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The ABC of ABQ

IMG_5962 (800x600) (2)Back when I was working in a peroxide plant in Longview, Washington, I decided to move. It wasn’t the smell from the paper mill across the road or the fact that everyone in town knew me as ‘the Irish girl from Willow Grove’ and knew my business to boot. It was that a sense of needing to be somewhere else. It was a toss-up between Alaska and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alaska won. But for years I’ve been curious about what I missed.

Albuquerque (known locally as ABQ) is one of the oldest inland cities in the USA. And at a height of 5314 feet (higher than then highest mountain (and yes, I use that term advisedly) in Ireland, it’s the highest city on the US mainland. Amongst its many credits is that it hosts the largest hot air balloon competition in the world each year, festivities that draw more than 1.5 million spectators (and something that has now made it onto my lengthening bucket list). I’m glad I didn’t move there because the sun shines 310 days a year on average (who’s counting?) and I don’t do well in the heat.

IMG_5935 (800x600) (2)One of the most important questions you’ll be asked as a tourist is ‘red or green’ and if you haven’t done your homework you might not know that this refers to your choice of red or green chiles. Budapest might have its wine festivals and the new wine bar that’s opened just around the corner from me boasts a choice of vino és wonka (wine or chocolate), but ABQ hosts New Mexico’s wine and chile festival on Memorial weekend. Now that’s a combination that isn’t at all tempting.

Its old town square isn’t quite as overrun with budding artisans as that of Santa Fe, but it’s a lovely spot nonetheless. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that a battle of preferences rages, one quite similar to the one between Budapest and Vienna, with these two New Mexico cities creating division between their admirers. Some said that, given the choice between the two, ABQ won hands down over Santa Fe. Others said the opposite. No one stayed silent. I’m still undecided. The heat does that to me. It addles my brain to the point that decisions are difficult to make.

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IMG_5950 (800x600)ABQ is the oldest farming community in the USA, home to the Pueblo Indians. It’s also the geographical centre of New Mexico. And it’s charming. Despite the tourists and the heat and the hawkers, there’s something still pure about it, something untouched, something that has escaped the commercialisation of Santa Fe. Its history can be read on the murals on the walls of the restaurants lining the old town square. Its church, an adobe building with walls that are five feet thick, still functions as a reminder of the Spanish colonial tradition of anchoring a central square with a place of worship.

IMG_5954 (600x800)Again, it was refreshing to see local artisans selling their wares from blankets in the shaded archways of the main square. It was good, also, to see small cafés and food joints in the back streets, making what had to be a relatively meagre living from the not-so-passing trade but smiling nonetheless. Maybe it’s the laid-back Spanish influence, that little bit of Mediterranean attitude in the desert. Or it could have simply been heat-induced lethargy. No matter. It was all so very relaxed.

But even more enthralling than the white towers of the old church building that rise like beacons into the skies was a little church we passed on the way into town, one that opens for mass once a week, on Saturday, at 4pm. Some miles outside the city limits, it sits alone on a hill by the side of the road, a living testimony to the missionary work done in the states back in the 1700s. It’s beautiful. We had to climb a locked gate to get in (a sad indictment of the state of society) and while there, I was enthralled by the local custom of surround graves with what, for all the world, looks like a bed frame. I thought it peculiar to this little cemetery, but noticed it again as we drove further into New Mexico.

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IMG_5924 (800x600) (2)Apparently this had something to do with the widespread poverty in New Mexico that led to the rather innovative use of everyday items as grave-markers. I came across this fascinating account of famous and unusual grave-sites in New Mexico’s history. Worth a read if, like me, you have a thing about burial sites.

ABQ – I’m glad I didn’t move there. But then again, I’d be happy to return. When it’s cooler and there are thousands of balloons in the sky.

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Old or outsourced

Santa Fe is home to one of the largest art markets in the world. If you have money, an eclectic taste in clothes and jewelry, and a house to furnish in that Aztecky desert style so peculiar to the region, then it’s a place worth visiting.  I was quite taken with the arts and crafts initially but then, in conversation with some of the vendors, I was a little disheartened to discover that the whole ‘designed in’ vs ‘made in’ blur of distinction had made it to the desert.

IMG_5855 (800x600)I’d set my eye on a blue woven basket, a large part of whose charm lay in the fact that I thought it was made by a Navajo Indian. I have a weird obsession with knowing the origins of things and prefer my originals to be signed and dated. But while it was designed by a Navajo artisan, it was actually made in Punjabi, India. This gave the outsourcing thing a whole new slant and poked another hole in my naivety. I really need to do something about the growing sense of dissatisfaction I have with the price of progress.

IMG_5856 (600x800)That said, though, it’s a lovely city with lots to gawk at and plenty of shops to wander around. With 200 restaurants, 250 art galleries, 50 Indian jewelry shops, 13 major museums, and a world-famous opera, there’s plenty to occupy a couple of days. Not that we had that sort of time, mind you. It has the oldest government seat in the United States, the oldest church in the United States, and the oldest house in the United States. So that makes it old. And, apparently, it was a town 13 years before the Pilgrims hit on Plymouth Rock. And in American terms, that’s really old.

IMG_5838 (800x600)The city sits at the end of the Santa Fe trail, a lifeline between Missouri and New Mexico that opened in 1821. The trail crosses five states and back in its day, military forts opened along the route to protect trail travel and trade. Route 66 also passes through it. And, when I stop to think about it, the city has made the transition to the twenty-first century relatively unscathed in parts. So perhaps this is one part of the world where the price of progress has been held in check, visually at least. Hope? Perhaps!

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2013 Grateful 26

For as along as I can remember being aware of the power of prayer, I’ve have had to balance the idea of praying with the surefire belief that my prayer will be granted against the thought that some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. My prayer will either be granted or it won’t and if it isn’t then it wasn’t meant to be. (I often wonder what I’d believe had I been born into a different religion.)

IMG_5873 (800x600) (2)Back in 1878 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, America’s oldest capital city, the Loretto nuns found themselves in a quandary. Their recently completed chapel had a design flaw. The choir loft couldn’t be accessed. Sitting 22 feet about the ground, short of a ladder or levitation, there was little they could do. Every carpenter they consulted said the same thing: it would have to be a ladder as there wasn’t the space to build a stairway.

IMG_5870 (600x800)So the sisters decided to say a novena to the patron saint of carpenters, St Joseph (him who is famous in my book for selling houses – just bury a statue of him in your garden and the house will sell – it has worked, honestly). Novenas are said over nine days and just at the wire, on the final day, when the nuns may have been losing a little faith – a man appeared on a donkey…with his box of tools. He started work on the staircase and months later, when done, disappeared without pay or thanks.

More than 130 years later, the staircase’s design is still baffling architects as it has no visible means of support; it was built with wooden pegs and has two 360-degree turns. And this was 1878 remember!

IMG_5863 (800x600) (800x600)We Catholics love our miracles so it’s little wonder that the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe attracts hoards of visitors.  The tree outside its front door is laden with rosary beads, left by those whose prayers were granted and those who might be still praying for their own personal miracle.

IMG_5146 (600x800)I was reminded of something I’d seen when we’d stopped in the Casey Jones village on our way from Nashville to Memphis. A ‘pray it forward’ box where people deposited their prayers and then, if so moved, picked someone else’s prayer at random to pray for… a different, non-electronic form of social communication that would be lovely if it caught on.

This week, I’m grateful once again for my faith and that core belief that what’s for me won’t pass me.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52