» NEW MEXICO NOTES #1: Santa Fe Differs

Photo Essayby Brian Awehali

On by far my most memorable winter stroll around the then-deserted College of Santa Fe, on visits to the Santa Fe Art Institute, I peered around a corner into a courtyard, looking for some mundane scene to exoticize with my camera when I heard what sounded like a theremin being played. Perhaps some artist was noodling around with one? Then a low-pitched thrum and bright light settled overhead and seemed to move closer.

Just prior to the unfortunate alien incident while visiting SFAI. - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Just prior to the unfortunate incident in the courtyard of the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI). – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

When the hatch opened, I heard music that sounded a lot like the cantina music from the first “Star Wars” movie. Despite associations with the needless bloodshed of that scene, where Han Solo kills a business associate with his blaster, I was excited. Stories of alien visitation are common in New Mexico, especially around Roswell, but I didn’t take them very seriously, and I definitely didn’t imagine I’d be having any such experiences first-hand. I imagined, mostly because of the music, that there was a grand party going on inside, and that I’d soon be dancing, knocking back shots of oddly-colored liqueurs, or smoking alien herbs through exotic pipes with new friends.

Unfortunately, the visitors had traveled all these light years merely for the purpose of collecting stool samples.

* * *

Abstract expressionist art shadow on old College of Santa Fe campus - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

After traveling several hundred thousand miles to Santa Fe, some rays ran smack dab into a piece of abstract expressionist art. – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Thunderbird gives way to celestial angel in a mural on the side of the Santa Fe International Hostel - (c) 2012 Brian AwehaliNew Mexico is a land of adobe, sun-bleached extremes, willful eccentricity, art, tall tales, Indians and reactionary Libertarian ideology.  Great beauty, ostentatious Anglo and Latino wealth and lush high-altitude forests commingle with ill-managed radiation testing and disposal sites, extreme poverty and bone-dry deserts that were once ocean floor. Above it all, the bluest of skies erupt daily into fiery sunset symphonies.

Santa Fe, where I’ve lived on three occasions, never for more than nine months at a time, brands itself “The City Different.” It’s definitely different from most of the rest of the state.

Mural on the side of the Santa Fe International Hostel - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Mushroom cloud, with sky dancers.

For one thing, it has some money, thanks mostly to tourism and an aggressively marketed art scene. It also has rich people, many from California and Texas, who buy up expensive homes in the area, then busy themselves ignoring most civic or planning matters that don’t involve bolstering the Santa Fe art brand or real estate market. They come to Santa Fe to Get Away From It All, and they’d generally prefer the local media not spend too much time focusing on persistent city problems like drug addiction, domestic violence, drunk driving, pedestrian deaths and dismemberments, and an economy that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to feudalism. They’d also appreciate it if those stories about a few cases of plague popping up in New Mexico each year (true) would quit getting out and scaring potential fish away from the state’s tourist bait.

Mural on the side of the Santa Fe International Hostel - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Speaking of extremes & facades: Compare the beauty of this mural to the shabby run-down hostel it adorns. – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Another way Santa Fe differs from much of the state: It’s hard to go a day in the city without one or more doe-eyed people asking you what your sign is within the first few minutes of a conversation. If you visit, have fun with this! Casually give a fake birth date or sign, and watch astrological pseudoscientists applaud themselves for already having guessed just that sign.

Sculpture on old College of Santa Fe campus - (c) 2012 Brian AwehaliDuring my third and last stint in Santa Fe, I spent a lot of winter visiting the Santa Fe Art Institute, on the campus of the then-deserted college of Santa Fe. The school had gone out of business when I was there (it’s since re-opened as the Santa Fe University of Art and Design), and I enjoyed a lot of peaceful time wandering the campus and appreciating sculptures and architecture, especially when snow would beautify the campus and remain undisturbed for days at a time.

Sculpture at the back of the old College of Santa Fe campus - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree… Yeah, makes perfect sense… But why make me stand here like this, Lord, with a decapitated baby?  Sculpture sighted on a visit to the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI). – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

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3 thoughts on “» NEW MEXICO NOTES #1: Santa Fe Differs

  1. Hi! The campus to which you refer is now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, formerly known as the College of Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) is a small non-profit community arts organization that sits on the campus of the university in one of the beautiful Ricardo Legorreta buildings.

    • Updated to: “On by far my most memorable stroll around the then-deserted College of Santa Fe, on visits to the Santa Fe Art Institute, I peered around a corner into a courtyard…”

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