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The New Mexican Way

PictureJoe writes: The soft roar of the flames in the “kiva” fireplace mix with the mellow bass guitar music emanating from the sound system in our room. The CD we’re playing was handed to us from a solo Hungarian musician this morning. He was closing up shop on the sidewalk of the snow-covered Central Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The wind chill had stiffened his fingers to the point that he could no longer play bass for the few tourist wandering around in this late-February weather. Elaine and I were just walking by when a foul stream of expletives started pouring from his mouth at no one in particular. It was the dry westerly wind that was his focus, it had been increasing in strength all morning. His back was turned to us when he heard me laugh. Turning quickly to us, he looked both embarrassed and justified at the outburst as he explained his troubles to us. So started our half-hour conversation.

We talked about the different countries we’d all visited, the Santa Fe music scene, how much he disliked playing for Barry Manilow and how much Barry disliked him. Andre was a course, crude, opinionated musician with tribal tattoos on his face and hands. He talked so openly, with such intensity and freedom that it was a pleasure to converse with him. What set him apart from other loud, obnoxious people that you dread having to talk to? It was his interest in us. He not only talked, he listened. It was a real conversation not a monologue of extreme viewpoints that seemed impenetrable to the outsider. I’d explained to him how I’d heard him playing a block away while we were walking into and later leaving an art museum. I told him how I’d felt about the soothing, primitive beat of the low bass tones that echoed down the streets. Streets that modified, that adapted the resonance to their own structural mix, tones bouncing off the adobe walls, the rough-cut wooden doors, the glass shop windows and the blowing wind itself. The gentle music was such a contrast to the rough looking owner of those talented fingers and the sophisticated instrument that he was now packing into it’s case. Andre then apologized, not for his harsh language but for not playing anymore. He was now going back to a warm home with little money in his pocket from the short days work. He reached down and handed me a CD of his music as well as his phone number, encouraging us to give him a call anytime. I started pulling money out of my pocket. He held is hand up, “No, you can have that for free.” He continued to pack up his equipment as we thanked him and walked way.

We’d just spent the last week in the snow-covered mountains of southern New Mexico, in the logging town of Cloudcroft. It’s at an altitude of 9000 feet and has been offering a summer respite for the surrounding residents of the hot desert for over a hundred years. In the winter it’s practically a ghost-town. The summer tourists have gone home, the summer residents have returned to work and school leaving their rustic cabins vacant and cold throughout the winter. We come here regularly to enjoy the solitude and peacefulness of a past era. The pace is slow, the permanent residents are rustic and friendly, taking time to talk with any stranger who happens by. The towns entertainment is limited to The Western Bar, the open-air skating rink and The Lodge, a luxurious hotel and restaurant that remains open throughout the year despite it’s lack of winter patrons.  Our week in a small secluded cabin provided to us by some close friends went by way too quickly and we’ve now moved on for a few days to one of the artistic meccas of North America, Santa Fe. We’d rationalized that the money we’d saved by staying in the free cabin opened us up to a bit of luxury in Santa Fe. Elaine had booked us into “The Inn of the Five Graces”, a beautiful boutique bed and breakfast. I was certainly not disappointed as were escorted through a maze of secluded courtyards to our adobe suite.