Saturday, November 12, 2016
NEW MEXICO DIARY -- I (Lost in Santa Fe -- a mismatched couple -- dinner at Plazuela -- Secretary Clinton leads in the Polls)
The map showing downtown Santa Fe is too big to carry. It folds on seams that are inconveniently located. Therefore, it’s best to simply memorize the stroll from the hotel to the restaurant and leave the map on the table in the room. Plazuela, the restaurant at La Fonda Hotel, is only a few blocks away and it should not be hard to visualize the map to reach that place – it’s just a turn here and another turn. But, of course, the streets confuse me and I get lost, although this time, I have my phone engaged, ready to show me the way before I stray too far in the wrong way. No need to oppress Julie with misdirection – I pretend that I know where I am going, pause for a moment at a parking ramp where a couple of beggars are loitering by the entry, consult my phone and, then, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump to the restaurant.
It’s busy at La Fonda. This is an elite hotel, the place where Christopher once outraged Shirley Maclaine by stepping on her dog. Movie stars and business magnates frequent the place and the lobby is full of people window-shopping at the stylish Dude gear in the shops next to the atrium. Life-size paintings of historical figures from New Mexico’s past grace the bright lobby with its turquoise-blue trim and dark Spanish tiles.
The table is not yet ready and so we sit in the heavy furniture outside the dining room. A young woman in a red dress is draped over a bespectacled older man – he’s at least thirty years her senior and sipping a martini, casually dressed and a little bemused. The young woman’s red dress is made to be slipped off her with the utmost ease and its pretty apparent that she isn’t wearing anything underneath that garment and she slinks around the older man, rubbing up against him, and, then, sprawling on his lap almost upsetting his drink. The olive in his drink looks wall-eyed at the proceedings and my wife says in a low voice: "That’s not all right, that’s not all right at all." I ask her what she means. "She keeps flashing her twat at him," Julie says, a spectacle that, unfortunately, I seem to have missed.
Between the hotel’s front desk and the street, a boutique sells Western Art: more technicolor canyons and cowboys riding the purple sage, sad-looking Indians in exodus across the prairies, bronze sculptures of noble and dignified Indian women wearing noble and dignified shawls that fall over their shoulders nobly and in a dignified fashion, eyes and beak-like nose something like the profile of an eagle or some other noble and dignified bird-of-prey. There is a magazine devoted to Western Art on the side-table next to chair where I am waiting and I flip through its pages. The young woman exerts herself with the old man, lolling against his belly, and I suppose he’s worrying about whether his Cialis or Viagra is up to the challenge. She isn’t wearing turquoise, a good thing, I suppose, because turquoise, at least according the Keresan-speaking Pueblo Indians, is a powerful love charm, an aphrodisiac, perhaps, more effective than the love-philters that this trim, nicely groomed older man has taken, and I can imagine nothing but ruination for this Fortune 500 executive, nothing but shame and dishonor and jealous rage if he were to perchance actually fall in love with this girl in her red dress and devote himself to her and invest in her faithfulness – she has no turquoise anywhere on her lithe body, not even inserted into the settings of her earrings and this, I think, is a good thing given the erotic power of that gemstone.
La Fonda is old Santa Fe and the paintings on the walls in the lobby are exemplars of the Taos School, regionalist works in a quasi-impressionistic style featuring the exotic features of the Southwest, canvases made during the twenties and thirties when people like D.H. Lawrence discovered New Mexico and came to this place. The dining room was once famous for flamenco dancing – some of greatest Spanish flamenco artists performed in this space with the room crowded with Hollywood movie stars and their consorts. The restaurant occupies the building’s atrium and the room’s upper reaches are giddy with Moorish tile and spidery arches with filigree work. At table level, the walls are comprised of innumerable panes of stained glass, decorated with southwestern motifs, slender red peppers and humming birds and stylized Indian pottery, thunderbirds and pictographs all lit from behind and shining radiantly over the diners.
I have carnitas, exquisite medallions of pork tenderloin in a hot, sweet sauce. My entree is enchiladas with a scoop of posole served as a stew, chunks of cheek meat from a pig with smoky-flavored hominy in a brown sauce. The enchiladas come with seasoned pinto beans and are covered with Christmas peppers, that is a mix of green and red chiles. The food is very good, just on the edge of being too hot for me. The room is loud and colorful and the people come and go in the crowded space and the older man with the young woman in the red dress have vanished, left our sphere of attention as if they were never there at all. We have Margaritas and, then, New Mexico Gruet, a local wine produced in a vineyard near Espanola, I think – a dry red wine, pinot noir, if I am not mistaken, not too heavy and bright with summery fruit flavors.
The city is a carnival in the early evening as we leave the restaurant. The air is crisp and clear, now about 45 degrees. The mountain rears up to nudge the sea of stars overhead. Election news on TV at our hotel assures us that Hillary Clinton will surely prevail in the election. One can be at ease. One can rest without fear – we are on vacation.