Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holidays in the Land of Enchantment

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — If you feel Scroogish about this merry season, it may be because you’ve never experienced the holidays in the Land of Enchantment.
Christmas in New Mexico is like nothing else on the planet. And Hanukah and Kwanzaa have their own special flavor here, too.
It’s time again for our annual milagro fusion of sacred rites that inspire joy with creative and touching Southwestern traditions that conjure up sentiments ranging from awe and wonder to amazed amusement.
Here are a few of my favorite Mesilla Valley holiday things.
La Posta’s tanks of piranhas decked with poinsettias. Rolling fields of fluffy white stuff that turns out to be not snow, but cotton harvest remnants. Hand-crafted snowguys (if we have a rare December snowstorm) with red chile noses. Giant roadrunner sculptures made out of recycled trash, glittering with twinkle lights. Ristras and reindeer sharing porch space. The glow of luminarias and the aroma of piñon fires.
Gathering with amigos on Christmas Eve on the Mesilla Plaza. Watching dancers in feather bonnets and Our Lady of Guadalupe tunics at Tortugas Pueblo. Yucca pod wreaths and tumbleweed Christmas trees.
There are some one-performance-only memories, like watching grandson Alexander the Great sing “The 12 Days of New Mexico Christmas” with his Hillrise Elementary school classmates. It’s a great production number and I hope they’re still doing it. If you get a chance to catch a local holiday school pageant, don’t miss it.
Then there’s the fun of figuring out the many ways red and green can make our season bright. I’m talking chiles here. I learned to make (and appreciate) homemade holiday tamales at Denise Chávez’s workshop with the Grijalva family at La Cochina Restaurant. At Carmen Garza’s house one Christmas, I was introduced to the wonder of turkey and mashed potatoes with red chile gravy. (I contributed my own holiday chile invention: cranberry-green chile sauce.)
I’ve seen new traditions born and old traditions revived, like La Posada on the Downtown Mall. Amigos who grew up here told me it’s like a Christmas version of trick or treat. As kids, they went from house to house asking if there was room at the inn, and were rewarded with tamales and biscochitos and all kinds of goodies.
In recent years, La Posada and gone public on the Downtown Mall, sometimes with a Holy Family, a donkey borrowed from the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, and singing followed by goodies and a piñata.
“Los Pastores” plays, an ancient ritual with deep roots in the Mesilla Valley, were started here half a century ago by a group of Mesilla families who are determined to keep it alive.
For me, Mesilla is the corazon of celebrations both transcendent and sometimes, a bit eccentric. (The aforementioned holiday piranhas at La Posta, for instance, and our favorite outlaw keeping vigil with his trusty gun under a lovely nativity scene perched on the roof of the Billy the Kid Gift Shop.)
The late, great Josefina Gamboa Biel is credited with starting Mesilla’s tradition of luminarias, carols and drinks on the Mesilla Plaza on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the most wonderful ways to spend Dec. 24 to be found anywhere on the planet, in my opinion. Josefina’s daughter, Kathleen Foreman, transformed her late mom’s adobe home into one of the region’s loveliest lunch and tea rooms where the famed Josefina’s Gate remains a favorite gathering sport for holiday photos.
And now we have Christmas SuperFriday and Winterfest, which debuted a few years ago and demonstrated what a delight our downtown area can become.
Catch as much as you can of this enchanted season in our enchanted land. Happy holidays.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

I'm thankful for...

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — For many of us, this has been a very tough year. There have been mysterious illnesses, continuing wars, disastrous environmental accidents and catastrophes and some difficult unemployment and economic issues.
This year, most everyone seems to know someone who has been personally touched by Borderland violence, or even suffered the death of someone they know, in Juárez, our Borderland neighbor that has been termed the murder capital of the world.
I have many friends and relatives with American Indian roots who have never been too thrilled about celebrating Thanksgiving, when they ponder the consequences of that original generosity to desperate newcomers.
They find more truth than comedy in Jon Stewart’s caustic quip: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
When I think of Thanksgiving 2010, the first thing that came to mind was a quote from my spiritual mentor Tenny Hale: “Ah, for an unmixed blessing for once.”
When blessings seem hardest to find is the time we need to work hardest on our attitudes of gratitude.
I started with simple things, in my own neighborhood. For instance, I know many Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market vendors were sad to vacate their old Downtown Mall site, but the market seems to be better than ever, ranking high in polls and growing.
I’m sad that my favorite downtown tree seems destined for destruction, but I was happy to see so many citizens speaking up for our leafy green amigos. I’m glad to see a city commitment to plant and transplant so many trees in the downtown area.
And I was heartened by Flo Hosa Dougherty’s campaign to make something beautiful out of her favorite Chinese pistache, which met the ax during the current phase of downtown renovations. Stop by Blue Gate Gallery and see the tree’s lovely wood, resurrected as everything from jewelry to furniture and a bear sculpture.
Musician, singer-songwriter and wood artisan Eddy Harrison is even crafting a guitar. Maybe we can recruit talented souls to create wooden flutes, drums and other instruments and end up with a whole band or orchestra. Our desert hills could be alive with the sounds of Chinese pistache music for generations to come.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful I live in a community of inventive souls like Flo and talented artists who help express her creative vision.
Though it’s been a challenging year, I’ve found that every time I started to work up enthusiastic complaints, the universe delivered someone who severely outclassed me in the misery department.
That old line, “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet,” came to mind a lot.
Actually, I have lots of shoes. More than I need, I realized, and felt better after I gave some of them away to worthy causes.
In fact, though times are still tough, they’re improving, and in the worst of times, most of us have rather high-class worries compared to the rest of the world.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that most of my loved ones are still alive and are finding creative ways to heal and help others. I’m thankful I got to know and spend time with some wonderful souls who have since moved on to other realms.
I’m grateful to live in America in general and milagro-filled Las Cruces in particular.
I’m pleased that the more I count my blessings, the more I find to count.
And when it comes time for eloquent sentiments on turkey day, I’m going to remember Meister Eckhart’s simple but powerful advice: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Thank you. And happy Thanksgiving.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Las Cruces art scene is hopping

New galleries join art scene
By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — If you’re new to Las Cruces, you might think that Full-tilt Fiesta Season is drawing to a close. But stay tuned for a fun-filled December—and a burgeoning year-round art scene.
It’s true we’ve had an action-packed fall, from the traditional favorites like the Deming Duck Races and Labor Day fiestas to The Whole Enchilada Fiesta, Dia de los Muertos, Diez y Seis de Septiembre, Día de los Muertos, the Renaissance ArtsFaire and newcomers like the new Plein Aire Festival and the SalsaFest, now in its second year.
And if we had to call it, I’d say that this is the year artshops really came of age.
When I arrived in 1994, the annual Doña Ana Arts Council ArtsHop was just starting, and it was pretty much the only game in the territory. Now it’s spun off into a festival (DAAC’s Color Las Cruces Plein Aire Competition and Community Arts Festival) and the Downtown Ramble, the first Friday of each month. And now we have this year’s newcomer: Camino del Arte Tour, a second Saturday of each month tour of as many as 10 galleries and studios (many of them brand new in 2010) and 10 restaurants in the historic Mesquite Street District.
In addition, there are annual For the Love of Art Month studio tour weekends, and artists Georjeanna Feltha and Ouida Touchon have coordinated two more annual downtown artists’ studio tours in the spring and fall which attract a growing number of artists, studios and art fans.
Any artist who complains there’s no place to show work here just hasn’t been paying attention.
Despite tough economic times, our roster of galleries continues to grow, especially when it comes to artists’ co-ops.
Mesilla, which once had just one plaza-area artists’ cooperative gallery, Mesilla Valley Fine Arts, now boasts three co-ops, with the addition of Los Artesanos Galeria and Art Galaxy.
The Border Book Festival Foundation and its headquarters, which has always nurtured artists and craftspeople, as well as authors, has branched out to add Galeria Tepin.
There will soon be two new additions to the Mercado de Mesilla complex, home of the Preston Contemporary Art Center, which has attracted national attention and offered a venue for top international, national and regional artists during its brief history.
The late Ben Boldt envisioned the Mercado (itself an artistic achievement, thanks to the design of sculptor Kelley Hestir) as a little art mecca, maybe with some “mom and pop” artists living in or above galleries in the complex.
Reinforcing that vision will be and Mitch Alamag’s ROKOKO Kosmic Soul Kaboom Studio & Gallery, slated to open by spring.
And Carolyn and Henry Bunch will soon open a gallery (their fourth in the Mesilla Valley) at the Mercado.
“We tossed a lot of names around and finally returned the one we used before: The Adobe Patio Gallery and Studio,” said Carolyn.
They hope to open in late November or early December.
The Mott family are also back. Many of us remember their PK studios on Alameda. Now artist Kate, daughter Padma, and Kate’s potter husband Russell have opened MVS Studios near the Branigan Cultural Center.
M. Phillips Gallery and Justus Wright Galeria have moved from their original sites to reopen in bigger and more interesting downtown locations.
Many area shops and restaurants, some inspired by participation in February for the Love of Art Month exhibits, have become art venues themselves, rotating year-round exhibitions.
And brand new galleries seem to be opening all the time. David Jacquez just opened Jardín de las Cruces, 4010 N. Valley Drive, with a group show Nov. 6.
Watch for more soon. Arts are hopping in Las Cruces.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Visiting the aspen light shows

By S. Derrickson Moore
“This is a REAL light show,” said my soulmate Dr. Roger, as we journeyed through patches of golden aspens in the hills and valleys and mountains of Northern New Mexico.
Autumn could be the best time to visit Northern New Mexico and this is a particularly spectacular fall. In late October, many of my favorite summer flowers — including big, beautiful stands of cosmos — were still in bloom and it was pretty close to prime time for those amazing Aspens.
No photographs I’ve ever seen can really capture their brilliant and ethereal beauty, and I’m not sure words can describe them, but I’ll give it a shot.
You’ll find them glowing In fields of fading green, on gray and rosy mountain tops, in a serene river valley by an isolated monastery, and within familiar Abiquiu vistas etched on the brains of fans of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
Mysteriously backlit with powerful luminosity, even when the day is rainy and overcast, the aspens radiate an ebullient, big yellow joy. They’re an annual surprise that never gets old.
There’s gold in them thar hills.
We found them at Pecos Benedictine Monastery near Pecos, an easy afternoon trip about 25 miles east of Santa Fe, within a thousand serene acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, anointed with ponds and a winding stretch of the Pecos River.
We explored an autumn wonderland to discover a bridge linked to an island with flowering bushes, and on a quiet riverfront path, we came upon the “Hosanna Madonna,” a deeply moving rustic statue of an exuberant mother lifting her holy child skyward, showing him to the heavens.
We saw them on daily explorations from our home base at Santa Fe’s newly renovated St. Francis Hotel, when we set off on short strolls to the Santa Fe Plaza and longer hikes down Canyon Road and through the trendy railroad district.
We found bursts of them in the thoughtfully designed and lovely eco-friendly landscaping at El Monte Sagrado Resort in Taos.
A few early fliers swirled in golden gusts as we wandered paths by the resort’s streams and waterfalls and walked through the Taos Plaza and visited galleries on Ledoux Street.
I’ll be writing more about adventures in Northern New Mexico in coming weeks.
Santa Fe’s special 400th anniversary celebrations are coming to a close, but it’s hard to imagine a better time to celebrate the City Different’s unique beauties.
The tourist jams have abated a bit. The skies are that crisp autumn-winter New Mexico lapis lazuli. Bargains abound in everything from arts and crafts to clothing, home accessories and meals and lodging.
You can plan your own quadracentennial homage to Santa Fe: 1610-2010 with a self-guided tour of the New Mexico History Museum and historic sites and buildings on and around the Santa Fe Plaza.
It’s always fun to put together your own fall picnic. Visit the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays in the Santa Fe Railyard. It’s not as big or well-stocked as ours (they were voted No. 2 in the state in the same poll that ranks the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts market No. 1 in New Mexico), but it’s a market with style and tasty treats.
Stop by Kaune’s Market, on Old Santa Fe Trail for some gourmet goodies. Or fill your picnic basket at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, located close enough to one another to make buffet comparison shopping easy.
And if you hurry, you might still be able to catch the last of the aspens, the best autumn light show in the state.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450