Monday, October 31, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY C -- A film festival -- An inevitable error -- The Cowgirl BBQ -- Film folk and a pork belly taco



The Lensic theater adjoins Burro Alley. Styled like the Alhambra, the upper cornices on the structure are ornate with filigree niches and ornamental columns twisted like pretzels with terra-cotta finials flanking the steeple-shaped gable of the roof. A frieze of jolly-looking sea-horses grinning through jaws full of T-Rex teeth gleam white as ivory at the top of the building.

Ann Carson, the famous poet and classicist, was scheduled to speak at the Lensic two days after we left Santa Fe. Over the weekend that Julie and I spent in town, the theater was hosting films from the Santa Fe Independent film festival. (The town has two art-cinemas in addition to the multi-purpose Lensic theater, one of them called the Jean Cocteau Cinema). The movie premiered at the Lensic was called something like "Light all Around and no Land in Sight" – a film about an unhappy young woman enduring an unhappy relationship, apparently, a picture so narcissistically morose that event that even the festival’s local boosters were unable to be enthusiastic about it. 

As a result of the Film Festival, the town was infested with Indie film types, studious looking men and women no longer exactly young but, also, defiantly not yet middle-aged. They strolled down the sidewalks disdainful of the garish displays of turquoise or bronze statues of shaman transforming themselves into eagles or coyotes, not even glancing at the pottery on the shelves or the bolo ties or the hundred dollar Stetson hats or, even, the sandstone slabs of fossilized fish and miniature dinosaurs for sale in the gem and mineral shops. The Indie film people wore black and walked with a snap in their steps as if pursuing a refractory taxi-cab and, most often, you saw them in little non-conformist rabbles arguing about something or making loud, self-important political proclamations while using words like "iteration," a term that I avoid because I am not exactly sure how it should be pronounced.

I was lost and Julie’s patience was exhausted. I took my cell-phone from my pants’ pocket and lifted it to take a picture of the marquee of the Lensic theater and the Spanish renaissance - Moorish facade with its cake frosting of merry, grinning seahorses. The Indie film makers glanced at me, shrugged with dismay, and, then, turned away, not even wanting to watch me in the process of taking a picture with my phone and, then, when I had wandered away, still lost, and gone about a block, some of them took out their phones and also furtively photographed the facade of the theater and the ivory dinosaur-headed seahorses embedded in its cornice.




Here is a mistake that I always make, an inexcusable error, but one that I constantly commit. I am in a city completely unfamiliar to me and I have decided upon a destination within four blocks of the hotel where I am staying, an objective easily reached on foot without any fancy business involving hailing cabs or looking for the Metro. I have a map of the area where the hotel is located, a schematic diagram decorated with the images of landmarks and cafes and bars, a grid of streets and businesses of about twenty square blocks. I look carefully at the map, memorize its principal features, plot the most direct route to the place to which I intend to walk and, then, leaving the downtown diagram on the table with some spare change and a few other brochures, I hurry to the lobby and, then, boldly advance onto the sidewalk and, within one-hundred feet, find myself hopelessly lost. I can no longer recall the map – was I supposed to walk up one block and, then, to the right two blocks or was it down one-block and to the left three blocks or some other combination of directions?

I have done this in Prague and Rome, in Paris and Berlin – I have made this mistake in New York and Chicago and, even, places like Dubuque, Iowa or Clarksville, Mississippi. And, of course, Santa Fe is no exception.

"How far is it?"

"Three blocks," I say.

So we go out on the street and the directions are all reversed and the landmarks that I have memorized don’t seem to be where they were designated on the map except that I have forgotten the map and how it was organized in any event and can’t draw to mind even the remotest memory of this particular city is organized. So Julie and I walk one way first, toward the Lensic Theater, and, then, up Burro Alley which takes us in the exact wrong direction and, then, we cut back and I am now completely lost, unable to find the Cowgirl BBQ, our dinner destination for this night. And, after walking six blocks, Julie becoming increasingly impatient and the shadows of night lengthening across the adobe facades, I recall that I am carrying a cell-phone – indeed, I have just used it to take a picture of the Lensic Theater – and so I extract the device and make it show me maps and, at last, find the way back to a sort of drainage ditch in the middle of the city, an indentation where water is supposed to run but that is now dry, and walking along this moat filled with poplars and cottonwood trees, we come, at last, to the headquarters for the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and, next door, the Cowgirl BBQ . Then, looking back in the direction opposite to which we have come, I can see the Hilton on the Plaza exactly one and one-half blocks away, a straight shot from its front door to the front door of the Cowgirl BBQ.




You can ask to be seated indoors or out at the Cowgirl, although in late October, the locals will look at you askance if you desire an outdoor table – the temperature is mid-fifties, comfortable enough for Minnesotans, but a tad bit chilly for New Mexico natives. As the sun sets, Cowgirl staff start fumbling with 25 pound propane cylinders, hitching them to the stalks of stainless steel torches designed to flower with blue-burning gas flames above the tables. The torches seem top-heavy to me and my experience with propane fires and explosions makes me leery of the enterprise. Better to shiver a little in your own skin, than to be burned-up and supplicant for grafts of someone else’s epidermal tissue. The staff members call out to one another, speaking in Spanish, and they wrestle with propane tanks and the vertical torches and, when someone asks us if we want one of those fires set near to our table, I say "no, no, we’re from Minnesota and very comfortable."

The Cowgirl menu features a smaller version of a big mural in the saloon – painted with cartoon-vigor, the picture shows sluttish-looking girls waltzing about a bar with big, moon-eyed bulls. (The artist is called Jamie Van Loon seems influenced by Red Grooms and seems to be Santa Fe’s restaurant decorator par excellence – his work is also featured at the African eatery, the Jambo Café.) We have margaritas and order some food. For a starter, I have a pork belly taco. Of course, anything made with pork belly is wonderful, sweet, slightly gelatinous fat absorbing the flavors of the New Mexico Hatch chili, seasoned pinto beans, and flecks of a strong-tasting white Queso, more like feta than mozzarella. The pork belly is subtly flavored, like a soft, aromatic bacon and it makes a tremendous taco, slightly too hot for my taste which is, of course, a good thing.

Some Indie film people, four men wearing black pants and black sweaters, come into the restaurant. Each of them has black, over-sized horn-rim glasses. They also seem unconcerned by the chill in the air, a slight breath of mountain exhaled onto us, and elect to sit outside at a booth. When I point them out, Julie decides that she will visit with them. She goes to their table and asks them outright if they are film directors come to Santa Fe to accompany screenings at festival. A couple of the men look aside, embarrassed, but one of them, standing with his cocktail in hand, engages her. He says that he is from Seattle and, so, like us, unimpressed by the slight frost in the air. "Are you a film-maker?" "Of course," he says. "What kind of films?" He pauses and looks at Julie quizzically. Then, he gives an evasive answer. He asks if we have come to town for the Festival. "Oh, no," Julie says. "I am at a professional conference, learning mindfulness." "Mindfulness is good," the man says. They talk for a couple of minutes, blue shoots of flame spraying out of a nearby torch like water from a shower-head.

Julie comes back to the table. "Nice guy," she says.

We walk back to the hotel. Down the street at the Lensic, people are gathering on the sidewalk for the world premiere of an Indie-produced film about unhappy relationships, too morose to be unreservedly recommended. At the end of the street, the cathedral rises like a heap of half-melted caramel.

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