Blog New Mexico Travelogue

TUESDAY June 23rd – Day 3 – A Day in Santa Fe

The Santa Fe School of Cooking was our primary reason for going to Santa Fe, about an hour south of Taos. Well, to be clear, Jeff wasn’t interested in the cooking class, but he came along for the ride and hung out in town while we attended the class. The cooking school, now in its 20th year, is also attached to a market where you can purchase just about any form of regional chile ingredients and cookware. The menu for our class was labeled “Traditional New Mexican” and included:

Chicken or cheese enchiladas
Green chile sauce
Red chile sauce from pods
Corn tortillas
Posole Pinto beans
Capirotada (pecan bread pudding)

The school offers hands-on classes, but the one we attended was in the “demonstration” series. This proved much different than the class we took in Italy, but no less interesting and fun. In Italy, we were encouraged to participate occasionally and were right in the kitchen with the chefs. In Santa Fe, the format was almost entirely presentational, with the students spectating in a restaurant-like atmosphere while the chefs worked in their own space – much like a cooking show. We didn’t assist with the preparation, but the chefs that were presenting clearly knew how to work a crowd and kept us interested the whole way through.

We were seated with two other travelers, Carolyn and Cindy. The room held approximately 40 people. Our chef, Michelle Roetzer Mica, was very down to earth, and her love of chiles, the region’s cuisine and food in general was clear. Sight lines were good, and they even had a large mirror above the stoves so you could see everything that was happening. The class lasted about two hours, with a touch of historical context thrown in with cooking technique. An informal atmosphere helped encourage questions.

I’m going to let Audra’s journal entry capture this particular part of our trip, though I can’t say when she will have it complete as she is still working on Italy’s journal. I know that Audra and Kristy enjoyed themselves, as did I. The food was yummy, and such classes are becoming somewhat of a “must do” for our trips. This proved to be one of the highlights of what would turn out to be a rather difficult trip for all of us.

After lunch, we stocked up on chile concoctions from the cooking school’s market, then met up with Jeff later while browsing the downtown shops. Compared to Taos, everything was a bit more glitzy and usually more expensive. I was underwhelmed with the one music store we found, somewhat surprised that there wasn’t more on offer with the diversity of music in this region.

Later, I looked into an entry way on the main square and saw a staircase with the words “arte”, “libros”, and “musica” written in large letters on steps going up into a series of shops. I told the group that I’d catch up with them later. It turned out to be much later… by about two hours.

The steps eventually led to a hallway, which led to the shop Allá. As the steps explained, there you could find art, books, music, as well as books about art and music and every other possible combination, much of it focused on the Spanish language and on regional cultures. The shopkeeper was on the phone when I walked in, so I just looked around. There was a lot to take in. The place had the feel of a carefully organized shop, and private collection, with a small reading room. I came upon some art books that I thought would interest my sister, and a Basque music CD. Eventually the shopkeeper got off the phone and said hello. Thus began a riveting, impromptu, two hour introduction to Mexican musicology and background on Spanish-speaking regional cultures.

The shopkeeper turned out to be the owner, James Dunlap, a musicologist and anthropologist who had traveled to many of the places that his books and music represented. Among its other positive qualities, Allá turned out to be a store with the largest selection of Spanish language children’s books in the US. They also had a large selection of hard-to-find and obscure (to me anyway) regional ethnic music from Mexico and Central America.

As James took me around the small rooms that connected to form the shop, he spoke passionately and articulately about everything, willing to answer any questions. He was more than happy to give me background (lots of it) on items in his collection. This was a person who knew his subject matter. It was as if this really was his personal CD and book collection, and you just happen to be in his home. The pile that I started with one book for my sister and one CD for me turned into a larger pile by the moment as James told me about such-and-such musical innovation, or the place of the harp in Mexican music, or the fascinating tradition of the narcocorridos. It really was like being in a candy store, with a very good candy maker (and salesman) to boot. My cell phone rang. I ignored it. I had now found the holy grail and wasn’t about to leave.

The world is small. Smaller than I could have possibly realized. When I told him where I was from, he said that just recently he had talked with a professor from Bloomsburg who visited his shop. James couldn’t remember the name at the time, but I would later learn, as I suspected, that the professor was Dr. Aleto, my (very good) cultural anthropology professor from Bloomsburg University.

An hour had passed and my CD/book pile now required a large bag, approaching a size that might require shipping back home separately because it might not fit into my luggage for the trip home. I was there so long talking with James that I had to use the restroom. While I took a pee break, James rang up my purchases. I called Audra briefly on the way to the bathroom to let her know that I’d surely be finished soon.

While I was gone, James thought of a few other things that might interest me. We talked some more and a couple more items made their way into my pile. Another hour passed, mostly talking. I don’t relate any of this as a complaint. I was in heaven. James is a fascinating personality and I just had to ask him about his background and any suggestions he might have for an amateur ethnomusicologist with the interests that I have these days. He was so encouraging. He noticed my guitar and I think he got a kick out of my demonstration of my portable digital recorder. He didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with learning Spanish, picking up and moving to some remote region, and studying the local music and food culture. Tomorrow. “There’s lots of work still to be done.”

Eventually I cut myself off, knowing that much of what was there could (hopefully) be found online or ordered from him directly. I could easily have doubled my spending, but knew that I had to draw the line somewhere. I could also have easily spent another two hours talking with James, though my companions would soon want to head back to Taos. James rang me out and we exchanged information. I left feeling that this was somehow not the last I would hear from him. I hope not.

After hitting a few more shops, it began to rain. Many shops had drums, but the drums here were, for the most part, overpriced. At Eagle Dancer, among a pile of drums more likely for tourists than musicians, I found a small two-headed cottonwood drum. Though I hate to get instruments purely for collector’s sake, this one fits somewhere in between useful and decorative.

We had all pretty much seen what there was to see in the immediate area, so it was time to head back to Taos. No doubt there were some museums and historical sites to see, but we only allowed one day for Santa Fe. More reason to return.

I took more UFO pictures on the drive back to Taos. Stuffed from a large lunch, we didn’t feel it was necessary to do anything too adventurous for dinner, and we also wanted to make sure we had something that wasn’t going to disagree with us. So we chose the rather uneventful, cheap, Sonic drive thru. It was going to be an early wake-up the next day for our river run.

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By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.