural Center, a/k/a The Cafe at the Center of the Universe.

We could not afford much at the gift shop, but I bought this poster, which commemorates a signal event in the Pagan history of North America — the time in August 1680 when the different Pueblo tribes, separated by language and geography,[1]It is at least 350 road miles from Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo, where the revolt was planned) to the Hopi villages. Teenage boys ran the distance—an event recreated in 1980. rose up simultaneously, killing Christian priests, destroying churches, and chasing the Spanish settlers back to what is today Mexico.[2]The Spanish did, however, come back in the Reconquista of 1692. It is often called the “bloodless” reconquest — as in this somewhat-biased link — but it was not. Calling it the … Continue reading

The poster has hung by my desk in three or four different houses.

For a good, sensitive history of the revolt, I recommend David Roberts’ The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards out of the Southwest.

Two things recently  brought the Pueblo Revolt back to my mind.

For one, last month American blogger Galina Kraskova linked to a Hindu blog, which itself was about “How Japan Dealt with the Christian Threat.” (This followed an earlier post by the same blogger on “Japan’s Defeat of Christianity and Lessons for Hindus.”) In short, during the early 17th century the Japanese shoguns all but eliminated the Catholic Christianity that had been spread by (mainly) Portuguese missionaries among the population. Their tactics included threats, torture, imprisonment, and a sort of  Buddhist Inquisition.[3]For the movie version, see Silence, 2016, directed by Martin Scorsese. Now the Japanese approach is endorsed by some Hindus who advocate restricting or eliminating Christian missionary activity in India.

Pottery jar by Virgil Ortiz from “Revolt 1680/2180.”

But back to the Pueblo Revolt, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has a show up by Virgil Ortiz, an artist from Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, titled “Revolt 1680/2180.” It will be on display through the first week of January 2016, and I must see it.

Ortiz’s Revolt storyline transports the viewer back more than 300 years to the historical events of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, and then hurtles forward through time to the year of 2180 – introducing a cast of characters along the way. Though the narrative will be largely based on the Revolt 1680/2180 storyline that the artist has been developing for some time, Revolution will focus on the Aeronauts and other main Revolt characters: Po’Pay, Translator and the Spirit World Army, Tahu and her army of Blind Archers, Runners, and Gliders. Set in the future of 2180, the pueblos are in chaos, the invasion of Native land continues, the scourge of war rages everywhere. The Aeronauts summon their fleet and prepare for extreme warfare against the invading Castilian forces. Desperately, the Aeronauts search for any remaining clay artifacts from the battlefields. They know that challenges and persecution will continue, so it is imperative to preserve and protect their clay, culture, language, and traditions from extinction.

If you can be in Colorado Springs over the next three months, the museum is open Tuesday-Sunday.

Notes

Notes
1 It is at least 350 road miles from Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo, where the revolt was planned) to the Hopi villages. Teenage boys ran the distance—an event recreated in 1980.
2 The Spanish did, however, come back in the Reconquista of 1692. It is often called the “bloodless” reconquest — as in this somewhat-biased link — but it was not. Calling it the ‘bloodless reconquest” perpetuates the myth that the simple natives welcomed the Catholic priests.
3 For the movie version, see Silence, 2016, directed by Martin Scorsese.

Blogging from an Undisclosed Location

Blogging tonight from an undisclosed location in northern New Mexico. This is the view from the porch.

Northern New Mexico, after all, is where I became a capital-P Pagan, with only the help of the old poet, Her touch, and the whisper of the acequia entre los sauces. It is where I go to think about things and to catch up with myself. (I realize that I am slightly closer to where I was born than to where I now live.)

The Undisclosed Location has pretty good wifi for not being in town. That’s a bonus. Pronghorn antelope look up from the grass as I drive by on the way to town. And I re-visited a place where they don’t exactly turn boys into men, but maybe into slightly less idiotic boys.

The “Salem-Santa Fe” Mystery Solved

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico

A month ago I blogged how astonished M. and I were to see that Kakawa, the Santa Fe-based chocolate house, was about to open a new store in Salem, Mass.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the [Peabody-Essex] museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Now I know. I stopped at Kakawa in Santa Fe yesterday and spoke with Tony Bennett, who owns it together with his wife, Bonnie. This is what they do.

Aztec-style chocolate: cacao, chiles, other spices, flowers.

It turns out that they were invited. It seems the director and certain board members of the Peabody-Essex museum like to come to Santa Fe for the big annual Indian-arts market. (No wonder they have the T. C. Cannon show up.) So they drop in at Kakawa nearby for some chocolate elixir, as one does.

And they decided several years ago that Kakawa would fit right into the commercial building that they own adjacent to the museum. Then their architect died, and there were other complications, but Kakawa is on-track to open in the near future. In addition, Tony said, there would be a Kakawa kiosk inside the museum. Some buenas noticias for Salem.

 

The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home

Yet another addition to the Peabody Essex Museum is under construction.

Before M. and I left on this trip, someone mentioned a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the big Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. As it happened, the exhibit ended just before we arrived, but that’s all right — we can visit a whole museum devoted to her painting in Santa Fe whenever we are down there.

We live in southern Colorado – within the province of New Mexico, if you follow a pre-1821 map.[1]Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away. So we often feel that Santa Fe, more than Denver, is our cultural capital.

T. C. Cannon, self-portrait, 1975 (Wikipedia).

And what did the PEM have to replace O’Keefe: an exhibit devoted to the artist T. C. Cannon. 

Cannon (1946-1978) was an enrolled member of the Kiowa tribe, born in Oklahoma. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, then joined the Army, fought in Vietnam, returned to the US and painted up a storm until dying in a car crash in Santa Fe.

There’s almost another connection — a high-school friend of mine taught at IAIA, but not until a time after Cannon had finished there.

Coming soon, Kakawa in Salem! Photo made a few yards to the right of the one above.

No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a stop at Kakawa chocolate house, tucked away between some state government offices and the art galleries on Paseo de Peralta, where you can take your chocolate the way that Marie Antoinette drank hers or — my preference — the way that the emperor Moctezuma II  drank his, with chiles.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Artemisia Botanicals

Further east on Essex Street sits Artemisia Botanicals, the serious herb shop in town (as opposed to the jars of herbs in some of the witch shops that have probably sat there for years and years), offering herbs, teas, oils, jewelry, and, of course, psychic readings.

We picked up a few things — for me it was a package of copal incense sticks. I have copal resin and like to use it for certain things, but there are times when sticks are just convenient. I looked at the label: They were from Fred Soll’s Incense in Tijeras, N.M., which is just east of Albuquerque. According to Mapquest, Tijeras is 358 miles (573 km) from my house, whereas Salem (had I chosen to drive), is about 2078 miles (3325 km).

But at last we are home. Then I see an unfamiliar car in the driveway.

Two nicely dressed men are at the bottom of the stairs, one middle-aged, one twenty-something. The older man holds a small, leather-bound book. When I step out onto the porch, he starts into a spiel about visiting the neighbors[2]Never saw you before, buddy. and conducting a survey about how to find happiness.

¡Madre de dios! ¡Los puritanos!

I tell him that I never talk about religion before breakfast, and I am just about to sit down at the table. And that the best way out of the driveway is to pull toward the garage door, then cut your wheels hard as you back up.

Maybe they were just evangelicals, not Calvinists, but we live on an obscure road in the woods, and this was only the second missionary visit in twenty-five years.

The mystery of why the Kakawa chocolate house is coming to Salem has been solved! You can read the rest here.

Notes

Notes
1 Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away.
2 Never saw you before, buddy.

Hey, Baby, What’s Your Sign? Want to Check Out my Van?

It is a fact in journalism that some things never get old. Stories about today’s young people are evergreen: Are they hopeless screw-ups? Do they possess a brilliant new world-saving vision? Or both? Or neither?

Live long enough, and everything recycles, like platform shoes (they were popular in the 17th century too, not that I remember that far back). Here is a piece on “Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.”

Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice.

Take out the word “app,” and that sounds like the early 1970s to me, another “tumultuous political time” (Vietnam War, resignation of President Nixon, etc.)

And speaking of the Seventies, when I knew people who did it, here is a snarky piece in the New York Post titled “Meet the pretentious millennials who romanticize living in vans.”

Twenty-four years ago, calling your car home was Plan Z. Now it’s a generation’s greatest aspiration.

Copiously illustrated with photos of beautifully restored VW campers, both air-cooled buses and water-cooled Vanagons, the article would produce a predictable result from M., who still laments that we sold the 1984 Vanagon camper that we owned from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.

“I could put it up by myself!” she would say. #Vanlife.

And so she could, but the only mechanic in Nearby Town who would work on fiddly European fuel-injection systems had been about to retire.[1]He was a treasure, though, and people knew it. I would walk into his shop, where the radio was always on the classical music station, and there would be an Aston-Martin or a Maserati. “I had no … Continue reading

So I sold the Vanagon to a guy up in Fort Collins, thanks to the Internet, and got something with four-wheel-drive. Volkswagen did make an all-wheel-drive Vanagon, the Synchro, and while fishing in the mountains last June I found a nicely restored example parked at a trailhead.

I complimented the owner on his van, and he launched into a list of all the systems on it that he had rebuilt. “You have to be a mechanic,” he said.

No, thanks. On the old VWs, maybe. Nowadays I do some work on my old Jeep CJ-5, and everything else goes to the pros.

If you hanker after an older VW bus or Vanagon, I think the the place to be is New Mexico, where both they and people who will work on them seem to end up.

And, since you asked, Gemini.

Notes

Notes
1 He was a treasure, though, and people knew it. I would walk into his shop, where the radio was always on the classical music station, and there would be an Aston-Martin or a Maserati. “I had no idea that anyone in [Blank] County owned one of these!” I would say. “Oh yeah,” he would reply.

When Pagans Fought Back and Won (Sort of)

Lithograph by well-known Indian artist Parker Boyiddle created in 1980 for the 300th anniversary of the Great Pueblo Revolt. My copy hangs over my desk, wherever I live.

Today’s Pagans, particularly those who inspired by an ancient polytheistic tradition, often wonder why their Pagan ancestors gave up their beliefs.

It’s a complicated story. Some, like the Saxons conquered by Charlemagne, were in a convert-or-die situation, and thousands died.

Sometimes, as in the Roman West, you get the feeling that the upper classes, at least, just followed a fashion set by the emperor: “If you’re going to get ahead, it helps to be a Christian.”  The lower classes were slowly brought around by a mixture of preaching, examples, and punishments.

The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, whose best-known work, Things Fall Apart, is set in a late-19th-century Igbo community, describes government-backed missionaries’ influence on the community, and some of the people’s response (or rather, non-response) might surprise you.

In one instance, however, indigenous people fought a war against the missionaries and won. It was Pagans 1, Catholics 0, at least until the rematch.

To summarize a lot of history: During the 16th century, several Spanish expeditions crossed or probed the upper Rio Grande Valley of what is now New Mexico, as well as entering settlements to the west, such as Zuni (New Mexico) and the Hopi towns (Arizona).

Serious colonization began in 1598 under the leadership of Don Juan de Oñate. About fifty Franciscan monks and priests were part of his expedition, bringing not just their gospel but Mexican chiles, tomatoes, and melons, as well as Eurasian peach tree seedlings and more, thus changing foodways of the American Southwest forever. More colonists, soldiers, and missionaries continued to arrive subsequently, although never in large numbers.

It was the usual story:

The Franciscans not only wanted to replace the idolatrous religious practice of the Pueblos, which were clearly the work of the omnipresent Devil, but also all aspects of their non-European, barbarian way of life The Indians needed to learn to wear proper clothes and shoes, to be modest, and to never engage in adultery.[1]Jake Page, Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom (Tucson: Rio Nuevo, 2013), 57.

Over the next eighty years there were sporadic acts of resistance but nothing major. The leaders of rebellions were usually questioned, tortured, and executed. In one 1675 round-up of rebels, 47 religious leaders (medicine men) from nearby Pueblo towns were brought to Santa Fe, where a few were hanged and the rest flogged and imprisoned. One man, a shaman named Po’pay (also spelt Popé), from San Juan Pueblo (now using its old name of Okeh Owingeh again), upon his release announced to the people back home that the gods had given him a plan.

He and his group carried out an astonishing strategy: they organized warriors who spoke multiple languages (all unwritten), over distances of hundreds of miles, to all rise up on the same day, 11 August 1680. Inevitably, there were some security leaks — the Spanish governor in Santa Fe found out what was planned, and so Po’pay told people in his area to strike a day early.

The priests died first. Churches — even huge adobe edifices like the first church at Pecos — were burned internally and then torn down brick by brick. Other warriors attacked Spanish farms and ranches, killing and looting. In the north, survivors fled to the governor’s palace, the casas reales, in Santa Fe, while others further south gathered at Isleta, south of today’s Albuquerque. Twenty-one Franciscan friars “achieved martyrdom” that first day.

At Hopi, after they torched the churches, “the two-hundred-pound bells, so piously hauled the thousand miles from New Spain [Mexico] over the years, were destroyed, except at Oraibi where they were hidden, and remain so to this day.”[2]Ibid., 115.

The survivors, less than half of the colonial population, prepared to break out of their siege in Santa Fe, even though most were not fighting men. But the Indians, who outnumbered them, let them go, and they straggled south, eventually stopping where Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, now stands.

Good bureaucrats, the Spanish censused the survivors:

Catalina de Zamora passed muster with four grown nieces, Spaniards, all on foot and extremely poor, and five servants [presumably Indians]. The enemy killed two of her nephews and more than thirty relatives. She does not sign because of not knowing how.[3]Ibid. 136.

When you read that the natives of western North America “got horses from the Spanish,” 1680 is when that happened.

No Golden Age emerged in the former colony. Some communities mounted a “de-Hispanization” campaign. At Okeh Owingeh, Po’pay ordered un-baptism ceremonies and forbade his people to ever mention Jesus, Mary, or other saints again.  Other communities relocated to more defensible locations, expecting that the Spanish would return — which they did, twelve years later, in 1692.

Meanwhile, inter-tribal wars flared up again, Apache raids were a constant problem, and drought was always lurking.

The Reconquista is sometimes described as “bloodless,” but it was not. Many Pueblo towns looked at their odds and decided to surrender. Without the grand coalition of 1680, the 50 veteran Spanish soldiers who accompanied the new (or returning) colonists could defeat the warriors of any single town.

Yet in some places, there were bitter fights. Archaeologists found evidence of them only relatively recently — David Roberts’ The Pueblo Revolt (linked at the image) tells that story. Jake Page’s Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom, which I have quoted here, is stronger on the cultural background issues and the long-term effects of the Great Pueblo Revolt and the Reconquest. I would recommend it as a good first book on the revolt.

With the Reconquest, the Franciscans and other Catholic missionaries came back too, but they never ruled the Pueblo towns as before. Many tribal members took a “dual faith” approach, attending Mass but also celebrating their own festivals or blended festivals, while keeping much of their various Old Religions a private matter. It was, Page notes, “a mutual accommodation.”

Notes

Notes
1 Jake Page, Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom (Tucson: Rio Nuevo, 2013), 57.
2 Ibid., 115.
3 Ibid. 136.

The Little Fire God Went Running

The opening paragraph of the novel that made me a Tony Hillerman fan:

Shulawitsi, the Little Fire God, member of the Council of the Gods and Deputy to the Sun, had taped his track shoes to his feet. He had wound the tape as Coach had taught him, tight over the arch of the foot. And now the spikes biting into the packed earth of the sheep trail seemed a part of him.

From Dance Hall Of The Dead (1973) by Tony Hillerman, one of a series of more-than-mysteries set in and around the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, and all still in print.