I don’t usually post twice in one week, but the Santa Fe Reporter published the winners in its annual writing contest today. I’m honored to be in some excellent company among the winners.
In Truth or Consequences and in Santa Fe, I find it normal to strike up conversations with strangers, and to say hello on the street to people in passing, whether or not we’re acquainted. No one seems to think it odd. I’ve never had a rebuff, nor have I been offended when someone randomly started talking to me.
A few years ago I was sitting in the now-closed and much-missed Little Sprout juice bar in Truth or Consequences when a man in a white terrycloth bathrobe came in and asked me if a certain bumper sticker he found wonderful might be mine. (It said Coexist, with the symbols of various religions forming the letters.) It wasn’t mine, but we talked a while anyway. He was on his way to water aerobics and had seen the bumper sticker, seen me in the window wearing my sun hat against the glare, and decided the Woman in the Hat looked like someone who wanted to spiritually Coexist. We became friends, and until he moved away last year he was my best sunset-walking and philosophical-talking friend in T or C. Another conversation with a stranger in the Sprout led to my meeting my dancing buddy the same year, and we still go dancing together four years later.
Unlike some more frequent fliers, I don’t mind people on planes talking to me. Good book recommendations and good stories have come from these encounters, or just good lines. I remember being on a plane about to leave Albuquerque for a job interview in Northeastern North Carolina, and was talking to my seatmate about my eventual destination. The long-haired young man in front of me turned around when he heard the name of the town and said, “Turn your clock back twenty years.” He was right. I ended up needing that job and moving east for a few years, and the town is now fictionalized as Cauwetska in The Calling.
Another stranger on a plane entertained me when I was unhappy after the breakup of a relationship. I didn’t tell her, but maybe she sensed it and wanted to be cheerful, or else she wanted to say what she had to say to someone she would never see again. Imagine a Texas accent for this. “I’m a dog breeder. And you know, I’m a Christian, and I’m supposed to think certain things are wrong, but I know homosexuality can’t be a sin, it has to be genetic, because I’ve got a lesbian Chihuahua.”
Back in July in Santa Fe, waiting in the shade at the Railyard Plaza while the Bill Hearne Trio set up, I ended up talking to my shade-mates about the Santa Fe Opera while we waited for country music. I have no idea how we got into this conversation but it felt normal. They told me one of the apprentices was going to have to play a lead that night, and sing in Chinese. An ongoing character in my series, Jamie Ellerbee, was once an apprentice with the Santa Fe opera. If I ever write the details of the crisis he had during that period of his life, a pressure like that could be part of it.
In previous academic years I’ve usually seen students in the classroom ten minutes early, heads down, engaged with screens instead of each other. This year for some wonderful and mysterious reason, they’re different. I come in and find them having real live face-to-face conversations, even the freshmen who don’t really know each other yet. I’m glad they aren’t missing out on the pleasure of talking to strangers.
This is going to take two or three posts to cover, because dancing has roles in both social life and spiritual life here. It plays a big part in my books, too, because dancing is how Jamie communicates when he experiences life at its highest intensity, as in the Santa Fe Bandstand scene in Shaman’s Blues. I’m a barely adequate ballroom dancer myself, but I enjoy it anyway, especially the flow when I have a partner who can lead, and I love to watch people who are better at it than I am.
Part one: The perfect partners.
No matter what kind of music is playing, there are people who will dance to it, and dance well, whether the Santa Fe Chiles are playing Dixie jazz and swing dancers from the Rhythm Project are cutting loose in creative kinetics at Bandstand, or the Bill Hearne Trio is playing “alt country” at the Best of Santa Fe block party, inspiring older couples to dance in the elegant flow that embodies a whole history of partnership.
Sometimes at Sparky’s in Hatch it takes an icebreaker to people out on the floor, or the right kind of music—Western Swing. Then those couples who dance the way old married couples finish each other’s thoughts start moving their boots. When the Renegades played a couple of weekends ago, I enjoyed one man’s smile even more than I enjoyed dancing with my dancing buddy. We took to speaking of this tall, gray-bearded, Hispanic cowboy as The Smile. He bowed over his lady, cradling her in the shade of his body, with a look of radiant bliss glowing over her shoulder. If only she could have seen that look.
When I left the Best of Santa Fe block party Saturday to go pick up my car at the Firestone place on St. Francis, the man who’d taken care of my car knew where I’d been and he came dancing out of the garage with a smile on his face as if there were music. I danced too. Why not?
This is my new favorite song:
Picture the older guy, Bill Hearne, and the two guys to his right, as a trio, outdoors under a mixed cloudy-sunny monsoon season sky, the Railyard water tower to one side, and the free food and coffee and books and other festivities to the other side, and in front of them those perfect partners swaying along.
Next installment, sacred dances.
This started as a virtual tour of Santa Fe last week, but I decided to expand it to other locations as well.
First stop, music. Santa Fe Bandstand is one of the highlights of my summer. I enjoy the atmosphere and the range of artists, and as a writer of course I especially like watching the audience. Every summer I come up from T or C for a week or a few days, timing my trip for the performers I most want to see and hear.
Bandstand plays a key role in Shaman’s Blues. If you’ve read the book, see if reality matches your imagination.
Not many videos available right now, but here are a few. My personal favorite among the bands in these videos—Felix Y Los Gatos. Love the blues accordion!
This next stop on the tour is part of the “on location” visit for Shaman’s Blues. New Mexico Magazine recently featured an article on my beloved Truth or Consequences, where Mae moves in the beginning of the book. Read the article and you’ll see how an off-beat artist like Niall fits right in, and how a place like Dada Café just might happen. (I located it on Broadway in a building that has had a high rate of restaurant turnover.)
Turtleback Mountain is prominent in the picture that accompanies this article, and it’s in Mae’s view from her back yard.
If my book or this “tour” made you fall in love with New Mexico, I recommend New Mexico Magazine as a way to keep the virtual tour going year round. They cover art, music, books, food, history, recreation, and their photography alone is enough to make the publication worth my subscription.
The final part of this tour is immersion in the natural beauty of the state. These pictures are not related to scenes in the book, other than the fact that one can’t drive on the interstate in NM without seeing something breathtaking, and that is part of Mae’s experience in her new home.
I discovered this photographer’s work at an outdoor art show in Santa Fe a few years ago. His way of seeing the world is attentive to grand vistas and subtle details, often in the same picture, and makes me feel the sacredness of the land. He has a name that somehow suits his work—Amadeus Leitner.
The photo gallery could keep you in a state of exalted bliss for quite some time. Imagine the smells of sage and juniper, the breath of the wind, the texture of a rock heated by the sun, and you’ll be there.
Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.
The second Mae Martin psychic mystery
Mystery crosses between the worlds and romance gets turned upside down in Santa Fe, the City Different.
Mae Martin gets a double-edged going-away gift from her job as a psychic and
healer: beautiful music by a man who’s gone missing, and a request to find him.
When she arrives in her new home in New Mexico, aiming to start life over as she comes to terms with her second divorce, she faces a new challenge in the use of her gift. Her new neighbors are under the influence of an apparently fake psychic who runs the health food restaurant where they work. When Mae questions the skills of the peculiar restaurateur, the woman disappears—either to Santa Fe, or another dimension. The restaurant’s manager asks Mae to discover which it is.
Finding two missing people proves easier than finding out the truth about either of them, or getting one of them, once found, to go away again.