If It's 2 P.M., We Must Be At....

Trip Start Oct 03, 2001
Trip End Oct 13, 2001

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Light from the rising sun filled our room to awaken us. While we were cursing ourselves for leaving a blind open on an east-facing window, we were glad to get up a little earlier than usual in order to get a jump on the day.  Our plan was to walk around Old Town Santa Fe to see as many sights and stores as we could.

We headed downstairs to have some breakfast.  Upon smelling the potatoes frying, I remembered why we were staying at a B&B.  There's nothing that can create a vacation highlight faster than a fresh, home-cooked breakfast shared with perfect strangers.  Not only did El Paradero provide us with that experience, but they also made great food.  The menu that day was scrambled eggs, hash browns, and homemade biscuits.  All of it was delicious.  Eating it in a sunlight filled room while conversing with people from different parts of the world just made the experience better.

We had a lot to see that day, so we made a beeline for our first stop: the San Miguel Mission.  This church, which is just south on the Loretto Chapel on Old Santa Fe Trail, was an interesting example of colonial Spanish architecture. 

As anyone who has read my travelogues knows, I love going into old buildings.  I especially love them if they have some sort of religious connotation.  So, a visit to the San Miguel Mission seemed like it would be a natural fit to my interests.  What was there was interesting to see, but there was barely enough to justify the entrance price.

The San Miguel Mission is about one block south of the Loretto Chapel on Old Santa Fe Trail.  Unlike the magnificent symmetry of the former structure, the San Miguel Mission looks a little misshapen.  The square tower seems to fit uncomfortably on the roof, while the walls (thanks to some buttresses) seem to lean slightly.  I didn’t find this appearance to be cheap in any way.  Instead, it made the structure seem authentically ancient. 

The entrance to the mission opens into the gift shop.  We paid our $1 admission fee and entered the sanctuary.  We were glad to see that the interior wasn’t gutted in the attempt to convert the church to an art gallery.  There were chairs, an actual altar, and a couple of statues populating the sanctuary.  While it was comforting to see these items, they were all there was to see.  The sanctuary’s walls were whitewashed, which meant that there wasn’t any artistic decoration to accent the interior.  The altarpiece was stunning, but there was nothing else of artistic merit to view.  The only other item of interest was a glass covered hole in the ground.  The foundations of the original mission, which was burned in 1680, and some of the artifacts from the original structure could be seen through this hole. 

We left the church about 10 minutes after we entered it.  Exiting the church takes the visitor back through the gift shop.  We rang the mission’s original bell (cast in 1356), which sits near the door to the church.  After ringing the bell, we left the structure.

The San Miguel Mission is in desperate need of a small museum to display its history and heritage.  A museum would give the visitor an understanding and an appreciation of the mission’s history and role in Santa Fe’s development.  As it is now, the visitor only has an inadequate taped "tour" to get that information.  It’s a good thing that it's inexpensive to enter the San Miguel Mission.  The historical significance alone makes it worth the admission cost.  However, the mission offers little else to justify the cost.

We then went past the Loretto Chapel (which we thought about visiting again) to the St. Francis Cathedral.  I wanted to get there by 10 a.m. because guided tours of the structure are given at that time.  However, a funeral was starting, so we figured that the tours would be cancelled.

With our Cathedral plans disrupted, we walked two blocks northwest to the Palace of Governors.  It’s safe to say that the Palace of Governors is one of the top attractions in Santa Fe. While the building is no architectural marvel, it earns its historical significance simply for surviving for almost 400 years.  The chance to walk through one of the oldest buildings in the United States is simply too good an opportunity to pass up for most people.  I shared in that feeling before I went.  Having been in it though, I now think that the reality is a little less impressive than the history might indicate.

The Palace of Governors was built by the Spaniards in 1610.  Since its construction, it has survived various Indian revolts, a couple of wars, and a change in its functionality from a home to a museum.  Given all the history that has occurred around the structure, one would image it to be filled with items that would vividly evoke New Mexico’s heritage.  I was surprisingly disappointed.  While there were some items that did covey this heritage, most of the museum seemed devoted to obscure people whose contributions were not adequately described.  This condition seemed especially true for the overly long Jewish exhibit.  I’m in no way discounting the contribution of Jewish settlers to New Mexico’s history.  But, if one only judged New Mexico history by the Palace of Governors’ exhibits, they would think that New Mexico was another Israel.  The exhibit stretched over several rooms and displayed items whose only historical significance was that they have survived to today.  Frankly, the exhibit smacked more of political correctness than a balanced historical presentation.  Unfortunately, these types of exhibits detracted from the museum’s role of imparting New Mexico’s historical significance.

The only other aspect of the Palace of Governors that stuck in my mind was the sight of various Indians sitting on blankets which were covered with jewelry for people to buy.  I was saddened by the sight of these proud people being reduced to hawking their goods on blankets against the south wall of the Palace.  I realize that the trade is lucrative and that they are making a living, but the whole scene seemed to me to be somewhat degrading.  I guess I might not have minded it had the Indians had a store inside the museum instead of being outside against the wall.  It made it look like the Indians weren’t good enough to be inside the museum.  I’m sure the Indians would tell me that it’s better to be outside because there is more foot traffic.  Still, I think something else could be done to give the whole scene a little more dignity.

Overall, I would put the Palace of Governors low on the list of things to see in Santa Fe.  It’s not that there aren’t interesting things to see in the building.  But, the quality of the exhibits is in no way proportional to the historical significance of the structure.  It’s worth a visit, but one shouldn’t feel too disappointed if they miss it.

I tempered my disappointment at the Palace of Governors by visiting some of the shops around the Palace and purchasing some momentos.  We then headed west to the Sanctuario de Guadelupe on the western edge of downtown, only to discover that the structure was closed from noon until 1 p.m.  Since we weren’t hungry yet, we decided to walk back to the cathedral to see if another guided tour was being offered.  It wasn’t, but there was a friendly docent who gave us some interesting facts about the stained glass and the baptismal font.  We spent about 45 minutes listening to him and taking pictures of the interior.

We left the cathedral and proceeded to do some shopping in some of Old Town’s stores.  It became apparent to us when our arms were filled with shopping bags that we probably should go back to El Paradero to drop off our purchases before continuing our explorations.  On our way back, we decided to take a look around the state capital building.

The state capital building doesn’t look like most state capital buildings.  I’ve been to several state capitals (Sacramento, Montpellier, Jackson, and Atlanta) and all of them have the same basic look:  a semi-classical square building with a rotunda.  The New Mexico capital is a large round building with no rotunda.  However, the change from the other capital buildings didn’t seem like an improvement to me.  While I don’t find state capital buildings particularly striking, this one seemed quite plain on the exterior.  I found that my impressions of the exterior carried over to the interior.  It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the interior.  It was simply that there was nothing distinctive about it either.  But, what most astonished me was the lack of security in the building.  We were visiting just one month after September 11th.  Yet, while the rest of the country was being subjected to body cavity searches at other public buildings, the only security presence at the New Mexico State capital was two sleepy guards who didn’t even look like they could catch a fly.  I don’t know if it was a statement about the safety level in New Mexico, or a statement on the probability of terrorist actions in Santa Fe.  Still, it seemed a little out of place given the mood of the country.  While the lack of security was interesting, I still can’t recommend a visit to the New Mexico capital building.  There are just too many other things to see in Santa Fe that must be seen before visiting the capital.

After our brief visit, we made it back to El Paradero.  We dropped off our packages, and took a short rest.  We then left and headed up South Guadelupe Street to make another attempt at seeing the Sanctuario de Guadelupe.  Before we made it to that church, our growling stomachs reminded us that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and that it was now 2:30 p.m.  So, we stopped at the Zia Café.  It turned out to be a great choice.  The Café is decorated in a style that makes it look like a diner.  However, there’s nothing diner-like about their food.  In addition to the obligatory Southwest dishes, there are several entrees that were standard American cuisine.  I had a pastrami sandwich on rye bread that came with french fries which was absolutely delicious.  Best of all, the prices were reasonable (my meal cost $7.95).  I recommend a visit to the Zia Café if one is looking for good food that isn’t too exotic.

After our filling lunch, we continued up Guadelupe Street to the Sanctuario de Guadelupe.  This time, it was open.  So, we paid our $1 admission price and entered.  We immediately had the same sense of disappointment that we had experienced at the Old San Ysidro Church.  The sanctuary’s interior was gutted except for an incredible painted altarpiece.  As was the case with the Old San Ysidro Church, the structure had been converted to a museum/performing arts center.  And like the Old San Ysidro Church, the conversion only detracted from the history of the building.  I really wonder why New Mexico residents allowed such conversions to happen.  Maybe the thought was that by converting these churches to another use, they would continue to serve a function in the community.  However, what actually happened was that the historical/cultural significance was stripped out of the building.  Without that soul, there turned out to be no reason to visit these buildings.  I regretfully have to recommend that people avoid the Sanctuario de Guadelupe.

Given our disappointment, we decided to visit something that seemed likely to be enjoyable.  So, we headed to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  The visit was sort of an afterthought to us amidst our desire to get to Santa Fe’s other attractions.  Our reaction wasn’t a case of us slighting the museum.  Instead, it was more of a case of not feeling familiar enough with her work to appreciate what we were seeing.  However, our visit turned out to be one of the highlights of our Santa Fe stay.

We entered the museum about an hour before it closed.  At the time of our visit, the paintings being displayed were centered around two themes:  a recreation of O’Keeffe’s first show in Williamsburg, Virginia and a display of the works that the artist owned.  Both exhibits gave a good overview of O’Keeffe’s styles.  However, I was surprised that there were few works shown.  I realize that the Williamsburg exhibit was intended to only show a very specific number of paintings.  But, the personal works exhibit didn’t have that restriction.  I attributed the smaller than expected number of displayed paintings to the size of the building, which could best be described as intimate.  Still, the lack of works available for viewing didn’t diminish our enjoyment of those that were present.  It’s just that we wanted to see more!

While I was left wishing there was more to see, I was impressed with the quality of the works in the museum and the descriptions that accompanied those works.  The displays made it very easy to see why O’Keeffe is regarded as one of the premier artists of the 20th Century.  The displays also turned O’Keeffe neophytes like us into people who could, after one visit, recognize and appreciate her work.

As I said before, we almost missed the O’Keeffe Museum because we weren’t familiar enough with her work and because we feared we might not have enough time.  However, the museum’s intimate size and its excellent displays managed to make our fears irrelevant.  I highly recommend a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum as a way to learn about and enjoy her work (which is exactly what a museum should do!).

We did a little more shopping after our visit to the O’Keeffe Museum and then headed back to El Paradero.  El Paradero’s owners had made batches of two different cookie varieties for the guests.  We grabbed a few cookies and headed up to our room.  After our snack, we sorted out our shopping and began relaxing.  Outside, clouds started rolling in and a breeze picked up, indicating a storm was blowing into the area. We figured that would be a good time to take a nighttime stroll of downtown Santa Fe.  We quickly put on our shoes and set off for our walk.  The night brought out very interesting qualities in the old town.  The coming storm had chased most of the people off of the streets, so the area was slightly desolate.  Yet, the lack of people only heightened the presence of Old Town’s ghosts.  One could feel the presence of history mixed with Catholicism and culture in the air.  The whole scene vividly reminded me of old Quebec City.  I’ve been to several places in the United States with a distinctive atmosphere, but I’ve never been anywhere in the United States that had such a foreign feel as existed in old town Santa Fe.

It started raining just as we made it back to El Paradero.  We went back to our room, spent a couple of hours listening to the rain, and then went to sleep.
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