Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 23, 2017
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Sensuous Santa Fe

The artiest city in the Southwest offers up a feast for the senses

Santa Fe isn’t just another frontier outpost made good. A centre of Pueblo Indian life in the 11th century, then the capital of New Spain, its roots go back a long, long way. In the 1930s, it became a mecca for artists who were wooed by the incredible Southwestern light along with the area’s history and culture. Today, it’s the second-largest art market in the US.

Despite its small size, it has all the elements that appeal to a cosmopolitan population — fine food, intimate cafés, theatre, music, indigenous arts — and that incomparable landscape. Best of all, in a couple of days you can see the choicest of what “the City Different” contains by simply putting one foot in front of the other.

The inn at the end of the trail

Your weekend walking adventure in old Santa Fe begins with a Friday evening check-in at a major source of myth and mystique: La Fonda (100 East San Francisco; tel: 505-982-5511; www.lafondasantafe.com). This landmark hotel has had many incarnations dating back to the 1600s. It was a destination for intrepid explorers, mountain men and even merchants. The latter were forbidden under Spanish rule to trade with the United States, but smuggled goods through the mountains by night, until 1821 when independence from Spain legalized trade. Later, a 1900-kilometre rutted track that led from Franklin, Missouri to its door was christened the Santa Fe Trail.

These days, “the inn at the end of the trail” is a favourite with those with a taste for the romantic and celebrities who appear to favour negotiating deals in the anonymity of a maze. The cavernous interior of this historic hulk intrigues with its layers of history. Tiny shops which line its twisting hallways beckon with everything from antique Spanish candlesticks, to Pueblo pottery, designer denim jackets and fine oils of the frontier days. Ghost tours are conducted every evening at sunset.

The old town is designed for foot traffic. Cross the plaza with its wrought-iron Spanish benches, its cheerful murmur of pigeons, dogs and vending booths to the Palace of the Governors (105 West Palace Avenue; tel: 505-476-5100; www.palaceofthegovernors.org). Beneath the portal, you’ll be just in time to catch the Pueblo artisans before they pack up their displays of silver, turquoise and coral jewellery.

The art of an era

Friday night, the museums are free and the Palace is an appropriate doorway to New Mexico’s history between 1598 and 1912 (when it became the 47th state). Here, flavoured with the allure of the Wild West, you’ll find the famous Segesser hide paintings which portray Spain’s colonial past, a vast array of carved wooden saints, staged colonial rooms and, until October 25, a finely curated photographic exhibit of this cultural landscape.

Further down the plaza, the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 West Palace Avenue; tel: 505-476-5072; www.mfasantafe.org) offers the exhibition How The West Is One (until April 2010), a lively collection which exemplifies the changing aesthetics of a Southwest art which weaves Hispanic, Native American and mainstream American. Lured by the shimmering light, picturesque Pueblo rituals and visions of a life unfettered, artists and writers flocked to Santa Fe and Taos in the decades before World War II.

Does the striking floor-to-ceiling painting, Cui Bono? (Who Benefits?) by Gerald Cassidy, with its life-sized Pueblo man in traditional long white robe against a background of adobe dwellings, question the impact on Pueblo life of tourism, economics and cultural changes seeded in 1846 when New Mexico changed from Spanish to American rule?

Skulls and crocuses

In 1929, Georgia O’Keeffe visited Taos, invited by writer and socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan and fell in love with the light, the landscape and the pared-down lines of rock and bone. Around the corner from the plaza, the O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson Street; tel: 505-946-1000; www.okeeffemuseum.org) is dedicated to the life of O’Keeffe as well as to the study of American Modernism, a phenomenon that began in the 1890s and continues into the present.

Here you can view the intimate 12-minute video, A Life in Art and absorb the famous Calla Lilies or Black Hollyhock, Blue Larkspur and Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory, seasoned with O’Keeffe’s forthright comments. “I began painting my very large flowers, thinking not only that it provided a unique perspective on a familiar object, but frankly, that it would make New York take notice.”

At the northeast corner of the plaza, head one block up Lincoln to West Marcy, where you’ll find La Boca (72 West Marcy; tel: 505-982-3433). Red brick floors, dark wood and white tablecloths create a cosy watering hole, combining Spanish and Mediterranean flavours and an enticing selection of tapas, including duck breast with blood-orange vinaigrette and green olives; bruschetta with crimini mushrooms, egg, truffle oil and Reggiano and baby spinach cazuela with goat cheese and onion-raisin compote.

If you’re a night owl, continue east on Marcy and a few doors up Washington to spirited jazz at El Mesón Tapas Bar (213 Washington; tel: 505-983-6756; www.elmeson-santafe.com).

Desert bounty

The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market opens on Saturday at 7am. It’s an inviting breakfast destination and your chance to explore the narrow streets of the old town with its friendly low adobe architecture against a peerless blue sky.

Start along the plaza, on San Francisco, then head south on Don Gaspar and check out the Gallery of the North American Indian (114 Don Gaspar; tel: 505-984-2222) which sells splendid sepia-toned vintage photographs. On the corner of Water Street, kitty-corner to the line-up outside Café Pasqual’s (121 Don Gaspar; tel: 505-983-9340; www.pasquals.com), you’ll pass the Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar; tel: 505-983-5700; www.
hotelstfrancis.com)
, a reminder of Victorian America’s fleeting attempt to subdue this unruly outpost.

Heading west along Alameda, you’ll pass the empire of Seret & Sons (224 Galisteo; tel: 505-988-9151; www.seretandsons.com), importers of Indian and Tibetan treasures. Many of these, like the ornate wooden doors and kilim-covered furnishings have become synonymous with Santa Fe style.

As you turn south on Guadalupe, the Santuario de Guadalupe (100 Guadalupe) is a pleasingly tranquil mission before the jostle of eateries and purveyors of style. At the end of the street just past the Railyard Saloon and the Antiques Warehouse, turn west on Alcadesa toward the home of the new Rail Runner train and you’ll see the white tents and booths of the Farmers’ Market (1607 Paseo De Peralta; tel: 505-983-4098; www.santafefarmersmarket.com), a voluptuous bazaar redolent with lavender and spicy fresh bread.

A cornucopia of local delights now confronts you; cider slushies from local Velarde apples, dark aster honey from Buckin’Bee, Southwest chutney, spicy green mustard, fresh-made green chile and pesto focaccia, pumpkin-piñón strudel made from the Taos Pueblo recipe and goat cheese from “The Girls.” Try to leave room for one of Rosa’s plump breakfast burritos.

The old West

As you waddle back up Guadalupe, near the corner of Manhattan you’ll see the jaunty yellow-and-red trailer of Kowboyz (345 West Manhattan; tel: 505-984-1256) and find shirts for $10. Indulge your Western fantasies with racks of flamboyant shirts, boots and ten-gallon hats. A short block north, head west on Read. At the end you’ll pass Mangiamo Pronto! (312 Read; tel: 505-989-1904; www.mangiamopronto.com), perfect for a pick-me-up espresso or latte.

Then browse the old buildings on Sandoval which include the Design Center and turn west on De Vargas. You’re in the old Barrio de Analco district which dates back to the 1620s, now home to the Santa Fe Playhouse (142 East De Vargas; tel: 505-988-4262; www.santafeplayhouse.org). Turn north on the Old Santa Fe Trail where you can view what claims to be the Oldest House in the US (215 East de Vargas Street; tel: 505-988-4127), built under Spanish rule on the site of a Pueblo which dates back to the 1200s. Spine-tingling legends of ghosts and mummies abound here and in the San Miguel Mission (401 Old Santa Fe Trail; tel: 505-988-9504; www.nosfarchives.org) across the street.

They say the appetite grows with eating. If this is so, wander onto the plaza for a bite to fortify you for your afternoon stroll.

Gallery grazing

At the northeastern corner of La Fonda, the road curves by St. Francis Cathedral south to Alameda, where you’re a stone’s throw from Paseo de Peralta. Follow this south to Nedra Mateucci’s Fenn Galleries (1075 Paseo de Peralta; tel: 505-982-4631; www.matteucci.com) which boasts one of the best collections of the Taos Society of Artists. Don’t miss the sculpture garden, a startling 4000-square-metre oasis with koi and duck ponds, a soothing waterfall and a population of whimsical creatures.

Turn the corner on Acequia Madre and you’re at Photo Eye, Garcia Books, with its excellent Southwest selection and Downtown Subscriptions (376 Garcia; tel: 505-983-3085) for coffee and magazines, a favourite hang-out for locals. As you continue north towards Canyon Road along Garcia Street, you’ll see examples of pitched-roofed Territorial architecture behind the allure of adobe walls.

More than 100 galleries along a mile of Canyon Road offer an irresistible blend of traditional, contemporary and exotic, nestled together with hidden courtyards and secret gardens bursting with hollyhocks. One recent survey lists Santa Fe, in dollar sales, as the second-largest art market in the country.

After an hour or so of browsing, the Tea House (821 Canyon Road; tel: 505-992-0972; www.teahousesantafe.com ), originally a Spanish colonial farmhouse, is a welcome break. Sink deeply into an overstuffed sofa and select perhaps a rooibos latte from the lush display of exotic teas or enjoy the sunshine in the tea garden.

Dinner and a play

The celebrated Coyote Café (132 West Water; tel: 505-983-1615; www.coyotecafe.com) is an easy dinner destination and conveniently located near the Lensic Theater. Casually elegant, the Coyote’s stellar reputation rests on dishes such as “Chef’s famous” tellicherry pepper elk tenderloin; burgundy chile braised lamb shank with roasted garlic and jalapeño polenta; its side orders of Hatch green chile mac & cheese and El Rey chocolate ganache, almond cake and caramel mousse tart.

You’ll be just in time for the evening entertainment at the Lensic Theater (211 West San Francisco; tel: 505-988-7050; www.lensic.com), Santa Fe’s Performing Arts Center, which dates back to 1931 and a previous life in vaudeville, when, designed by the Boller Brothers of Kansas, the pseudo-Moorish, Spanish Renaissance beauty was hailed as “the finest theatre of its time in the Southwest.”

Breakfast with the archbishop

Sunday morning’s a fine time to experience the Basilica of St. Francis of Asisi (231 Cathedral Place; tel: 505-988-4131; www.cbsfa.org), which has had as many incarnations as La Fonda including an original mud hut, replaced in 1770 by an adobe church then actually built over to realize the French Romanesque vision of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, perhaps better known from Willa Cather’s novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop.

His dream took 15 years to complete and inadvertently became as one-of-a-kind as Santa Fe itself, when for a medley of reasons, the originally designed spires were never completed, leaving squat turrets curiously compatible with this adobe town. Yet another palimpsest in this town of secrets, the Cathedral remains a vibrant part of the community with folk art instead of the predictably somber altar backdrop.

Breakfast in La Fonda’s recently refurbished atrium, La Plazuela, where many small windows are hand painted by John Farnsworthy who, like some keeper of time, has painted at the inn for decades. La Plazuela’s a family tradition, with the grilled local trout and green chile potatoes a hearty favourite.

Sunday afternoon’s ideal for one last stroll across the plaza. In the serene beauty of St. Francis Auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Santa Fe Community Orchestra, now in its 27th season, features free concerts. If you’re eager for more sunshine, check out the Open Houses on the historic and suitably pricey east side around Canyon Road and Acequia Madre for your fill of vigas, latillas and hand-trowelled plaster walls.

And finally, end where you began: La Fonda. Its Bell Tower Bar on the fifth floor, offers the best sunset views in town and a perfect weekend finale. Santa Fe, olé!

Valmai Howe’s latest book The Adventures of a Feng Shui Detective is available at Amazon.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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