Melancholy and the Infinite Skies of Santa Fe

Posted on
Jun 1, 2017
25

I thought Santa Fe was beautiful. Rand had been wanting to visit for years, had built it up in his mind so much that he had already asked me if I wanted to move there before we’d even set foot on the ground. He’d idealized so much that reality had trouble living up to what he’d imagined. This is something that Rand does often – he’s so convinced he’ll fall madly in love with a place that he’s always a little disappointed, even if it’s wonderful. In the early years of our relationship, I wondered if I’d suffer the same fate, because he’d built me up in his head and I was, at that messy time in my life, even more awful than I am now. But he accepted the ugly reality and loved me just the same.

 

In the end, he loved Santa Fe as well. But for me, it was easier. I didn’t look at a single photo beforehand. I never do. People are always shocked when they find this out, because as a travel writer, it sounds lazy at best. But it means that I’m rarely disappointed. I have no expectations. I just want to see something new.

This feels like the opener from the Brady Bunch, where they’re all in different squares but looking at one another.

We had a nice trip. But when I reflect on it, I’m hit with a strange sort of melancholy – stronger than anything I felt while I was there. It was only a few months ago, but the things that still hurt my heart now were fresher then: the election, my dad’s death. The last year has been characterized by the painful sting of a lesson that it seems Rand and I are destined to learn over and over again: sometimes life doesn’t turn out like you thought it would. Keep your expectations in check.

Chilling with some icy little creatures at Meow Wolf.

 

Rand at Meow Wolf. The note he’s holding says “oops.”

 

And perhaps it wasn’t just the sadness we brought with us, but something inherent in the rocky hills. New Mexico has the second highest poverty rate in the country (at more than 20%) and the third highest unemployment rate. It’s been ranked as the worst-run state in the nation. It’s also one of the most diverse states, and the thread between those two metrics – the idea that so many people of color live in poverty in America – is hard to ignore. The greatest trick in the handbag of institutionalized racism is economic oppression. But you probably know this. And you don’t need my privileged ass telling you.

It is a heartbreakingly beautiful and strange place. The sky is a vivid blue – it doesn’t have to compete with the deep cobalt of the ocean, or the greens of the trees like it does here in the northwest.

 

And the way it was echoed in the artwork was absolutely stunning.

 

We wandered through art galleries and only sometimes felt unwelcome by owners who could tell we weren’t able to afford anything. This always makes me more uncomfortable than it does Rand.

 

The altitude meant that the air was thin, and I teased Rand that I wouldn’t be able to move here because how would I bake in such a place? Would my bread dough rise? Would my cakes fall? But by then it didn’t matter, because he’d let go of that dream, and I saw him deflate a little as he did.

Sign at Meow Wolf.

 

It was so radically unlike any other place I’ve visited. Even little differences caught me by surprise. Every restaurant we went to had chile on the menu. Not chili with an “i” – I am not referring to the bean and meat laden stew that is ubiquitous in cook-offs around the country – but chile, a sauce of varying levels of heat made from either fresh green peppers or their dried red counterparts. Breakfast cafes, roadside diners, upscale places run by celebrity chefs all asked us the official state question: “Red or green?” Either is an acceptable answer, though those who opt for both reply simply “Christmas.”

I failed to take a photo of either red or green chile because I ate it too quickly, apparently. But here is a photo of chile, stuffed with meat and pine nuts. The food was lovely, and is so hyper-regional that you rarely find New Mexican cuisine outside of the state.

 

I never had more trouble driving than I did in Santa Fe. There was virtually no traffic, and the roads were flat and clear and straight, but my eyes kept drifting to the sky and the horizon. That infinite sky, that blue canvas changing color in the setting sun.

 

We had a splendid time. But on some level even I thought Santa Fe would be the answer to some unasked question. I’d kept my expectations about the town itself at bay, while still clinging to the notion that our long-awaited trip would somehow heal our hearts. Years of travel, years of existing on this planet and I still hold on to ideas like that despite having never once been proven right. New Mexico didn’t fix us. It couldn’t. Sometimes you are just sad and a little broken. Sometimes your dad dies and sometimes your plans don’t pan out.

 

It’s not New Mexico’s fault. It’s still a nice place to visit.

Leave a Comment

  • kiera

    What an apt post for today, given the latest presidential news. I’m feeling that same “sometimes things just don’t work out” kind of dread and your words echoed it well. Thanks for your writing.

  • Tom Lohr

    I’d like your blog more if the politics were left out. Also, I live in Santa Fe, please do not judge the land of enchantment by the misfit laden city of ours. New Mexico is full of great and sensible people….just not here.

    • Everywhereist

      I honestly can’t fathom the entitlement that would cause you to come to my personal blog and tell me to leave my politics out of it.

      • Ed Illades

        Lol. “Please don’t put politics I disagree with anywhere I might run the risk of seeing it.”

      • but– the faceless rando will like it more! That’s gotta count for– oh who the hell am I trying to kid.

        • Everywhereist

          “Let me appeal to ONE GUY by being emotionally dishonest!” That’ll work well in the long run, right?

      • It’s telling that his only other comment is him complaining about Colin Kaepernick.

      • Steve Haugh

        Dear Mr. Martin,

        I have greatly enjoyed your Game of Thrones books over the years, but of late I have become tired of all of the dragon-related content. Might I suggest in the future that you instead provide your eager readers with some scenes involving masked Mexican Wrasslers?

    • I read it twice and really, can’t find much in the way of politics… unless you mean that one oblique reference to an election? If on the other hand you’re referring to her mention of poverty: that’s not a political issue. It’s just kicked around as one.

  • I recently went back to Santa Fe after many, many years away and many travels to other places. Before we went back I wondered if it was still the answer to many questions in my own journeys. It was. And then some. We’re going back again in July (as well to experience The Lightning Field!). I was so glad as it has long resided as a place I may end up. It was so nice to have that corner of my brain assured.

  • I’ve always wanted to go to Santa Fe, especially since I’m working on a collection of stories and New Mexico settings factor heavily. Research road trip, sooner or later!

    • Everywhereist

      You should absolutely go! You will love it.

      • First, I just have to take care of the minor detail of being out of work nearly 5 months. Then try and stop me!

    • Tom Lohr

      Let me know if you make it to Santa Fe, I can give you some insight to some of the cooler locations in the area. Also rockabilly on the route is this weekend and not to be missed if you can swing it. The Unique UFO Festival is last is June and provides some great writing material

      • Everywhereist

        Tom, please keep your political viewpoints out of my comments section. There are a lot of people who don’t believe in rockabilly. I’m pretty sure it’s just a hoax.

        • Tom Lohr

          Sure. But if you dis the aliens in Roswell…..that’s where I draw the line.

          • Everywhereist

            Weird, I thought conservatives weren’t down with illegal aliens.

          • Tom Lohr

            That’s the problem when people get pigeon holed for beliefs or comments . I am not a conservative, but am also certainly not a liberal. And I have personally checked them. Their intergalactic Z721X visas are in order.

          • Everywhereist

            “I don’t adhere to any political doctrine” is the new “I don’t own a TV.”

          • Tom Lohr

            Hmmm….not sure what that means. But anyhow I mostly enjoyed your blog. Keep exploring and don’t forget to check out southern New Mexico. Very different from the north but just as interesting. I think we are done otherwise. Cheers

  • I lived in Santa Fe for a year when I was a kid. It’s gorgeous. One of my favorite memories ever was hiking in the mountains north of the city on a class trip.

    It’s a really, really difficult place to live if you’re poor.

  • Natalia Marek

    My husband and I moved to Albuquerque two and a half years ago, and still constantly marvel at the beauty of the landscape here. Our friends in other places will ask us all winter how thew weather is, and grumble when the answer is “Gorgeous. blue skies, fluffy clouds.” We take everyone who comes visit out for breakfast burritos or Indian tacos.

    Honestly, we ask each other all the time how people in the rest of the country have not discovered what an amazing place this is.

  • Andi Plummer

    I visited Albuquerque while on a half cross country road trip (from Austin to San Francisco), and it was my favorite city of all the places we went. We only stayed one night but driving through New Mexico was gorgeous and I would love to go back. And how are you and Rand so photogenic? <3

  • “This is something that Rand does often – he’s so convinced he’ll fall madly in love with a place that he’s always a little disappointed, even if it’s wonderful.”

    Reminds me of Paris Syndrome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome

  • My husband and I just roadtripped through New Mexico. We spent some time in Sante Fe. Everything about New Mexico enchanted me, just like it’s nickname implies. I actually felt like I could make a home there. I don’t know if it was the desert, or the sadness blowing with the wind, but there is something special about that state that I cannot describe.

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