Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- Q (An invitation to the home of a patron of the arts -- Forest as endless text -- trigger warnings -- a corpse-monger)





Before nine a.m., I drove up the mountain to the ski basin. The ski-runs are on the west-facing side of the mountain range above Santa Fe. You can see the bald places cut in the forest from the desert below at Posaque, striations on the peak impossibly high and remote.

The road rides a canyon upslope, first passing the homes of millionaires perched above the dry-looking scrub forest. The houses show windowless facades to the winding road, although doubtless they are all glass for the vistas turned away from the highway. Each rests on an isolated pedestal of rock or a terrace on the mountain slope and they seem inaccessible – I can imagine steep-graded, spiraling lanes climbing to somewhere beneath them and, then, the garages hidden in the underbrush and, perhaps, other cottages, guest houses, on the property with less prepossessing views of the terrain. What would it be like to be invited to one of these place? There would be a luminaria set on the road as a marker for the hidden driveway and, then, you would steer through trees with low, overhanging branches, pine cones crunching under your wheels and, at the cul-de-sac, more pale illuminated pouches would show you the way up a sidewalk and past a plashing fountain to a front door in the Spanish-style as massive as the gate to a castle. Inside, it would be silent and perfumed and well-dressed people would beckon to you from distant rooms, across big airy spaces and, through a glass wall, the night would pour into the house like a starry waterfall. A painting by Agnes Martin would occupy one interior wall and there might be a small Georgia O’Keefe lithograph framed under track-lighting. You would have the sense that only a precious few guests have been admitted to the home and, yet, the drinks and hors d’oeuvres would show such intricacy as to establish as obvious that an army of domestic servants were concealed somewhere in the building. The rich man would declare his benediction. He would hold the pages of this manuscript close to his heart and would beckon to his third wife, much younger and laden with turquoise, gesturing to her that she should take the writing and read it. And he would pronounce everything that I have accomplished in these pages as just and true.

The rich man’s canyon ends with tall pine trees in a basin filled with little cabins and fire-pits, some kind of boy scout camp, and, then, the road ascends the slopes to the ski-hills, winding across the rib-like ridges running down the sides of the mountain. The views into the valley are vast and abstract, like something seen from an airplane. A surprising amount of traffic is making its way uphill, dashing around me, to get to work in the ski basin. At that place, I can look up along the green swaths cut in the forest to the summit where clouds are scudding by, a number of pickup trucks parked in the lots and the sound of chain-saws and leaf-blowers buzzing in the distance.

On the way down, I stop at a bend in the road where there is an overlook. On the uphill side of the road, a narrow trail runs along a stream that is leaping and dancing among the grey torsos of boulders. One of the boulders has been painted with an image of an alien, a tentacle-monster somewhat like a squid with a big, cyclopean eye on the crown of its head. I look down across the desert for UFOs. The sky is clear and, as far as I can see, nothing is moving between heaven and earth.

The downslope vantage features a Kit Carson National Forest marker directing attention to an aspen grove wound like a ribbon or a bandage across the face of the mountain. The trees have shed their leaves and the white bark shines with a silver patina in the shadow cast by the peak above. Aspen are all connected underground – they spring, the marker says, from a common rhizome. Thus, the aspen grove can be accounted a single biological entity, each of its trees comprised of identical genetic material, a stand of perfect twins multiplied over and over again. In the forest, all the trees are related in mysterious ways. The roots communicate with one another and exchange electrical and chemical signals. Species cooperate. Even the living nurture the dead – old stumps are kept alive at their core by infusions of glucose from neighboring trees. The entire forest exists as a web of living things that interact with one another. This is the subject of the German writer, Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees and it is certainly intriguing to think of the forests draping the mountains as vast intelligent beings.

With the advent of computer networks, we are programmed to see the world as a system of hyperlinks and connections. There is too much information and it swamps our ability to process the data that the world makes available to us. Every text can be eighty-thousand pages long, each data point linked to some other relevant data point in immense clouds of information. Indeed, each text is already 80,000 pages long or, in fact, indefinite in length because there is no end to the cloud of information that wraps us. I can’t control the text any longer. It just keeps expanding, link by link, and, even when I have stopped typing, the connections continue to sprawl away from my words in all directions. This essay on New Mexico was supposed to be only a few pages long and, now, look what has happened. I no longer know where the beginning is to be found and the notion of an end is purely fictional, an arbitrary stopping point that doesn’t necessarily bear any relationship to the structure of reality or consciousness.  


They don’t want you to get upset in New Mexico. The powers-that-be are careful to issue trigger-warnings. If you don’t want to look at something, you don’t have to. And it’s important that you not misconstrue what you see.

At the Museum of Folk Art, an exhibit is built around a miniature circus that some eccentric pensioner whittled from balsa wood fragments. The miniature circus sits under a glass dome and is the size of my dining room with tents and sideshows and railway cars lined up on a siding to transport all the gaudy stuff away once the show is struck. On one of the walls, a placard reminds us of the "dark side of the Circus", the fact that circuses often exploited "the differently abled and the disfigured" – circuses promoted, the text says, the idea of the "Other" to be exploited as a "freak". There is a poster hawking tickets to see Joyce Heth, an ancient Black woman thought to weigh a mere 46 pounds and said to have been George Washington’s wet-nurse. "This African-American woman’s appearance and history as a slave was exploited by P. T. Barnum."

In some dim galleries with red walls, sacred objects from Asia are displayed. A warning at the entry says portentously: "Some of the items displayed contain human remains." This references a Tibetan kapala, that is an offering cup to a wrathful deity made from a halved human skull, and a kanling or Tibetan Buddhist trumpet carved from a femur. Another warning reminds us that "The Objects displayed are exhibited out of context and that the viewer should be aware of distortions in meaning that this causes." Finally, upon leaving the show, another prominently displayed sign says: "The Objects displayed may not be representative of Asian Culture."

This abundant caution is out of character with the rest of this place, an exuberant and infinitely vast collection of junk purchased on his world travels by one Alexander Girard, a Santa Fe interior decorator. His souvenirs fill a ballroom-sized gallery, the so-called Neutrogena Hall, and the stuff is mostly small, figurines made in Africa or India, China or Latin America – animals and mythical beasts and thousands and thousands of Day of the Dead skeletons, human figurines playing instruments or marching in processions or being tormented by cochineal-red demons in hell, tradesmen, mummers, vamps, Kachina dancers, miniature engineers on miniature trains, clowns, ghosts and monsters. In one image painted on cardboard, a man leads a brown and skeletal zombie on a leash through a Haitian graveyard – the picture was made by one Albert Bazile in Port-Au-Prince in 1966. The picture has peculiar authority, but, I suppose, that this is because it features human remains, may be disturbing to some viewers, and, probably, is not representative of Haitian culture, particularly since one must be sensitive to the fact that the painting is displayed outside of its original context.

I walk out of the folk art museum staggering a little, giddy – perhaps, it’s the high elevation and some residual dehydration. Julie says: "I don’t like places of that sort."




Another famous artist who lives in New Mexico, Albuquerque to be exact, is Joel-Peter Witkin. He is famous for his photographs of freaks and disfigured people. His MFA is from the University of New Mexico (1986). In the nineties, Witkin bribed a morgue attendant in Mexico City and was able to use cadaver parts in his pictures. He made elaborate black-and-white still life photographs showing mask-like flayed faces, bouquets of severed hands, a dead infant arranged among flowers and fresh fruit.

I wonder what sort of trigger warnings were posted at the entrance to his show.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY - P (Mantis at Las Trampas -- Holy dirt -- an unfortunate contretemps at Chimayo -- Among the Sentient Pots -- A People's History)





From Rancho de Taos, I took the mountain road back Espanola.

The blacktop climbs eight or nine steep hills, then, drops into valleys behind them, but, apparently, the valleys are each slightly higher than the next and so, by this roller-coaster, progress, the traveler reaches a pine forest that extends like a great rumpled pedestal to the three conical summits of Truchas Peaks. The plateau is pitted with small round valleys, potholes a couple hundred feet deep with narrow ridges separating them. For the first twenty or so miles, there are no towns. The country is disorderly, up and down the waves of small hills – some of the holes have shallow-looking ponds in them, but the mostly the ridges and valleys are dry-looking.

Closer to Espanola, there are towns. They are small, huddled in the hollows, and poor. A sprawl of broken cars and trucks mark the outskirts and, then, there are a dozen or so huts with tin roofs. It’s early afternoon and smoke is coming from the stove-pipes piercing the tin sheets held up by crumbling adobe walls. I can smell wood smoke in the air.

The villages seem to be organized according to a principle of moeities – by this I mean that one small valley will hold a village and, then, just beyond the nearest ridge, there will be another village of about the same size and appearance. It’s as if the ancient communities divided at some point, part of the kin moving into the next valley so as to keep a steep wooded ridge between the two parts of the tribe. Some of the wooded ridges are marked with crosses, little Golgotha of three rough timber crosses marking the divide between the two places. An example is Las Trampas and Oja Sarco ("Corpse Eye?"), both tiny hamlets separated by a stony ridge.

Las Trampas is the site of San Jose de Gracio, an adobe parish church built in 1761. Whenever I have come this way, I always stop to photograph the old church. It is not as massive or fortress-like as San Francisco de Assisi in Taos, but built on a similar model, with broad heavy-set church towers surmounted by boxy steeples of old weathered wood. Las Trampas looks desperately poor – the streets are dirt and gravel and the town’s restaurant has a crudely written hand-lettered sign that is both humble and a little sinister, menu items spelled out in crooked Spanish words. No one is around – the place always seems like a ghost town with silent trench-like alleys between collapsing lathe and adobe shacks. The church is locked as always. Who knows when it is opened and for what occasions. A couple graves are marked in the bare dirt yard behind the adobe and mud walls surrounding the building. A dog is limping across a splintered porch.

On the wooden curb along the parking lot in front of the church something is moving. At first, I think that it is green lizard. But I see that it is a big, gaunt-looking praying mantis. The mantis claws its way out of a tangle of thistle and squats on the wooden trestle. It is as green as an emerald with dark, obsidian eyes.

Some people from Albuquerque pull up in an expensive car. A man and woman get out and begin to take pictures of church. The silence is heavy. The hills crowding around the valley are barren at their tops and scuffed-looking.

I drove on Truchas. The Spanish word means "trout." The town is built on a ridge so narrow that it can accommodate only a narrow lane between buildings. The structures on both sides are perched on the edges of steep canyon walls dropping several hundred feet to a rocky ravines. Each time I drive through this town, the number of art galleries increases. As far as I can determine, nine out of ten of the ramshackle buildings clinging to steeply pitched hillsides are now galleries. At the end of the lane, the ridge attaches itself to a broad meadow where some sheep are grazing. The meadow is slashed here and there with old fences and seems to slope very gradually upward to the pyramidal Truchas Peaks. The peaks look close, only a hour’s trek over the gentle incline of the pastures, but, in fact, the summit is probably 15 miles away.

Below Truchas, clustered in a dark-looking grooved ravine, there is Cordoba, presumably, the other half or moeity of the village community divided between the two places. You drive uphill to Truchas and down into the canyon for Cordoba.

Beyond Truchas, the road descends a great slope. The desert has climbed here, pushing its grey and parched tongue up against the edges of the mountain heights. Below there are labyrinths of pinkish and yellow badlands, puzzle and maze country extruded out of the flanks of the mountains. The hills are dizzying and you can see across the Espanola basin to the green and blue ridges of the Jemez mountains and Los Alamos.

The road slips into a ravine complicated by many flash flood gullies. Houses are half-hidden in the aspen groves. It’s a very slow road, interrupted by many intersections, with impoverished neighborhoods standing under hills of hot, sloping gravel. This is old Chimayo.

Then, I am at the bottom of ravine, waiting for traffic in sun-burned, tawdry Espanola.




The next afternoon, Julie and I drove back up the Chimayo road to the old Sanctuario directly under the white cross-studded Truchas ridge. The church stands in a muddle of small decrepit buildings in the center of the arroyo. You have to drive between vendors of sacred talismans and huts selling tamales and tacos to get to the parking lot. The fences around the parking lot are knit with crosses made from corn stalks and ribbons. Two horses are grazing under a couple of bright yellow cottonwood trees.

The Sanctuario also becomes more commercial each time that I visit. The mud church is humble enough, just a heap of adobe with some little belfries inserted into its mud-brown towers, but there is now an infrastructure of modern shrines and altars under the sanctuary, built up against the sandy slope where the holy place stands. Of course, the Sanctuario must be handicapped accessible and so long, serpentine ramps rise up the hill above the open-air shrines, their grade designed for wheelchair use, and, at the top, there is a small plaza surrounded by ramshackle sheds, some of them selling snacks, rosaries, postcards. There are thresholds in the Sanctuario requiring a step and I can see a paralyzed man in a wheelchair being scooted into the lean-to on the side of the chapel where there is a broad door and a level way. The church has a wall around it and some modern buildings to the side – it is the same kind of ageless building that I admired in Los Trampas, heavy beige-colored adobe with squat towers, a windowless bunker defensible in case of siege with a bare wooden cross over the entrance.

Inside the place is hushed and dark. The pews are dark wood and vestigial. A enormous club-shaped Christ, eight feet tall and carved like an instrument of war, stands at the rear of the chapel – his flesh is lacerated and he wears his crown of thorns like barbed wire wrapped around the thick part of a baseball bat. Across the aisle, Christ lies dead on a stony-looking bier, pale and limp, a life-sized corpse with gaping, bloodless wounds. The altar screen is white and red, the color of ox-blood, and there are niches holding archaic-looking and crudely whittled images of the virgin. A Bible sits on a pedestal next to several large and spiny-looking Penitente calvados, unwieldy two-hundred pound crosses that gouge your shoulder and tear your flesh the whole march from Gallup or Albuquerque or from wherever you are making your penance up into these foothills. The Bible is open to Psalms 36 to 38, but the text is written in Spanish and I don’t know what it means. A carved effigy of Santiago on his horse with his Moor-killing lance stands next to the Bible. The wood idols look like things made in the Congo or the archipelagoes of Papua.

The holy dirt is in the lean-to on the side of the chapel. You have to duck your head to enter the lean-to and the pocito filled to the brim with brown sandy earth is within another small dim chamber with an even lower entry-way – you crouch until you are almost kneeling to come into that space, a cell that feels cool as if you are far underground. Hidden track lighting casts a yellow ray down on the pit in the middle of the packed clay floor and the soil spilling out of the crater is lit so that it glows like honey. Some abandoned aluminum crutches rest against the adobe wall. A big man with tattoos who looks like an ex-convict, his bullet-shaped head shaved bald, is standing against the wall as another younger man kneels next to the healing dirt, washing himself in the sandy stuff so that it runs in rivulets down his knees and into his tennis shoes. It seems that the man washing in the dirt has trouble with his knees because he is rubbing handfuls of the soil into those joints. The ex-convict has a woman with him wearing dark motorcycle leathers and she has turned away discretely from the fellow massaging dirt into his legs. The ex-convict wears a tee-shirt that shows Jesus crowned with thorns. I step back away from the pocito, the sacred spring from which the healing dirt seems to well up. In the chamber next to the alcove with the pocito, the walls are covered with photographs of people, most of them Hispanic, little passport-sized photographs that paper the surfaces from floor to ceiling. Many of the people in the photographs seem to be hurt in some way, lips tilted askew or eyes occluded by tumors and it is painful to imagine the array of human suffering that the walls represent, the collapsible wheelchairs pushed to the side of the aisle and the orthotic braces, crutches, walkers. Julie goes into the alcove with the pocito and, from the long narrow room in the lean-to, I can see that the golden light aimed into the whorl of sacred dirt in the middle of floor is like the radiance of the oculus in the Agnes Martin chapel, an otherworldly puddle of brightness in a dimly lit place.

There’s a story, of course. There always is. It seems that a shepherd found a cross lying in a meadow in the arroyo in the mountain foothills. The cross was "budded" – that is, at the end of its beams, there were scallops representing buds bursting from the dead wood. The shepherd took the cross down the ravine to Espanola and entrusted it to the parish priest. The next day, he found the cross again, lying in the meadow at the same place where he had earlier discovered the relic. Puzzled, the shepherd again make the long hike to Espanola and, again, entrusted the artifact to the priest. The priest was surprised. He had not known that the crucifix had gone missing. On the third day, the shepherd came upon the crucifix again, bedded in the grass among the sheep, precisely where he had found it on the two previous days. This time, the shepherd did not pick up the crucifix and, instead, sent for the priest. After a few hours, the pastor made his way to the field and, after examining the relic, declared that it was a sign that a church should be built at that place. Spades were brought and when the earth under the cross was cut, fresh water welled up out of the earth. The water from this spring was miraculous – it had the property of healing the sick. The church was built adjacent to the holy spring. After a few decades, the water in the ooze dried-up, but the soil retained the healing characteristics of the spring. It was Tierra Sagrada or Tierra Bendito, the blessed soil of the place of pilgrimage. There are different versions of the story and, indeed, the tale probably pre-dates the Spanish villagers who lived in this arroyo in the early 19th century. The word Chimayo is Kewa for "healing dirt."

By 1860, the pilgrimage site was well-known throughout the Spanish-speaking villages of the Sangre de Cristo. Another, later chapel was built dedicated to the Nino de Atocha, the patron saint of Zacatecas, Mexico, the place from which the original pioneers in this valley had come. (The "child of Atocha" was a marvelous boy who visited Christian prisoners held for ransom by the Moors in the ninth century. The boy brought the hungry prisoners loaves of bread and, though at first, it seemed that he had come with only one or two loaves in his basket – all that the cruel Moors would allow into the cells -- the bread multiplied until all had been fed.) The Nino de Atocha is a chapel for children and it is decorated in brighter colors and contains toy-like images of the sacred boy, a porcelain doll with rosy cheeks dressed in rich purple velvet. The walls of that church are also plastered with images of sick children, a mosaic of misery all the more poignant because the sufferers are infants and toddlers.

The paths between the old churches are dusty. There are several gift shops filled with cheap curios. The air smells of chili. Many of the images of the churches show them decorated with a froth of white snow. Apparently, it snows here from time to time and this is regarded as particularly picturesque.

Julie went to the little café in the plaza while I inspected the chapel of the Nino de Atocha. It was about one o’clock, time for lunch. When I returned, we went into the café and ordered Frito Pies. The man behind the counter looked like Mr. Clean on the Procter and Gamble bottles of cleansing compound. He was muscular with a shaved head and arched white eyebrows dressed like the doughty advertising mascot in a white shirt and pants. Mr. Clean was surly. We sat at a splintery little table a dozen feet from the counter in the shack where he was cooking behind a screen of withered ristras. When the Frito pies were ready, he barked at us to come to the counter to pick them up and, then, balked at making change. Julie thought that he should have served the food at our table, such as it was, but I thought that this man was made in the image of distinguished trademark and that nobility of his kind has privileges and that, in any event, I was not proud to stir myself to get the bowls of chili and soggy fritos. The chili was mediocre and the meal was not served with the obligatory bowl of water and oil and corn meal.

Julie told me that there had been an unfortunate scene outside the café while I was looking at the photographs of sick and mutilated children in the chapel. The ex-convict wearing the Jesus tee-shirt and his girlfriend had come to the café, sniffed the air a little, and, then, decided that they weren’t hungry for whatever Mr. Clean was cooking. Next to the restaurant’s entrance, there was a catalpa tree, green with fat, dusty, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves were large and the ex-convict’s girlfriend stroked at them, feeling their texture, and, then, she apparently plucked one or two of the leaves as a souvenir. Mr. Clean came charging out from behind his counter, bellowing insults. He cried: "How would you like it, if I came to your house and picked the leaves off your trees?" The woman apologized and ex-convict, shamed, stared down at the dust. She said she would put the leaves back by the tree. "No, no, you’ve taken them already. Just get out of here," Mr. Clean said. The woman and ex-convict hustled away. Mr. Clean stood behind them in his white apron over his white nautical trousers and his white tee-shirt. "Trash!" he muttered under his breath. "White trash!"

Julie said that she thought the display of rage was disgraceful in a holy place.

I walked around to the front of the church to take a few pictures with my cell-phone. A shy-looking Buddhist monk in sunglasses was standing outside adobe wall surrounding the chapel. He fiddled with his cell-phone and, then, dropped the keys to his rental car. The keys glinted in the dirt and the monk seemed unaware that he had dropped them. It wasn’t entirely clear to me where he had pockets in his bright orange robe.

A young woman looking at monk said: "You dropped your car-keys." He thanked her and stooped to pick them up.




On the way back to Santa Fe, we stopped at the Poeh Cultural Center. The Pojaque pueblo has a large well-appointed casino with a strip mall, some fast food places, and an efficient, bustling gas station. Across the highway, on a frontage road, a mud-brown compound of buildings with a truncated, windowless tower comprises the Cultural Center.

An earnest young man greets us at the door and urges us to take a tour that he will guide. Julie buys some souvenirs and gives the Indian boy some money for the tour. First, we enter a side-gallery and look at the repatriated pots on loan from the Smithsonian Institute. We read about those pots in the lifestyle magazine in Santa Fe and here they are, hulking utilitarian vessels in a big glass cube. The pots are supposed to be living creatures, sentient and breathing, and it seems inhumane to me to confine them in such close quarters, all pressed together with scarcely room to stretch their arms and legs. I whisper to Julie: "This seems cruel. It’s like crowding chickens together in a laying house. They need more space."

Once viewed in those terms, the pots seem vaguely sullen and menacing. The big pear-shaped ceramics with white glaze and stepped thunder-cloud motifs shrug disdainfully and are about to release torrents of water from the sky, or, at least, the fire-protection sprinklers overhead. The young man enters the room and is anxious to answer questions about the pots. But like many Native American guides, he doesn’t really know anything about the subject on which he is talking – it’s his assumption that because he is a Tewa Indian, he necessarily understands his culture and its byways. But this assumption, of course, is incorrect – a culture is too complex and contradictory for any one person to wholly understand and, although the ways of a people are imbued with certain prejudices and characteristic attitudes, this nebulous Stimmung or ambience, must be applied to facts to be meaningful. Accordingly, the young man, who is friendly, handsome and well-meaning, simply repeats that the pots are living beings, although he is not clear how these pieces of ceramic can be understood in that fashion and what the implications of that belief might be. Do the pots have rights? Can they be said to communicate? Were they dead or merely imprisoned at the Smithsonian? Isn’t their liveliness, their vitality, connected in some form with their use and, as displayed in this antiseptic, climate-controlled glass case, aren’t they radically detached from use and, therefore, amputated objects in some real sense? The boy admits that that pots weren’t made by his forebears in any event – they come from the Cochiti and Tesuque Pueblos. "But we are trying to learn more about them," he says.

He leads us into the darkness of simulated cave. "Close your eyes now for we are about to go on a journey," the young man says. I dutifully close my eyes. "Listen for the sound of dripping water, enter into your senses, smell the earthy odor in the air, sense the ground enclosing you." I can hear water flowing, a patter of splashes as if some kind of New Age fountain were flowing. As for the odor of earth, I don’t smell anything.

The young man tells us to open our eyes and he, then, leads us through five rooms. The first four show the seasons. In the initial room, squat Eskimos are hurling atlatl lances at reindeer. A woman and a child crouch in a cave. The atlatl lances are obviously equipped with elegant, serrated Clovis tips. In the second room, spring is blossoming and the people are digging pit-houses. Some straggly ears of corn are portrayed in the diorama – the figures are two-thirds life size with huge brown eyes and high cheekbones. They are the sort of vapid, tubby caricatures of Indians that would arouse rage if they were perpetrated by a White artist. (Apparently, the woman who designed these cartoonish figures is herself Native American.) In the third room, the culture of the Indians has reached its high-noon: it is summer and the maize stands tall and proud next to three-story pueblo buildings where women are weaving and making graceful-looking pottery and where Katchina dancers, elaborately arrayed are entering onto the plaza amidst sacred smoke coiling up from a subterranean kiva. The guide’s patter suggests that he is telling the story of all Native Americans – how they emerged from the darkness of the Sipapu, hunted in the wilderness of the Bering Strait, then, developed simple villages and domesticated corn, and, finally, the flowering of the Pueblo culture.

The fourth room shows war. A Mission church is on fire. A mad monk, tonsured and in a brown robe, is flogging a cowering Indian. The Indian’s back is all furrowed with bloody lash marks. A woman screams and pleads with the monk to desist. But the war is already underway. From one of the vigas of the Mission church, a half-naked monk is dangling, shot full of arrows. On the horizon, smoke rises and there are storm clouds. In the chaos, we can see two young men running away from the burning church – they are the Tesuque runners, heroic figures like the Greeks who brought the news from Marathon; the runners are carrying knotted cords that will tell the other Pueblos when to rise up against the Spanish. (The date of the coordinated rebellion was August 11, 1680). "Some people don’t like this room," the young man says apologetically, "It’s controversial to some people." "It’s okay," I say. The young man says: "It shows the Pueblo Revolt when my people rose against injustice and threw out the Spaniards."

The Missions in New Mexico congregated people who had no natural immunity to western diseases and, so, half the population died as a result of measles and small pox. But the Franciscan’s intent was benign and, to this day, almost all of the Pueblo people are Catholic in one way or another. In the ecology of belief, religions always compete for dominance and nueva Mexico was no exception. About twenty years, before the revolt the Catholic priests suppressed the Kachina dancers and, then, executed by hanging several medicine men. Pope, the leader of the revolt, told the Pueblo people that if they burned the churches and refrained from growing the Spaniard’s crops, wheat and barley, the Kachinas would return to earth and be among their people once more and the great drought that afflicted the land would end. In the revolt, the churches were destroyed and the priests killed along with many converted Indians. Santa Fe was burned and its people forced into exile in El Paso. But, of course, each pueblo was autonomous and jealous of its own rights and could not maintain a concerted front against Europeans and, so, in 1692, the Spanish returned and after negotiating a truce that allowed them to enter the ruins of Santa Fe, began a course of reprisals. But, in some ways, the Spaniards had learned their lesson and, in general, they left the pueblos alone, allowing them to retain their customary independence and ancient rituals.

"Here’s how we live today," the young man says as he ushers us into the last room. Here an Indian boy is aiming his remote at a large-screen TV. The TV broadcasts news about the Pueblo’s victory in the Supreme Court, a ruling that allowed the construction of the casino. There are some family pictures, some military regalia, and a niche in which an image of the Virgin of Guadulupe is displayed. "This shows one of our houses," the young man says.

Julie likes the young man and buys some more souvenirs to show her appreciation of his ancient and noble culture. We drive down the frontage road to the Kokoman Liquor Store – it’s at 34 Cities of Gold Road. (The Poeh Cultural Center is at 78 Cities of Gold.) The liquor store has a fantastic selection of fine wines, the best, in fact, that I have ever seen anywhere.

Friday, November 25, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- O (A minimalist artist -- the canyon road to Taos -- a brand-new National Monument -- Agnes Martin -- a road not taken -- mine and mountain pass -- The Moreno Valley and E-Town -- a gunslinger and a serial murderer -- San Francisco de Assisi --Another chapel -- What is beauty?)


(A minimalist artist – The Canyon Road to Taos – A brand-new National Monument – Agnes Martin – a road not taken – a mine and mountain pass – the Moreno Valley and E-Town – a gunslinger and a serial murderer – San Francisco de Assisi – A chapel – What is beauty?)




Critical consensus was that the spiral ramps at the Guggenheim Museum were too coercive for the large Agnes Martin paintings exhibited in her recent retrospective. Martin’s paintings invite extended contemplation; they are too subtle to be appreciated in a glance. Indeed, quick look at one of Martin’s late paintings shows reveals or next to nothing – a slightly luminous, field of cream-colored paint edged with the faintest of shadow. Only closer inspection reveals the grid of graphite lines inscribed into that field, or overlaying, or, perhaps, half concealed by a translucent layer of paint. Martin’s works are very hushed and still, and require patience. You can’t effectively see them propelled up the ramp coiled around the museum atrium or driven downward by the sloping inclines – the museum’s architecture is, to put it succinctly, too propulsive for Martin’s quietly reticent work to be shown to best advantage. And, the effect of her retrospective was further diminished by an art world stunt – one of the little, inconveniently small toilets embedded in the Guggenheim walls, dark and nasty little enclosures that fully deserve the term water closet, was equipped with a solid gold potty. (The 18 carat loo is the work of Maurizio Cattelan and part of an installation called "America".) Of course, Manhattan’s art crowd lined up to shed their excreta in this golden toilet, making a long line that wrapped across the sober, and dismayed, front of a half-dozen of Martin’s painting, obscuring them between a column of vulgarians masquerading as art lovers. It is reported that the wait to use Cattelan’s toilet is about two hours.

I would like to tell you that I sought out Martin’s work in New Mexico. There is a gallery in Taos that holds seven paintings by Agnes Martin – therefore, I should persuade you that I went to that place, the Harwood Gallery, to see those pictures.




I left Santa Fe in morning’s half-light, the sky only half-opened and the desert rats at the C-Store still trembling under their horse-blankets in the dawn cold. The desert rats were sitting with legs outstretched on the sidewalk in front of the store. Inside, two girls behind the counter were bantering back and forth in Spanish.

I drove past the freeway retaining walls decorated with images of snakes and lizards and tortoises. I passed the exit to the outdoor opera amphitheater. Light gradually filled the basin to the north of Santa Fe. The ring of mountains were affixed to the horizon by messy, pinkish badlands striated with shadow.

From Espanola, I took the canyon road to Taos. It was Sunday morning and public radio was playing gospel music interspersed with Buddhist chanting. The Rio Grande gorge was still shadowy, shadow spilling down from the high barren hills to darken the deep valley where the river ran silver between boulders and landslide debris. I stopped at the headquarters for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The parking lot was empty. The chemical smell in the toilets made my eyes water. A sign said something about a battle between dragoons from Taos and the Jicarillo Apaches. The battle took place near the river, under the formidable desolate mountain at the head of the valley. The mountain blocked the river or diverted its course so that it flowed in a narrow, stony sluice around the flanks of the big bluff.

The road angles diagonally up the side of the valley and emerges on the grey and vast Taos plateau. From the crest of the hill, I can see north for many miles – the Rio Grande chasm zigzags across the plateau. At this hour, the east canyon wall is leaden with deep shadow while the rim of the west cliffs are lit by a flare of sun raking across the plain. The huge sage-colored plain is treeless and high mountains to the north and east are black rising to dark domes of rock. It’s a heroic view, a vantage that encompasses all of the earth – I can see to Taos spread out under the mountain, the country lanes arrowing in toward the city with haciendas and ranch-houses set at intervals like shards of ceramic pottery.

On the canyon road, you reach Taos from Santa Fe very quickly – it’s not yet 9:15.




Agnes Martin was born in 1912 in Macklin, Saskatchewan (north parallel 52 degrees 20 minutes). She came from Scottish Presbyterian stock. When a sister was pregnant and had some medical difficulties, she moved to Bellingham, Washington to assist her. She studied at various colleges in the west and New York, taught art from time to time, and received a fellowship grant to support her painting in the mid-fifties. She used the money to move to Taos where she worked for two years. Then, she returned to New York City. She met Ad Reinhardt, the abstract expressionist painter, and he seems to have served as a kind of mentor to her. Until 1967, she had a studio at Coentles Slip in New York City. During this time, Martin worked scrupulously to develop her style. She was a ferocious critic of her own art – it is said that for every ten canvases she painted, she cut nine of them up with her mat knife. During this time, she worked to eliminate any figurative impulses from her paintings, gradually simplifying her images until they became geometric and fully abstract.

In 1967, Reinhardt died and the Coenties Slip was demolished. Martin had some kind of breakdown and, then, left New York, driving around the country and living in her car for 18 months. She ended up at a tiny town in north-central New Mexico, Cuba. She built an adobe house with her own hands and lived in that village for nine years. It is said that she stopped painting and didn’t do any work for seven of those years. She moved to Gallisteo, New Mexico in 1977, another tiny town, again built her own home from adobe, and painted there for 16 years. It was in this place that she met Bruce Nauman, the conceptual artist, who she sometimes described as her best friend.

In 1993, Martin was 81 and felt that her health was failing a little. She moved to Taos, still painting daily. She lived until 2004. Seven of her late paintings are owned by Taos’ Harwood Gallery, a part of the Univeesity of New Mexico. The paintings are displayed in a special gallery built with an overhead oculus. Until her death, Martin would often come to visit the paintings, sitting quietly in the room with them. Agnes Martin lived alone and had no romantic liaisons known to anyone. She was schizophrenic and endured electro-shock therapy on several occasions. In 2003, she boasted that she had not read a newspaper for fifty years.

Martin’s famous grid paintings were made in New Mexico. These paintings depict metaphysical states of experience that are the closest thing in art to an encounter with Plato’s ideal forms – pure unconditioned beauty. Martin told admirers that the paintings were made with "(her) back to the world" – that is, not influenced by any external sensation or image. She said that she would sit quietly in a rocking chair and eliminate all conscious thought from her mind. With her mind emptied, Martin explained that inspiration would come to her – she seems to have regarded the inspiration as wholly separate from her personality or capabilities, an infusion of radiance from some other realm. Martin inspiration represented the paintings, complete in themselves, and very small – they appeared to her mind as the size of a postage stamp. In her notebook, Martin would transcribe the image meticulously, precisely how it appeared to her in a tiny drawing also the size of a postage stamp. She would, then, scale the image up to the size of her canvas using mathematical proportions to design the finished painting.

Martin thought music was the purest and most complete form of art. She said: "From music, people expect pure emotion. From art, people want explanation."




After passing through Taos, I drove north on 522 along the west flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The road runs just above the high chaparral at the edges of the pine forests spilling down from the peaks. I passed the turn-off that leads up into the gently rolling foothills to D. H. Lawrence’s ranch and his tomb made from poured concrete in the tall Douglas fir. (When I visited Lawrence’s grave ten years ago, a big silver-colored UFO was nosing around the place, dipping and diving over the mesas.) At Questa, I turned and ascended into the mountains – the highway follows a river-bed past some towering sentinel cliffs up toward the alpine meadows where the stream originates.

A couple miles up the canyon, there is the strange and disheartening spectacle of an amputated mountain, the raw oozing torso of a peak cut into a ziggurat of steep, exposed ramps. At the base of the mutilated mountain, a high chain link fence encloses some ugly-looking white structures, sheds, I suppose, for the big earthmovers that carved the peak into its present form and, above the place where tailings and the steep rock slopes on the opposing slope almost seal off the canyon, there are some crushers mounted on a terrace overhead, an empty parking lot, and some trailer houses linked together to make a kind of office. The operation seems to be closed and, furthermore, ashamed of itself – there’s no sign anywhere naming the mine or specifying what kind of ore has been extracted from this mountain. In fact, there are no signs of any sort, not even no trespassing markers. A map tells me that this is a molybdenum mine. What is molybdenum? The mountain has been flayed to its exposed yellowish tendons and huge inclines of spoil hang like ominous clouds over the road. There is no retaining wall and, in any event, I don’t know what kind of structure could protect the curving highway from landslide if rain were to dislodge tailings overhead.

Red River is uphill beyond a half-dozen curves in the highway. The town occupies the narrow valley between mountains and seems eerily deserted. Ranks of ski-chalets with Alpine-style peaked roofs stand next to main street, a big shuttered colony showing no sign of life. The tourist strip is desolate, a couple of souvenir places, some restaurants closed for the season, and many bars with false-front facades and faded Old West feel to them – a marquee in front of one tavern says "Ride Pepe the Bull – Fame or Shame?

At the west end of town, the road climbs steeply out of the valley. The top of the hill is the pass marked with a modest sign showing the elevation and an Arctic Cat snowmobile dealership. From that height, the highway slopes downward crossing an immense and beautiful park, the sort of voluptuous, endless green meadow that attracts hobby-ranches owned by Hollywood celebrities. This lush green meadow, lying indolently like a naked maja, between high mountain peaks, has a name – it is the Moreno Valley.

Nestled far from the highway at the edges of the steep pine-clad slopes, I can see a few opulent mansions, one every couple miles or so and there are a few jeep tracks cutting out across the meadow, slipping between marshes and wet spots in the hollows of the rolling hills. To the east, a big benign mountain rises, bare shoulders and bare summit – this is Mount Baldy at approximately 12,500 feet. Towering over the valley on the south, I can see the jagged lance-point of Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico. On this warm day, under translucent skies, the big meadows of the Moreno Valley seem to me to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, a mild, kindly, forgiving kind of landscape well-watered by noble summits rising above the tall grass and wild-flowers. When I traversed this area ten years ago, I remember a sign advising travelers about the history of the area. The sign alluded to a macabre event – some kind of serial murderer who haunted the valley and slaughtered travelers passing through this area. I looked for the sign on this transit of the valley but didn’t find it roadside.

The highway droops down to more meadows now climbing up toward Mount Baldy. There is a strip of restaurants and gas stations at an intersection where the traveler can choose to drive north to Colorado or south to Taos. This is Eagle Pass. In the midst of the grass lands rising to the east, a long quicksilver smear brightens the valley – this is a lake impounded behind some inconsequential dam, eighteen or twenty acres of water inundating the low part of the valley. At the intersection, a roadside marker tells the story of Elizabethtown or E-town, a settlement that once occupied the middle of the Moreno Valley but that is now entirely vanished. It was this marker, previously located higher up the valley, about four or five miles from the intersection, that told the sinister story of the serial murder. There is nothing about any killings in this marker. The sign simply says that in 1866 a mining town was platted in the Moreno Valley, Elizabethtown. During the gold rush, E-town boasted 7000 residents, two or three hotels and many saloons and brothels. Photographs show me that as late as 2004, some masonry arches remained of one of E-town’s hotel, but those structures have now been knocked down by snow-loading and nothing remains except some scattered yellowish bricks. The historical highway marker was once located adjacent to those arches – an old log cabin, another relic of the town, stood a half-mile away on the Wheeler Peak side of the meadow. No trace remains today of the log cabin.

From the E-Town sign at the intersection, it’s only six miles south, past the Angel Fire ski-resort airstrip, to the hairpin curves climbing to Pechado Pass. This is the pass over the ridges rising up to Wheeler Peak and the descent to Taos. It’s only a few switchbacks to the top of the hill, an elevation increase of 600 feet perhaps, the road descending the long, dry canyons to Taos is 15 winding miles and a loss of 3000 feet.

Sometimes, the most interesting features in a landscape are those that are invisible. Winter is brutal in the Moreno Valley and season after season of deep snow crushed into oblivion the timber towers of the mine workings on Mount Baldy as well as the stick-built carpentry of E-Town. Elizabethtown (founded 1866) was New Mexico’s first incorporated town – that is, its first village laid out according to norms of Anglo city planning with fee title to real estate held according to the rules of the old Northwest Survey Act. The story is that a Ute Indian was sick and, possibly, dying in a cabin near the headwaters of the Red River. A prospector nursed the Indian back to health and was rewarded for his generosity by being shown a place where there were "pretty stones", an arroyo on the west-facing slope of Mount Baldy. The prospector, with several associates, blazed a Douglas pine on the mountain heights with the words DISCOVERY TREE. People talked as people will and a gold rush followed. E-town was built and the entire Red River diverted for a distance of 41 miles to provide water to the sluices high on the slopes of Mount Baldy. The project was elaborate consisting of tunnels and overhead trestles but it didn’t really work – only a tenth of the water diverted ultimately reached the gold fields.

To the east of E-Town lies Colfax County. In 1872, several New Mexico politicians, backed by money from Holland, formed a syndicate and purchased a huge tract of land extending from Cimarron at its east boundary to Elizabethtown in the west. The syndicate headquarted in Santa Fe (the so-called Santa Fe Ring) served eviction notices on several hundred ranchers, small farmers, and prospectors living on the property that it owned. The pioneers weren’t willing to voluntarily vacate their homesteads and so the Santa Fe ring retained thugs to drive them off the land. A number of the so-called "squatters" as they were named by the Santa Fe ring were shot dead defending their homesteads. A local Methodist minister, Rev. Franklin Tolby, riding the circuit in north-central New Mexico, sided with the pioneers and preached some fiery sermons on their behalf. Gunslingers hired by the Santa Fe ring dry-gulched him near Cimarron. Another circuit-riding Methodist minister, Oscar McMains, demanded vengeance and, so, the squatters formed a militia called the Colfax County Ring. The Colfax County Ring murdered several men reputed to be hirelings of the Santa Fe oligarchs. More gunfighters swarmed into the area on the payroll of the Santa Fe Ring.

Ultimately, Pastor McMains met with Clay Allison, a local "shootist" not affiliated with the syndicate. Allison was a psychopath, discharged from service in the Civil War, because of his violent and "manic" tendencies. Involved in several shoot-outs with Federal forces in his home state, where he was a terrorist employed by the local Ku Klux Klan, Allison had fled to New Mexico territory in 1870. He had a clubfoot and dressed flamboyantly and his exploits were famous. He invited an enemy to dinner, let the man finish his steak, and, then, shot him dead – when questioned about this, Allison said that he thought it would be inhumane to send a hungry man to hell. In another famous case, Allison is said to have summoned his foe to a local graveyard, dug a grave, and, then, descended into the pit with his adversary, both men armed only with a Bowie knife. Allison was happy to assist the Colfax County Ring particularly since he liked losing causes and enjoyed championing the underdog.

A man named Vega was accused of assassinating Reverend Tolby. At the head of lynch mob, Allison captured Vega. When Vega refused to admit involvement in Tolby’s killing, Allison tortured him with the enthusiastic participation of the mob. Reverend McMains was appalled and fled. Allison, then, moved the war to Cimarron where the Santa Fe Ring stabled its hired killers. A number of shootings and ambushes occurred and, some historians estimate, that as many as 200 men were killed. When the incorruptible Lew Wallace became governor, trials were convened and some of the violence quashed.

The Colfax County war was waged over the old Maxwell Land Grant. This was territory around the Moreno Valley and extending toward Cimarron that Lucien Maxwell had owned but that was contested by the Dutch investors and the Santa Fe Ring. When gold was discovered around Mount Baldy, Maxwell granted deeds to prospectors and pioneers and these were the combatants involved in the fighting. Ultimately, territorial courts ruled that the Santa Fe Ring’s land rights were subordinate to the Maxwell Grant and that the "squatters" had legitimate title to their land. But periodic ambushes and vigilante hangings continued until the 1920's.

In the course of the Colfax County War, Clay Allison was implicated in many killings. In one case, he shot a man dead and, then, a couple days later, got drunk, stripped naked, and did a war dance over the place where he had killed his enemy, a red bow neatly tied around his penis. When things got too hot for Allison, he fled New Mexico to Pecos, Texas where he bought a ranch. He wandered about the west, on one occasion facing down Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, Kansas. In Cheyenne, Allison had a toothache and had to have one of his molars extracted. Allison thought the process was unduly painful and, so, he knocked down the dentist and used a pliers to wrench a molar out of his jaws.

Married, with several small children back on the ranch, Allison tried to go straight. While transporting a heavy load in his buckboard wagon, a wheel broke. Allison climbed under the heavily laden wagon to fix the wheel. The wagon collapsed on him and running gear almost severed his head. Clay Allison was 47 when he died.

A picture of Clay Allison taken around the time of the Colfax County War shows a handsome man with slit eyes and a bushy black beard. Allison is wearing garishly striped trousers and, with his left hand, he holds a crutch with a padded top – the fabric on the crutch’s pad is also striped. Allison used a crutch because of his club foot, a deformity with which he was born. The gunfighter holds the crutch proudly as if it were some kind of exotic, and deadly, weapon.


One-hundred and fifty years ago, it was a long two-day ride from Taos over Pecado Pass to Elizabethtown. Midway between the two villages, a big, burly pioneer named Charles Kennedy owned a lodge where weary travelers could spend the night. Unfortunately, Kennedy was a serial killer who murdered his guests.

In late September 1870, an Indian woman, bruised and battered, staggered into Elizabethtown. She said that her husband, Charles Kennedy, had killed their son and attempted to murder her. Apparently, a traveler met Kennedy along the trail. Kennedy invited him to his isolated lodge where the two men began to drink. The wayfaring stranger asked Kennedy if he saw many Indians in the hills where he lived. Kennedy’s small son was sitting next to the table and he blurted out: "Can’t you smell the one papa put under the floor?" Kennedy drew his revolver and shot the traveler. Then, he beat his son to death. He knocked his Indian wife down, kicked her a few times, and, then, continued drinking to the point that he passed-out. She escaped from the cabin and made her way to E-Town.

As luck would have it, the Indian woman told her story in a saloon where Clay Allison was boozing with Davy Crockett, a nephew and namesake of the famous Tennessee frontiersman. Allison and Crockett put together a posse and rode out to Kennedy’s lodge. Still drunk, Kennedy was stirring a fire-pit in which blackened human bones were found. The posse tied Kennedy up and dragged him back to E-Town.

A circuit judge appeared at a Grand Jury hearing on October 3, 1870 and the issued an order that Kennedy be held in custody until his trial. The Indian woman testified to the Grand Jury and said that her husband may have killed as many as 14 travelers.

A rumor spread through town that Kennedy had hired a lawyer from Santa Fe and that the attorney intended to spread around enough money to buy the alleged murderer’s freedom. Clay Allison got drunk, incited the other patrons in the saloon until they formed a mob, and, then, led an attack on the local jail. Someone through a rope around Kennedy’s mid-section and Allison, reportedly, galloped back and forth on E-Town’s main street dragging the man until the alleged murderer had been rubbed to death. The crowd hauled what was left of Kennedy to the town outskirts where a group of Catholics stood at the gates to their cemetery barring interment of the corpse in their graveyard. A shallow trench was dug and Kennedy was slopped into it. The next morning, Clay Allison is supposed to have dug up the corpse, decapitated it, and, then, carried the head Cimarron. He stuck the head on a post in front of the town’s hotel, daring the local folks to remove the grisly relic. The head was supposed to have remained in that place for several months.

How much of this is true is anyone’s guess.

(Other accounts say that Charles Kennedy had a large cabin on the trail to Taos at the mouth of Fernandez Canyon. Fernandez Canyon is one of two outlets leading from the high park of Moreno Valley to the outside world. In some stories, Kennedy is charged with attempted murder when one of his putative victims escaped with serious injuries. A trial was convened but Kennedy eluded conviction. Later, Kennedy’s Indian wife is supposed to have come to E-Town with a bag of charred human bones. This led to Kennedy’s second detention and another trial. At that trial, a young lawyer named Melvin Whitson Mills successfully defended Kennedy. He was again released from jail but found hanging from "a pine limb" a couple days later. His body was cut down and dissected by a physician named Bradford and, then, allegedly sent to the Smithsonian Institute "where it can be seen today" – so says a genealogy site devoted to Melvin Mills and his heirs.)




Highway 64 is the modern road that runs from Eagle Nest over Pecado Pass to Rancho de Taos Junction on the south side of the Wheeler Mountain ridge. The road winds down from the frigid pine forests on the summit through a shallow canyon cut by the Comanche Creek – this is Fernandez Canyon. At Taos junction, the traveler is a only a couple hundred yards from the one of the most beautiful churches in the United States, the adobe mission church of San Francisco de Assisi.

The church crouches like a great, noble sphinx in a plaza surrounded by other old adobe buildings. When I first saw this church fifteen years ago, the buildings surrounding the massive, lion-colored church were five and dime shops, offices for the local parish, humble local businesses, a lawyer, perhaps, and an insurance agency. The plaza arcade is now upscale – expensive boutiques and places retailing western art and galleries full of five-thousand dollar curios.

It was Sunday morning, fore-noon: the church stood among a throng of parked pick-up trucks. The great belltowers, more like geological features, than structures made by human hands cast their long shadows over the vehicles.


Seven paintings by Agnes Martin occupy a kind of chapel at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. The art museum is about a block west from the highway that bisects the town, a structure that is shaped like a pueblo with three stories stacked atop one another and vigas extruding from a turquoise-colored frieze. Martin’s paintings are large, about ten feet tall, and simple: ribbons of pale paint cross the light blue canvases; in some of the pictures, the cloud-tinted white strips are the prevailing element, extending laterally across the field of the canvas – in other paintings, the blue background becomes foreground, the white mist expanding so that the blue elements of the picture no longer predominate, but appear as arm’s width white bands crossing the canvas. You must look from picture to picture to grasp the subtle interplay between the creamy white bands appearing against the blue background and other canvases in which the blue becomes stripe marking a foggy but radiant white backdrop.

The gallery has a peculiar shape – the ceiling is complex, possibly a dodecagon, pierced by an oval central oculus open to the sky. Some track lights are bolted to the polygonal ceiling and each large painting occupies a single facet or white wall of the chapel. Directly under the oculus, there are four cubes, richly honey-colored – these were made by the artist, Donald Judd and they are intended to serve as benches. The cubes are not attached to the floor and they can be moved aside readily – indeed, an early morning yoga class uses the place and, when exercising in that room, pushes the four cubes toward the door to put them out of the way and, also, to block entrance to those not in the class. The gallery’s floor is polished wooden staves, light-colored and smooth as a dance-floor.

Agnes Martin used to come to the studio and sit quietly on the cubes pushed together in the middle of the floor under the pale wash of blue sky light falling through the oculus. There is a video of her coming into the room and sitting there to contemplate her paintings –the pictures were made on the occasion of Martin’s 90th birthday and she is a massive, heavy set woman who walks gingerly on hips that are not entirely functional – her hair is grey and cropped, cut the way a truckdriver might wear his hair.

The rest of the museum is small. There are some interesting Santos and a penitente Death with bow and arrow in a cart with hideous square wheels. Indians grimace at you from dusky canvases and there are paintings of katchina dancers and canyons.

Some people come into the museum and step for a moment into the Agnes Martin gallery – the air seems too thin and rarefied for them in that room and, so, after glancing at the pale arctic paintings, they retreat. Others walk blindly to the center of the room and its honey-colored cubes, not daring to experience the paintings until they have taken a place on those benches under the warm and austere light descending from above. Then, they look at the paintings, turning from canvas to canvas, and may remain in the room for ten minutes or more. A cloud may pass over the sun and, then, suddenly, the room becomes colder and the paintings seem more remote, something viewed from an immense distance. When the cloud frees the sun, the pictures seem to come closer and become brighter and, even, whisper a little to one another – the white strips are the color of angel’s wings. When it is bright in the gallery, the light cast through the oculus makes the visitor feel as if he or she is a kind of sculpture, also on display and a part of the exhibit.



When I drove through Taos, it was still early on a Sunday morning and the Harwood Museum would not open unti 11:00 and I had miles to go and promises to keep and so I drove onward, through town.

Barricades blocked the road to Taos Pueblo. I didn’t go to the museum and have never been there.

North of town, I saw the arrow of buildings pointing up the arroyo to the canyon where the road ascended to the ski resort. There are no trees on the dry, high plateau and so the shapes of villages and towns and commercial strips are entirely naked to the eye. I thought that I should turn at the intersection where there was a flashing yellow and take the eight mile road to the top of the mountain and the Bavarian Lodge under the summit of Wheeler Peak. It’s a place that I have thought about and, even, seen in my dreams.

But I had to be back in Santa Fe by two-o’clock pm and so I didn’t visit that place.

When you are on vacation, it seems that you are always so terribly rushed.



Agnes Martin’s dealer at the Pace Gallery in New York, a man who looks like Bob Balaban, told a story about the artist.

The dealer had come to visit her in Taos with his eight-year old granddaughter. Martin had a rose in vase in her studio.

Martin pointed to the rose and said: "Is the rose beautiful?"

"Yes," the little girl said.

"What makes it beautiful?"

"The way it looks," the little girl replied.

Agnes Martin took the rose and put it behind her back. "Is the rose still beautiful?" she asked.

"Yes," the child said.

"You see that the rose is beautiful because of what is in your mind. That’s where beauty will be found," Agnes Martin said.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY - N (Landscape like melody -- the Metate Restaurant -- The Bavarian Lodge at the Taos Ski Village)




A landscape can be like a melody in your brain, an insistent tune that will not leave you alone. You might ask yourself what does this melody want? Why is it replicating itself like a virus in my imagination? So, similarly, a landscape that haunts your imagination seems to want something from you. Perhaps, it is a thing as simple as the landscape calling you back to explore it. I suppose it is the sense that the landscape embedded in your imagination is somehow incomplete, offering further dimensions into which you must enter before you can be done with the place.

For many years, I have thought a great deal about a vista in Mesa Verde National Park. From looking at maps, I can identify this place as the Metate Restaurant at Far View Lodge.

Mesa Verde is a questa, that is, a mesa with a steep escarpment on its north side, tapering down toward the valleys and deserts of the Ute Indian reservation to the south. As the name implies, the questa is green with pine trees and its northern rim rises like the prow of an cyclopean battleship high above the grassy chaparral at its base. A curving highway zigzags up the sheer rampart, climbing 1500 feet to the top of the mountain. The road is steep and, at the curves, there are long drops over chalky cliffs down into the valley.

Atop the mesa, the land is mostly flat, dotted with pinon and rippling with dusty arroyos. At the crest of the northern escarpment, the traveler has reached the highest point on the questa and you can look southward down across the gradually sloping land toward the bad lands and red pillars and stony dikes of the New Mexico desert. At the highest point on the road, at the crest of the questa, there are some buildings comprising Far View Lodge, a hotel overlooking the mesa. The dining room in the hotel is called the Metate Restaurant. It purports to fine dining and there are wine glasses on the tables and starched white table cloths and the chairs have burnished brass rivets. One wall of the restaurant is glass and visitors can look to the south across the mesa top, the land sloping inexorably, but only very gradually downward. When it is sunset and the light rakes across the top of the questa, the distant canyons appear as great purple rifts in the landscape, jagged fissures that exude a smoky darkness. You can drink expensive wine in that place, a shallow plate with water and oil and corn-meal before you, and watch the shadows emerging from the canyons to meet the twilight and it is wonderful to brood upon the fact that those gorges are full of ancient granaries lining the fissures under the canyon rim, elegant palaces of neatly hewn brick filling the overhangs, little settlements perched in the sky and accessible only by tiny toe-holds pecked in the limestone cliffs. The last light shimmers on the red rocks in the far away desert, lighting the tips of buttes like torches and, then, the canyons are briefly ominous, black with night, as the stars appear overhead and the vast country becomes impenetrable with shadow.

The other place that haunts my imagination is near Taos at the upper end of the deep valley that rises to the ski resort. Taos has always resisted me. The two times that I traveled to the village, intending on both occasions to tour the famous pueblo, I encountered barricades on the road into the reservation and signs indicating that the pueblo was off-limits. On the first occasion, I think, the Indians were renovating the ancient structures and, perhaps, engaged in some kind of religious observances that precluded the presence of tourists in their village. The second time, Taos Mountain was on fire and the air was clogged with smoke and the pueblo was closed because of its proximity to the conflagration and because most of its male members were in the hills fighting the blaze. North of town, there was a Mexican restaurant and I recall sitting on the deck in that place, drinking margaritas and watching huge pot-bellied planes swooping down to drop loads of water on the fire, a blackish mole slowly expanding across the green and tan side of a distant hill, the blemish’s edges brittle with red and orange flame. In the meadow beyond the restaurant, there was an old crooked fence and a jeep standing under a ramada and, near the stream, where the grass was the most green, two Indian horses were grazing and, sometimes, nuzzling one another.

But the landscape that oppresses me is something viewed atop Taos Mountain, from a high bluff that is dense with Douglas fir that I recall as actually perched above the ski runs. The road to this place begins in the basin at an intersection marked with a flashing yellow light, a east-running blacktop that climbs some nondescript foothills to an elongated commercial district – bars, a grocery store, gas stations in a dry arroyo under the peak. After passing these businesses that constitute Taos Ski Village, the highway climbs between some black basalt pinnacles into a narrow valley that pierces the side of the mountain and provides a sloping path upward along a stream bed to the ski basin. From the intersection to the ski-runs is probably about eight miles, but it is seems like a long road, complex with intricate twists and turns, wriggling uphill to vast, silent compounds of ski- chalets, shuttered in the summer, rank after rank of shingled roofs climbing stepwise to the basin and the lift-pylons angling through the trees to the tops of pine-clad ridges. At the head of the asphalt road, the turn-around under the ski-slopes, another gravel lane switchbacks up an improbably steep incline, passing even more elaborate ski-lodges clinging to the sheer hillside. This road ends atop the bluff directly under a panorama of bare and rocky peaks. Another wooden lodge, the Bavarian Inn, stands in the shadow of a grove of tall pines.

You can buy a sausage platter with sauerkraut at the Bavarian Inn, have beer in an icy mug, and there is a deck on the back of the lodge with tables where you can eat outside. I recall that there was a fire burning in a pit behind the building because it was chilly at this elevation, some patches of snow still decorating the shady places under the trees near the deck. The surreal aspect of this landscape was the cold breath of the mountain summits right at your elbow, the peaks like piles of grey gravel, indeed, the terrain resembling a gravel-pit with steep ridges and little hollows full of meltwater and rocky paths leading up to a pass that seemed to be less than four-hundred yards away, a crest of stone where shields of snow drooped downward – it was, I think, the summit of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. Tiny gem-like humming birds, turquoise-colored, sucked nectar from a cedar feeder. We could hear the bear bells jingling as the hikers came down from the peaks, passing on the trail nearby with their bright stocking caps and big packs, merrily crying out to one another as they approached the lodge. It seemed to me that I could rise from the table, quaff the last of my beer, and, then, climb to the top of the world in a half-hour or so, reach the divide overhead where I could see people cautiously descending a defile between two sheer cliffs.

The top of the mountain couldn’t possibly be that close. My memory must have been false. But it was something, I thought, worth investigating.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY - M Spukbare Fernwirkung (II)



Joachin Archuleta was a little boy when the warriors went away to fight in the Great War in Europe. He recalled that the old men danced in the plaza. A cedar pole twelve feet tall and studded with short, sharp branches was set in the earth near the kiva. The Country Chief responsible for the pueblo’s foreign affairs ordered that the "Old Things" be brought forth from where they were hidden. "Old Things" was a circumlocution – the Country Chief did not want misunderstandings with the White people or the Spanish villagers and so an euphemism was used for the relics. The "Old Things" were knots of hair attached to pads of smoked or mummified flesh. They had been cut long ago in battles with Navajo and Jicarillo Apaches and belonged to all of the people. The "Old Things" were hung from the sharp branches on the cedar pole and the old men danced and sang to them. Then, the men who had enlisted as soldiers approached the cedar pole and danced themselves. They offered the Things a paste of corn meal and water and, then, asked them to help the warriors show bravery in facing the enemy.

When it came time for Joachin Archuleta to enlist to fight the Germans and the Japanese, the Governor of the Pueblo was a Mormon convert and he was very strict about religious affairs. Joachin asked about the ritual involving the Things that belonged to all the people. The Governor told him that the Things had been destroyed, cleansed first by being left on anthills for several days, and, then, buried in caches located in each of the four directions. Joachin was not certain that this was the proper way to dispose of Things invested with such powerful medicine. He asked the Governor if he was afraid of being haunted by ghosts. "There are no such things," the Governor proclaimed, but Joaquin could see that he was not so sure of his confident words.

In the Ardennes forest, on a very cold morning, Joachin’s platoon ambushed a column of German soldiers. The tanks pivoted their great guns and fired them, knocking down trees. Men floundered through the deep snow and were killed by bullets, fire from explosions, and bayonet. Joachin cut a scalp from an enemy that he had killed. He wrapped the scalp in a blanket and carried it with him for the rest of the campaign. He was relieved that he didn’t have to cut any more scalps.

When he returned to the pueblo, the Mormon governor was absent –he was serving as a legislator in Santa Fe. Joachin consulted with an old man about the scalp that he had cut in Belgium. The old man said that no one could remember exactly how to perform the scalp ceremony and that, certainly, the scalp could not be displayed on a cedar pole in the plaza as had been the custom many years before. "You must keep the scalp nourished by feeding it a paste of water and corn meal," the old man told Joachin. "If the scalp is not nourished, the warrior from which you cut it, will hang around the pueblo and haunt you and cause sickness in the children and women." Joachin massaged corn meal into the scalp and, then, took it into the desert to be purified by the ant soldiers. Then, he went into the mountains alone and fasted for ten days, living only water and corn meal.

Luiz Archuleta was Joachin’s nephew. Joachin showed him the scalp several times when he was a little boy and teen-ager. He showed him how the scalp had to be fed with a paste of ground corn and water. Joachin said that it was a great honor to possess a thing like the German soldier’s scalp and that it burdened him with many responsibilities. Joachin kept the scalp in a small iron box with his war medals, some bullets, and a German hand-grenade that had been defused.

Luiz Archuleta volunteered to fight in Vietnam. The people danced in his honor before he left for Basic Training but there was no display of scalps. Joachin, who was ill, invited Luiz to his trailer house and showed him the scalp cut from the German. "I’ll ask him to help you," Joachin said. "The Germans were great warriors." "How will he understand me?" Luiz asked. "Don’t you have to speak to him in German." "He will understand," Luiz said.

In Basic Training, the other troops called Luiz "Geronimo" or "Chief." Luiz didn’t mind "Chief" but chaffed under the nickname "Geronimo" – "Geronimo was an Apache war-chief," Luiz told the other men. "My people are the enemies of the Apaches." The other soldiers didn’t understand the distinction and kept using the nickname and, after a while, Luiz became accustomed to being called "Geronimo."

In a firefight, Luiz shot and killed an enemy. His comrades sometimes cut off the ears and toes of dead enemies for souvenirs and they asked Luiz if he was going to take the dead man’s scalp. Luiz thought of how his uncle had fed the German’s scalp on corn meal and water at least once a week and how he had massaged the paste of cornmeal into the mummified flesh and he recalled that if these things were not done, the ghost of the dead warrior would loiter and be vengeful and, even, perhaps, sicken women and children. "It’s too great a responsibility," Luiz said and he left the body of the dead soldier alone.

Friday, November 18, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- L (The Santa Fe Reader -- Sentient Pots -- From the Acoma Origin myth -- molecular cooking and a disgrace to bones with holes everywhere -- a Demon -- Warning to the reader about the Coyote Cafe)





Every city with restaurants and bars and live music venues has a Lifestyle magazine distributed on the streets free of charge. The Village Voice was the first publication of this sort, later followed by free periodicals in Minneapolis such as The City Pages and The Twin Cities Reader. Of course, Santa Fe, although relatively small (the city boasts 70,000 residents), is blessed with many upscale eateries and taverns featuring live music. There are poetry readings, political and social activist lectures, plays, recitals, gallery crawls and the like: when I was in Santa Fe, the renowned Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson was scheduled for a lecture at the Lensic Theater and, for $35, the curious could attend a colloquium on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and the 2016 Political Campaign at the College of St. Johns.

Julie showed me the local Lifestyle weekly and pointed out an article that interested her. The story was prefaced with an old black and white picture showing three men standing among large hip-high pots. One of the men was an ethnologist from the Smithsonian Institute sent to the southwest to acquire Indian ceramics for the museum’s collection. A small man squatting in the center of the picture, face half-hidden by his cowboy hat, was the governor of one of the local Pueblos – he had apparently supervised the sale of the ten pots visible in the photograph. The third man is a shadow, probably a laborer who carried the pots into the dusty plaza and carefully set them on the ground to be photographed.

The story below the picture said that a scholar associated with one of the Tewa Pueblos had seen the picture, studied it closely, and, then, embarked on a search for the pots shown in the image. When the ceramics were collected in the late 19th century, it was believed that Native American culture would vanish and that Indian people would lose their cultural identity by way of assimilation with the larger population. The pots were to be preserved in museum collections as mute testimony to a way of life that was supposed to be slowly vanishing. But in 2016, the Pueblos still exist and many of them are flush with casino money and, so, measures were undertaken to locate the ceramic ware and return them to the cultural centers on Indian land.

The article reported that the pots in the picture were, in fact, traced to a Smithsonian warehouse in Maryland and, after some negotiations, returned to Indian Country on permanent loan for display in the Poeh Cultural Center at the Pojaque Pueblo. The Tewa regard ceramics as living beings, ensouled, and, even, impute to them certain types of agency. Concern existed among the Pueblos on the northern Rio Grande that the technology required to make these elaborate and shapely pots was rapidly being lost – bringing the ceramics home was intended, in part, to allow local potters to study them and imitate the techniques used to make those vessels.

In the photograph, the pots look sullen and inert, like hollow boulders casting long, sinister shadows in the bright sunlight. The pots are not works of art, but utilitarian vessels, scarcely decorated at all, with rough glazes – they stand like formidable totemic presences in the picture. These pots are unsigned and it is not known who made them – it isn’t even clear where they were made and fired, that is, they are not presently associated with any specific Pueblo. The men in the pictures look like big game hunters staring at their prey with a mixture of pride and horror.

When Mimbres pre-Columbian pottery was discarded or ritually buried as grave goods, the pots had to be carefully killed – a hole is drilled through the bottom of the vessel so that it will not hold liquid and this piercing releases the soul of the ceramic. The curator of the Tewa cultural center where the pots were to be displayed said that it was uncertain as to why the pots were being returned to the Pueblos at this particular time and in this way – "I guess they just decided that it was safe for them to come home again," the man told the reporter.




Shortly after the first people emerged from the earth, a snake went among them and caused illness. The people did not die but they became very weak.

The first woman called Oak Man, the leader of the Oak Clan, and showed him how to use an obsidian blade to make a wooden altar. She showed him how to make a sand painting showing the four directions, the sky and the Milky Way. In order to heal the people, it was necessary to mix eagle feathers with bear and weasel paws and to grind this compound with sand and grit made from abalone shells. The first woman showed Oak Man how to take fine clay from the river bank, form it into a shape, and, then, fire it to make a vessel in which medicines could be mixed and ground. This is the origin of pottery.




I panicked: the Coyote restaurant was not where I expected it to be. Had I misremembered the map coordinates? Then, I saw a door and understood that the dining room was upstairs, on the second floor overlooking the busy street.

You come to your table slightly winded after the long hike up slippery-looking stairs leading from the sidewalk to the dining room. The space is dim and airy, with a high ceiling of patterned tin tiles. In one corner, displayed near the bar, there is a large painting, possibly abstract, although we weren’t certain. The painting showed a glowing reddish void, a field of color outlined by darker paint something like a Rothko canvas. But in the scarlet void, there were five forms – white shapes that I thought represent ruinous molars with their forked roots visible; Julie’s interpretation of the forms was that they were men’s boxer shorts hanging on laundry line to dry. (On a less figurative level, the forms were brush strokes made with a broad house-painter’s brush.)

The waitress was pretty, diffident, and contemptuous. She pronounced the word "sure" as "shoe-were." The room was half-full, hushed. On offer was a margarita capped with froth, some kind of molecularly engineered drink. Julie ordered the froth-crowned margarita; I had a margarita made with Reposado tequila flavored with Hatch chili. The drink glasses were chilled and we drank from them – or, rather, I drank and Julie inhaled the fragrant vaporized tequila, whipped into creamy foam. She told me that her drink was very good and that the froth had an exquisite taste.

The waitress brought the obligatory shallow dish with seasoned corn meal and a little water. Julie ordered lobster bisque soup with egg-plant ravioli. I asked the waitress for Pork Osso Bucco and a Buratta, not knowing, of course, what "Burrata" was – perhaps, it was tiny grilled flecks of burro flesh served in a savory sage-flavored sauce. We drank some wine, another locally-produced Gruet.

Three young people were seated next to us – we occupied one booth up against a partition near the stairs and the young people were in an adjacent booth, curved like a love-seat. The young people, upon taking their places, immediately took their phones from their pockets and began to send and receive text messages – there was a over-weight girl with multi-colored bangs beneath a dome of blonde hair; she was wearing some kind of body-armor and leather boots. A shorter, darker girl seemed to be her consort – she was also overweight with a pouting face and wearing denim equipped with many snaps and rivets and hooks and latches. A fat young man who looked like he was a brother to one of the girls, or both of them, made the third of their company.

Apparently, the young people planned to go to a movie after dinner, or, perhaps, they had come from a movie. The girl wearing the body-armor, the leader of their expedition, said that the movie, The Magnificent Seven was a "new iteration" of an older film, possibly from the sixties. "Who was in that movie?" the boy asked. "Lee Marvin," the fat girl with the colored bangs said. "Lee Marvin and that bald guy, Yul Brynner." I leaned over and whispered to Julie: "She is wrong. Lee Marvin isn’t in The Magnificent Seven – it’s Horst Buchholtz and Charles Bronson, Michael Vaughan too, you know The Man from Uncle, and James Coburn, she is mistaking Lee Marvin for James Coburn." The fat girl pretended not to hear me. The waitress came and the young people ordered Manhattans. "Shoe - were," the waitress replied.

Julie’s lobster bisque was strangely bitter – it was as if the soup had been made with coffee. The Burrata turned out be a platter on which there were arrayed grape-sized slices of heirloom tomatoes, purple and orange beets, some flakes of parsnip, and a ribbon of prosciutto crudo decorating a fig-shaped white cheese. I searched the plate for comestible diatomaceous earth, but couldn’t find any. Unless the prosciutto had been made with donkey flesh, neither could I locate any burro on my plate. (The cheese was a little mucky when I cut into it, but it didn’t release a fine, tangy spurt of cream when sliced and there was no asphodel, as William Carlos Williams says "that greeny flower", and, so, according to the canons by which classical burrata is judged this dish was a failure.)

The girl wearing the body-armor corrected herself: "No, it wasn’t Lee Marvin but James Coburn."

The boy seemed amazed "James Coburn?" he said.

"And Charles Bronson," she told him.

"Lee Marvin was in Cat Ballou," I said. "She’s probably confusing Cat Ballou with The Magnificent Seven."

"I confused Cat Ballou with The Magnificent Seven," the girl said.

The Pork Osso Bucco was a disgraces to porks Osso Bucco everywhere – the meat was overdone to the point of being half-charred and, therefore, difficult to eat. I had to choke down the wretched overcooked pylon of leathery meat.

Across the dining room, a group of people were gathered for some kind of celebration. They sat like Christ and his disciples, perhaps, 13 strong at the table. The people were young and hip and they looked like workers at a Tech start-up company, everyone decorating their eyes with horn-rimmed glasses regardless, I suppose, of whether those spectacles were required. At the center of the table, flanked by John, the beloved disciple, and Judas, the group’s leader sat. An oddity in the lighting cast a persistent black shadow over the leader’s handsome face. This black shadow didn’t obscure the entirety of the man’s face but only his nose and eyes and his upper jaw. The effect was disconcerting and, when I looked in the direction of the happy celebrants, I shuddered to see that their leader had a great black crater inscribed into his features, a charred sooty pit.

When you leave the Coyote Café, dazed by the sum on the bill, take hold of the railing on those long and slippery steps and take care not to fall.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

On being Trumped-Out






I was serving at the Trump Tower. Jared Kushner, who had been supervising my work had to attend a meeting. He left me responsible for Trump’s belly-guard. When he is at home in his tower, Donald Trump doesn’t walk upright. Instead, he lopes about on all fours. In fact, this is his customary mode of locomotion. Beasts that use four legs for walking and running, frequently have soft, white underbellies, parts of their anatomy that are prone to attack. Donald Trump is no exception – his belly is pale and pendulous, a sort of male udder that is very soft and fragile. Accordingly, when Mr. Trump goes out in public and is, thereby, required to walk as a biped, standing upright on his two hind-legs, his vulnerable belly is exposed. For this reason, a servitor is required to make certain that Mr. Trump’s underbelly is properly protected, wrapped in a corset of copper-wire reinforced belly-guard. While Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, was absent, Donald suggested several times that he was about to go outside and meet his adoring public. In each case, I hurried to his side with the belly-guard and suggested that we enclose his delicate parts in that corset. But Mr. Trump is unpredictable and can behave in a whimsical manner – in each case, he waved me away, loping off to another corner of the penthouse on all fours. "I’ve changed my mind," he barked. "I’ve changed my mind." I was a little chastened that I hadn’t been able to help the great man for I was eager for his praise.

It wasn’t an unpleasant dream. Indeed, I enjoyed being useful to the great man. But, of course, as I rested in bed in the darkness, the indignity of the situation occurred to me. I was dreaming about Donald Trump. Thoughts about this politician had invaded my psyche to the extent that there was no respite even in dream. Across town, sirens wailed mournfully and nearby dogs took up the refrain and the wind was rising, perhaps, about to blow into town a snowstorm ripened in Colorado or New Mexico.

I’m tired of thinking about Donald Trump. I’m tired of formulating responses to his antics and to the equally unfortunate denunciations of his foes. I don’t want to waste my nights dreaming about Donald Trump. And I certainly don’t want him figuring in my dreams. In short, I am all Trumped-out.

In Wim Wenders great film, Im Lauf der Zeit, two men sit in a car gazing across a desolate border. An American rock and roll song plays on the radio. One of the men says: "The Americans have colonized our sub-conscious." Donald Trump, I am afraid to remark, has colonized my sub-conscious. He now appears alongside my dead father as a hero and tyrant in my dreams.




Although it was with dismay, I voted for Hillary Clinton. I try to be reasonably well-informed and, so, like others of my station, I believed mainstream media’s prediction that she would win the presidential election easily. Needless to say, I was disappointed when these expectations proved false. For a day or so, I felt tired and angry.

But life goes on.




Since the election, readers of liberal, East Coast periodicals have been treated to wild-eyed Jeremiads about the vile consequences of Donald Trump’s victory in the Electoral College. The New York Review of Books paid 20 intellectuals to write page-long think pieces in advance of the election denouncing Mr. Trump and his followers in well-nigh apocalyptic terms. The London Review of Books followed the same pattern – twenty or so pundits decrying Trump’s bigotry and demagoguery and the downright evil of those who might be persuaded to vote for him. The New Yorker followed suit. Of course, all of these experts predicted Mrs. Clinton’s victory. After the election, each of these periodicals repeated this exercise – disappointed and outraged intellectuals appearing with litanies of the most dire predictions, each contributing about a thousand words to a denunciation of the President-elect and his supporters. It’s a peculiar and dispiriting literary form – an iteration of abuse presented seriatim with no dissent and real variation from the established script of insults and vituperation. It’s as if the editors of these magazines sensing that their outrage was neither particularly contagious nor persuasive decided to simply repeat the same message 16 or 20 times in a row. In my case, in fact, this mindless repetition of name-calling and hand-wringing has had the opposite effect – it has actually caused me to feel some sympathy for Mr. Trump and, indeed, forced me to align myself, at least provisionally, with him.

Two things must be observed about these litanies of rage. First, the people writing them have no credibility either as political observers or opinion-makers. The authors are all disqualified because they didn’t predict the outcome and because they allowed their bias to interfere with objective reporting of the facts. Any college sophomore who has taken a class in experimental science understands that there is such a thing as "margin of error" – all of the so-called "swing states" were, in effect, too close to call, that is, within the margin of error. Wishful thinking obscured this truth for these pundits. Hindsight counsels that the outcome of this election was reasonably visible – it should have been understood that Mrs. Clinton could lose this election on the basis of statistical margins of error. Motivating some of the righteous indignation now current, I suppose, is an embarrassed sense that an objective assessment of very readily available statistical information, viewed in light of the margin of error, would have shown the way to more balanced reporting if the writers have preserved even a modicum of professional objectivity. It’s always hard to admit error, particularly if the so-called expert making the error earnestly desired a different outcome and was well-paid for prognostications that were wrong. These Harvard- (or other Ivy League) educated elites are simply unwilling to make a mea culpa, unwilling to admit error particularly when it arose from such egregious blindness, and so compensate by expressing rage at the outcome. This is the first point that is apparent in these peculiar convocations of hysterical anger. (It must admit that I vociferously predicted that Trump would lose the election – I made every error that the elites writing for The New Yorker made. The only difference is that no one paid me thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to objectively assess the situation and state my views.)

Second, the sheer hypocrisy of the so-called liberal, or progressive, commentators is breathtaking in its brazenness and unprecedented in its scope. For years, the Left has denounced certain lunatic fringe elements of the Republican party as seeking to deny the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s election. With the proverbial shoe on the other foot, these very same writers now undertake to deny the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election. Recall that there was an immense hue and cry when Trump suggested that he might challenge the validity of the election were he to lose. Enormous oceans of ink were expended vilifying Trump for these supposedly anti-democratic threats. And, yet, with Trump having won the election, the Left now advances these same arguments – Donald Trump didn’t win the popular vote and so the outcome of the election is dubious. The mantra of Leftist commentators is that those disappointed in the electoral outcome must resist the temptation to "normalize" Donald Trump, to regard him as just another politician like Mrs. Clinton or President Obama – rather, we must preserve in the forefront of our mind, always and with the utmost focus, the notion that Trump is illegitimate as a President, that he has no right to be President because he has disqualified himself due to intemperate and demagogic rhetoric. Now, of course, it doesn’t help that the lunatic fringe of the Republican party growling that Obama was not a legitimately elected President included the Birthers, one of whom was Donald Trump. But, on the most elementary level, all of us should understand that one wrong doesn’t authorize an adversary to commit the same infraction against common decency and the body politic. The fact that Trump behaved irresponsibly after Obama’s election doesn’t legitimize the Democrats from behaving with equally audacious (and hypocritical) irresponsibility. The persistent outcry that we must not "normalize" Trump’s election is just another variant of the Birther movement – this time expressed by advocates on the Left. And here is a significant distinction that should be made – responsible elements of the Republican party disavowed the Birther movement and distanced themselves from it; as far as I can see, most of the Democratic party (or, at least, that party’s surrogates) seem to be embracing a "Never Trump" ideology that insists that Mr. Trump’s election can not be "normalized." What if John McCain or Mitt Romney had announced that we must not "normalize" Barack Obama’s election in the wake of their contests with him? What if dozens of commentators in well-respected journals had argued that we should not "normalize" Mrs. Clinton’s election, had she won, because of her alleged criminal conduct and corruption? A simple thought experiment shows the speciousness and alarming hypocrisy of much that passes for political discourse on the Left in the wake Trump’s successful candidacy.

The New Yorker issued on November 21, 2016 is indicative. The cover shows an ominous looking wall made of red bricks rising so high as to almost obstruct vision of the magazine’s title. "New York" itself is threatened by this wall of red. In a section called "Dispatches," sixteen columnists provide their responses to the election under the title "Aftermath." The first commentator, George Packer, says that Trump is like Nixon in that he will work to destroy the Constitution; Democrats should be prepared to behave like "nihilistic opponents" to block his agenda – it will be "ugly" but any other alternative is a "sucker’s game." Atul Gawande denounces Trump as lacking "decency, reason, and compassion," but seems most concerned about repeal of Obamacare and, correctly, I think, believes that local institutions will prevent such repeal from occurring. Gawande is reasonably temperate in most respects and takes care not to denounce in broad terms Trump’s supporters – although he is also quick to use as an example, a middle-class White man in poor economic straits who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but didn’t vote for Trump either. Hilary Mantel opts for a poetic memoir about her ectopic pregnancy, remarking that Trump will possibly bring back the "Salem witch trials" and order "public hangings" – she talks about the elites ignoring the ignorant "majority" not even human "but roaring from their cages outside the gates." Peter Hesler reports from Ouray County, Colorado, noting that the place is full of Trump supporters and that 50.6% of the electorate in his State voted in favor of bizarre amendment to the Colorado Constitution eliminating bans on slavery – Hesler, whose point is not clear, seems uncertain whether he voted for or against slavery. Toni Morison, ever the voice of reason and tolerance, accuses Trump voters of wanting "to kill small children attending Sunday school" and "shooting black children in the street. Citing a Faulkner novel as diagnostic of the state of electoral concerns about White privilege, Ms. Morrison suggests that Southerners rather than "los(ing)...whiteness" will choose murder. Jane Myer tells us that the big-money "lobbyists and special interests (have) already taken over" Trump’s White House – although, of course, the candidate is only the President-elect right now. Evan Osnos devotes his column to a parable about a minor bureaucrat who defied Arnold Schwartzeneggar’s administration – from this tale, he draws the conclusion (or has his protagonist draw the conclusion) that bureaucrats in the government must be prepared to "refus(e) obey the orders of the executive." Trump will likely curtail abortion rights, obstruct Gay marriage, suppress voting rights, and abolish any kind of legal protection for illegal immigrants – so says legal scholar, Jeffrey Toobin. (Toobin, who became famous as a commentator on the O. J. Simpson trial is a fixture of cable-news talk shows – he loudly asserts that it is wrong to "normalize" the dire consequences of a Trump presidency.) Mary Karr after itemizing Trump’s extreme rhetoric and asserting that she has PTSD from this election sounds the rare conciliatory note: "Now it falls to us to listen (to the election results – for America has spoken) with gracious and open hearts". But she can’t resist suggesting that Trump belongs in the lineage of those who "haul out and shoot" poets. Jill Lepore suggests that Trump’s election is a "wound", the first signs of "fatal illness," and like "the moment when a marriage began to fall apart." She imagines Trump’s victory as akin to a deadly heat wave that causes sparrows to drop dead from the skies. Novelist Gary Shteyngart invokes torched churches with the words "Vote Trump" scrawled on their walls, Jews sent pictures of themselves wearing concentration camp garb, and argues that Trump’s election will create an American "dystopia" on par with the old Soviet Union from which his family escaped many years ago. Nicholas Lemann who writes on money issues claims that Trump will make anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish economists and that, "as a tragic consequence of financial crisis," the electorate has brought to power "the politician most likely to create the next one." Larry Wilmore is an African-American comedian, although he was raised in South Africa. Wilmore was a fixture of Jon Stewart’s show and had his own comedy news program as well, although it failed. Wilmore associates Trump with every form of racism, claiming that Trump’s voters despised Obama for "P.W.B., Presidenting While Black" – Wilmore’s race-baiting is shameless, dragging into his discourse D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film that is 102 years old. Feminist Jia Tolentino asserts Trump is a rapist and has committed "many hideous offenses" of a sexual nature. Mark Singer canvases thespians, acting experts for advice as to how Trump managed to create the persona that got him elected – the opinions are various and not complimentary. An acting coach at Juilliard, for instance, accuses Trump of "believing his own story" when he denied committing sexual assaults – of course, he is a sexual assailant, the man is just a good liar. Junot Diaz, a Latino novelist, tells New Yorker readers that little Puerto Rican girls are weeping because of Trump’s election and that the United States has elevated to President " toxic misogynist, a racial demagogue who wants to make American great by destroying the civil-rights gains of the past fifty years." Notwithstanding, this dire characterization, Diaz cites Jonathan Lear’s excellent book on Chief Plenty Coups to suggest that people console themselves with "radical hope...directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is." And, on this note, the parade of mourners comes to an end.

Sixteen voices, all more or less, in complete accord that Donald Trump’s election represents the darkest hour in the history of this Republic except, perhaps, the Civil War. (With the exception of Atul Gawande and, to a limited degree, Mary Karr, these commentators are less sophisticated that Dave Chapelle on Saturday Night Live – an African-American comedian who denounced Trump’s election rhetoric but suggested a "wait and see attitude" as to his governance; one of the SNL skits with Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock watching with wry amusement White liberals decrying Trump’s election as the "worst thing ever" was smarter than all 16 intellectuals and pundits combined.) Most troubling, I think, is the complete agreement expressed by these writers, their lockstep denunciations of Trump, and their mutually reinforcing animus against the electorate. This is less an agreement in principle than the party-line of some kind of sinister and mindless cult.





It’s puzzling – what is the purpose for these strings of denunciation, these prose poems of outrage and despair? No one’s mind will be changed by these peculiar cult-litanies of hatred and sorrow. These essays are, in effect, preaching to the choir, assuaging the wounded feelings of people who have the same outlook and political orientation as the writers.

Hardcore Trump supporters are not merely indifferent to this concatenation of poetically expressed misery, they are, I surmise, gleeful. There is nothing more amusing to a victor than a bunch of sore losers exercising themselves over the injustice of the contest’s outcome. The totem for some Trump supporters is Conan the Barbarian, a figure with which they identify their pudgy and small-fisted champion. Making the rounds on the internet was a snippet from that film. Some Huns are sitting around a fire at a banquet feast debating what joys are greatest to a true man – one of the Mongols asserts that freedom is man’s greatest joy, to ride the wide steppes unconstrained with a falcon on your arm. Arnold Schwartzeneggar, immobile as a Buddhist saint, responds: "No, man’s greatest joy is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, and to hear the lamentations of their women."

"The lamentations of their women" is an excellent description for the think-pieces that I have mentioned in the liberal media. This kind of lamentation is, exactly, what Trump supporters have hoped to induce – a kind of panic and fear and desperation in their adversaries. In my view, this undignified show of grief at a mere election makes the Right rejoice.

How much more dignified would be this response: Our side lost, your guy won. You win some, you lose some. We’ll oppose vigorously the more lunatic proposals that your man makes. We’ll support his reasonable policies. And we’ll work like hell to win the mid-terms and, then, take back the White House in 2020.

What would be wrong with that response? But I don’t see any of the 16 mourners and wailers in The New Yorker responding in any way even approximately similar to this approach. Instead, they impute apocalyptic consequences to a mere election.



Trump’s election is illegitimate, the argument goes, because he was elevated to office by an army of bigots. This theory ignores the fact that many people who previously cast their ballots for Barack Obama apparently voted for Donald Trump. And this argument begs the question: is America really 48% racist?

The elites opposing Donald Trump assert that they are the product of the multi-ethnic metropolis, that they are educated in tolerance, that their carefully politically correct discourse is a guarantor of their credibility and righteousness and the truth of their opinions. People living in big cities – at least, to the extent that they are pundits and opinion-makers, assert that they are totally without bias, that they see the facts for what they are, and that their only intolerance is for intolerance. But, of course, this is total folly and self-delusion. First, Donald Trump is a product of New York City – he is the archetypal East Coast hustler and self-promoter. A figure like Donald Trump is unimaginable in most parts of the United States where norms of self-deprecation, humility and contempt for boastfulness prevail. To the extent that he is wicked, Donald Trump embodies a sort of big city iniquity. Second, anyone who has ever spent time in one of our big cities realizes that the most virulent racial hatred and bigotry simmers under the apparently genteel surfaces of those places in a way that is unknown in the Midwest or throughout most of what is contemptuously called "fly-over country." Third, I have never met a person who is without prejudice, indeed, without racial prejudice of the most primitive and tribal kind. Racism and bigotry is a conspicuous component of the way human beings are constituted. The man or woman who tells you that he is without racial prejudice is lying to you and to themselves. Any rational thinker on this subject must conclude that question is not: do we harbor racist and intolerant thoughts? but, rather, are we vigilant to recognize those biases when they occur to us and do we act to restrain ourselves for harming others by reason of those biases?  I am sick to death of people appearing on TV or in print assuming the mantle of purity with respect to racial or other kinds of prejudice. I am racist, I am prejudiced, I am biased. I am conscious of these defects in my character. I restrain my harmful instincts through the operation of reason and by attempting to act virtuously toward others. People are fed up with being told how to feel and what not to think – the only criterion for virtue is good action.

Finally, it is a commonplace but bears repeating: to the Left not all bias or prejudice is equally to be condemned. Of course, it is cruel and wrongful to display prejudice against Latino immigrants or African-Americans, but, apparently, fair to condemn Trump’s White, lower middle-class voters as a "basket of deplorables." Always keep this in mind: there is no one that a New Yorker staff writer despises more thoroughly than an evangelical White laborer from St. Louis or Nashville.




But to write on this subject is to fall into bad habits of extremist rhetoric and foggy thinking. That’s why I am all Trumped-out.

Last night, I watched a beautiful little film made in 1933, James Whale’s The Invisible Man. The movie is skillfully shot and atmospheric. It is witty, understated, and, even, expresses some important philosophical points about human nature. I would much prefer to write about that little film and extol its excellences than to pontificate about Donald Trump. This is what I mean when I say that Donald Trump had colonized our imagination – in the middle of reading a sonnet or looking at a painting, as I am driving through the pretty countryside and admiring the shapely hills and the architecture of the bare trees, as I am making love or walking my dog or enjoying a film, the horrible Donald Trump is always there. He can’t be ignored. He requires a response.

I hope I don’t dream about him again tonight.