Saturday, July 19, 2014

We have the state's best and most varied plazas

Santa Fe may have the state’s most famous plaza. But right here in the Mesilla Valley, we could make a case that we have the best and most unique assortment of plazas in the Land of Enchantment.
It may depend on your definition of a plaza.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a plaza is “an open public area that is usually near city buildings and that often has trees and bushes and places to sit, walk, and shop.”
By that standard, we’re peppered with plazas.
If we’re going for tradition, Mesilla could give Santa Fe a run for their money.
The City Different has ages of bragging rights, of course, attaching to the honor of being the oldest capital city in the U.S. But I think Mesilla compares favorably. There is room for events like Christmas Eve, Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos and Diez y seis de Septiembre, but it never seems to become an out-of-control nightmare.
Many visitors have told me Mesilla reminds them of Santa Fe in more laid-back days. It’s still adobe, old, historical and authentic, but it’s also mellow, beautiful, accessible and a fun place to gather with family and friends, for fiestas, special occasions and just everyday strolls, meals and shopping.
I think it’s time to acknowledge the ever-evolving Las Cruces Plaza, too. That stretch of Main Street from city hall to My Brother’s Place is indeed our plaza, in fact and by tradition, even if it’s a long, rectangular shape. Who says a plaza has to be square?
With music, food, street performers and colorful shopping, Main Street downtown is brimming with plaza spirit at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market on Wednesdays and even more on Saturdays when the street is closed off and the LCP expands to accommodate thousands of people. You’ll find the same spirit during Downtown Rambles at museums, galleries and shops from 5 to 7 p.m. the first Friday of each month, at fiestas like the Las Cruces Country Music Festival and at newer events like food truck roundups, night markets and Project Main Street events.
And speaking of La Placita, Las Cruces is establishing a growing plaza-within-a-plaza trend. The pretty little mosaic-floored mini-plaza has become a popular gathering place, as has the grassy patch near the St. Genevieve memorial right across from it.
And in June, the Las Cruces City Council approved a $5.397 million agreement with Las Cruces Community Partners to construct a 1.362-acre plaza on land now being used for the Bank of the West drive-up facility at the northeast corner of Griggs Avenue and Main Street.
We have an organic, innovative evolving plaza situation here, not surprising, perhaps, in the fiesta capital of the world.
There are other popular plazas in our downtown hood, too.
June’s Pride Festival reminded me of the pretty little plaza that is Pioneer Women’s Park. It has a gazebo, lots of shade trees, a lovely public building nearby (Court Youth Center/Alma d’arte Charter School for the Arts) and quiet streets that are perfect for staging a small walking parade. Or horse drawn-carriages, which have offered festive transportation for multi-plaza events like recent Winterfests, which once included the then-Downtown Mall, luminarias at Pioneer Women’s Park and festivities at Klein Park. (Klein Park, by the by, was a perfect “plaza” for 2014 Border Book gatherings, and a nice site for part of the Music in the Park Series.)
Other area parks have also earned plaza status.
Veteran’s Park on Roadrunner Parkway has become a plaza for veterans and those who love them. It’s a beautiful and dignified site for special ceremonies, family gatherings or quiet visits to remember those who have sacrificed so much in so many conflicts.
Young Park has become a kind of park-plaza hybrid, a laid-back gathering place for fiestas like the Renaissance ArtsFaire and Music in the Park concerts.
Las Crucens enjoy getting together and thanks to providence or good planning, or maybe both, we are blessed with many wonderful plazas to share.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @Derrickson Moore on Twitter or Tout or call 575-541-5450.

Singing and Dancing in the Rain

Ah, rain!
The real stuff has finally made an appearance: the deluges that come with thunder and lighting and the aromas of ozone and mesquite and something else that pervades high-desert country. I suspect it’s a mixture of settled dust and damp piñon and assorted other plants, native and domestic, that have finally enjoyed the deep, refreshing drinks they’ve been longing for these last, long, bone-dry months.
I call it the smell of gratitude.
When I first moved to New Mexico, a colleague told me to brace myself for the first big rain of the season.
“People actually go out and dance in it,” he said.
I found that hard to believe, recently arrived from Oregon, weary from decades of Portland winters: long, drizzly months of gray skies, grumpy, soggy souls with migraines and Seasonal Affective Disorder — exacerbated by light deprivation, giant slugs and pervasive mold and mildew.
Lured by Chamber of Commerce promises that nearly every day would be sunny in the Land of Enchantment, I settled in for my first summer in Santa Fe. A few weeks later, I awoke to sounds that reminded me of the then-recent eruptions of Mount St. Helens.
I called an old buddy and asked what kind of natural disaster had befallen us.
“It’s just a thunderstorm,” he told me.
I’d lived so long in Pacific Northwest, land of perpetual drizzle, that I’d forgotten what a real thunder and lighting storm was like. I liked it, especially since the sun usually emerged soon afterwards. I started writing, slightly tongue-in-cheek, I’ll admit, about New Mexico’s summer monsoon season.
There were chuckles, but before long, it seemed to catch on. Though we then tended to associate the word with places in the world that experienced deluges in a few hours or a few days comparable to the amount the desert skies bestowed on us during an entire year, a monsoon, is, after all, a monsoon: a season of heavy rains.
The word may evoke dread on some parts of the planet, but here, a monsoon is generally a good, even a blessed, prayed-for event.
I haven’t forgotten 2006, when communities like Hatch and Ruidoso were tormented by overgenerous monsoons, but I also remember that all of Southern New Mexico seemed to turn Oz-emerald green, and fields of wildflowers emerged that I’d never seen before. Birds and bunnies and other assorted wildlife had their own little fiestas. Even a sometimes destructive monsoon offered wonderfully compensatory beauties and benefits.
I’ve been thinking about that green year since July stormed in, bringing purple blossoms to all the neighborhood sage bushes and almost-overnight patches of greenery wherever lurking weeds could get a toehold and slurp a few drops of water in our mostly gravel yards.
“The rain is like a fertilizer to the weeds,” said Mr. Rubio, a nice man who lives nearby and knows all about wrangling vegetation in high desert country.
No matter. Pulling a few weeds is a small price to pay for all the good stuff that happens when the monsoons come in.
As I now regularly inform newcomers and remind natives, “Singing in the Rain” was written by someone from our territory, Nacio Herb Brown, of Deming, NM.
We know about that impulse, and I’m surprised that we haven’t come up with some kind of monsoon festival, here in the fiesta capital of the planet.
But then, we never know quite when, or if, the monsoon season will roll in. The surprise is part of the fun.
So, when it comes at last, gather your family and friends, or just slip out on the porch all by yourself, and enjoying a little joyous, life-renewing singing and dancing in the rain.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @Derrickson Moore on Twitter or Tout or call 575-541-5450.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Getting Crafty

Arts and crafts are inextricably intertwined with some of my best summertime experiences.
Having a mother who was an art and American history teacher was a good start, of course. All the art-supply basics were usually available for drawing and painting, but mom was also game for some of the pre-fab commercial kits, too.
One of my earliest and most vivid toddler memories involved unmolding Plaster of Paris Disney figures from unwieldy rubber molds and attempting to make them as beautiful as they were on movie screens. It was impossible, of course, but that didn’t stop me from trying again with my son Ryan and more than two decades later with grandson Alex the Great.
All three generations agreed that Plaster of Paris and unwieldy molds are still fun, as are the classics: drawing and painting.
Thanks to evolving craft technology, sculpture has gotten better. Icky elementary school clay and papier-maché, gave way in my household to air-dry paper clay or the polymers that you can bake in the oven. Almost instant gratification.
I’m also a big fan of wearable art projects. Products now on the market make it a snap to decorate clothing, some of which have remained in family wardrobes for decades. I wish I could still find that fabric paint that simulated a suede finish, for instance. I’ve experimented a lot with specialized fabric paints over the years (spray paints, paint pens, puffy paints, matte and shiny and glittery paints that come in little plastic squeeze bottles). And regular old liquid acrylics help create my fave bright turquoise boots.
Childhood arts and crafts projects could lead to careers or lifetime hobbies. And there’s something about artistic inspiration that easily transcends generations. Mom taught me how to knit, but I was the one that got her hooked on other needlework arts and crafts.
Samplers were a natural for anyone interested in history. I found examples in books (in the olden days before the internet) of samplers done by little girls in early America, when it was not uncommon for small children to master dozens of specialized stitches and demonstrate their skills in samplers that were genuine works of art.
Before long, we moved on to crewel embroidery. I clearly remember the thrill of transforming gossamer embroidery floss and later, rich, woolen yarns, into three-dimensional things of lasting beauty. It seemed like magic.
In a family of dedicated campers and wilderness aficionados, nature crafts were inevitable, too.
Seashells were a challenge, and though I’ve never come up with anything that I’ve found quite as beautiful as the original creation itself, I’ve had fun trying to use them to create interesting things. I’ve made seashell flowerpot mosaics and used them for ears and ornaments for soft-sculptures inspired by kachinas and pretty wreaths.
I was pleased to learn that wreaths are a very popular summer craft for kids this year. If you start with stuff you love, it’s almost impossible to make a bad wreath. They’re particularly nice for small collections. I’ve made wreaths with folk art dolls, pieces of broken ceramics, antique toys, dried vegetation, tiny pots, faux fruits and vegetables, little pieces of original art and found objects (the fancy fine art term for whatever you can grab that appeals to you). (Note to artistic daredevils and fashion risk-takers: A lot of the components of a spectacular wreath can also ornament a remarkable hat. Think Carmen Miranda and go for broke.)
Don’t overlook what’s growing in your garden. Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful child in with a crown or necklace made only with a fingernail and a bunch of field daisies? (If you don’t know how, Google “how to make a daisy chain.”) It’s also great fun to press wildflowers or non-prickly desert vegetation until dry between paper towels in thick books and then use them in little pictures or on note cards.
What was your favorite childhood craft? Chances are, there’s a little person somewhere who would love to learn how to do it, too.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter or Tout, or call 575-541-54540.