Thursday, November 1, 2007

Retro fiestas remind us to live for today

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — As modern life grows more complex and challenging, it’s interesting that so many of us find comfort in customs and traditions of earlier times.
Even small kids, obsessed with everything from dragons and castles to dinosaurs, seem to long for the golden days of yesteryear.
We’re in luck here in the Borderlands, where we can take trips down many memory lanes, without investing in expensive video games or spending our weekends in dark movie theaters or glued to the TV.
In fact, we can combine time travels with gatherings with friends and family and lots of fresh air and exercise at what could be the best time of year to be outdoors in Southern New Mexico.
This weekend’s full-tilt fiesta events focus on the 36th annual Dona Ana Arts Council Renaissance ArtsFaire. If you haven’t been, there’s still time to climb into your retro finery (or go in your 21st century time-traveler civies if you’d rather) and head for Young Park to watch old-time jousts, join the king and queen for royal processions, see arts and crafts, or just relax in the sun and enjoy wandering minstrels or chow down on ye olde Navajo tacos and New World chocolate treats.
Last weekend, and with a closing Friday night procession in Mesilla, many of us joined to commemorate Dia de los Muertos, based on ancient customs honoring dear departed souls.
Next week, both mariachi fans and students will be celebrating what many consider a modern milagro: the rebirth and perpetuation of mariachi music, dance and customs that many feared would be lost to this generation.
Why are we so drawn to retro arts, activities and customs?
I was pondering all this a few weeks ago as I drove home from the world premiere of Bob Divens’ “Extinction: A Love Story.” The musical focused on something really retro: the passions of dinosaurs who lived and died 65 million years ago in what is now New Mexico.
Bob has been so busy that he told me he would be breaking a long tradition by not appearing as Robert the Ratcatcher at RenFaire this weekend. I’m not sure if his special, stuffed-toy rat catapult will be on hand, but we can’t deny that Bob has been generous in sharing his knowledge over the years. (Hurl a rodent for a friend and he’s rid of one rat today; teach him to build and operate a ratapult and he can hurl rats for the rest of his life...)
Which brings me to a major motive for all this retro stuff. As Carol Thomas of the Society for Creative Anachronism told me last week: “My main goal is fun. I like learning how to make things and do things the way they used to be done.”
If it came to a choice, she admits, there’s no way she would trade now for then.
“I like things like modern medicine,” she said.
She stressed that what the SCA does is “recreation, not reenactment. We don’t do anything dangerous. They had to learn these skills because they were at war and we are not, nor do we wish to be,” Thomas said.
A lot of this retro stuff is just plain fun, remembering the best aspects of what were often cruel and agonizingly difficult times. High-tech types enjoy the return to simpler eras.
And there is balm for the soul in some of this: time heals, lends perspective, and offers hope in the continuity of tradition.
There is something wonderful about building a little altar and remembering the best parts of lives well-lived, after the sting of death has lessened a bit.
And there is something charming, fortifying, even spiritually uplifting, about seeing a granddaughter move through a graceful folklorico dance in the same kind of dress her mother and grandmother wore, hearing young students and polished professionals perform some of the same mariachi tunes your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents loved.
There’s something about retro fiestas that reminds us the importance of living in the moment: to stop and appreciate the best moments of today.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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