Friday, January 30, 2015


“You belong in Mesilla. That’s where you should live. It’s like Santa Fe used to be,” said my Santa Fe artist friend Carole LaRoche, when she learned I was moving back to New Mexico.
I wasn’t returning to Santa Fe, but heading for Las Cruces, then, back in the mid-90s. I’d had offers for newspapers I’d worked for in the City Different and Albuquerque, but I’d been considering moving south when I took a seven-year detour to Jamaica and South Florida. I’d seen the Organ Mountains before I was shanghaied to the tropics, and I knew this was where I wanted to be.
And Mesilla was where I started out. The amigos who lured me here were finishing things up in Silver City, and my first Las Cruces friends were Elaine Szalay and Lou Innes, both of whom lived, then, in Mesilla.
The pretty little town, as it turned out, was a hard act to follow. Lou graciously gave me a guided tour of the Mesilla Valley, putting Xs on a map to indicate places I should avoid while I searched for a little apartment to live in until I could get my bearings.
As it happened, none of the places I’ve lived here, after those first weeks, have been in Mesilla.
But, like many of us who live in Southern New Mexico, I’ve always thought of Mesilla as my home base, the roots of my querencia.
“Mesilla is everybody’s backyard,” Lalo Natividad once told me.
Certainly, it’s where many of us are drawn to celebrate holidays, thanks to El Grupo Cultural, established by Lalo and his late partner Richard Meeks, who helped revive traditional fiestas like Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre.
I am a refugee from colder climes, born of uptight generations bred to never drop in without calling first, or better yet, an engraved invitation.
But Mesilla feels like an endless open house with loving friends and family.
My family album and memory banks, are, in fact, full of shots of Mesilla. Grandson Alex the Great as a baby, shaking his first maracas at Cinco de Mayo. Birthdays and anniversaries with loved ones. A final Christmas Eve with a very ill amigo who wanted to see the luminarias one more time.
One day, I hope not for some time, we’ll all be able to drop in every day at the rambling adobe where J. Paul and Mary Daniels Taylor raised their children. The cozy home, and the Taylors’ remarkable collection of art and artifacts, will one day become a museum, open to the public: the Taylor-Barela-Reynolds-Mesilla New Mexico State Monument. And it’s appropriate that it will be in a family hacienda, another welcoming home in everybody’s home away from home.
You might also attend one of the annual events sponsored by the Friends of Taylor Monument. Or be fortunate enough to catch a sighting of the dapper J. Paul Taylor himself, who at 94 maintains a schedule that would daunt people half his age, but who still finds time to meet and greet old friends and new visitors during his regular strolls around the plaza.
And there are lots of good reasons to visit the Mesilla Plaza: for a leisurely amble, a contemplative minute or hour on a bench alone or with friends. We flock to Mesilla for assorted fiestas, or to browse through shops, have a meal at Josefina’s, Emilio’s, La Posta or the Double Eagle, a drink at El Patio or to check out the vendors at the Mesilla Mercado on Fridays and Sundays.
Of course, you don’t really need an official reason.
When we have visitors, a trip to Mesilla is mandatory. It’s easier than trying to explain why we’ve chosen to live here, or why we’re so happy. One glimpse of lovely, historical, festive, laid-back adobe Mesilla under lapis blue skies is worth several thousand words.
If Main Street in Las Cruces is the corazon (heart) of our valley, Mesilla is its alma (soul).
Mesilla is everybody’s backyard.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450

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