Friday, January 27, 2012

The '50s weren't always nifty

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Were the ’50s really nifty?
It seems like every generation adopts its own pet retro era. It shows up in enthusiasms for period fashions, food, movies and books.
My parents had romantic notions about flappers and the 1920s.
When we weren’t reveling in our own hippie/flowerchild/psychedelic fun, we Baby Boomers seemed fascinated with strange (to us) stuff from the ’30s and ’40s: Bonnie & Clyde, World War II literature, Polynesian things, shoulder pads and Frank Sinatra (Mia Farrow era).
The last couple of years, the 1950s seem to be enjoying a vigorous reincarnation. A lot of Katy Perry’s looks seem to be wacky takes on ’50s pinup queens, with a few nods to Madonna, who purloined a few ’50s trends herself.
We’ve seen fedoras for a few years now, for both men and women, and worn them with the suave cockiness of Frank Sinatra (in his original wife Nancy and Ava Gardner eras).
“Mad Men,” which purports to be the 1960s, is more like what I remember about the 1950s: guys in gray flannel suits, three martini lunches, chain-smoking, unrepentant sexism, women in gloves and veiled little hats. The illusion that advertising was an art form, a fulfilling and noble creative battlefield and even a great service to mankind.
If you doubt me, kids and scholars, check out Sloan Wilson’s 1956 novel, “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” or the 1956 movie of the same name starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones.
It wouldn’t be a bad starting place if you’d like to get a clearer look at what was not so nifty about the ’50s. At least, it’ll give you a little more realistic look if your ’50s world view is based on nostalgic homages like “Happy Days” or reruns of period TV series like “Ozzie & Harriet,” “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show.”
Our moms really didn’t vacuum in heels, immaculate shirtwaist dresses and pearls. But I do remember my grandmother debating with my mom about whether a lady could go to town — even a quick run to the grocery store — without gloves, and a tailored little dress or skirt and blouse.
And skirts were required for women (no exceptions) at nice restaurants into the ’60s. Pedal pushers (later referred to as capri pants) were the sportswear of choice, and I was convinced that there was no woman on the planet who really looked nice in them, with the possible exception of Audrey Hepburn.
I spent my tot to pre-teen years in the ’50s and I never owned a poodle skirt and can’t recall seeing any of my friends in them. I do remember making a circle skirt, minus the poodle, in elementary school home ec, where our teacher admonished us to refer to our garments of choice not as “tight skirts” but as “straight” skirts.
Even what we now consider the fun stuff was a source of controversy. Marilyn, Elvis, James “Rebel Without a Cause” Dean, the beat poets and rock ‘n’ roll were not popular with parents in middle class, middle American homes.
There were viscious political fights, McCarthyism, the everyday reality of racism and the first glimmers of civil rights and feminist movements, the ever- present shadow of the atom bomb, “keeping up with the Joneses” consumerism gone wild and an explosion of the military-industrial complex so ominous that even President Eisenhower offered cautionary speeches.
When you’re rockin’ out and sipping your root beer float, tip your fedora to the fun, but spare a thought or two to those who bravely fought what was not so nifty about the ’50s.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

Art is an everyday part of our lives

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Every year about this time, I start to think about something Kelley Hestir reminded me of several years ago, when she and Miriam Lozada- Jarvis got together with a small group to create what has now become an annual institution here: For the Love of Arts Month.
Art is a crucial part of all of our lives, whether or not we consider ourselves artists or appreciators of the arts. Kelley once suggested that we spend a day, or even an hour, paying careful attention to our surroundings to appreciate how much art and design are a part of our lives.
I suspect I could fill up this column with the first hour of my day. I wake up to a bedroom filled with art. I’ve been blessed with a tribe of talented friends and relatives who’ve filled my life with art and taught me how to make some of my own (my early morning first view includes a few of my own paintings, photos and soft sculptures, too).
For many of us, the day begins with a ringing alarm clock. Some designers spent some time figuring out its shape and the sound of its ring (or ways for you to customize it yourself). If you get up before the sun, think about the person who designed your lamp, or the curtains or shades or skylights or the architect that came up with the plans for your house or apartment.
A lot of thought and effort and artistry went into the quilts I turn back as get out of bed each morning, but even if you sleep under mass produced linens, an artist’s hand was in the prints and colors of your sheets, blankets and bedspreads.
Art is all over your bathroom, from the sink and its fixtures to the shower curtains, tub and tiles — all were designed by someone. The same goes for your towels and washcloths, your toothbrush and toothpaste and the containers they came in.
If you switch on an iPod, phone, radio, television or computer first thing in the morning to catch up on news or messages, you are enjoying the considerable efforts of a design team that included artists as well as technicians. And whatever first greets you on that device is the work of other designers and artists (maybe even you, if you designed your own screensaver, ringtone, or setting or container for your first-thing-in-the-morning-design of choice).
I usually start out with news on TV or maybe catching up on a favorite program I've recorded. That means theme music, set designs, costumes/wardrobe … whatever I'm watching, chances are it involved musicians, writers, architects and a variety of visual artists.
Head to your kitchen for breakfast. Whether you've festooned your kitchen with paintings and tablecloths and placemats, or chosen a minimalist decor, you're entering a space that's filled with the work of artists and designers. Someone designed your refrigerator, stove, blender, microwave and all your other appliances, your cabinets and counters, your tables and chairs, and very likely, the surface you’re standing on, which could be covered with tiles, rugs, or a wooden floor.
Somebody gave thought to the shape and color of the pan in which your fry your eggs, the bowl for your cereal and fruit, the utensils you use to cook and eat with, the mug for your coffee, the glass for your juice, and the containers they came in.
Your clothes are more obvious, because most of us give some thought to personal tastes when it comes to what we wear. But even if we can't all afford designer originals, our mass-produced choices were probably influenced by top fashion designers.
And moving beyond that chic scarf, that cute dress, hot jacket or killer heels, artists and designers were involved at some stage of the mostly mundane mass-produced clothing, from work boots to undies and socks.
Before I climbed into my trusty car, I noticed how much the headlights resemble those of it’s pricier inspiration (a Jaguar) and the subtle pearlescence of its off-white paint.
Thanks to artists everywhere and we look forward to celebrating your creations all month long.
Today, take a moment to appreciate how much artists and designers contribute to your life, to its ease, comfort, and beauty, each and every day.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Mexico Centennial Adventures

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — What will you tell your kids and grandkids about New Mexico’s Centennial celebrations?
I think I’ve already got the gist of it. Our 100-year party is shaping up to be multicultural, enchanting, historic, colorful, spicy, eclectic, a bit eccentric and of course, fully imbued with generous helpings of the prerequisite three W’s: Wild, wonderful and wacky.
In short: an apt reflection of daily life in the Land of Enchantment.
And full of surprises. I wonder if many of us have given a thought to President William Howard Taft since high school American history classes.
But suddenly, Taft, as portrayed by actor Dale Liikala, seemed to be everywhere. Reenacting the New Mexico’s statehood proclamation at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum and lunching with his “new” fellow American citizens. Hobnobbing with locals on Main Street downtown, lecturing at the Branigan, riding in a big 1962 Lincoln Continental as Grand Marshall of the Mesilla Valley New Mexico Centennial Parade …
And speaking of parades: If you had to select just one parade to watch this century, the Mesilla Valley Centennial Parade would be the one to choose.
I was there, and I’m very glad.
Ten years in the planning, a century in the making and with a cast of thousands, it was a thrill-a-minute audience pleaser.
Even normally antsy little dogs and small children sat in thrall as the 100-minute parade (which was closer to two hours, with opening ceremonies and normal parade pauses) sauntered by, full of pride, history, happy kids, good-sport adults in period costumes and lots and lots of noble servicemen and women of all ages.
Decade by decade, we celebrated the last century, Las Cruces-style.
Actually, the parade subjects ventured much further back into the past, from the Paleozoic Trackways, representing those creatures older than dinosaurs who left their marks in the Robledo Mountains here, to homages to the Piro-Manso-Tiwa and Spanish Conquistadors.
It quickly became clear that southern New Mexico is home to a lot of cool old cars and beautiful new children.
Kids sang and shouted “Happy Birthday, New Mexico,” marching behind banners announcing their schools in order of their founding.
Many groups dressed in period costumes or offered placards with historical decades representing the year the organizations first appeared in the city of Las Cruces. Early 20th century bowler hats and elegant suits segued into ’50s poodle skirts and ’60s flower child ensembles.
Individual names registered: Clarence Fielder with an homage to the Phillips Chapel restoration, World’s Largest Enchilada record holder Robert Estrada greeting the crowd, a comment that a parade participant was wearing a Stetson that belonged to the late Sen. Frank Papen.
There were boys and girls in colorful folklorico outfits, sports mascots, astronauts and a least one dancing chile. There were many queens, past and present: from 1949 Las Cruces Centennial Queen Teresa Viramontes-Holguin to reigning Hatch Chile Queen Selinda Alvarez Garay, they were all looking radiant.
There were vehicles from the past, present and (back to the) future.
Curbside, I noticed I coughed a lot less as exhaust systems improved, somewhere around the 1980s.
Kids from Clyde Tombaugh Elementary School chanted, “Pluto IS a planet, we still believe!”
The parade’s boffo 2012 ending could be a column in itself and may be soon: Highlights included the new Centennial High School, WSMR’s 2d Engineer Battalion, Butterfield Park Matachines, a biodiesel-fueled, satellite-guided tractor, and a nod to New Mexico Spaceport Authority and Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline.
All along the crowded parade route, individual and group shouts and applause broke out as people recognized their favorites: students, teachers, songs, soldiers, historical events and periods, vehicles, queens, schools, organizations, police and fire personnel, companies, fiestas…
A man in a bowler hat moved through the crowd, shaking hands.
“It’s a very good day to be a New Mexican,” he said.
We agreed. Especially if you’re lucky enough to live in the Mesilla Valley part of the Land of Enchantment.

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

New beginnings in 2012

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Hello, 2012. 
I’ve read the book. (Or, at least, one of the most famous of the books devoted to themes of this year, Daniel Pinchbeck’s bestseller spiritual quest book, “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl,” which was loaned to me shortly after its publication in 2006 by Las Cruces philosopher Corie Lane.)
I’ve seen the movie — the dumb 2009 disaster flick starring John Cusack. It’s been a while, and all I can remember is that John issued a warning that was ignored, but he was rewarded by impossibly surviving all kinds of natural disasters with his kids in tow … a marathon of family fun featuring the greatest hits of our solar system. (Solar storms! Floods! Volcanoes! Earthquakes! Crumbling/exploding/burning Los Angeles!)
When I finally got around to touring Spaceport America in 2011, I tried to recall if John and his kids finally escaped to outer space, but I think the giant vehicles (secretly built by the 1 percent to keep the 99 percent out of any long-term survival deals) turned out to be arks.
I’ve seen several TV documentaries on various and sundry 2012 prognostications.
Maybe, I’ve even been singing the song since 1967. I’ve talked to astrologers who opine that this period merely signifies the end of the age of Pisces. Good news for me: At long last it might finally be the dawning of my age: I’m Aquarius.
And now that I’ve confessed to warbling “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” for more than four decades (and I’ve seen the original cast perform it in “Hair” and watched The Fifth Dimension sing their hit live in concert ... twice), I’ve officially dated myself.
So I might as well confess that I’ve long been familiar with most of the theories, history and prognostications and prognosticators Pincebeck wrote about in what seems like a rather belated quest to kids of the spiritual, mystical and sometimes downright spacey ’60s.
I’ve been hearing about those Mayan prophecies since my teen years. I spent almost two decades in Oregon, followed by two years in Santa Fe. (Parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern New Mexico have retained the largest, most persistent patches of the dedicated hippie culture, long after most of the rest of us cut our hair, institutionalized recycling and other green policies and procedures, and took to wearing dye-tie only as an occasional, retro-ironic or wearable art fashion statement.)
I met, worked with, investigated and wrote about many of the sages, and, as it turned out, not-so-sage souls, that Pincebeck discovered in the new millennium.
As a reporter and city editor in Portland, Ore., I covered and later wrote a book and documentary about the most accurate prophetic person I’ve encountered, Tenny Hale, whose hit predictions included the Watergate scandal, by name, before the break-ins, the exact day of the Three-Mile Island accident, and thousands of other very specific forecasts, documented and verified over decades, with a nearly perfect accuracy rate. And even a few predictions Hale counted as “misses” have been revealed as “hits,” after her death in 1981.
Her track record remains the best I’ve seen, and she didn’t predict that the world would end in 2012. So it’s not something I’m planning on. But I have been keeping tabs on warnings she gave for this era: major earth and climate changes, nuclear accidents, crumbling infrastructure, dam breaks, floods, resulting pollution and weakened immune systems that would leave us more vulnerable to fierce epidemics and viral diseases that could dramatically decimate the population.
There’s lots more on the downside, but not a final ending, and an upside the includes the possibility for brilliant new beginnings, spiritual and intellectual awakenings and a global renaissance that would inspire us to get technology right, this time around, and maybe even muster a divine global evolutionary leap that would have us finally recognize that we’re all in this together, that sharing, helping, healing, cleaning, nurturing and working to understand one another will make life better, richer — and more fun, even — for us all.
There will be some rough patches, but it’s a future we can choose, work toward and enjoy right now. Many of us already live this way and will continue in 2012. The signs are here. It’s an exciting and promising time to be alive. Happy New Year.

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