Day Three … and Home…with art and aliens between. After a fine night’s sleep in a Roswell hotel, we were ready for art, and our first stop was the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. The Museum was opened in 1994 to showcase work produce by the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program, and it is packed with the most delightful and interesting assortment of contemporary art imaginable. It’s an especially welcoming place with the odd, but appropriate couch or table and chairs here and there where you can sit and gaze in deep concentration at a work or simply rest for a moment and consider the meaning of life.

Next up on our itinerary, the International UFO Museum and Research Center, where we entered as total skeptics and ,after reading a few of the panels, left thinking “well, maybe…” “Yeah, I think so…” “Give me one reason to trust anything the military does or doesn’t deny, state, publish, bomb, whatever!” So now I believe in aliens—and Dr. Fauci. Anyway, it was fun…and I got a t-shirt.

Then it was the long and picturesque and two-lanes back home.

And then I had a stomach test which consisted of eating radiate eggs and toast, and Teresa got a booster shot, and played couch-girl for part of a day and prepared lamb posole and Three Sister Salad the rest of the day…and we immersed ourselves in the bloody doings of Eve and Villanelle.

A perfect Thanksgiving. Thank you Lace and New Mexico and the European invaders for colonizing this country so we could have stuffing and pecan pie sometimes (just kidding…not really thanking those raggedy religious anti-vaxxer types that landed at Jamestown or Plymouth Rock or wherever).

THE ROAD. TRIPS ON.

Day Two: We spent the first night in boarding-house like hotel in the little mountain town of Cloudcroft, 20 or so miles out of Alamogordo, since hotels in town seemed to be in the $300+ range. There must have been something going on wit, or at, Holloman AFB since Alamogordo is not exactly tourist-central. We headed back into town after breakfast at Cloudcroft’s Dusty Boots Café where apparently masks were not allowed, driving slowly through Alamogordo so I could see if I recognized anything. I attended classes at a branch of New Mexico State University on the edge of town before transferring to the main campus in Las Cruces, then a later semester driving into town from the base everyday to complete my student teaching gig. I recognized almost nothing and, on the way to White Sands, when I pulled off the road to take a picture of the entrance sign to Holloman where I lived for two years, it was almost the same. Fifty years ago. I am so damn old.

White Sands National Monument was pure pleasure. It contains the largest gypsum dune field in the world, an area of glistening white sands rolling into the distance, convincing us we’ll be stepping into pure snow in 30⁰ below temperatures when we open our car doors. According to the National Park Service, This dune field is very dynamic, with the most active dunes moving to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year, while the more stable areas of sand move very little. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates (theoretically as much as 80″ per year!), the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white sand dunes.  

We played:

Then it was on to Roswell for the night.

ON THE ROAD WITH LACE

So the story goes like this. Lace and I had tickets booked for Cuba and Colombia for 2021 Thanksgiving holiday time. Something came up and we had to cancel. Darn pandemics with their death and destruction and cancelled travel plans. However, there was also very good news from my point-of-view. Lace elected to come and spend the whole 10 days with me anyway. Those of you with grandchildren know that when any one of them chooses, over all other options, to spend time with you it’s like a super gift from the Grandma Elves (or we have really kind grandchildren).

Our plan was to take a small New Mexican road trip, finish watching the last seasons of  Killing Eve, putter, and have deep philosophical discussions…and sleep a lot and watch a movie or two.

AND for Thanksgiving dinner to make Monica’s Acoma Posole and Three Sister salad, another recipe originating with indigenous Americans.

The holiday turned out perfectly…almost better than a long trip to faraway places.

I’m going to stretch the visit out over two or three posts, the better to include more photos.

Day One of the Road Trip: In my opinion, New Mexico is near the top of any list of states offering spectacular road trip possibilities. For this jaunt, we decided on White Sands and then Roswell and a museum or two, and best of all, we’d have all those miles of two-lane roads between. We did take I-25 and I-40 in and out of Albuquerque, but that was it. My Texas road trip had re-addicted me to back roads travel.

Maps are critical to these adventures. They are how you know where you want to go, which scenic or challenging or isolated or roads to take to get there, and they give you visual check-ins of where you are in the bigger picture, whether that be country, state, county, or village limits. So that’s where the album begins:

Valley of the Fires, near Carrizozo. Where I fell in love with New Mexico. My Air Force husband had returned from an overseas assignment to be relocated to Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was not happy…however, after driving into the state in the middle of the night, I woke up as we reached Valley of the Fires where we stopped to stretch our legs and eat leftover sandwiches. I was mesmerized, never having seen anyplace quite like it. I was hooked on this place for a long time. Still am sometimes…if only it would rain.

MOMA and a Skinny Skyscraper

It’s about two months since Bob and I made it to New York, happily visiting reopened Broadway theaters, restaurant hopping with vaccination cards in hand—feeling like the end of this twisty tunnel was just ahead. Yeah, well you know the story…I was actually supposed to be landing in Nairobi about now, instead I’m unsure about whether to hide under the bed or just find the nearest public gathering of unvaccinated nut jobs (probably a Republican Party Christmas gathering) and breathe in the germy air. In the meantime, photos from our last days in NYC: the dining, art and skinny skyscraper album.

Then is was MOMA time. I guess it’s silly to take photos of a few of my favorite pieces, but looking back from a later blog book they remind me of a lovely day and occasional new discoveries.

PBS has a documentary series called Impossible Builds which offered up the Skinny Skyscraper a few weeks ago. The architects and engineers involved in this build in Manhattan just below Central Park have to be somewhat crazy…certainly dreamers…but they did it. I’m not sure how I feel about such a structure from an environmental or safety point of view, but it’s certainly fascinating…and so beautiful. Especially with the sky reflected off it in a way that makes it look transparent. I’m only sharing two or three of the camera-filled images I snapped from every angle. 

WHERE TO BEGIN?

It is 2021, I am in New Mexico, this is a Jasper Johns map, and today is Saturday.

Twenty twenty-one is almost done and dusted—an odd expression that I like, and was sure I knew its meaning. Turns out I was only partly right; it does mean something finished, but google tells me “The expression is mostly used in British English in informal contexts to mean to successfully complete something. Hmmm? How would one be certain 2021 was completed successfully at any level? Well, on a personal level, being alive at the end of it might be a sign. Also, having a still-healthy family, friendship, work, a home, and lots of good books would be considered making it through the year successfully. Elon and Jeff and the boys made a few billion, or was that trillion, bucks in 2021, so hopefully they consider that successful enough for now.

However, moving beyond me and my trillionaire friends, how’s the world as this more-terrifying-than-2020 year winds down? In 2020 we mostly worried about the virus, but at least we had an election that allowed us to end on an uppish note. This year. There. Is. No. Good. News.

But keep reading anyway. There’s a happy ending with pictures.

That was the cheerful map of my country above. This is Johns’ version of the mood of the country right now.

As you know, I like words a lot. This morning, in preparation for post #1 of a year-end blogging flurry, I looked up despondence (spell of low spirits), angst (a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general), dystopian (relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice), just to be sure I used them correctly as I share my year-end take on the state-of-the-world—not to be mentioned again until the next coup (attempt?).

I am despondent anytime I allow my thoughts to roam about outside of my immediate world, and I awake almost every morning in a state of mid-level angst. Even though my immediate circumstances include me among the dwindling number of the world’s fortunate, the fact that the future is increasingly dystopian definitely puts a damper on feelings like hopefulness, joy, peace, and safety. Last sentence about this: You may have noticed there was an attempted coup in the U.S. a year ago, and the desire for the real thing seems to be solidifying; in fact, the entire world seems swept up in a orgy of greed, racism, and violence with enough “leaders” of the dictator ilk to encourage it in too many places; the global 1% and the politicians they’ve bought are absolutely incapable of doing anything meaningful about the environment—as we continue killing the earth for pleasure and profit; and, last, but not least, have you noticed the masses of humanity on the move, seeking refuge from the death and destruction of tyrants, drugs, climate change, starvation? I think dystopian’s the right word, don’t you?

Meanwhile life goes on…and right here, right now, in my world, it’s good.

Here we are at the North Fourth Art Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico where life feels worthwhile, normal, and busy enough. We have Cardboard Playhouse in the theater so the building’s lively and noisy with excited young performers. One studio is occupied by a Quarantine Theater working meeting, and another classroom has a casual grouping of artists doing their own Saturday afternoon art thing. It’s nice. Makes me a little ashamed of my almost constant sadness. And no, I’m not clinically depressed, but it’s a depressing world right now, so just how joyful should I be! But, you know, it’s not with me always. Mostly I stay busy, read, have a couple of murder or British baking series at the ready for moments of pleasant non-pondering.

Wore my China shirt to work today to remind myself I went to far places and intend to do so again. My old body and broken world be damned. Maybe.

ARTISTS SAVING THE WORLD, AS USUAL

I’m back from a perfect New York City week. Smooth sailing: flights to and from without drama, Broadway shows brilliantly performed, streets busy, proof of vaccination required to enter most places (as it should be), food interesting, and friends friendly.

Best of all I felt healthy and strong the whole time, something I would have taken for granted a few years ago, but no longer do. The touchy-stomach problems I am apparently doomed to experience with some regularity disappeared while I was in the world’s Best Big City—and I actually ate normally and even had a beer with my meal a few times. It’s either a medical miracle OR the fact that I walked from 5 ½ to 9 miles every day OR sheer determination to feel good while traveling. I’ll know more after this winter’s 3 ½ weeks in Africa and the South Caucasus!

Since I was with Broadway Bob for three of the recently reopened musicals and one newly up and running show at the Public, I had vast amounts of information right in the next seat—and excellent info it was. Bob’s been a Broadway aficionado practically since birth or at least as soon as his mom starting taking him to musicals.

 

I, on the other hand, have the experience of 10 or so Broadway musicals over the last 30 years, so I’m limited to opinions rather than actual knowledge. And here are this year’s additions and my layperson’s opinions of Girl from the North Country, Jagged Little Pill, Hadestown, and The Visitor. My qualifications include a broad knowledge of contemporary dance theater and being a semi-obsessive Dylan fan. Oh yeah, and I’m a social worker and every one of these shows has one or more social issues at its troubled heart, all to be resolved or not by a plethora of talented singers, dancers, and actors.  

It’s true that the political, business, religious, and educational leaders of the world are doing f**k all to save the planet or any living thing on it, but seriously folks, I’m not sure artists are going to be able to pull this off all by themselves.

But anyway, here’s what I think of the shows I just saw…all of which I loved in one way or the other.

So Girl from the North Country has to be my favorite. Not because it was the best, in fact friend Bob, considered it something of a mess, but because I AM a girl from that same North Country (northern Minnesota) so that’s the lens through which I viewed the show. I liked the low-keyness of it, and I also liked that I could understand all of Dylan’s lyrics even though almost none of the songs were familiar. Interestingly it deals with the stark realities of racism in a place we rarely think of as being particularly racist, Duluth, Minnesota. But I suppose there’s no such thing as a place to be declared ‘not guilty’ of racism.

Next came Jagged Little Pill, which I first was dazzled by but, in hindsight, do not like. I agree with Bob that the story, dancing, singing, acting are pretty much Broadway musical-level flawless. Wow, so flashy and shiny and powerfully presented. Even though I’m not an Alanis Morissette fan, having never listened to anything of hers, and being unable to understand a single word of a musical number during the entire show, she obviously is a serious musical presence. (Right?) I’m being cranky about this show from viewing it through two lenses: 1) I’m old and 2) I’m a social worker. The old lens you get instantly I’m sure. The social work lens reminds me: drug addiction/OD’ing and rape are nasty dirty degrading painful dangerous conditions and actions…musical theater makes them bearable, almost glamorous, shiny.  I don’t care what the words say, the dancing and singing and pretty people override all that…I texted my grandchildren after the show and said ‘you should try to see this.’ I take that back. Don’t. Donate the money to a rape crisis center instead.

I unequivocally loved Hadestown. Greek mythology, lovers’ separated, a desperate search, devilish overlord of the underworld, plight of the enslaved—what’s not to love. Except for a slightly didactic musical rant on the evils of capitalism (to an audience of mostly satisfied capitalists), it was perfect.

Finally The Visitor, just opened at the Public, incubator of many Broadway hits (Hamilton for example), was engrossing and brilliant in spite of not feeling as finely tuned and polished as those others already up and on Broadway. The Visitor tells the tale of Walter, an aging, disillusioned college professor, who finds renewed purpose through friendship with young immigrant artists seeking new lives in an America that is doing its best to drive them out. David Hyde Pierce plays the confused but well-meaning old white guy extremely well—being one helps, I suppose, albeit a talented, artistic one.

Now a few days after this splurge of musical theater experienced at the center of its universe, I feel so happy to have participated. I never felt drawn to the genre until I’d seen my first few plays in NYC, but it’s hard to resist for the sheer talent of those singers, actors, and dancers. They are, almost without exception, just so extraordinarily good.

It is confusing. My performing arts love is still contemporary dance-theater of the often confrontive, sometimes profoundly consequential variety. And that’s where I usually expect to see social issues addressed. To experience four big-time musical theater pieces on Broadway or Broadway-bound that shout at me in not-at-all subtle ways to deal with racism, drug addiction, rape, workers’ rights, and immigration abuse, was a surprise. Although, now that I think of it, I guess that’s always been true to some degree  on the ‘great white way’ – where whiteness isn’t so prized anymore.

There. Nothing new to say but what’s a blog for if not to babble on about one’s thoughts and experiences.

THE HIGH LINE with CATHY

I’ve wanted to walk the High Line ever since it opened over 10 years ago, but since my visits to NYC have declined in number, I haven’t made it…until yesterday. It is a perfect urban space for when you need to pretend you’re strolling a country lane. (although I’m told on weekends it can be wall to wall people). My friend Cathy and I strolled much of the day as we caught up with our lives since our days together on Africa Consortium and working with artists have ended (only partially in Cathy’s case). Cathy’s a New Yorker so this environment isn’t as new and shiny to her as it is to me–although she still loves it. In addition to the peace and foliage of the High Line, we stopped by for a Hudson Yard photo op of quite an extraordinary giant sculpture. And we ate extremely expensive food (but well worth it…I had the most otherworldly-delicious mashed potatoes ever, and discovered if they’re over $10 a spoonful they become “pureed” potatoes) and mammoth ice cream bars. Such a fine day. 

The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Saved from demolition by neighborhood residents and the City of New York, the High Line opened in 2009 as a hybrid public space where visitors experience nature, art, and design.

Sunday Night in THE CITY

Sunday night. Tall buildings outside my window. Sirens, chatter, horns. Restaurants abound. So much art: performing, visual, music, literature…it’s New York City…and it’s so lovely to be here. I am sitting in my cozy (meaning tiny and warm) hotel room, preparing to watch PBS Sunday night shows (Midwives, Grantchester, etc. Exactly what I would be doing at home in Albuquerque. 

I have an excellent excuse. I am exhausted. Attending Broadway shows is hard hard work. One walks far, stands in long lines, puts on the mask, shows the vaccination/id proof, finds seat, climbs stairs to bathroom, stands in bathroom line, returns to seat, squeezing past large and small people…possibly (if you drank a glass of water or enjoyed a drink with lunch or dinner) you will repeat the process at intermission. I am going to talk about all that theater, later but must digest the differences between the three generally, and consider the various personal lenses through which I’ve viewed them.

I must add quickly…the three plays we have seen have made all of that worthwhile, mostly brilliant in fact. But now I am tired, really tired. We’ve walked everywhere so far: 9 1/3, 7 1/2, 5 1/2 miles and Jasper Johns exhibit, dance performance and eating! Tired.

And happy. Words and pictures from the Jasper Johns exhibit at the Whitney. It was brilliant, especially so for me since I had not considered his work beyond the usual flag and a few other images. That’s embarrassing considering his importance to the contemporary art world.  See (https://whitney.org/exhibitions/jasper-johns). Also considering Johns represented the U.S. at the only Venice Biennale I ever attended.

Now after knowing too little about his work, I must explore further because I find myself absolutely enthralled by the maps. And If George Bush can turn his life to the worthy cause of art in his retirement, why can’t I turn my many many maps of all sizes, shapes and conditions into art projects in my not-too-distant retirement. I’m going to gather them all and start building a supply of paint and chalk and colored pens and pencils and glue and photos and scissor and whatever else I can think of…short of glitter and sharp objects. And I’m going to take a class or two and make Christmas presents for my children and grandchildren’s closets–to be taken out when I visit.  So maybe I’ll really do this…kidding about the presents, kids. I think. 

It’s a great trip. More about theater after a day off hanging out with friend Cathy tomorrow.

Here are a few glimpses of Jasper Johns.

NEW YORK NEW YORK

COMING INTO THE CITY…NOT A FAMOUS SKYLINE SHOT BUT STILL…EVERY NYC SKYLINE’S PRETTY EXCITING

This is the first time in several years, I will be in NYC a few days for fun–pure old fun: art, friends, walking around this glorious city, trying to absorb some of this energy. Seriously , you New York aficionados know this. The minute you leave the airport you feel it…waves of energy, pulsating, shimmering, pounding. Sometimes I forget how much I love it here. Wish I could have lived here a year or two when I was younger, but being able to show up now and then is almost as good.  

MY TRAVEL BUDDY AND BROADWAY GUIDE BOB IS EVEN MORE THRILLED THAN I AM; HE’S ALBUQUERQUE’S MR. BROADWAY I THINK. KNOW’S WHAT IS ON AT ALL TIMES, AND SEEMS TO BE DETERMINED TO PARTAKE OF MUCH OF IT. SO WE’RE SEEING GIRL FROM NORTH COUNTRY, HADESTOWN, JAGGED LITTLE PILL. COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS, MORE ABOUT THEM LATER.
MY VIEW FROM BED.

I’m tired and watching our Pres on CNN. Which is making me completely exhausted. What do I expect him to do? Be younger and tougher and perhaps a different gender. No, he’s so wonderful compared to that last sleazy joke, there’s no comparison. But I do wish he were younger and exuded more power. And I’m in a position to talk about age without being politically incorrect, okay?

So tomorrow, the Whitney and an evening of Dylan music on Broadway. Life is good. 

RANDOM SHOT OUT THE TAXI WINDOW…JUST LIKED IT.

THE HIGHWAY

“Life is beautiful if you are on the road to somewhere.” ~ Orhan Pamuk

It’s felt like such a hard slog to venture forth this year. Part of that is basic covid fatigue—endlessly hearing about it, the signs, the masks, the lack of services. Part of it though, at least for me is the knowledge that this is the New Norm. New-Norm. NewNorm. We live in a world of incompetent political leadership at all levels when it comes to the big issues like climate change, sanctioned and unsanctioned violence, disease/healthcare…. So I am traveling now in spite of the inconvenience, because it is not going to get any better folks. Maybe here and there, now and then but that’s all. Sorry about that. It’s NewNorm time.

And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

And it’s best if you’re traveling with Willie Nelson on a highway in Texas. 

Road trips are not everyone’s cup of tea or coffee. To me traveling backroads, two-lane highways, in a reliable car (have done many of these trips in extremely unreliable junkers…does add a bit of drama to the whole enterprise) by myself is maximum enjoyment. Oh sure, you get tired and lost and can’t find anything to eat that’s not been packaged a very long time and the motel you booked turns out to be s**t, but when are you more free, have more choices–your own choices, when better to think about the country you live in, and wonder why you didn’t study geography? There’s some music that’s tolerable for those long-day jaunts through the trees or prairies or mountains. The sound track to Oh Brother for example or anything by Terry Allen. Dylan’s good, Paul Simon, Rufus Wainwright…. The most important thing is to stay away from interstates; the spirit of adventure will be instantly gone. You’ll be bored. Don’t be bored. Take a two-lane.